Copyright Mark Blinch
The Toronto Star headline seemed almost comically anachronistic: “Holy Blossom Temple official appoints a female as senior rabbi”.
But that was the news in Toronto last month as Canada’s largest reform temple named Rabbi Yael Splansky, 43, as its spiritual leader — a first for a major congregation in Canada’s largest city.
“While there are many female rabbis leading smaller congregations or working as associates at large temples,” The Star noted, “the larger synagogues with the bigger congregations and incomes were out of reach.” Holy Blossom serves 2,000 families.
The announcement from Holy Blossom makes official a role Splansky had occupied for more than a year; she’s been employed by the temple since 1998. Splansky will inherit a synagogue in transition. A major renovation is set for its 1938 building in north Toronto, and Splansky plans to expand programming to embrace all life stages, almost literally from cradle to grave.
The Forward’s Michael Kaminer caught up with Splansky, a mother of three boys, from Toronto.
**Michael Kaminer: How have you felt about the news coverage around your appointment? That Toronto Star headline caught my eye. **
Yael Splansky: They say, “All press is good press.” I am grateful for any invitation to call attention to synagogue life in general and to my synagogue in particular. The headline caught my eye, too, of course. I would like to be known by more than my gender, but in a traditional Jewish community like Toronto, the decision to appoint a woman to this senior position is newsworthy.
Over the next week, the Forward will be collecting impressions and recollections from women about their role in Jewish mourning rituals. To share your story, click here.
Catching a glimpse of your rabbi discreetly sneaking out of the room as you begin a eulogy for your grandfather is a little disconcerting.
Two months ago, I lost my first grandparent, my maternal grandfather. We were very close.
As preparations for the funeral began, my mother asked me if I would say a few words at ceremony. I had been expecting this; I’m the oldest grandchild, and the one most easily able to write a speech on deadline (occupational hazard).
Then my mom called again. The rabbi officiating the funeral — an Orthodox Sephardi rabbi in Montreal — was against me speaking. Or rather, he felt uncomfortable with a woman speaking in public.
My initial reaction, I’m a little ashamed to say, was relief. I hate public speaking. My knees get wobbly, my voice cracks, and chills take over. It’s something that I have actively strived to avoid doing for as long as I can remember. But as the words sunk in and my stomach lurched, I knew I would always regret not speaking at my grandfather’s funeral.
I asked my mom to find a way.
When I was visiting Toronto recently, an editorial with the purposely provocative title, “’It’s a girl!’ — could be a death sentence” by the editor-in-chief of Canada’s leading medical journal sparked a huge controversy. There were headlines in all the newspapers about Dr. Rajendra Kale’s call in the Canadian Medical Association Journal for waiting until 30 weeks gestation to inform all Canadian parents of their unborn child’s gender.
Kale’s concern, focused mainly on the South Asian community, was to prevent abortion of females, “discrimination against women in its most extreme form.”
The doctor’s main assertion was that thousands of female fetuses were being aborted by Canadian women of South Asian descent every year. Although this does not at all compare to the millions of female fetuses aborted in China and India, he still views this as a major problem and “evil practice.” Arguing that the sex of the fetus is not relevant medical information owed to the mother, he wrote it would be advisable to shift the practice of revealing whether the baby is a boy or girl (usually done at 18-20 weeks gestation) until after it is too late to have an unquestioned abortion.
I am not a proponent of finding out the sex of a child before its birth. Throughout my pregnancies with each of our three sons, neither my husband nor I knew that we were having boys. To us, the sex of the baby simply did not matter. Although we named our second son Hillel, we paid no heed to that great sage’s determination that to fulfill the mitzvah of pru u’rvu (be fruitful and multiply) one must have a son and a daughter. Nor were we thinking about following Shammai’s teaching that one must have at least two sons.