Mixed choir hits sour note with rabbis

By Simon Rocker, November 13, 2008

The days of the last mixed choir at an Orthodox synagogue in Britain look to be numbered.

Leaders of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation (Princes Road) believe that their historic choir is impeding the search to find a new rabbi.

Laurence Goldman, the congregation's senior warden, said: "We're in a situation where a mixed choir is not really acceptable to Orthodox rabbis looking for a job. One rabbi said he wouldn't be prepared to come for an interview unless we agreed not to have a mixed choir.

"There's a sort of resignation that some time in the future we are not going to be able to support it."
Women were drafted into the choir during the Second World War when there was a shortage of available men.

Ruth Raisman, the choirmaster, who has been singing in it for nearly 70 years, said: "A lot of members come because of the music. It's our tradition. People enjoy our type of service."

The choir, which sings on Shabbat and festivals at the synagogue, has a core of four men and five women. She said: "I advertised before Yomtov to encourage more men to join us. We're willing to train them. But the young lads don't want to know any more."

The synagogue - one of only three UK shuls with a Grade One listed status - has been without a rabbi since mid-summer when Rabbi Zvi Solomons departed for Reading.

"There are a number of people who would prefer us to retain the mixed choir," Mr Goldman said. "What we are going to have to do in the end is what's best for the synagogue.

"Ideally, we'd like to move towards being an all-male choir because it's in our interest." But he acknowledged: "It gets more difficult to get new choristers. No one Is holding a gun to our head and saying we've got to get rid of the choir."

But the community had got the impression from the Chief Rabbi's Office that "it would be loth to give a practising certificate to a new minister if he didn't already have one" while the mixed choir remained.

Syma Weinberg, executive director of the Chief Rabbi's Office, said: "We have advertised the position in our rabbinical newsletter. When they find a rabbi, we will support their rabbi in the same way we have supported their rabbis in the past."

In fact, the office no longer issues certificates to ministers as such: in the case of an incoming rabbi, the office has to approve his semichah (ordination) and then will issue a letter to
the community permitting him to serve it.

    Last updated: 11:49am, November 13 2008