The DJC recently hosted the third in a series of several discussions planned called Young Rabbis Speak. The series is billed as offering “multiple pathways to live Jewishly in the 21st century” through the eyes of a group of young Rabbis in Toronto. Four rabbis from across the denominational spectrum share the stage and provide their different (and they are different!) perspectives on various issues.
Last week’s topic was Judaism, Gender & Sexuality, and (not surprisingly) attracted a full house in the Eastminster auditorium. Panelists included a male Orthodox rabbi, a male Reform rabbi, a woman who was ordained as a Conservative rabbi now working for a Canadian Masorti organisation, another woman who provides guidance on women’s issues in the Orthodox community, and Rabbi Miriam. The room was filled with anticipation as people from various congregations and communities arrived, mingled, and nibbled on snacks.
The discussion that followed was fascinating in many ways. Having been a member of the DJC for about fifteen years, my Jewish practices have been egalitarian and my Jewish values viewed through a progressive lens for as long as I can remember. It was surprising to be reminded that Orthodox and Conservative congregations continue to have restrictions on women’s participation in key aspects of Jewish rituals. I was reminded that women cannot be counted in a minyan or play an active role in the Torah services at many synagogues in Toronto. I was also reminded that most rabbis in Toronto will not conduct weddings between same sex couples who want to marry.
Throughout, Rabbi Miriam stood out as a clear, progressive voice. It was a breath of fresh air to listen to our Rabbi challenge many of the long held beliefs around rigid notions of gender and sexuality in a thoughtful way. She spoke with strength and sensitivity about being an activist in her work toward broader equality and compassion for all.
At times, I found myself distancing from the discussion as traditional views were expressed on issues like why patriarchal systems protect us all and when Orthodox women must attend the mikvah. After some deep breaths, I realised that each person is entitled to their own beliefs and practices. Yet it is so important for the Toronto Jewish community to have strong, progressive voices like ours. And who better than the DJC to engage in these discussions and reframe traditional thinking than our amazing and diverse community, led by a strong female clergy? Let’s let our voices be heard clearly in the broader Jewish community.
At the same time, we continue to focus inward on our own community. We are still engaged in “wrestling” our way to understanding who we are and who we’d like to be. Please add your voice to these uniquely DJC discussions – the last two sessions planned are on March 7 (The Role of the Rabbi & Rabbi-Community Relations) and April 10 (God, Spirituality, and Atheism). Mark your calendars!
on behalf of
The DJC Board of Directors
Josh, Hilla, Ken, Lis, Margaret, Marlee, Michael, Nadya, Shari