Orthodox women - There is a place for you in the middle

November 24, 2016 23:13

Emma Barnett's "I'm not Sure Where I Belong" (JC, 29 Oct) is critically important to all who are concerned about the future of our synagogues and Judaism.

By our synagogues' and movements' inability to address sensitively and compassionately the fundamental concerns that Emma articulated,the ability of Judaism in our day to engage generations to come will fail.

There has been a huge, and sad, polarisation, of the way Judaism is practiced creating, in a sense. two "orthodoxies". One is entrenched in trying to preserve the tradition (and halacha) at the total expense of remaining relevant to the needs of a changing society, and the other is bent on being so contemporary and relevant, that it neglects issues of authenticity and continuity with Jewish historical experience.

It is an old quandary for Jews, a reality that arose when Jews first emerged from the kehillot, shtetls and ghettos at various times from the 18th to the 20th centuries, and emerged into a changing world that was influenced by the Enlightenment, scientific discovery and enhanced individualism.

Related: Shimon Cohen - "Unhappy with Orthodox practice? Then leave."

We need all the forms of Judaism to be vibrant

Orthodoxy and Reform streams responded to these changing circumstances, and did engage in a critical debate about the extent to which Judaism should embrace modernity and, at the same time, retain traditional halachic norms.

There is a third way which is becoming even more critical now that the polar extremes are failing so many serious Jews such as Emma Barnett - and that is a Judaism that both embraces simultaneously the past and the future.

I am a Masorti rabbi who leads a vibrant independent congregation. Belsize Square Synagogue is growing because this unique community has been able to embrace both tradition (liturgy, Torah reading, kashrut, holidays), while keeping its pulse in the contemporary world.

The fact is that we need all branches of Judaism to be vibrant and we desperately need serious Jews who engage with our magnificent past and apply Judaism to the needs of today. Pluralism is good and, while hard for extremists on both sides of the aisle to recognize the worth of the other, the time has come for us to realize "Eilu va'eilu divrei Elohim chayim"- those words and those words are the words of a Living God".

A strong middle, devoted to both the past and the future, will be the saving ingredient in stopping this dangerous polarisation.

November 24, 2016 23:13

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive