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Chief Rabbi: 'I did my best for women'

    The Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, has defended his efforts to improve equality for women during nearly two decades in office.

    His record was challenged by June Jacobs, a former president of the International Council of Jewish Women, at questions tabled following a lecture the Chief Rabbi gave to the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in London this week.

    Lord Sacks said that a number of measures taken to prevent agunot -women denied a religious divorce by their husbands - represented a "considerable" achievement. "We are probably the only Jewish community in the world that solved all - to my knowledge - outstanding agunah cases," he said.

    Whereas previous chief rabbis had not allowed women to sit on synagogue boards and on the United Synagogue Council, today they sat as "equal members," he said, "with only one exception - we don't have any women shul presidents."

    Twenty years ago batmitzvah ceremonies, commonly done in groups on Sunday afternoons in Orthodox synagogues, were "clearly not equal to the barmitzvah," he said.

    But the new-style ceremony introduced for girls, he believed "outdoes the barmitzvah in terms of its power and expressivity."

    He concluded; "I think I can honestly say I did not complete the task but I did not desist from it."

    Lord Sacks was delivering the annual Morris and Manja Leigh Memorial Lecture on the challenges facing the Jewish people.

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