What about the women?

November 24, 2016 23:12

Columnist Ben Judah certainly touched a nerve when he complained last month about how unfriendly synagogues are towards three-times-a-year Jews.

"The rabbi lavishes his attention on the frum core… while the less frum families are pretty much ignored," he wrote. "This is more or less what they get from the synagogue: a High Holy Days handshake, a funeral, and some glossy stuff in the post."

Judah never mentioned the "United Synagogue" but the president immediately fired off a defensive letter to the JC.

"The article reflects a type of synagogue that I believe has been confined to the past," protested Stephen Pack. "We are committed to ensure… every Jew is welcome within the US family."

The US's strategic review last year warned that it is "highly exposed" to disaffiliating Jews. So one might think Mr Pack would listen carefully to a young Jew explaining why he feels alienated, instead of lecturing him about why he's wrong.

A sensible leader would have chosen to say nothing

But Judah was wrong about one thing. The US does not even welcome its frum members, or not all of them. Those to the left of Ephraim Mirvis, particularly those active in women's issues, are increasingly banished from the "US family".

The first thunderbolt came last year, when Rabbi Mirvis warned his rabbis against inviting "inappropriate speakers". He never denied that this referred to Dina Brawer. She is, astonishingly, former rebbetzin of one of his flagship synagogues, but - oy! - also a student at a NY yeshivah that ordains Orthodox female spiritual leaders.

Then, last month, Rabbi Mirvis announced that he supported Kavanah College's application to open a new Jewish school over Barkai College.

This put the Chief Rabbi in the bizarre position of supporting a school whose founders want a minimum of Jewish Studies, but under his aegis, while spurning an independent school founded by some of his most religiously active members, to provide a rigorous Jewish education.

Why? Because Barkai intends to integrate practices such as allowing girls to leyn in front of other girls - increasingly accepted in many of the world's Orthodox communities, but not "normative United Synagogue practice".

A sensible leader would have said nothing. Instead, Rabbi Mirvis plumped for those paying lip service to United Synagogue values, and threw those living them under a bus.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Mirvis has happily accepted credit for his "tolerant" public stance on Partnership Minyanim (services where women lead some parts of davening), which says they cannot take place on US premises but does not condemn those held elsewhere. Yet behind the scenes, he has allowed one of his rabbis to ban PM leaders from educating and leading some services at a US synagogue.

The result is that observant people who have served on their synagogue's education committee and spent hundreds of hours volunteering for the US have been pushed away. I can vouch personally for the hurt and disaffection this has caused, as my own husband is one of those affected.

The entire Orthodox world is grappling with the issue of women's role in the synagogue. Excluding those at the forefront of the conversation will not make the issues go away; it will merely make the US irrelevant.

Indeed, history shows that whenever the US tries to exclude, it pays a heavy price. It tried to ban Louis Jacobs, and ended up with the Masorti movement. It tried to ban Progressive converts and even Israeli rabbinate converts entering JFS, and ended up with JCoSS and Certificates of Religious Practice. It didn't want US rabbis going to Limmud, and ended up irrelevant at the UK's flagship Jewish cultural event.

Now it is pushing out Orthodox feminists. Rabbi Mirvis and Mr Pack should carefully consider what they are going to end up with instead.

November 24, 2016 23:12

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