Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a splash with the recent announcement that his first cabinet includes an equal number of male and female representatives. And though the move has been widely hailed by Canadians, one Jewish organization is registering its objection.
In a statement released earlier this month, the Rabbinical Council of Canada (RCC) has again rejected the appointment of female cabinet members and called on the newly elected Trudeau to uphold more traditional structures that they say have defined Canada for generations.
Long respected as the seat of senior legislative authority, the Canadian cabinet has been famously dominated by a male membership – a tradition marred by antiquated stereotypes about the relative abilities of women. And while decades of social progress have yielded a steady increase in the number of women in senior federal roles, the cabinet has remained a stubborn outlier, with female membership failing to accurately reflect the demographics of the nation.
To many, Trudeau’s selection of these female cabinet members represents a milestone in the quest for better legislation through better representation, but the RCC’s response has been unequivocal: “In light of the announcement that Trudeau’s government will celebrate the swearing-in of its first cabinet, and in response to the institution’s claim that it ‘is changing the communal landscape by actualizing the potential of women as government leaders,’ the Rabbinical Council of Canada reasserts its position: the RCC views this event as a violation of our mesorah (tradition) and regrets that the leadership of the country has chosen a path that contradicts the norms of our community.
“In light of the opportunity created by advanced women’s education, the Rabbinical Council of Canada encourages a diversity of halachically and communally appropriate professional opportunities for educated, committed women. Due to our aforesaid commitment to sacred continuity, however, we cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the cabinet, regardless of the title.
“Young Canadian women are now being reared, educated and inspired by mothers, teachers and mentors who are themselves beneficiaries of advanced women’s education. As members of the new generation rise to positions of influence and stature, we pray that they will contribute to an ever-broadening and ever-deepening wellspring of studious, law-abiding, civic minded women who cherish and sentimentalize their place in the margins.”
Alongside its statement, the RCC also released Constructive Alternatives, a document that outlines “reasonable and morally pure alternatives” to women being welcomed into the inner sanctum of Canadian political life. It’s full of suggestions such as adopting the alternate title of “legal adviser,” encouraging each female cabinet member to step down in exchange for a generous severance package, or the right to appoint her husband “or another suitably chromosomed individual” to her seat.
The statement was approved by a recent member vote, but in the hours following the announcement, social media was ablaze with support, indignation and rumours of a split within the totally real organization itself.
“As an RCC member, I’m proud to have voted against this motion,” said Rabbi X, speaking on condition of anonymity. “These are exceptionally talented and qualified women who wish to dedicate themselves to public service. The notion that we have the right to exclude them is patently offensive.”
Rabbi X is among what he calls a “vocal minority” of rabbis within the RCC who campaigned strenuously against the release of the statement.
“You mean re-release,” Rabbi X points out. “The language is identical to the language that was approved years ago, when they first started considering women for these positions.”
This redundancy has many critics calling the vote a cynical political exercise, meant only as a public rebuke to Trudeau’s “activist” cabinet. Rabbi X and his cohorts agree, but have no plans to resign their membership in the RCC, an organization Rabbi X cherishes as “an indispensable moral compass.”
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