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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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