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Shavuot Scorecard – Where are the Women?

May 29, 2012 – 9:58 pm82 Comments

Galus Australis received the following correspondance from a reader late last week, a couple of days before Shavuot:

I may have a bit too much time on my hands this week, and I did a little survey after I received an email of all the Tikkun Leil Shavuot events happening in Orthodox shules [eds: The Tikkun Leil Shavuot is an evening of Torah learning that is held on the first night of Shavuot].

Each shule is hosting between 3-11 speakers on the night. Below is a list of how many women are speaking at each shule.

St Kilda Shule: 0
South Caulfield: 0
Elwood: 0
Spiritgrow: 0
Chabad Malvern: 0
Elsternwick Shule: 0
Hamayan: 0
Yeshiva: 0
CBH – Katanga: 0
Chabad Glen Eira: 0
Kew Hebrew Congregation: 0
Chabad on Carlisle: 0
Blake Street: 1
Caulfield Shule: 1
Beit Aharon: 2
Bnei Akiva: 3
Mizrachi: 5
Shira: 7

The list is not exhaustive but it includes most of the larger Orthodox congregations in the community. Whilst the number of women speaking at any one shul on a given night is not necessarily instructive (for example, you might imagine that more women spoke last year), when considered as a whole, the list is striking. The first thing to note is that female speakers were few and far between. Second, it is striking that none of the shuls with Chabad rabbis had any women on their programs at all, whereas the majority of shuls with Modern Orthodox rabbis had at least one woman on their list. It is worth noting that unlike women’s participation in other synagogue rituals, there aren’t specific halakhic prohibitions against women teaching Torah. This makes women’s absense from Tikkun Leil Shavuot programs all the more worrisome: does this mean that women are excluded for reasons other than religious law? Are women considered second class citizens in Melbourne’s Orthodox synagogues? We thought that it was worth bringing this to your attention for some respectful debate.

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  • samo says:

    How can we as a community tolerate this clear disregard for womens views?
    This story should be on the front page of the Jewish News.

    I’d be very interested to hear why Chabad rabbis have chosen to exclude women. Galus, perhaps you can request a response from the Chabad movement?

    Kol Hacavod to Shira for being a beacon of light in the orthodox community.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    You’re shocked that a religion which institutionalises its sexism doesn’t have female speakers at its shavuot events?


  • Naftoli says:

    I love the fact that you think there is some sort of “movement” that dictates what Chabad rabbis do. Is that something like ZOG or an international Jewish movement? :)

    Two more apt questions – why (according to the figures above) Kew, Hamayan & Elsternwick didn’t have a female speaker? They are all congregations with fairly ‘modern’ congregants and/or rabbis and Kew in particular has a very active and learned Rebbitzen.
    And what makes you think that rabbis dictate every aspect of what goes on at shul? In my experience active congregants and/or boards of management have more say in the day to day running than the rabbi does.

    Methinks this is just an excuse for Chabad bashing.

  • Harry Joachim says:

    It’d be good if Shira’s desire to promote women’s participation was matched by a commitment to the standards of halachah. The two are not mutually exclusive, but the congregation has decided to sacrifice the latter in order to advance the former.

  • Naftoli is quite right – as I have written on these pages, there is no global Chabad policy or response on issues like this. For too many readers, it’s just another excuse for Chabad-bashing rather than constructive debate.

    In fact, this Shavuot the Yeshivah Shule brought out a couple (yes, a husband and wife) from Israel and both of them spoke in various locations and to different groups about a range of topics.

    Daniel – it’s ironic that you focus on “institutionalised sexism” in your usual attack yet miss the big target – Shavuot is the day we celebrate the giving of the Torah on Mt Sinai! Would you be OK if we celebrated that day but with a better gender balance of speakers? ;)

  • naava says:

    I was at shira and it was great but four of those women were on a panel so listing it as 7 really overstates the number of sessions. The truth is that very few of the shules you have listed have any issue with women speaking to their shule, its more that they don’t have extensive tikkun leil programs. I think if a shule is only having three major sessions, one is given by the rabbi, one is given by a guest rabbi and one is given by a learned female, well statistically that is not too bad. There are much bigger issues for women in shules…this is making something of nothing.

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    Oh for goodness sake get a life some of you. We as women have a very important role in Judaism which is the care and nurture of the next generation. There are many women in the Orthodox community perfectly capable of speaking and doing a better job of it than a lot of men with few exceptions. Some of them do, but frankly it is important for us to be with our children and educating them in many ways. We are only human, although some of us are given superwoman status, the basic facts are, the running of a Jewish household depends on one woman who is mother, peacemaker,teacher, nurse, confidante to her husband and her children and now she is expected to take a leading role in speaking engagements and the synagogue as well. Just get a life and don’t be lazy. The men can speak, that is what they do well especially in shule, sometimes to their discredit during laning of the Torah and prayers. They might as well do it in a structured and productive way. Yes, when you want some real wisdom / hochma you get a woman speaker occaisonally. But don’t you think the women deserve one night of peace and calm?

  • Yaron says:

    I really wish I had your ability to look into the soul of another person over the internet and know with certainty their intentions and how they practice their Judaism.

    I only hope you use your powers for good.

