Senior Reform rabbi attacks community over ‘elitist’ attitude

By Daniel Easterman, January 23, 2014
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner

A leading rabbi has criticised the Jewish community for being elitist and “experts in exclusion”.

Laura Janner-Klausner, Reform Judaism’s senior rabbi, said that Anglo-Jewry seemed to “specialise in raising and maintaining barriers, obstacles.”

She added: “We need to recognise that the fortress around Judaism is counterproductive to a Judaism that we want.”

Rabbi Janner-Klausner was speaking at Sunday’s plenary meeting of the Board of Deputies in London.

She said that demographic pressures meant the community was facing a “critical and pivotal” point in its history.

She highlighted the growth of the Charedi population both in the UK and worldwide, and the lack of engagement by “millennials” — young people aged between 14 and 32 — in existing mainstream Jewish institutions.

“For many a millennial, being Jewish in Britain today is expensive, hierarchical and institutional,” she said.

“So many of our communal organisations consider themselves open and inclusive, yet to a millennial, the door seems firmly shut.”

She called for a national project to promote basic knowledge in Judaism such as saying the blessing over the candles for Shabbat and the Shema prayer.

Laurence Brass, the Board’s treasurer, responded to the rabbi by saying deputies had “taken to heart” her comments about the need for change.

Other issues discussed at the meeting included the organisation’s European Manifesto, which will be published ahead of the European elections in May.

Deputies were invited to comment on a draft of the manifesto which aims to inform European Parliament members about key areas of Jewish interest.

The 20-page document, provides information about Jewish religious practices such as shechita and circumcision, and offers advice on ways to tackle extremism, racism and antisemitism.

It also recommends additional work on post-Holocaust issues and on Israel’s relations with the European Union. One deputy called on the Board to ensure proper co-ordination on policies with Jewish MEP candidates in the run-up to the election.

In a debate about the Nicolas Anelka affair, Board president Vivian Wineman reiterated the organisation’s condemnation of the player for his Nazi-style salute.

“We deplore the fact that a Premiership footballer has acted in this way and condemn him without reservation,” he said.

Last updated: 5:40pm, January 23 2014