Former US head calls for mod­ern Or­tho­doxy to be more of a ‘rain­bow’

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMUNITY - BY SI­MON ROCKER

THE UNITED Syn­a­gogue re­mains “very, very be­hind” over the role of women, a former pres­i­dent of the or­gan­i­sa­tion said this week.

Dr Si­mon Hochhauser, who led the US from 2005 to 2011, called for it to be more of a “rain­bow” or­gan­i­sa­tion, which would al­low greater di­ver­sity of ob­ser­vance than con­tin­u­ing to adopt a “one-size-fits-all” ap­proach.

He re­called that dur­ing his pres­i­dency, “we fought long and hard for women to join the trustee ta­ble. It is not even a par­tic­u­larly rad­i­cal idea, es­pe­cially in the 21st cen­tury.

“But it took years of work… to get the rab­bini­cal author­i­ties, to get the Beth Din to agree that women should take on po­si­tions of author­ity within the United Syn­a­gogue. And that was just one bat­tle of many.” (The first women trustees were elected by the US last year.)

The de­bate to­day, he said, was “about part­ner­ship­minyans,about­much­more in­volve­ment [of women] in reli­gious ser­vices. But if we were hon­est about the way ha­lachah operates, we would see a rain­bow of ob­ser­vance, of op­por­tu­nity for women, for peo­ple of dif­fer­ent sex­ual at­ti­tudes, for peo­ple with dif­fer­ent ideas and views within the US, all fit­ting com­fort­ably within it.”

He was speak­ing at the packed launch on Mon­day of the new book by Hamp­stead Syn­a­gogue’s Rabbi Michael Har­ris, Faith With­out Fear, which ex­plores chal­lenges within mod­ern Or­tho­doxy.

If the US adopted some of the prin- ciples out­lined in the book, it would be “a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent” or­gan­i­sa­tion, Dr Hochhauser ar­gued. “You’d have an or­gan­i­sa­tion that would have shuls that are very dif­fer­ent from each other. Each shul would have its own char­ac­ter, its own gov­ern­ing struc­ture.”

One of those prin­ci­ples, he said, was a “com­mit­ment to en­hanc­ing the role and sta­tus of Jewish women in reli­gious and com­mu­nal life in a way that is faith­ful to the ha­lachic sys­tem”.

He found it “dis­ap­point­ing that we don’t have an ar­ray of young, mod­ern Ortho­doxrab­bis”with­intheUS.“Where you do have a more rad­i­cal rabbi, the in­sti­tu­tion tends to beat them down.

“There is a fear that runs through the rab­binate, a fear that if they step out of line, some­thing is go­ing to hap­pen to them.”

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