Jewish women not second class citizens
“We need to reach out with genuine ahavat Israel – love of our fellow Jew.”
The Chief Rabbi was on a private visit to Cape Town during which he launched 90-year-old Rabbi Dr Lionel Mirvis’ Daroma educational programme at Beit Midrash Morasha. “I’m deriving so much huge ‘nachas’ from my Dad,” he said, paying tribute to “Avi Mori”. (my father, my teacher).
“I owe so much to my father: my knowledge, my quest for community leadership, my passion for the rabbinate. There is nothing better than to associate myself directly with Jewish educational initiatives,” in this case with a personal connection.
For his part, the elder rabbi said he was “awed to be speaking after the Chief Rabbi”. Addressing himself to his son, he said: “Thank you for acknowledging that you’re a product of your parents.”
Speaking on “the role of the shul in the 21st century”, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said pulpit rabbis needed to be a fusion of shepherd and sheepdog, the latter to prevent Jews straying from the flock. The rabbi’s role was not to produce rosh yeshivas, but to hopefully see people getting married under a chuppah.
“Through the shul we should find the means to engage with every single Jewish person and make sure they’re all welcome,” he emphasised. “It’s important that women should know that all are included,” he added.
“Within Torah law, we must guarantee that women feel as included as possible.” The Chief Rabbi had asked himself what it would be like sitting in (some of) the areas allocated to women (in synagogue). “I wouldn’t like it,” he commented.
“I’ve given instructions that no shul is to be built without my input. Women don’t have to be up in the gods – no person should feel that they’re a second class citizen,” he stated.
Introducing the Chief Rabbi earlier, Rabbi Sam Thurgood, spiritual leader of Beit Midrash Morasha, referred to Rabbi Mirvis’s appointment in 2012 of Britain’s first Orthodox female halachic adviser at London’s Finchley Synagogue, where he had been the senior rabbi.
“He has a history of being an innovator, he is prepared to take risks and move the Jewish world forward,” Rabbi Thurgood noted.
Referring to this appointment of the yoetzet halacha, the Chief Rabbi said that having a woman available had led to more women asking questions, because “the reality is that some feel uncomfortable asking a rabbi”. It had also resulted in increased observance of taharat hamishpachah (laws of family purity).
“Men can learn from women too,” he added. “We must find a way – in line with halacha – women have a role to play in our communities.”
Questioning whether the style of davening was appropriate for people of today, the chief rabbi said the days of individuals coming to shul because it was the right thing to do, were gone. “We’re facing a younger generation who are so spoilt with what they have at their fingertips – we’re competing with the most thrilling forms of entertainment.
“Today’s young people will only come if there’s something in it for them.” It is the chazzan’s role to get the community to engage in genuine davening.
“The chazzan sets the tone of the service. He’s the anchor of the service – he either includes you or he bores you to tears.
“You have to engage people, create ‘ruach’, because loyalty doesn’t exist in the younger community anymore.”