Progressively Speaking: Stop putting up barricades for women in leadership roles

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Progressively Speaking: Stop putting up barricades for women in leadership roles

 Rabbi Charley Baginsky looks at the case of Dr Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz and asks what the future looks like for female Jewish educators

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

One of the most interesting developments in Orthodox Judaism over the past few years has been the semicha (ordination) of women rabbis, graduating from New York’s Yeshivat Maharat Orthodox rabbinical school.

While UK Liberal and Reform Judaism has long had women rabbis and cantors, this has been a huge change for the Orthodox movement – and not without controversy.

Most recently, the excellent Dr Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz – who chose the title rabba, the feminine Hebrew form of rabbi – was effectively banned from teaching at the London School of Jewish Studies. 

A statement from the office of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said she had “stepped beyond the boundaries of mainstream Orthodoxy”.

There has been much work within the United Synagogue on raising women in leadership positions within the community, but there is clearly more to be done. 

Some may say Orthodox Judaism’s loss is Liberal Judaism’s gain – and that all these brilliant and accomplished women should find a home with us instead. Indeed, we are lucky Rabbi Eryn London is bringing her experience and deep learning to our chaplaincy team.

However, the key point is these rabbis are not Progressive Jews; they are Orthodox Jews who wish to serve their communities and education institutions.  

Things are changing. I have seen it at cross-communal events. Whereas Orthodox male leaders once wouldn’t even address me as “rabbi”, there has been a dramatic step change and not only is my title used, but my opinion is sought. The patriarchal dominance is shifting;  across the Jewish communal sphere we are seeing women leading many of our communal institutions. 

This is through societal change, new leadership and the visible success of women rabbis such as Alexandra Wright, Laura Janner-Klausner and Baroness Julia Neuberger and leaders such as Gillian Merron and Marie van der Zyl. 

Judaism is an ever-changing and evolving religion. You cannot put up barricades forever. One day the floodgates will open.

As Rabba Taylor-Guthartz herself has stated, although there are or seem to be places that are ‘closed off’ to her, there are also places where change is happening and being accepted and where there is room for innovation.

  •  Rabbi Charley Baginsky is chief executive officer of Liberal Judaism

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