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Saturday, August 23, 2014

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Reform rabbi asks: Where are the men?

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TORONTO — The dozen or so men who attended a Temple Har Zion program last month on “Where have all the Men Gone? Bringing Men Back into the Reform Community” did not appear to be the men referred to in the title of Rabbi Cory Weiss’ talk.

Rabbi Cory Weiss

Rabbi Weiss, spiritual leader of the temple – and its only male clergy and staff member – knew all the attendees by name. However, the rabbi told The CJN that the issue under discussion on a January Sunday morning at Leo Baeck Day School, where Har Zion holds its religious school classes, seems to be more pressing in the United States.

“This has been something kicking around the Reform movement for a few years now,” he said in a phone interview before his talk, which was co-sponsored by Har Zion’s adult education committee and brotherhood.

Over the last three decades, as women have become empowered in Reform Judaism – the first denomination in North America to ordain a woman as rabbi in 1972 – there has been concern about disempowering men,” Rabbi Weiss said.

According to a JTAarticle last May, the Reform movement has decreasing numbers of boys in its post-bar mitzvah religious schools, youth groups and summer camps. As well, more than half of the recently ordained Reform rabbis are women, as were all of last year’s students entering cantorial school.

To address the issue, the group Men of Reform Judaism has sponsored men’s worship services at recent movement biennials and published a Men’s Haggadah, JTAreported.

“We at Har Zion don’t have this problem of all the men sort of disappearing, but we certainly want to avoid it,” said Rabbi Weiss. “How do we make sure that everybody’s a part of things?”

For the rabbi, who was ordained in 1993, egalitarianism has always been the norm. When he was growing up in Connecticut, both his parents worked, his father did the cooking at home, and his congregation did not hire a male cantor until the year the future rabbi was confirmed.

One attendee noted that the phenomenon of men taking a less prominent role or opting out altogether is not unique to the Reform movement, citing a concern about the perceived roles of men in the other professional fields.

“Certainly there’s a possibility that men are trying to spend more time with family, and synagogues are suffering for it,” Rabbi Weiss said.

“How do we re-empower men?” the rabbi asked. “What do we [men] bring that is unique?”

He suggested that serving as a role model is one answer.

“How do we show [boys] that Judaism is as meaningful to us as to anyone, and that, for a Jewish man synagogue, study and prayer – that’s what men do in addition to hockey games?”

 

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