United Synagogue approves women shul chairmen

Women will be able to serve as chairmen of United Synagogue congregations from next May after the US council gave the go-ahead on Monday.

Although the move had been approved by the chief rabbi and the London Beth Din, US president Steve Pack admitted that it had received a rather mixed reaction from rabbis.

But promising consultation with rabbis over “implementation issues”, he said: “I don’t think they are going to cause a particular problem.”

Irene Leeman — who recently stepped down as co-chair of United Synagogue Women and as one of the non-voting women’s representatives on the US trustee board — hailed the “long-overdue” change.

“Women can definitely do the job of chair,” she said. “I think we will show you we can live up to the job.”
Although one or two council delegates questioned the wisdom of the move, no one opposed it when it was put to the vote.

Until now, women have been permitted only to be vice-chair or financial representative of US synagogues.

They remain barred from standing for election as president or central officers of the US.

But Mr Pack hinted that this might change too, saying: “I suspect it will come up on the agenda over the next year or so.”

Some rabbis feel that it would be difficult to have late night, one-to-one meetings with a woman chair.

But Hilary Stone — who has run her synagogue, Staines, for four years as vice-chair in the absence of a chairman — pointed out: “Late night conversations are no problem. We use something called a telephone.”

US Women co-chair Dalia Cramer said it would work with rabbis in sorting out the practicalities. “The whole point of this is that everybody is on board.”

Last updated: 10:45am, December 17 2012