Throughout Jewish history, there have always been women in positions of leadership. In the Torah, Moshe’s elder sister Miriam was the anchor in the story of Exodus, inspiring a generation to keep their hopes of salvation alive. She was also a prophetess who led the women from Egypt with tambourines and music. In the upcoming festival of Purim, Queen Esther is the heroine of the story and our saviour who works to save the Jewish people from annihilation. In the Tanach, Devorah the prophetess leads the people as a Judge of Israel and overcomes the army of general Sisera with the help of Yael.
In fact, Jewish women have always led by example with their inner strength, voices and clear visions of courage to better the Jewish people. In more recent history Sara Schenirer set up the Bais Yaakov schooling system for women to learn Torah and Judge Ruchie Freier set up the Ezras Nashim women’s paramedic group in New York City.
Yet, I cannot help but feel a little bit sad about the state of many of our Orthodox Synagogues in Australia, due to the fact that 50% of the Jewish population often feel excluded or unwelcome. While there are many Synagogues that make active efforts to include women in meaningful ritual practice within an Orthodox framework, there is still much work that can be done.
This year I am proud ARK Centre will be continuing to offer a women’s only Megillah reading for Purim, but unfortunately, we remain in the minority of Orthodox Synagogues across Australia that will be offering women opportunities such as this: to be involved with the religious service in a meaningful way.
As a proud father of a daughter, I want her to feel welcome in Jewish communal and ritual spaces. I want that women, just as much as men, feel that they have a necessary place in their Synagogues. If the COVID-19 global pandemic has taught us anything, it is that our communal spaces are sacred and important at creating and instituting a sense of belonging.
Consider the fact that only a few Mitzvot in Jewish law are gender-specific and most can be fulfilled by men and women alike. There is no acceptable reason why women can’t be involved and included in what is rightfully their heritage, just as much as men.
All Synagogues should be taking proactive steps to further include women wherever possible. I know that I still have more to do and I continue to offer the opportunity for open dialogue with any group or woman that would like Halachic guidance in this area.
Progress cannot continue to be stifled.
Things must change.