‘Crying need’ for women Orthodox rabbis, says teacher who lost job

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‘Crying need’ for women Orthodox rabbis, says teacher who lost job

Dr Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz, who lost her role and honorary title at the London School of Jewish Studies for becoming a 'rabba', says Orthodoxy must allow women to take the top job.

Dr Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz,
Dr Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz,

The time has come for Orthodox women to become rabbis, a teacher who lost her position at the London School of Jewish Studies after gaining a rabbi qualification has said.

The London School of Jewish Studies, founded under the auspices of the Chief Rabbi, sparked a backlash when it told Dr Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz she could no longer teach after 16 years – because she had graduated from rabbinic ordination course in New York.

It is the long-standing position of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis that while women should be encouraged to take up leadership positions in religious life, a rabbi cannot be one of them.

Telling BBC’s Radio 4 on Thursday that she respectfully disagreed, Dr Lindsey Taylor Guthartz said: “The time has come for the Orthodox community to start embracing women rabbis. This is already happening in America and Israel, the two largest Jewish communities in the world.

“There is a crying need for it here … There are many women who need to be able to talk to a woman who knows Jewish law, who can advise them, who can help them.”

Dr Taylor-Guthartz has been backed by hundreds of people who have signed a letter of support, as well as 35 Reform and Liberal rabbis who accused the Chief Rabbi of a “glass ceiling of Torah.”

But others in the Orthodox world have backed the Chief Rabbi’s position. The Rabbinical Alliance of America said: “Judaism is defined by practices and beliefs that often run counter to trends in the contemporary world.

“It is axiomatic that in such a conflict, Jewish tradition takes precedence over secular values and practices.”

Taylor-Guthartz, who is said to have been a popular lecturer on the adult education course she taught, told Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour she believed “all great traditions have to have the ability to adapt to the way the world changes.”

But fellow panellist, Rebbetzin Rachie Binstock, who is “highly supportive” of women playing senior roles in the community, said most aspects of a rabbi role were already open to women.

“If we look at the range of work that a rabbi today does, women are already doing most of it,” she said.

Asked why women shouldn’t then take on “the ultimate role,” she said: “The title of rabbi today connotes the leader of a community in a synagogal context.

“And that’s problematic to Orthodoxy, it’s always going to be, because the synagogue is built as the place for male prayer. Women and men have different roles in prayer, different expressions of prayer.

She added: “We don’t believe that equality is sameness. Judaism celebrates difference and we have many different roles.”

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