A Place of Solidarity
In an era of increasing divisiveness, partisanship and denominationalism when polarization has increased and differences of theology and Halakhah have sharpened, the Toronto Board of Rabbis continues to serve as a bridge across troubled waters. It is our goal to rise above partisan bickering and factionalism by working for our common good. We accomplish this by serving all Jews irrespective of religious orientation and as a result the Toronto Board of Rabbis acts as a place of solidarity. It is a place where rabbis learn there is more that unites than divides them and where colleagues can work together despite whatever differences we have.
The first recorded minutes of the Toronto Board of Rabbis are from December 12, 1972. We are aware, however, that the Board had been formed in an impromptu format years prior by Rabbis Price zt”l, Plaut zt”l, Schild, Kelman zt”l and Papenheim zt”l. Their desire was to create an environment where issues facing the Jewish community could be dealt with by rabbis from the various denominations. These important figures in Toronto’s Jewish history realized that there were a large number of issues that were ripe for cooperation, and Toronto’s Jewish community was deserving of rabbinic guidance and collegiality.
After an unscheduled hiatus, the Toronto Board of Rabbis was reconvened under the presidency of Rabbi Erwin Schild of the Adath Israel Congregation in 1987. In bringing rabbis of every movement together, the intent was to strengthen personal friendships, work communally where possible, and provide a forum for professional development. To make the organization as inclusive as possible, monthly meetings rotated among all constituent synagogues with the understanding that all food served would be certified kosher. Membership was open to legitimately ordained rabbis of every movement and independent of gender. An annual social event was scheduled to build associations into friendships.
Yet, the call of the Toronto Board of Rabbis was greater than scheduled monthly meetings. It was the Toronto Board of Rabbis that led the way in responding to missionary activities, to building a Jewish-Christian dialogue, to addressing the rising costs of kosher catering, and to building a community mikveh. City and provincial authorities turned to the Toronto Board of Rabbis as a resource and for official participants in community events like the Remembrance Day commemoration and the Task Force on Poverty. The Toronto Board of Rabbis played a crucial role in bringing together disparate Jewish groups for a single, community Holocaust Remembrance Day event. The Toronto Board of Rabbis made cooperation with the local federation an important part of its work. The developing trust between the Toronto Board of Rabbis and the Federation was mutual. The Toronto Board of Rabbis was designated as the clearing-house for referrals for rabbinic services. Campaign positions were allocated to Toronto Board of Rabbis members. And members of the Toronto Board of Rabbis solicited each other for the annual campaign.
A formal constitution was officially adopted in December 1989. Two years later, the Rabbi’s Column, coordinated by the Toronto Board of Rabbis, was introduced as a regular feature of the Canadian Jewish News. In addition, an annual High Holiday Message prepared by the Toronto Board of Rabbis was published in the CJN. Members of the Toronto Board of Rabbis, intent on professional development, provided for a material exchange at every meeting so members could share a sermon, insights, or text that might be of interest to others. Sermon Seminars were convened before Passover and before the High Holidays. Academics were invited to present as well. Special sessions were devoted to changes in the law that affected rabbis in counselling and pastoral care. The issue of avoiding even the suggestion of sexual harassment was seriously addressed with legal counsel.
As Toronto’s Jewish community rapidly approaches the 200,000 mark – the challenges and opportunities facing the community are greater than ever before, and the Toronto Board of Rabbis is uniquely suited to this needed leadership as Ontario’s oldest and only multi-denominational rabbinic organization. The members of the Toronto Board of Rabbis lead our synagogues, educate in our schools, comfort the ill in our hospitals, and guide our community in happy and challenging times. In recent years, the Toronto Board of Rabbis has issued statements on a number of moral issues facing our community. As Toronto’s Jewish community grows, the Board is dedicated to insuring that our Jewish values grow along with it. In 2004 the Toronto Jewish Federation recognized the TBR as the official community rabbinic body. Strengthened with a professional executive director and support staff, the Toronto Board of Rabbis looks forward to having an even greater impact on our community and klal yisrael.