Ban the Banning

A number of years ago the Bournemouth Hebrew Congregation made headlines in the Jewish press because they banned Masorti leader Louis Jacobs from receiving a call up to the Torah on the occasion of his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah. To be sure, this wasn’t their own decision. It came straight from the top of the then ecclesiastical authority.

Fast forward to the present and once again we are reading of bans in our synagogues against those who may be involved in partnership services or other activity that may not be in conformity with Halachic standards.

I, for one, don’t believe that bans are justified just because someone else doesn’t share the same ideological views as myself. I went on the record during the Bournemouth saga to say that I would give Louis Jacobs a call-up in my Synagogue in the same circumstances. Indeed, just as I would allow someone involved in partnership services to lead adult education classes. The only instance in which a ban may be justified is when there is a clear conflict of interest between the individual’s Weltanschauung and the potential impact that can have on the role they play within a community. So for example, when someone is working on developing educational programmes in the Masorti movement and seeks to teach at the same time at London School of Jewish Studies which is governed by an Orthodox ethos, there is very real concern. Considering the basic differences in approach to the fundamentals of Judaism it’s near impossible to be faithful to both conflicting curriculums without allowing one’s partiality to filter through, one way or the other.

But one who leads or participates in partnership services is not going to go recruiting members when giving a talk on “Ezra and the Vanishing Jews” just as Louis Jacobs wasn’t going to look to turn the Bournemouth Hebrew Congregation into heterodox Jews as soon as he stepped off the bimah.

In response to the proliferation of violent video games and the apparent negative impact this was having on children, former United States senator Herb Kohl said: “We cannot and will not ban the creation of violent video games. But, we can prevent the distribution of these disturbing games to children, where their effects can be negative.”

It is precisely that same balance that must be sought in each community and it should surely be left up to the discretion of individual Rabbis, as Chief Rabbi Mirivis advocated, to determine when there is likelihood of a negative effect. But common sense, not hot headedness or impulsiveness must be exercised. And those who do get the chop should be intellectually honest enough to appreciate the basis for the decision. In this way, hopefully, even as we might agree to disagree, communal harmony can be preserved.