Women & Ritual

Women & Ritual

After a year of learning and sharing, we are moving forward with the next stage in the Women and Ritual process.

Rabbi Cutler believes that there are pathways in halakhah (Jewish law) that would allow expanded ritual opportunities for women. The decision to take these paths is dependent in part on the beliefs of our community as well as balancing the weight of tradition with other Jewish values.

On September 9th, Rabbi Cutler and our President, Dr. David Urbach shared the shul’s decision regarding the future of Women and Ritual at Adath Israel.

With the support of Rabbi Cutler, the Board of Governors has resolved that Jewish women be formally recognized as having the same prayer and Torah reading-related ritual obligations and therefore these same ritual opportunities as Jewish men.

Women will count in the minyan and have the opportunity to lead all prayer services.

These changes will be instituted during Sukkot 2020.

This decision, which passed by a strong majority, followed a year of study, sharing, and reflection, as well as significant consultation with the congregation, including a membership-wide survey that produced strongly favourable results that were consistent with market research standards.

The full survey results are provided below.


Final Report on Women and Ritual at Adath Israel

Women & Ritual at Adath Israel 2020 Full Survey Results


An Article written by Rabbi Erwin Schild – Rosh Hashanah, 2016

SHANAH TOVA – a good New Year! “Shanah” is the Hebrew word for year. It comes from a word root that means “to repeat”, for every year is a cycle that invariably traces the same structure: four seasons, with the sun expanding and contracting its daily course through the heavens following a repetitive and predictable annual schedule, and with the moon endlessly repeating its phases. The Hebrew numeral for 2,”shnayim”, stems from the same root as Shanah. Our second cantor has the title Chazan Sheini. Mishnah and Mishneh, Hebrew words for learning and for texts to study, come from Shanah, too, because the process of learning involves repeating.

So it may surprise us that the Hebrew word for “change” is derived from the same root as Shanah. Change in Hebrew is “shinnui”.

This excursion into the Hebrew dictionary informs us that Shanah and Shinnui, Year and Change, are interrelated.

In the world of biology, adaptability to change means survival. Species of plants or animals that cannot adapt to change disappear. In the world of humanity, the same choice prevails: adapt to change or grow obsolete, irrelevant, and vanish!

Our years would be blind and boring, time would stand still and coagulate, if it were not for the excitement and growth of change. Change is not threatening and dangerous; on the contrary, change holds promise and progress.

G-d willing, this Rosh Hashanah starts the 70th year of my association with Adath Israel. It is a history that may be told in terms of permanence and change. Had there been no change, we would not even speak of Adath Israel: it would be the Roumanishe Shul. No, without change the Congregation would have atrophied at Bathurst and College Street, next to King Edward Public School. If we had not embraced the changes occurring in the post-war Jewish community, changes in demographics, geography, faith, and sociology, our Congregation would have vanished.

We had the courage not to ignore and deny these changes. We responded to them and trusted in the members’ enduring love for Jewishness and their everlasting loyalty to the Shul that had served the religious needs of Jewish immigrants from Romania and their descendants.

The rise of Adath Israel from a parochial congregation of about 190 Jewish families to a flourishing community of nearly 1900 member/families is a story of meeting the challenges of a changing population. The original members had been immigrants whose language was Yiddish and who were addressed by their rabbi in Yiddish. Then children were born and educated in English, many without any Jewish education and with barely minimal, if any, religious observance.  The new generation adapted to the Canadian environment. Congregational records switched to English. The Rabbi gradually preached sermons in English, a change that traditionalists deplored. To attract younger congregants, some having had the benefit of higher secular education, not only the language, but also the topics of sermons underwent change for the sake of relevance.

We founded a men’s club, called the Adath Israel Brotherhood, and for the women, the Sisterhood which eventually took over the revered Ladies’ Auxiliary. It was a good change, even though for a while it hurt the feelings of a few people.

The post-war period presented a three-fold challenge to our community. The Jewish geographical centre transferred from Europe to the American continent. We became part of the Jewish heart land. The Zionist struggle for a Jewish homeland, eventually culminating in the rise of the State of Israel, claimed the commitment of our resources. At the same time came the powerful inoculation of new energy and will power provided by thousands of Holocaust survivors.

