I know little about Dr Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz. But friends and acquaintances who do know her assure me that she is an accomplished (some have even said charismatic) teacher. For the past sixteen or so years much of that teaching has taken place at the London School of Jewish Studies (LSJS) , an institution that was established in 1999 out of what remained, structurally speaking, of the venerable Jews’ College.
As a rabbinical training establishment Jews’ College could no longer compete with yeshivot in Israel and the USA. So the LSJS is very much focused on adult education. It offers a range of non-accredited courses, and it is to the teaching of these that Dr Taylor-Guthartz contributes, on subjects as diverse as Jewish prayer, the Hebrew Bible, and the Talmud. The LSJS also offers two courses of study accredited by Middlesex University, to which I shall return in a moment.
Some three years ago Dr Taylor-Guthartz took the decision to enrol in the rabbinic ordination programme run by the Yeshiva Maharat (YM) in New York. Established in 2009 by the American rabbi Avi Weiss and the British rabbi Daniel Sperber (a professor of Talmud at Bar-Ilan University, Israel) YM claims and exercises the right to train orthodox female rabbis.
To say that this activity is controversial is to put matters very mildly. In the world of mainstream Torah Orthodoxy the concept of a female rabbi is a contradiction in terms. Be that as it may, whilst teaching very successfully at the LSJS, Dr Taylor-Guthartz determined to enrol on the rabbinics course at YM. Why? This is a very fair question, which she has answered. But it is not the question that is uppermost in my mind.
Dr Taylor-Guthartz has said on the record that she enrolled on the YM course “to enhance my Torah knowledge and develop my learning further, so that I would develop higher skills and knowledge to teach at a higher level and provide needed leadership within the Orthodox Torah world in London, and the Jewish community in general”.
The LSJS of course knew of Dr Taylor-Guthartz’s decision to enrol on the YM’s rabbinics programme. And we must presume that this knowledge was also shared with the LSJS’s President, United Synagogue Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. But Dr Taylor-Guthartz was still permitted to continue teaching in LSJS classes.
In mid-June 2021 Dr Taylor-Guthartz successfully completed her rabbinics course at YM. By email from the LSJS’s chief executive she was then apparently and peremptorily stripped of her position (she had the title of Research Fellow). Her teaching career at the LSJS has been brought to a shuddering halt.
It is not my purpose here to dilate upon the role of female teachers in the Jewish orthodox world – though I should say, for the record, that amongst the many orthodox institutions in which Dr Taylor-Guthartz has taught is the Yeshurun synagogue, Edgware, which is one of the leading constituents of the Federation of Synagogues, of which I am a lifelong member and official historian.
My purpose, rather, is to focus upon the completely inept and unprofessional manner in which the LSJS has handled this issue.
The LSJS may claim that it is bound by the religious rulings of its president, Rabbi Mirvis. I understand that a few days prior to her formal graduation from YM Dr Taylor-Guthartz met with Rabbi Mirvis, and that at this meeting Mirvis stood by his view that female ordination from YM was incompatible with teaching at the LSJS. Indeed a statement emanating from Mirvis’ office has explained that “it was clear that a continued formal affiliation with a person who … had nonetheless stepped beyond the boundaries of mainstream Orthodoxy … would have sent a misleading message about what LSJS stands for.”
Was Dr Taylor-Guthartz told of this three years ago? If so, why was she not ‘let go’ by the LSJS at that point? If not, why not? If she had failed her rabbinics course at YM, must we presume that she would have been welcomed back at the LSJS with open arms?
I said earlier that in addition to offering a range of non-accredited courses the LSJS runs two courses of study in the broad field of teacher-training, both accredited by Middlesex University, namely a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in Jewish education.
Middlesex University is a leading provider of degree programmes in north London, and very much prides itself on its widening-participation agenda. An entire section of its website is devoted to “gender equality.” “We have [the website announces] been awarded a highly-esteemed Bronze Award by the Athena Swan Charter, which recognises that the University has a solid foundation for eliminating gender bias and developing an inclusive culture that values all staff.”
This “inclusive culture” [I write as a former Middlesex University Pro Vice-Chancellor for Quality & Standards] must surely extend to its choice of collaborative partner institutions. It matters not that Dr Taylor-Guthartz did not herself teach at the LSJS on either of the Middlesex-validated degree programmes. How can the University possibly turn a blind eye to LSJS practice so far as female teachers are concerned?
As a professor emeritus at the university I have, therefore, felt bound to write to its current vice-chancellor, Professor Nic Beech, bringing these concerns to his attention.