    David etc.
    You may be right, that there is no Chabad conspiracy, but would accept that there is a philosophical similarity within the Chabad worldview that leads to many of their shules to act in a similar way?

  • ariel says:

    My wife calls this the “Julie Bishop” syndrome:
    Women who their whole lives grew up in Jewish insititutions (shules) where they were told they can’t speak in front of the congregation, who now say “that’s not the way we do things. men rule the nest and we should support them”.

    Named after the deputy leader of the Federal Opposition for her full backing of her leader no matter what he says.

  • TheSadducee says:

    I’m not sure what sort of respectful debate you can have when you commence it with the inflammatory (and offensive) question of whether women are considered 2nd class citizens in Melbourne’s Orthodox synagogues?

    Also for the editors – I think you really need to have a little more substance behind the inference that Chabad (or other Orthodox Jews) mistreat their female adherents than referring to the 2012 Tikkun Leil Shavuot schedule to maintain some credibility.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    David, you can have whatever celebration you like. You’re a grown man. If fairytales is your thing, go for it.

    Just stop brainwashing your children, and stop treating the women in your community like 2nd class citizens. You can simply realise that the laws keeping women out of leading religious services was merely the goatherders who wrote your fairytale book trying to institutionalise their power over women and discard those archaic and damaging “laws”, much in the same way we no longer stone people to death for breaking halacha.

    You can do it, David, I believe in you. Just choose to stop being sexist. Choose to speak up and get some female voices in your synagogue, because right now, in the vast majority of chabad synagogues, women are literally there to be seen and not heard. And you support this wholeheartedly. How disgraceful for you.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    TheSadducee, “what sort of respectful debate you can have when you commence it with the inflammatory (and offensive) question of whether women are considered 2nd class citizens in Melbourne’s Orthodox synagogues?”

    If crying out about injustices to women is inflammatory to you, maybe you would do well to invent a time machine and travel back to the 19th century where opinions like that belong…

  • TheSadducee says:

    Is it about time that the editors considering a temporary ban on Daniel Levy?

    Me’thinks its long overdue for a “time out” for the lad.

  • TheSadducee says:


    Crying out for what injustices to women? That there aren’t any on the 2012 Tikkun Leil Shavuot speakers schedule in Chabad synagogues in Melbourne?

    Are you mentally deficient?

  • Daniel Levy says:

    TSad: Don’t like being called sexist? Then don’t be sexist.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    TSad, the tikkun leil speakers are merely a symptom of the problem. I highlighted the rest of it above, about women being barred from leading religious services. There are also the other ridiculous laws like forcing women to cover their hair, y’know, so she can keep herself nice and special for the man. *vomit*

    The whole damn thing is disgusting. Women are like property in Judaism. For example, did you know you can rape a woman, pay the father 50 pieces of silver for the father’s trouble of having his daughter raped and then you get to marry her!

    I’m pretty sure that counts as gross sexism. Woman doesn’t even get a say. The man HAS to marry her because he claimed her.

    Ho…ly… shit…

    And you’re defending this rubbish?

  • Yaron,

    The philosophical similarity of which you speak is not exclusively or specifically Chabad – it is associated with Orthodox Judaism in general. The problem is that people incorrectly use Chabad as a proxy for talking about Orthodox Jewish values. This might be because Chabad has such a strong presence in Melbourne. The other article is a better place to have a further discussion about this.

    Interestingly, official Chabad shluchim must always be married couples and you often find that the wives take an active role in the outreach work itself and running events for women. Chabad definitely do not treat women as second class citizens, and attitudes to women are likely more contemporary than those of broader Orthodoxy, while still remaining within a framework of Orthodox observance.

    TheSadducee & Naava correctly points out that this whole article is unnecessarily inflammatory. Framed better, this could be a meaningful debate on the attitudes of Orthodoxy to the role of Jewish women instead of descending into the de rigueur Chabad- and religion-bashing.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    David, instead of playing the victim, why don’t you offer an example of how this could be phrased so that it were a debate on “the role of jewish women” (how antiquated still, gender roles, really?) and didn’t offend your delicate sensibilities as an overprivileged white male?

    Methinks no matter how it is phrased you’ll always play the victim card so that you don’t have to address the real issue.

  • TheSadducee says:


    As you know, I am not observant nor religious, and so I am at a slight disadvantage in terms of speaking on the behalf of those who do adhere to religious practices.

    I would suggest that I am not defending anyone rather I am attempting to engage in informed and civil discourse.

    I merely objected to opening a debate with a loaded question(s) like was done in this article.

    Nonetheless I am prepared to engage your strident views:

    I am sceptical that any woman is “forced” to cover their hair. Are you suggesting that there are enforcers in the religious communities in Melbourne who make Jewish women cover their hair? They may be encouraged by religious instructions, but this doesn’t equate to being forced to do anything against their will.

    Additionally, the bit about rape, 50 silver etc – can you point to any documented and verifiable cases in the diaspora in the last (lets be generous) 1000 years where this has occured under religious jurisdiction? Can you point out any exegesis which supports your own on this? I do hope you are aware that the Torah etc are not deliberately always meant to be read as literal documents?

