Grandmother's bid to become Sephardi exec

By Simon Rocker, February 25, 2010

A London grandmother is bidding to become what is believed to be the first female executive member of Britain's oldest Orthodox synagogue body.

Doris Osen is standing for election next month to the mahamad of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation, despite reservations from the Sephardi Beth Din as to whether Jewish law permits her to serve on it.

Mrs Osen, in her 70s, is descended from two of the families who founded Bevis Marks Synagogue in the City of London in 1701 and has chaired a number of the synagogue's committees down the years.

Earlier this month the Sephardi Beth Din expressed the view that that there was "no provision" in the S&P's constitution to include women as members of the mahamad "which would satisfy all the halachic requirements".

But the Beth Din said it was prepared to advise on how such an accommodation could be made in "a new mahamad" if the constitutional framework were revised.

Mrs Osen, one of four nominees so far to the five-person mahamad, points out that the rules currently contain no bar on women serving in executive roles, except as warden or treasurer.

"This will open the door for any woman in future to be able to serve on the mahamad," she said this week. "While men don't want to take responsibility, there are women who will."

She has been one of the ringleaders of a group of S&P members who have called for the heads of the current mahamad over their involvement in the resignation of Rabbi Natan Asmoucha from Bevis Marks last year.

Despite enjoying widespread support within Bevis Marks, he left after months of tension with the mahamad over his participation in a widely publicised interfaith demonstration against high bank interest charges.

Mrs Osen and other members now want a special meeting of the congregation to discuss the affair after obtaining the necessary 40 signatures.

Under the congregation's rules, the meeting must take place by the middle of next month - even though the annual meeting of the S&P is scheduled for March 24.

She maintained that an extra meeting was necessary because the AGM was scheduled on a weekday at 8pm and there might be too little time to raise Rabbi Asmoucha's departure.

Last updated: 4:38pm, February 25 2010