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Yacov Fruchter


Alissa Schachter


Do You Know what a Trichitza is?

By Alissa Schacter, March 16, 2011

[Editor's note: This was one of the topics discussed during the session on “Hilchot Pluralism” – How to Create an Inclusive yet Traditional Sacred Community, which was  part of Limmud Winnipeg, an inaugural festival of Jewish Learning put on by the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg and the Rady Centre.  The festival, which attracted over 350 people, was held  at the Rady Centre on Saturday evening march 12 and Sunday, March 13 .There will be more articles about Limmud in future issues of the Winnipeg Jewish Review]


The session about how to create an Inclusive yet Traditional Sacred Community  was lead by Yacov Fruchter, a genial twenty-eight year old who  recently became the spiritual leader of the Annex Shul, a progressive downtown Toronto synagogue made up of young professionals and families.  The hour long interactive discussion focused on developing pluralism in prayer communities.  Fruchter defined pluralistic communities as those that include multiple sets of beliefs, practices and identities, but not necessarily all of them.  Traditionally synagogues have ensured that their prayer spaces and practices conform to the most stringent expectations and values of their congregants.  Fruchter’s synagogue has adopted a new paradigm; it has created a space where Jews of different backgrounds can come together (they have both Orthodox and Reform members), and where as many people as possible are encouraged to participate.  This is consistent with a movement called “Shira Hadasha” (“a new song”).  Shira Hadasha reinterprets Halacha (Jewish law) within a modern orthodox framework and encourages more people, especially women, to become active. 

Clearly at ease in front of the thirteen audience members, Fruchter’s Socratic Method transported me back in time to my high school Jewish law classes at Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate, except with a younger and hipper teacher.  He led the attentive group through an exercise in logic meant to explore the limits of pluralism and inclusivity.  At the outset, he said each community member must be clear on what their core values are; what they can and can’t live with.  He presented several ground rules for building a pluralistic community, including: being open minded, accepting that you can’t prevent someone else from doing something just because you don’t agree with it (unless it violates your core values), and that it’s alright to agree to disagree. 

An interesting discussion ensued when the group applied these principles to actual scenarios.  Can congregants have a potluck supper at the synagogue when there are varying levels of observance of the laws of kashrut?  The answer is maybe.  If people are flexible, there are creative ways to make it work.  For example a two table system could be used where one table is reserved for food prepared in a kosher kitchen using only certified kosher ingredients and the other table is reserved for food that doesn’t meet these standards.   

Clearly, putting these ideas into practice can pose a multitude of challenges.  There must be a strong underlying commitment to the community if people are to be motivated to find creative solutions.  Fruchter is lucky to be leading a community with such a commitment.  I strongly suspect that his task is made easier given that most of his congregants are young and the congregation itself is fairly new. 

There was also discussion of pluralism in action in the form of the “Trichitza”, which is used in Fruchter’s synagogue.  A variation on the Mechitza (the physical divider traditionally used to separate men and women during prayer), the Trichitza divides prayer space into three sections: a space exclusively for women, a space exclusively for men and a space for both genders.  This solution accommodates the differing philosophies of community members to the extent that they are prepared to tolerate an approach they don’t agree with, and which may make them uncomfortable.  Typically people who are offended by seeing men and women sit together to pray because they believe it’s a violation of Jewish law would come together as a prayer community.  Similarly, those who are offended by the presence of a Mechitza because it violates their egalitarian principles would come together as a separate prayer community.  People gravitate to those who are like-minded.  However, Fruchter points out that increasingly there are other non-denominational values that bring people together, particularly among younger people.  He suggests that if we can agree to disagree, yet accommodate each other from within the same community, we will all be richer for it. 

Given that as Canadian Jews we live within a larger multicultural and highly pluralistic society, fostering tolerance and flexibility within our own diverse Jewish community is highly desirable and even necessary.  It was heartening to hear about the success of this unique model forged by a vibrant group of young Toronto Jews.                
Alissa Schacter is a Winnipeg writer.  She has worked as a lawyer and in economic development and policy.


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