Highland Park Goes Egalitarian
Beginning with the new Torah cycle
last October, the Highland Park Conservative Temple and Center in
Middlesex began holding two parallel services every Saturday morning, one egalitarian and one non-egalitarian. According to Rabbi Eliot Malomet, spiritual leader of the congregation, two services is a solution to the many hours of deliberation among the temple membership about the role of women in Jewish ritual. Conservative Jewish law permits, but does not require, women to participate equally with men in public service, such as in leading the services, reading Torah and Haftarah, and receiving aliyot. Individual congregations are allowed to decide for themselves whether women may perform these functions and receive these honors, and
until recently the Highland Park congregation has allowed only men to perform them.
Many members of the congregation felt strongly about allowing, or not allowing, women's participation in Jewish ritual. With the parallel services every week to address the different spiritual and ritual needs of all members, the synagogue is affirming the value of each member regardless of his or her position. "There is a love and commitment to this shul that is very deep, and we must all recognize that that love is the primary asset of this shul," said Rabbi Malomet in explaining why parallel services have been developed instead of merely replacing one with the other. Everyone can come to this synagogue and pray and participate in an environment in which she or he feels comfortable.
Holding two separate services every week presents both a logistical challenge and a spiritual opportunity. The two services will alternate venue weekly, switching between the sanctuary and the chapel. Rabbi Malomet and Cantor Menes will lead the service in the main sanctuary and lay leaders will conduct services in the smaller chapel.
Summarizing his expectation of the new dual services, Rabbi Malomet commented, "I know that having two services on Shabbat morning will give rise to a new culture in our shul, and I am looking forward to shaping that culture by teaching Torah at every opportunity. I know that as we engage closely with Torah in our two settings, we will become richer as a congregation and continue to strengthen Jewish life in our community, as we have been doing for the past 75 years."