The Forward reports: The historic Bialystoker Synagogue, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, looked set to launch a new era this past June: For the first time, the Orthodox congregation was prepared to allow a woman to run for a position its board.But the synagogue members’ vote to do so has been overturned by the congregation’s rabbi, reportedly upon the intervention of Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, son of the famed late rabbinic authority, Moshe Feinstein. The father, in his day one of the most revered Torah legal authorities in ultra-Orthodox Judaism, was a longtime resident of the storied neighborhood in which Jewish immigrants once teemed, and in which his family retains deep roots and continuing influence.
The communal spat, which took place this past spring, pitted the congregation’s Modern Orthodox contingent against its more traditional elements, laying bare an ideological schism at the 145-year-old synagogue.
“This was definitely a win, sort of, for the more yeshivish,” one synagogue member said, using a term that refers to the non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox. That synagogue member asked that his name not be used, citing the small size of the community. “I think the rabbi was concerned with that element leaving,” he said.
The congregation’s rabbi, Zvi David Romm, a graduate of the Yeshiva University’s Modern Orthodox rabbinical seminary, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The Bialystoker Synagogue is one of the few Orthodox synagogues remaining in what was once a center of American Jewish life. Located in a landmarked former church on Willett Street, it is now thought to be the largest Jewish congregation on the Lower East Side.
Other Lower East Side synagogues with Modern Orthodox members, including the left-leaning Stanton Street Shul and the right-leaning Young Israel Synagogue of Manhattan, currently have women serving on their boards. Modern Orthodox synagogues in general usually allow women to run for board positions, although some bar them from serving as officers.
But the Bialystoker Synagogue straddles a rift in the Orthodox community, with a membership that includes both Modern Orthodox and more traditional families. In the broader Jewish world, those two segments of the Orthodox population are as identified by philosophical differences as they are by institutional affiliations. Whereas Modern Orthodox are often connected to Manhattan’s Yeshiva University, the more traditional populations affiliate with so-called “black hat” yeshivas in Brooklyn and in Lakewood, N.J. There, as in Israel, gender segregation is taking on increasing importance among traditionalists. Major philosophical differences also exist over the groups’ respective openness to secular studies, and to using secular academic disciplines as a means to understand Torah.
Read the full report at The Forward.