    As to leading religious services in the synagogue. I have no problems with men or women leading them based on their learning and appropriateness to do so. I am completely against those who say that women cannot do so for whatever reason because it is merely a cultural tradition and these can and do change historically.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    TSad, your last 3 paragraphs and my rebuttals to them are labelled 1, 2 and 3:

    1) They’re not forced, they’re simply told from a young age that if they don’t become good Jewish wife, mummy and daddy won’t love them. Therefore they are emotionally blackmailed into doing it from a very young age. Different kind of forced.

    2) This is hardly the type of thing that gets documented in history books. It’s not like anyone has to write this down as a matter of record. But the fact that the law is there is heinous enough. Even if it’s not a literal document, there is no good reason whatsoever for such an absurdly disgusting sentiment to appear.

    3) Good, but orthodox judaism is nowhere near as open-minded and trying to get that changed is going to involve some heated discussion. There’s no polite way to tell someone to stop being a bigot. You just come out and say it.

  • Daniel – it’s clearly impossible for you to maintain a meaningful, civil & adult debate on these topics. I’m not going to waste any more time responding to your rants.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    David, you’re the one shying away from meaningful debate with your laughable victimisation protests. And when you get challenged on that, you just run away. How telling.

  • Marky says:

    Re No.2(Daniel) the woman has the choice to marry him if she wants to. He has no say. And the payout is a huge amount.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Marky, are you saying a huge payout justifies the action? And also, nowhere in the verse does it say the woman has any say in it.

    It says, verbatim:

    “28 Suppose a man has intercourse with a young woman who is a virgin but is not engaged to be married. If they are discovered, 29 he must pay her father fifty pieces of silver. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he may never divorce her as long as he lives.”

  • Marky says:

    “Veloh tihyeh Leisha” if she wants.. It does not say she must.

  • ariel says:


    I’m still dumfounded why you are still on this site. If you are correct, then you by definition do not exist as there is no such thing as a Jew. So if you actually believe that, you should have no problem allowing the rest of us to pretend we exist while you go around angree your whole life. Just leave us in peace.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Marky, care to provide a source for that quote?

    No transcription I have seen contains “only if she wants it”.

    I challenge you to find an english version that has it.

    And regardless, paying for a daughter’s hand in marriage is still sexism.

    The best part is, that section of deuteronomy isn’t even the most depraved. Try this one on for size:

    23 “Suppose a man meets a young woman, a virgin who is engaged to be married, and he has sexual intercourse with her. If this happens within a town, 24 you must take both of them to the gates of that town and stone them to death. The woman is guilty because she did not scream for help. The man must die because he violated another man’s wife. In this way, you will purge this evil from among you.”

    Wow, so because a woman doesn’t scream for help when she’s raped she should be killed? That is some awesome victim-blaming.

    And stoning for adultery? What savagery!

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Ariel, what a weak copout. Stop brainwashing your children and subjugating the women in your lives and I’ll stop posting here.

  • Marky says:

    I said “it doesn’t say she must” I explained that means only if she wants to.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    And still no source.

  • TheSadducee says:

    I’m sure this has ended up where the editors wanted this discussion to go – schmatta quality midrash from a deliberately offensive nudnik about a potentially important issue in the Orthodox community in Melbourne – bravo Editors!

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Whoever wrote this piece – I’m not quite sure where your numbers come from. When I last looked, the Mizrachi program listed 5 women, plus 3 on Bnei Akiva’s program. You’ve listed it as 1 each.

    I haven’t seen any of the other shuls’ programs but this is enough to call your accounting into question. Which leads to the suspicion already voiced on this page that this piece was intended to be inflammatory, not discussion-provoking.

  • Wolf says:

    The author asks “Are women considered second class citizens?”, the answer is obviously a resounding “no”, and therein lies the problem…

    Ok just kidding, but seriously I totally agree with Shira Wenig, this peice is simply meant to be “inflammatory, not discussion-provoking”.

  • Hi Shira,

    The reader who submitted the list based the numbers of women on advertisements that he received by email. He has advised me that the figures for Mizrachi and Bnei Akiva were from Emmanuel’s mailing list – he forwarded the email to us and he has counted the numbers of women advertised on that list correctly. However, we are glad to hear from you that Mizrachi and Bnei Akiva actually had more women speaking than advertised on that email and have updated the numbers above accordingly.

  • letters in the age says:

    Too much time on their hands??

    heard of having careers and repnsibilities


  • Harry Joachim says:

    Yaron writes “I really wish I had your ability to look into the soul of another person over the internet and know with certainty their intentions and how they practice their Judaism. I only hope you use your powers for good.”

    Huh? I made a remark about the halachically dubious practices of Shira Chadasha in Melbourne in terms of the way their services are conducted. I have no idea what is in the neshamas of the mispallelim at the shul, but they are no doubt well-meaning and harbour a strong desire to worship HaShem Yisboroch in the best way they can. However, their practices must accord with the basic standards of authentic Torah Judaism in order for them to remain within the orthodox fold. This includes the halachos about mechitzos, mixed seating, and participation in the service by women.

