Rabbis attack ‘glass ceiling of Torah’ after female lecturer dropped from Jewish studies role

Dr Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz lost her longstanding job at the London School of Jewish Studies


A group of 35 Reform and Liberal faith leaders has come out in support of a newly-ordained Orthodox female lecturer who lost her role at the London School of Jewish Studies after 16 years.

Dr Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz, 61, graduated on Tuesday from New York’s Yeshiva Maharat, an Orthodox school that ordains female pupils but is not recognised by United Synagogue. 

The JC has previously reported that Dr Taylor-Guthartz never intended to seek a post as a communal rabbi.

Dozens of Liberal and Reform cantors and rabbis have strongly criticised the decision to rescind her role in a letter addressed to LSJS president Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.

The move is seen as a “blow to our wider UK Jewish community and especially to recent notable, albeit incremental, progress in women's leadership and learning,” the letter says. 

“The verses, chapters, and tomes learnt from Dr Taylor-Guthartz over the last 16 years surely afford her greater respect than you are showing her now,” signatories add. 

The letter maintains that “despite LSJS’s self-proclaimed principle of ‘maximising the participation of women as educational leaders,’ there is clearly still a glass ceiling of Torah above which half your community may not ascend.”

A separate communal letter congratulating Dr Taylor-Guthartz on her rabbinic ordination and to appear in this week's issue of the JC has been backed by dozens others, including several faith leaders and Jewish peers. 

Signatories include Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer and his spouse Rabba Dina, who are based in the US, as well as ex BT chief executive Lord Livingston and Tory peer Lord Wolfson of Tredegar. 

The letter praises Dr Taylor-Guthartz for her “commitment to an intensive programme of learning” and says her example would “inspire our own and future generations of Jewish women.”

A spokesperson for the chief rabbi's office said in a statement: "It is unavoidable that the religious character of an institution, whether a synagogue or a college, is viewed through the prism of those who hold formal positions or titles within it.

"In this case it was clear that a continued formal affiliation with a person who, whilst having contributed a great deal to the institution, had nonetheless stepped beyond the boundaries of mainstream Orthodoxy and would have sent a misleading message about what LSJS stands for – a message which would have compromised its longstanding commitment to Orthodox Jewish education and training, the consequences of which could have been significant and far reaching for LSJS.

"As difficult as it is when good and talented people are involved, the Chief Rabbi’s position as President of LSJS is that he must uphold the religious ethos of the college and its position within mainstream Orthodoxy across the Jewish world, as he does for all organisations and synagogues under his auspices."

The spokesperson said inclusion had "always been a priority for the chief rabbi" and that he continues to explore ways of empowering women.

"The chief rabbi believes that the challenge of empowering Jewish women in their learning and religious engagement, and encouraging them to take up leadership roles in our community, in a way that is consistent with our teachings, is one that we must be constantly exploring.

"Indeed this has been a priority for him since taking office and the progress we have seen in recent years, from Women’s Officers in our communities, to trustees of the United Synagogue, to the Ma’ayan Programme for female leaders and educators, to the Neshama women’s learning initiative, are all evidence of that.

"Similarly, LSJS has long promoted high level learning options for women and continues to run many such programmes with many talented female teachers.  It has developed and invested in over 200 women educators through the Susi Bradfield Educational Leadership programme and recently launched ‘Baderech’ to continue to nurture them as Torah teachers for the community," the statement said.

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