Who is the wise person? The one who foresees the consequences.

Talmud, Tamid, 32a

Update on Women and Ritual at Adath Israel


Why is this process taking place now? How did this all begin?

During my interview process for the role of Senior Rabbi, it was made clear to me that Women and Ritual is an issue requiring consideration sooner rather than later. I requested not to begin this process until at least a year into my time at Adath Israel. During that initial year, which ended last March, the issue most frequently discussed with me (beyond the quality and quantity of kiddush food) was this one. It was clear that we needed to start learning and discussing.


Specifically, what ritual roles are being discussed and considered?

There are those who opt for blanket changes to Jewish law regarding Women and Ritual, i.e. every role that was previously restricted to men is now open to women. This approach necessarily obligates women in areas of Jewish law, such as thrice daily prayer, from which they were previously understood to be exempt.

My approach, however, is to treat each area of Jewish law as distinct with its own concerns, considerations, and legal history. The areas currently being discussed include opening up the following ritual opportunities to women: chanting Torah, haftarah, and megillah; receiving aliyot to the Torah; opening the ark; hagbah (lifting the Torah) and gelilah (dressing the Torah); serving as gabbai; leading Pesukei D’Zimrah, Kabbalat Shabbat, and Hallel; counting in the minyan; leading Shacharit, Minchah, Ma’ariv, Musaf, and Ne’ilah; and dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah.

The decision at the end of this process may effect changes to none, some, or all of the above.

The following traditionally gender-restricted roles are not being considered for change: taking on priestly or levitical status with the attendant rights and obligations; blowing shofar; serving as a legal witness (edut); and functioning as a member of a beit din (Jewish tribunal).

Further, as is the current practice, women will be free to determine for themselves whether to don a kippah, tallit, or tefillin.

We are not considering any changes to the liturgy.

We are also not considering restricting any of the roles currently open to women, such as young women chanting Torah and haftarah on the date they celebrate becoming Bat Mitzvah or the leading of Prayers for Canada and Israel. Finally, we are not considering separating men from women in the pews or restricting women’s presence on the bimah.


What is the timeline?

We will continue to offer opportunities for community learning and reflection for the next 3-4 months. Consultations with the entire Adath Israel community, gauging your thoughts and feelings about change on a variety of roles, will be begin in the Spring. A determination will be made no later than the Summer.


Is this discussion connected with membership numbers and the desire to attract new members?

No. The discussion has nothing to do with membership numbers. Rather, it is centred on what is right for the congregants who are members today.

From the hundreds of synagogues that have changed their policies vis-à-vis Women and Ritual in North America over the last fifty years, there is no reason to believe a change in Adath Israel’s policies will have a net effect on the synagogue’s membership numbers.


Is this discussion connected with the occasional difficultly in making a minyan, especially Mincha/Ma’ariv in the winter months when services are early?

No. This process began before the occasional challenge of making a minyan. Further, the decision about whether to count women in the minyan (which is just one of many roles being considered) will not take into consideration how such a change will affect our ability to make a minyan.


So, what is this discussion about?

I have been transparent in my belief that there is room within Jewish law for increased ritual roles for women. However, a decision about women’s roles is always contextual – what is appropriate for one community, may not be appropriate for another.

This discussion is about the 1600+ families and individuals who are the heart and soul of our congregation. This discussion is about weighing the myriad Jewish values and considerations – such as tradition, inclusion, obligation, opportunity, fairness, spirituality, continuity, cohesion, and more – that go into any religious ruling of significance.

This discussion is about doing what is right for Adath Israel Congregation today.

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