  • hi naava,
    let’s be as generous as possible and say that every shul on the list other the ones with 3+ women had only three speakers on their program (this isn’t the case, but this would be the best case scenario if you believe that men and women should teach Torah in roughly equal measure). let’s also assume that every shul had a rabbi and that all of the rabbis were men (this is true of most of the shuls but there are some that are lay-led). then let’s assume that it’s expected that the rabbi of a shul will always be one of the speakers at tikkun leil shavuot (not sure if this is always the case, but possibly a fair assumption). there would then be two more spots to fill. at any given synagogue, there could be 2 men, 2 women or one of each gender in a given year, but assuming that women and men are equally likely to speak at tikkun leil shavuot, over a large number of shuls we’d expect that there would be an average of 1 woman per synagogue. in fact, this is far from the case.

  • Seraphya Berrin says:

    The list was based on what was advertised to the community in a mailing I am pretty sure and even if there were more women and more men than were included in this advertising mailing list that isn’t the point.

    The point is which people were put into the spot light and advertised.

    And harry –
    you do know that shira has a mechitza, doesn’t have mixed seating and participation in the service by women is only in parts that other shules would let someone under bar-mitzvah lead (kabbalat shabbat, peticha, etc)

  • Sorry to divert the discussion elsewhere, but you may want to check out this continuation: https://www.facebook.com/MajorKarnage/posts/199942933462613?notif_t=share_comment

  • Harry Joachim says:

    “And harry –
    you do know that shira has a mechitza, doesn’t have mixed seating and participation in the service by women is only in parts that other shules would let someone under bar-mitzvah lead (kabbalat shabbat, peticha, etc)”

    OK, so which rav does the shul go to for its halachic sheelos?

  • inkerman says:

    Shavuot is a holy Yom Tov and the Hashem demanded from our ancestors for the 3 days prior -‘al tigshu el ha’isha’

    Thus there is no place for women speaking to men on this Yom Tov.

    OTOH if you dismiss and disregard the Torah then go ahead and do whatever you like. Eg, Why not invite the local Catholic priest or Muslim Imam?

    And furthermore, if women join then their husbands in Shul all night WHO IS LOOKING AFTER THE CHILDREN??

  • Mendy says:

    which Rav you ask?

    Rebbetzin Wiki Google, of course!

    When she finally marries, there may be a Rav in the equation, but these days perhaps not.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Seraphya, the article purported to talk about the Tikkun Leil programs at various orthodox shuls in melbourne. Full stop. It didn’t say it was only counting the number of women advertised by each shul in Emmanuel’s email.

    I must be the only Jew in melbourne who is not on Emmanuel’s list, so I haven’t seen his email, but anyone who wants to make allegations about the gender-inclusiveness of different shuls, in a public forum like this, has the responsibility to check their facts first.

    I appreciate that Mizrachi’s numbers have now been amended but I wonder how many other shuls have been misrepresented as well – others have commented above that Yeshivah had female speakers giving sessions for example.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Completely agree with Shira – you need more evidence than a cursory examination (at 2nd hand apparently) of schedules to draw significant conclusions like gender problems in the Orthodox community.

    And besides has anyone considered that it is offensive for the sake of Orthodox women – are they not capable of speaking up for themselves in their own communities?

    This is Melbourne, Australia not Wana, South Waziristan folks.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    “are they not capable of speaking up for themselves in their own communities?”

    societal stigma says what

  • TheSadducee says:

    Societal stigma? Nonsense. Hasn’t forced your parents to stop you yet Daniel.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    My parents thankfully do not drink the kool-aid in your dosage.

    For the women embedded in this community – which has acute abilities of judging those who break the status quo, whose gossip and rumour mills are extensive and exceedingly nasty – I can imagine speaking out against the discriminatory abuses to be quite a fearful endeavour.

    Perhaps you lack the compassion to see this.

  • Sara says:

    Harry, this is not a post about the halachic validity of Shira. You clearly are not informed about our practices nor our halachic framework. I’m not interested in engaging in a debate about the integrity of my Jewish halachic practice with someone who is prepared to leap to assumptions and publicly judge people and a shule he knows nothing about. You may not intend to offend individuals but your words are offensive.

    The issue here is about why women are not taking/receiving opportunities to speak in our shules accross the spectrum. There are many wise and learned women who could contribute greatly to our collective learning, within a completely halachic framework. We need to find ways to actively address this obvious gender imbalance.

  • Andrew Harris says:

    A disproportionate response to a what is essentially an erroneous reader comment — the fact remains that regardless of what went on Emmanuel’s list (a free community convenience provided by someone acting only in service of those he sends it to, and not a litmus test of communal attitudes), women have always played a major role in the Tikkun Leil programs I have attended, and those I have looked into. This year, at Shira; and growing up with the Hineni Tikkun Leil program, for example.

    It’s unsurprising that there were more women speakers on the bill on Saturday night than were tallied on Emmanuel’s list; I doubt he was pushing an agenda either way. As many of us would have experienced, volunteer presenters at events like Tikkun Leil are often only able to commit and attend at the last minute. So they may not have been listed too long in advance, and available to Emmanuel.

    Big deal — the reality is that there is plenty of female engagement with Tikkun Leil. And people should learn to do some proper research and learn about the full context of the claims they’re making, before they bring all manner of oppositional lunacy out of the woodwork.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    TheSadducee, as an addendum. This is the same community that couldn’t even find the courage to speak up over little children being systematically abused for TWO DECADES. But sure, dissent carries no stigma in this community. None at all. And pigs can fly.