Canadian Jews and their organizations had to accept new status and responsibility.

The strongest and most immediate problem impacting on the Toronto Synagogues was the migration of the Jewish population from downtown neighbourhoods to sprawling suburbia. The result was a need to realign the Synagogue catchment areas and to create a new environment for Jewish culture and social life.

For the downtown Synagogues, it was change or extinction.

Adath Israel had the leadership and the will to respond. We opted for the bold change to move and build, without partners, a new Synagogue in North York.

The old Shul downtown on Bathurst Street had to be sold. It had been so nice, so comfortable, fully paid, no debts, no mortgage, but one cannot maintain a Synagogue where Jews no longer want to live. So be bold and daring and build a new edifice at the cost of more than a million and start to worry about raising the money. And add a congregational Religious School with real teachers and a principal, a school that would very quickly grow to a few hundred children, most of whom would soon learn what their parents had forgotten or had never known.

With the new location there came an even more significant change: officially changing our charter name from “First Roumanian Hebrew Congregation Adath Israel” to just “Adath Israel Congregation” and to change our religious orientation from Orthodox to Conservative.

At the General Meeting that voted for both changes there was a lively controversy about erasing the Romanian etiology from the congregational name. It was touching to hear Mrs. Dora Coffler, one of the founders, plead for the retention of the name that honoured the veterans of the past. The vast majority, that included a flood of new members, opted for a name that spoke to the future of a new religious entity rather than invoke its past.

There was no controversy when the motion to adopt the conservative orientation was tabled. Of course, there were people who would have been comfortable in an orthodox Synagogue that would tolerate an open parking lot on Shabbat and mixed seating –men and women– in the pews at religious services. But both the old-timers and the many new members understood that Conservative Judaism encouraged religious observance combined with modernity. A Conservative Synagogue would emancipate women from segregation, attract the children, and promote a pleasant Jewish social life, without constant hectoring and would not make you feel guilty all the time if the level of your observance was not up to par. Tradition and Change is the popular description of Conservative Judaism. It suited the religious aspirations of a very large segment of our community.

It is interesting that change in the Synagogue is so often associated with the role of women in the ritual. Officially, women could not be members of the congregation when I started my rabbinate. They belonged as wives or daughters of the male Shul member; they had no vote and could not serve on the Board. The constitutional amendment that made women equal members, made them eligible to vote or to serve as Board members, officers, and even as Synagogue president, came much later.

I am proud that one of the many changes that I proposed and implemented was the Shabbat morning Bat-Mitzvah for girls. I was determined that girls, just like boys, would celebrate their coming of age status by reading from the Torah and Haftarah and be invited back to read their portion again at subsequent anniversaries.

Women have achieved high positions in the economic and political life of many countries. Following the example of Golda Meir in Israel, the prime ministers of Britain and Germany, and of several other states, are women, and so are several premiers of Canadian provinces and the pro tem leader of the federal parliamentary opposition. The next president of the U.S.A. may be a woman. A congregation that appears not to recognize these basic changes will not be the choice of non-orthodox Jews.

Tradition and Change have made Adath Israel what it is today. Tradition and Change must be the catalysts of its future. Tradition is not a screen behind which you can hide to avoid change. Even during our ongoing search for a Senior Rabbi, the Torah empowers our present rabbis to define the parameters of change. In comment on Deuteronomy 17: 9, “the judge who will be in those days”, Rashi quotes the Sages in the Sifri: “Even if he is different from the other judges before him, you must obey the judge who is in your present time.” It is the Rabbis’ responsibility to tell us what is allowed. Then the Synagogue members and leaders, men and women, lay and clergy together, must decide what changes are most beneficial for the welfare of our Congregation and make membership attractive to the broadest spectrum of our community.

So, on behalf of Laura and myself, let me wish you, every one of you, a Shanah Tovah in the deepest sense: a year of life and good health, a year to enjoy love and success and good fortune, a year of Torah and Mitzvot, and also a year to change the bitter into the sweet, indifference into commitment, weakness into strength, a year to erase prejudice and confusion and instead to welcome vision and wisdom.

Shanah Tovah!

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