The Chief Rabbi is walking a tightrope

December 05, 2016 00:35

The Chief Rabbi must hope his statement on partnership minyanim will defuse the latest controversy with a prudent balance between reaffirming his halachic opposition to them at the same time as declaring his "respect" for those who take part in them.

What he has signally avoided is recommending any sanction against participants of partnership minyanim in synagogues under his jurisdiction. He has left any such action up to the discretion of local rabbis.

He has neither supported nor opposed the restrictions on partnership minyan leaders announced last week by the minister of one of his largest congregations, Rabbi Chaim Kanterovitz of Borehamwood and Elstree. But by suggesting community rabbis know best how to "manage local considerations", he has given them the green light to act as they see fit.

His reference to Rabbi Kanterovitz as a marah d'atra, a local halachic authority, seems to go a long way to recognising a degree of autonomy within his rabbinate. It is not a term that would be generally used of community rabbis in the United Synagogue.

Nevertheless, his comments can also be read as advice to rabbis - and rebbetzins - to be careful not to alienate supporters of partnership minyanim. When he states some of them are "among our most engaged and valued congregants", he knows their loss would be deeply felt in one or two synagogues in particular.

Yet his statement raises a couple of questions. When he appeals for "healthy, constructive and respectful" discussion on PMs, will he allow that discussion to be held within synagogues, schools and other institutions under his aegis, such as the London School of Jewish Studies?

Among the instances of progress he cites for women in Orthodox synagogues, his promise of "opportunities for meaningful batmitzvah celebrations" will be closely watched. Although the detail remains to be revealed, this is bound to excite expectations.

December 05, 2016 00:35

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