  • Seraphya Berrin says:

    If someone would compile a thorough list of men speaking and women speaking there might be a few more women to add to these lists, but the ratios would still tell the same story.
    Also if you looked into it further you would find that women were speaking to all women audiences , while men were speaking to both men and women. You would further find that women were talking about “Women’s” issues while men were talking about communal issues that effect everyone.

    Someone mentioned the couple that spoke somewhere. I assume based on previous experience, that he was being brought out to talk and once she is here we can also have her talk. A shaliach for Chabad might be married but it is very clear that the man is the one being sent with his wife, not the woman with her husband. Similarly with Bnei Akiva shlichim (with a few exceptions), when a couple is sent, the man is the shaliach and the woman is the wife of the shaliach.

    I don’t expect for Orthodox Judaism to catch up sociological norms of society so quickly. The Halachik process is an inherently conservative slow moving one which also can permeate the sociology of the community. Only recently did many Western nations have a female leader, America still hasn’t. We can’t expect Mizrachi to have a female president yet, but we should point out that it still hasn’t happened.

    As for what happened on the actual night compared to what was advertised and the many reasons this may have. It still is true that by advertising men heavily over women, it shows that men are valued over women.

    As for the people who keep saying that if both men and women went then who would watch the kids, you are showing the gender discrimination that is going on. Why should the women be the one who has to stay home rather than the man? Why can’t they take turns, Tikkun layl goes on all night?

  • Seraphya Berrin says:

    Although this post has nothing to do with shira, it keeps coming up.

    As for which Rav is asked, that is a silly question. There are many shules and minyanim around the world without rabbis and they find many different ways of dealing with Halakhic issues.

    How many questions do you have at your shule that are related to what happens at shule? Almost none. You have the shules minhagim that guide practice of what tefillah is said on which day or in which order. Those aren’t Halakhic questions, those are minhag questions that you don’t need a rabbi to answer, what you need is to ask what did we do last year and the year before that.

    For individual questions that don’t relate to communal practice, that is easy too! Each person can ask whatever Rav they have a personal connection to or any Rav in the community or the world(thanks to the internet!)

    It is true that once in a very rare while there are communal questions. Just recently for shavuot dinner there were halakhic issues of hachana m’yom l’yom and hot plates and timers. Those who were involved in setting up, inlcuding me, knew a lot of the halachot from our time in Yeshiva or Midrasha and I refreshed myself with a look a shmirat shabbat k’hilchata for the answers that were mostly quite simple. Before shavuot I was in contact with quite a few rabbis about some finer points of halakha because I was asking them things about some other questions as well. I don’t feel the need to give you their names, and I don’t know if they would want their names to show up in this discussion. I will tell you that they are Rashei Yeshiva and Rabbis of Shules which I am sure that most of you would not hesitate in attending.

  • Elijah says:

    Having recently visited Melbourne and other places in Australia, I was intrigued by the situation in Melbourne. I have not seen elsewhere in my travels, a community as enveloped by Chabad.

    Shepparton in Victoria in the 1940’s appears to be the starting point for Chabad. Chabad now controls or is involved in 2 Melbourne kashrut authorities, the Beit Din, the Chevra Kadisha, Mikvahs, Hatzollah, several Chabad houses, a number of orthodox synagogues have Chabad rabbis, synagogues that use Chabad printed or controlled siddurs, a Chabad day school for boys and girls, various Chabad outreach organisations and strong Chabad presence in various communal organisations.

    “Naftoli” wonders why people on this blog occasionally want to bash Chabad. Primarily its the biggest show in town and when it does something wrong, it does it in monumental proportions. Chabad needs to be held to account for its wrongs.

    I have sensed there is a great unease in Melbourne about Chabad. It probably stems from Chabad philosophy of being ‘Soldiers of Hashem’. Chabad has probably, deliberately, penetrated every aspect of Jewish life in Melbourne for near total control. It almost seems that the ordinary orthodox, conservative, progressive and other communities or organisations are just waking up to this.

    Chabad does not constitute the majority of Jews in Melbourne. I think they are particularly wary and hostile to Chabad specifically because of the Scheerson is messiah claim. This messiah claim is outside of the norm of Judaism, it is going to create a schism, and there is going to be a ‘war’ to reclaim Jewish organisations and facilities.

    The alleged paedophiles and facilitators at Yeshivah Beth Rivkah will hopefully be the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’. I hope that Chabadniks will hopefully look back and see Gimel Tammuz as equal to Tisha B’Av. I hope that Chabad goes back to pre 1994 and really a lot earlier. Chabad has done a lot of good, but now, it is treading the path of ancient Christians, away from Judaism.

    Non-Chabad jews of Melbourne, fight back and reclaim your community.
    Recite Birkat ha Minim in your shules.
    Replace Chabad siddurs.
    Welcome Chabadniks back to Judaism.

  • Andrew,
    The content of Emmanuel’s emails is sourced from the shuls themselves. It reflects the people who spoke in the earlier stages of the night at the main event at each of the shuls.

  • Isaac Balbin says:

    Let’s take Elwood’s announcement of their Shavuos functions. There wasn’t even a male speaker mentioned. So, Elwood had equal representation as opposed to the agenda driven poppycock post on this site.

