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