Following Backlash, Orthodox Female Rabbi Gets Job Back at Top U.K. Institution

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Rabba Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz.
Rabba Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz.Credit: Alex Taibel

Barely three weeks after she was told she could no longer teach at a leading Orthodox institution in London because she had decided to pursue rabbinical studies, a prominent Orthodox feminist has been reinstated.

In a statement published Tuesday night, the London School of Jewish Studies stated that after considerable deliberation and consultation, it had decided that having Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz continue teaching at the institution did not compromise its basic position that women should not be allowed to serve as rabbis.

“We have concluded that our academic fellows are not religious appointments – and therefore should be made on the basis of academic merit. As such, we are delighted to restore Dr. Taylor-Guthartz’s academic research fellowship,” it said.

Taylor-Guthartz, who has been teaching at LSJS for 17 years, graduated last month from Yeshivat Maharat in New York, where she received her rabbinical ordination. Maharat was the first Orthodox institution in North America to ordain women. Taylor-Guthartz has adopted the title “rabba” (the feminine form for rabbi) since her ordination.

Responding to the decision, she told Haaretz in a phone interview Wednesday: “I’m so relieved it’s been sorted out. I’m very happy about the prospect of being able to teach at LSJS again with all the students I’m very fond of, and am looking forward to other plans I have of teaching in the future at all sorts of places.”

Last month’s decision by LSJS to end her teaching appointment drew outrage in the progressive Orthodox world, where women have been assuming more significant roles in religious life in recent years. Rabbi Michael Harris of Hampstead Synagogue resigned in protest from his academic position at LSJS.

LSJS, which provides adult education courses and provides rabbinical training, comes under the auspices of U.K. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.

In its statement, LSJS said that “advancing both women’s Torah learning and leadership to the fullest extent possible in accordance with mainstream Orthodox practice” was at the heart of its institutional mission.

UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis visiting 10 Downing Street in May.Credit: HENRY NICHOLLS/REUTERS

At the same time, it noted that “as the chief rabbi has made clear, however, the ordination of women remains outside the boundaries of mainstream Orthodox practice – a position we uphold at LSJS.”

Following the backlash against its initial decision to let Taylor-Guthartz go, despite her being a popular teacher, the LSJS trustees conducted a review into the function of research fellows at the institution. They consulted with several academics in leading Orthodox institutions, including Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, and New York’s Yeshiva University.

The controversy surrounding Taylor-Guthartz, the statement said, had “challenged us to reexamine what it means to be dually a religious institution guided by the chief rabbi and also an academic institution, upholding its academic freedom.”

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