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Role of women in local synagogue management

  • Shul
In Orthodox synagogues one is accustomed to seeing men reading from the Torah, opening and closing the Aron Kodesh, performing Hagba (the lifting up of the Torah), calling up men to the Torah and all the other duties and mitzvot that are incumbent on males to perform.
by SUZANNE BELLING | Jul 08, 2015

But does this religiously male domain preclude women from serving on synagogue committees? And we are not talking here of ladies guilds.

Contrary to popular belief, women are playing an increasingly vital role on the governing bodies of shuls and are in demand for their organisational skills, decision-making and a variety of other essential tasks that preclude making mezonot savouries for the Kiddush after shul on Shabbos.

Speaking to the chairmen and presidents of several shuls in fact revealed that ladies guilds hardly exist any longer and that most of the catering is done professionally.

Stanley Seeff, president of the Sydenham-Highlands North Congregation, told the SA Jewish Report: “The women are important cogs in the wheel of our council. It would surprise you to know that there are two women on our committee - one is actually the chairman of our shtiebel and the other is chairman of education.”

But what of the shtiebel chairman who is not permitted halachically to carry out duties on the bimah during the service? “Not a problem,” replied Seeff. “When it comes to religious obligations, other arrangements are made.”

Carmen Kay, office manager of the Great Synagogue in the Gardens, Cape Town, says there is no objection to having women on the committee, although there are none at present. The woman who previously served on the committee was in charge of the children’s services and the former executive director of the shul was a woman, who has since emigrated.

Green and Sea Point Hebrew Congregation President Arnold Bloch said women elected to the shul committee were always welcome. “There are many women who assist unofficially but we do not have elected women committee members at the moment as we find they are committed to women’s organisations such as Bnoth Zion Association WIZO.

“We haven’t given up trying to recruit women as they are administratively competent. We are still looking.”

Of course, there has never been a question about women serving on the committees of Progressive temples. Temple Israel in Hillbrow has three men and three women on the committee, one of whom is Reeva Forman, who was the first-ever elected chairman of a temple within the Progressive movement.

“I previously belonged to the Great Synagogue in Wolmarans Street, which I fought to save from being sold as I have a great respect for heritage sites. I was devastated when it was sold after a Jew was mugged and killed in the area.”

In 1994 Forman was given the opportunity to fight, as chairman, to preserve Temple Israel, another heritage site, and this time she succeeded - by one vote.

“Jews were moving out of the area in 1997. But today there are still congregants from areas such as Hillbrow, Yeoville and Parktown and all services are run by capable laymen.

“There are services every Shabbat and on festivals – although we struggle to find a minyan on Friday nights. We actually need a rabbi and more facilities but are grateful for the assistance from the three rabbis of Beit Emanuel and Bet David.”

2 Comments

  1. 2 Maureen Nochumson 13 Jul
    According to Beth Din instructions, women are not allowed to be chairman, vice chairman or treasurer of their shuls. I'd love to know why.
  2. 1 Rana Wolffs 22 Jul
    I am the president of an Orthodox shul in Cape Town and together with a very good committee, have been doing so successfully for the past 3 years.  The vice president, Rabbi or one of the male members of the committee handle the announcements and bimah duties.  Our very learned, Orthodox Rabbi has been very supportive and we have no less than 4 female members on our committee as well as a female director of the shul.  There is no halachic reason why women can't be at the helm with a strong team standing at their side.  We have a wonderful shul and you can feel the woman's touch ....

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