    Perhaps someone could have given a Shiur on the sources in the Torah that mandate equal gender representation in Judaism. It would certainly be a short one, but heck, if it was given by a woman, it would get a tick.

  • Yaron says:

    1. So let us assume that the email sent around only advertised the headline speakers. The question remains, even if there were other female speakers, why are women good enough to speak but not good enough to be head line acts.

    We can either choose to be troubled by this situation or ignore it. The article was simply a reflection of an unpleasant reality.

    2. There is clearly a lot of information that was beyond the scope of this article. It’s not a complete statistical study. We’re being told now that there were more women talking. But how many women were doubling up? I heard that the same female names were appearing on a number of programs (just as there were men doubling up all around the community).

    And what were the women talking about? Who were they talking to? Were they talking to men as well as women? Were they talking about general issues or only women’s issues?

    3. As for the halachic status of Shira, there are rabbis for it and against it. It is certainly not the first disagreement in Jewish history.

    If you do not like how they do things, don’t go, but do not delegitimise or denigrate the genuine halachic behaviour of others.

  • Harry Joachim says:

    Yaron, aside from yourself, which rabbis are in favour of Shira?

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Seraphya, I don’t know where you draw all those erroneous assumptions from. The female speakers must have been speaking to all-female audiences about secret womens’ business? Oh please.

    It’s making a mountain out of a molehill to draw any grand conclusions from this flawed snapshot of the community. But now that you’ve brought up the topic, let me inform you that currently the lay leaders of 2 Mizrachi minyanim happen to be women; I have been on the mizrachi committee since 2004 and have never faced any gender-based opposition; and there have been no female presidents because no women have put their hands up for the job yet, not because of some institutionalised ban. The only conclusion one can really draw from this is that at Mizrachi, those who are willing to work hard and contribute, do so – and their gender is quite immaterial.

  • Seraphya Berrin says:

    There are plenty of Rabbis who will say that they won’t go or that you shouldn’t go but can’t actually point to a halakhic problem. When pressed, it is really hard to find anything shira does that is definitely against halakha. Think of women wearing pants. Many Rabbis might say that it isn’t acceptable but will admit when pressed that it isn’t a halakhic issues exactly and that there are definitely opinions that can permit it. If they don’t admit that, then they either can’t read rishonim and achronim or are lying.

    There are also Rabbis in Melbourne and Australia who won’t publicly support Shira, but don’t see it as Halakhicly wrong.

  • Yaron says:

    Why do I get the feeling that you would rubbish any name that I gave.

    I have no intention of debating you on this topic, rather I would suggest you do your own research and come back to me with a halachic source that objects to shira (which could be difficult since you do not know what goes on in shira).

  • Alex Fein says:

    I may be wrong on this – so someone please correct me if I am – but weren’t Rav Pinchuk and his very learned wife Hassida in favour of Shira? And wasn’t Rav Pinchuk a shaliach at Mizrachi? At the very least, I know they were not against the shul and am pretty sure they gave shiurim to Shira people.


    Shira Wenig, it’s admirable that you’ve ventured into what was until recently a male domain.

    I don’t know you personally, but you have a reputation for acute intelligence and willingness to take on public responsibility. From my knowledge of Melbourne’s mainstream orthodoxy, yours are the actions of a trailblazer, and not the norm.

    It’s clear that our community doesn’t indulge in gross misogyny – thank God.

    That’s not the same, though, as having an environment that actively encourages women’s equal participation in religious intellectual life.

    It’s pretty clear that the public intellectual heavy lifting is still overwhelmingly the preserve of men and that only a very few women are sufficiently confident – or respected enough to be invited onto – the religious public stage.

    From some of the comments on this post, we can certainly see that there is still resistance to the idea that women have any place at all in religious intellectual public life.

    Things are better than they were, but that doesn’t mean that we can rest. I’m relatively new to religious life, but for many years, my favourite quote from Pirkei Avot has been – lo alecha hamlacha ligmor. Ve lo ata ben chorin lehibatel mimena.

    In English: It’s not incumbent on you to finish the work, But nor are you free to abandon it either.


    Finally, people who criticise Shira’s halachic credentials are strongly advised to attend a service.

    I’ve heard so many bizarre and inaccurate accounts of Shira’s supposed practices. These are baseless rumours and impugn the halachic integrity of its congregants.

    In the rush to defend orthodoxy, it’s counter to the spirit – if not laws – of Judaism to indulge in lashon ha’ra about people with whom one disagrees.

  • Shira,
    I think it would be wrong to draw conclusions about any one particular synagogue from this list. For example, even a synagogue that had no women speaking before 1am this year, might theoretically have had mostly women last year. And Mizrachi did have women speaking. It’s great to hear that women are involved in leadership positions at Mizrachi (is that in the main shule as well?), but perhaps this isn’t the case in other synagogues on this list. In my opinion, what is of interest is not how many women spoke at any particular shul, but the overall trends. In some cases, the congregants at these other shuls might be perfectly happy with this arrangement – for example, Isaac Balbin appears to be in his comment below. But I don’t think that this is the case for the majority of congregants at the majority of the shuls. In fact, many of these may be aware and comfortable with the fact that at their shule, women do not have an equal role in the synagogue ritual; but nonetheless may erroneously assume that with respect to things such as shule management, teaching, etc., there is gender equality.

