Hochhauser puts women at heart of his elec­tion bid

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY SI­MON ROCKER

SI­MON HOCHHAUSER, the pres­i­dent of the United Syn­a­gogue, an­nounced this week that he is to seek re-elec­tion on a plat­form of greater free­dom for lo­cal syn­a­gogues and equal­ity for women as lay lead­ers.

Elec­tions for the head of the main­stream Ortho­dox body take place in July, with nom­i­na­tions due to close in the mid­dle of next month.

The 55-year-old new-me­dia en­tre­pre­neur from South Hamp­stead Syn­a­gogue be­lieves that syn­a­gogues should as­sume greater fi­nan­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity for their own af­fairs, even em­ploy­ing their own rab­bis — who are cur­rently em­ployed through the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s head of­fice.

He said: “I do be­lieve it is a help for the com­mu­ni­ties to con­sider set­ting up their own trusts, to cre­ate their own set of rules, but at the same time al­low­ing them to call on the cen­tre for sup­port in all sorts of ar­eas.”

The idea of syn­a­gogues be­com­ing in­di­vid­ual trusts was first mooted in the Kalms re­view of 1992 but thought too rad­i­cal to im­ple­ment.

Dr Hochhauser ex­plained that the United Syn­a­gogue would con­tinue to own lo­cal syn­a­gogue build­ings “and the con­di­tion for use of those as­sets would be ad­her­ence to the author­ity of the Chief Rabbi”.

But syn­a­gogues, if they be­came trusts, would en­joy fi­nan­cial au­ton­omy, at the same time be­ing able to call on the US cen­trally for fi­nan­cial aid for de­vel­op­ing build­ings or pro­grammes. Com­mu­ni­ties would be able to ap­ply for funds as long as they sought to raise some lo­cally, he said, though “not nec­es­sar­ily on a 50/50 ba­sis”.

As for the role of women, he wants to press dur­ing a sec­ond three-year term for “to­tal gen­der equal­ity on lay lead­er­ship, to in­clude the trustee ta­ble”.

Women may not at present serve as of­fi­cers of the United Syn­a­gogue, and are per­mit­ted only to be vice- chair­men, not chair­men, of lo­cal syn­a­gogues.

Ul­ti­mately, any de­ci­sion on progress for women would rest with the US’s rab­binic au­thor­i­ties, he stressed. “There are many rab­bis within the United Syn­a­gogue… who fully sup­port the no­tion based on halachah,” he said. “But we also recog­nise that there are many rab­bis op­posed to the idea of gen­der equal­ity and this is a mat­ter that re­quires air­ing.

“Ob­vi­ously, we have to work within ha­lachic pa­ram­e­ters but even there, there is de­bate.”

Over­all, he be­lieves the or­gan­i­sa­tion is work­ing “smoothly” and while head-of­fice staff pro­vid­ing a range of ser­vices to com­mu­ni­ties are do­ing an “ex­cel­lent job, there is room for very strong im­prove­ment”.

Over the past few years, the US has achieved “an enor­mous amount. Prin­ci­pally we have cre­ated an en­vi­ron­ment which is stable, which al­lows for open and ac­tive de­bate and dif­fer­ence, and we’ve built up a very strong re­la­tion­ship with our rab­banim. I’ve al­ways main­tained that is a pre­con­di­tion for suc­cess­ful com­mu­ni­ties.”

PHOTO: VICKY AL­HAD­EFF

Si­mon Hochhauser: stand­ing

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