‘Orthodox women are running to Reform’
MOTHERS ARE leading their families away from Orthodox communities to Reform, often prompted by concerns over their daughters’ batmitzvahs, according to Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi of the Reform movement in the UK, and its leading spokesperson.
“We are steadily growing in numbers,” she says, “led by women who are coming from Orthodox communities who don’t want to compromise for themselves or for their daughters.”
She says many families make the move in the run-up to a batmitzvah, disappointed with what is on offer to girls in many Orthodox communities.
“We give them ownership of their Judaism,” she says, adding that more Hebrew and singing in Reform services also makes the transition easier for formerly Orthodox families.
What about the growing popularity of Masorti? It’s a north London phenomenon, she says, and Masorti are Orthodox in all but name.
She has been the voice of Reform for five years now, and predicts that the drift from Orthodox to Reform will continue apace, fuelled by the Orthodox authorities’ attempts to curb moves to increase women’s roles in prayer and community leadership.
For Rabbi Janner-Klausner, who grew up in the United Synagogue but left for Reform after finding her own batmitzvah a complete disappointment, Reform offers women and girls a space where they do not have to compromise or change who they are when they walk into a synagogue.
She is about to start two groups at her home, one teaching Talmud to young women leaders, the other teaching about the “false obstacles placed in front of women in the name of halachah”. Knowledge is power, she believes.
She is “overjoyed” to see women’s responses to being given the same opportunities as men.
“If you stick a woman in front of a Torah there is no going back. Women often weep to be so near to a Torah. In fact, I have to move the scroll away sometimes so it doesn’t get wet. But the Torah is all of our inheritance.”
The day we meet she had delivered Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, talking about stress. She described how organisations learn from applying stress tests to their processes, concluding: “I believe that identifying failings under stress can strengthen us.
“If we’re supported and can properly internalise our mistakes, they can be the beginning of a process of repair and resilience building.”
Resilience has been much on her mind recently, as the subject of her first book (she has contributed to others, but this one is all hers). The manuscript has just been delivered to the publishers, the first third of the which is “very autobiographical”, the rest offering more practical advice about dealing with difficult times.
This, of course, is a subject on which Rabbi Janner-Klausner and her siblings are experts, their own stress test being the accusations of sexual abuse made against their father Greville; accusations which have not disappeared with his death.
The accusers are suing the late peer’s estate for damages and the case is due in court again next week.
Much has been written about the case, not least in the JC, and as Rabbi Janner-Klausner says, the many words that the family could say about it can be boiled down to three: Dad, Innocent, Love.
Writing the book has given her a
We give women ownership of their Judaism’
Laura with brother Daniel Janner and sister Marion Janner outside court
Working with Christians and Muslims