  • Seraphya Berrin says:


    That isn’t what I said. I know that at least some shiurim on shavuot night given by women were given to only women. I can’t find specifically where because most shules have websites that need a lot of work. It is clear this goes on in Mizrachi too. I know its not all like this and there are some good shiurim that are open to both men and women but here is a snapshot.

    These are the two out of 21 shiurim given by a woman, they both take place outside the beit midrash /shule:
    Family Dilemma’s in Tanach for Women
    Following in the Footsteps Shiur for women

    The one shiur with a defined topic that is only for women is:
    Hilchot Shabbat for women

    These are some of the shiurim for men only:
    These have no mixed equivalent, despite the capability of women in the mizrachi community to learn gemara:
    Gemara for men
    Daf Yomi for men
    Sefer HaKuzari for men

    These are for men only for no reason that is fathomable to me. There are mixed parsha shiurim, why can’t women practice there Hebrew skills?:
    Parashat Hashavua for men
    Parashat Hashavua Shiur in easy Hebrew for men
    Tefilah shiur for men

    I am glad mizrachi is quite progressive on this issue compared to other shules were it is a question of whether women can serve on boards at all or if they even get a vote.
    As you said:
    “there have been no female presidents because no women have put their hands up for the job yet, not because of some institutionalised ban”
    This is what I was saying. The fact that it hasn’t happened yet might mean that the shule isn’t ready for it yet, or that no woman has put her hand up yet might show some discomfort with the idea. There is no question that it would still be an issue for some people in the mizrachi community. But, I don’t think that reflects so badly on Mizrachi, the US still hasn’t had a female president, and Julia Gilard is still attacked for her femininity in mainstream press in Australia.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Does anyone else not find it hilarious that no less than 10 ortho men decided to come to a thread on women’s issues to say there’s no problem?

    There are no greater authorities on the problem of sexual inequality in Jewish life than 10 orthodox men!

    “There’s no problem, we swear!”

    Hahahahaha just too funny.

  • Isaac Balbin says:

    If you want to play games with Jewish Law then you come to this


    This is where egalitarianism as opposed to Judaism leads

  • Robert Weil says:

    I don’t know why I am bothering to contribute to this blog which I usually find quite interesting, but on this topic it has gone off into too many inane tangents. Nevertheless, I am proud to report that Tikkun Leil at Caulfield Shul attracted close to 300 people. Speakers included Rabbi Mottel Krasnjanski (arguably Melbourne’s greatest Talmid Chacham and a most captivating speaker) who enthralled a mixed and varied audience (of both sexes). Also Michal Kaufman and Rabbi James Kennard. Speakers were chosen on merit and popularity, not on some ridiculous affirmative action basis. What may be of more interest to you all is oue weekly Seudah Shlishit on Shabbat afternoons which feature an address by a different speaker each week on a wide range of topics to a mixed group (of both sexes). While I do not keep statistics like some of your previous bloggers, I would estimate that the ratio of male to female speakers over the year is roughly equal. They range from Melanie Landau speaking on feminism and the Torah to Shmuley Boteach speaking on African refugee issues to Chabad Rabbis giving deep commentaries on the weekly parshah. The point I am making to those of you spending your energy looking to accuse whichever shul of sexism, is just ‘get a life’, and be appreciative of the large number of talented and erudite speakers that our community is blessed with, and listen, learn and enjoy all of them regardless of their gender.

  • Yaron says:

    So Isaac let me get this straight…

    You let a woman do ANYTHING at an Orthodox shule and then Conservative gays will get married? I see the logical connection.

    How about operating within the framework of halacha? When people have the desire to increase their connection to Judaism and this can be done halachically – why would you try so hard to stop them?

  • Chaverim kol yisroel says:

    Hi Yaron,

    I think the real issue worth understanding is the role of women in Judaism. The issue of speakers for Shavuot is not really a major issue. But aside from the more general issue of a woman’s role in Judaism, is being a head line act and advertised as such for a woman consistent with Chazal’s view of tzniut? I personally don’t believe that it is consistent nor do I believe that a woman learning or teaching Torah lishmah would want to be a headline act.

  • Alex Fein says:

    Chaverim Kol Yisroel, quite right!

    This Shabbes, I saw some women talking in mixed company!

    Let me tell you: I was sick to my stomach. What were they doing out of the house?

    My husband (if that is not too sexy a word to be using) has fashioned me a burqa that is thick enough so that my speaking voice is muffled and is therefore less likely to arouse men.

    We Yidden are super lucky to have folk like you and Isaac looking after our morals. We all need protection from the sluts and the gays.

  • D says:

    Elijah says:
    I have not seen elsewhere in my travels, a community as enveloped by Chabad.
    Try Sydney!

    >>Chabad now controls or is involved in 2 Melbourne kashrut authorities,

    Which is the second? Adass or Kosher veYosher?

    >> the Chevra Kadisha,


    Adass has both a men’s and ladies mikva. Ger also has a men’s mikvah

    But what can be done? Mizrachi, Caulfield, Elwood, and the others don’t feel strong enough on the issue to build their own.

