‘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

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