    >> Hatzollah,
    Founded by Adass and possibly still mainly in their hands. But definitely not Chabad.

    >>several Chabad houses,
    So who should run them? Anti-Chabadniks?

    >>a number of orthodox synagogues have Chabad rabbis,
    The reason for that is money. Chabadniks come cheaper than others that must be brought from o/s.

    >> a Chabad day school for boys and girls,
    There are another approx 10 schools where you can send your kids. No one forces anyone to enrol in Chabad

  • Naftoli says:

    Why are we so intolerant of others? I’m sure if we were discussing other (ie non-Jewish) communities anyone expressing their thoughts in the way people like Alex did above would be castigated by people like Alex for being racist.

    GalusAustralis always stood out as a forum where people spoke to each other respectfully – it appears that that has now changed. Or is it just that “haredi” Jews are fair game…

  • Isaac Balbin says:

    Read carefully. The Conservatives have simply created a shutfus arrangement. Technically, what can be wrong? Which part of Halacha have they breached? It’s no different to the Mechitza you have when you don’t, or the Kavod Hatzibbur you manufacture based on a new definition of Kavod.

  • Major says:

    Naftoli: I believe that what ‘Chaverim kol yisroel’ said would be considered quite offensive in a lot of non-Jewish circles too…

    I think a more apt name may have been ‘Chaverim chetzi yisroel’.

  • Isaac Balbin says:

    Thanks for your warm comments.
    People confuse an anchor in stormy seas as obdurate inertia. As the development with the conservatives has shown, when you fiddle too much with the anchor, you eventually inch out to the stormy sea. One can improve the experience on the ship without changing waters and maintaining fidelity.

  • Isaac Balbin says:

    For what it’s worth, I don’t subscribe to chaverim kol yisrael’s across the board, sweeping view, nor did Bruria. On such matters it is folly to have a view that applies to each group uniformly.

  • Yaron says:


    Like others here, I’m not advocating ignoring halacha. We just prefer not to confuse chumra and halacha.

  • Isaac Balbin says:

    What Halacha have the conservatives trangressed in their shutfus formulation for homosexual union?
    Using your lexicon, I guess we are Machmir?

  • Yaron says:

    So you fail to see the fallacy in your logic. It works something like this:

    If A happens, therefore an unrelated occurrence, B, will definitely happen, due to it being a slippery slope.

    By the same logic the religious community should all be eating shellfish and bacon because they now practice certain leniencies with regard to Chalav Yisrael.

    By allowing our lights to be on a time-clock on Shabbes we should all now be driving our cars on Shabbes too.

    Slippery slopes do not exist, so stop trying to frighten people for your own ideological ends.

  • Elijah says:

    G’Day to “D”

    I stated “controls or is involved in”.

    If you feel Sydney is more enveloped by Chabad then Melbourne, fine.
    Melbourne has FOUR (4) kosher authorities. You appear not to know about the Chabad Kashrut Committee, with the Hachgocha of Rabbi C.T. Groner and Rabbi Z. H. Telsner. They look after Solomon Kosher Butcher and several other businesses.
    As for all the other examples, what is incorrect? Remember, I stated “controls or is involved in”. They are given as examples that Chabad appears to me, to have enveloped Melbourne.

    Others may disagree, but Chabad is not an evil organisation. But since 1994 and possibly earlier, Chabad has run of the rails creating “Kaos” and needs “Control” to return back to the norm of Judaism(apologies to Get Smart). The late Rabbi Schneerson is not the messiah. If Chabad continues down the path of ancient Christian belief away from Judaism, there will be a schism. Judaism needs to confront Chabad head on about this issue. This issue is far too important to bury our heads in the sand and hope that it goes away.

    Reciting Birkat ha Minim in our shules might be considered confrontational, I feel it is a necessary tool to bring Chabad back to Judaism.

  • Chaverim kol yisroel says:

    Hi Alex,

    Your response is an emotional response and hence not very persuasive (and it could be that some of the examples you cite may not be funny at all and actually halacha – not chumra). One thing is for sure, Chazal were clear that G-d values tzniut so it needs to be defined and understood, not dismissed by attempting to use situations that you are comfortable with and assuming that it is tzanua. I do though think that I was wrong in saying that a headline act is necessarily not tzanua. We find precedents in Chazal where a woman has the headline act (for example with Megillat Ruth and Esther) which is consistent with tzniut. Nevertheless, I do think that tzniut is not an issue which can be dismissed – it needs to be dealt with and understood. And Isaac’s point is definitely true – when you fiddle around too much with the foundations, the house caves in.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    “And Isaac’s point is definitely true – when you fiddle around too much with the foundations, the house caves in.”

    Given that you agree with Isaac, and you think that marriage equality is the house caving in, perhaps you should change your name to “Chaverim kol yisrael, unless you’re gay”.

  • Jonny says:

    In Orthodox Judaism, irrespective of what my daughters choose to do, their children will be Jewish.

    I think it is only recently in my own journey that I have begun to understand how profound this is in Jewish life.

    Having attended, I can tell everyone that Blake Street and Spiritgrow were lovely mixed gender community events with great engagement and discussion. They both had kids programs and support too. Everyone sharing their learning and thoughts, irrespective of who gave the Provocations and inputs that got the discussions started… That is what learning is.

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