For much of the Australian public over the decades, the Temple's rabbis, in particular the widely-admired Dr Sanger and his equally distinguished (and pro-Zionist) successor, Rabbi Emeritus Dr John Levi, represented the face of Australian Judaism, with their willingness to engage with the wider world and their approachability. In consequence, they were long, for countless journalists in Melbourne and Victoria, the "go-to" Jewish leaders whenever a comment regarding an issue of relevance to Judaism in Australia was required.
The Temple has continued to participate in interfaith activities, broadening the approach from dialogue with Christians to dialogue with other creeds as Australian society has grown increasingly diverse.
The Temple is also a pioneer in gender equality, with female rabbis and female cantors and female presidents and board members long a feature of its scene, as are some female congregants who choose to wear kippot and tallitot.
This month, the Temple held a much-advertised and much-anticipated event:
"TBI will once again be taking the lead in creating a whole new world of interfaith dialogue and exploration through the June 15 2014 concert “Sacred Music – A Celebration”. Based around Ernest Bloch’s major Jewish work, Avodat Hakodesh, followed by a series of psalms and prayers common to various religious traditions, TBI will be hosting the first Victorian gala interfaith choral concert – Sacred Music Concert....
What better metaphor is there than bringing hundreds of musicians and audience together in singing in harmony the words “grant us peace and blessing” in Hebrew (Sim Shalom), Latin (Dona Nobis Pacem) and Arabic (Hablana Asalem)?...."What indeed.
But this laudable and magnificent occasion contained an element in its program that is on the face of it troubling, as described in the online magazine Jews Down Under by Pam Hopf. She writes, inter alia:
'[T]he second half of the concert took on a different dimension, bringing “something new to TBI’s sanctuary, the Muslim call to prayer, and a chanting of the 55th Surah of the Koran. With this recitation Abdul Aziz al Mathkour and Brother Waseem Razvi of the Islamic research Education Academy (IREA) revealed many points of commonality between Judaism and Islam in its languages and texts”
Excuse my cynicism, but what points of commonality can possibly exist when Surah 55 describes how Muslim men will enjoy deflowering virgins in paradise, whilst the unbeliever will suffer the torments of hell.
For a community that prides itself on being progressive, particularly with regard to gender issues, it’s hard to see how they can condone this Sura, especially as there is no promise that women can equally enjoy endless sex. The progressives constantly berate orthodox Jewry for separating men and women during prayer, yet apparently have no problem endorsing men using women for sex, which smacks of hypocrisy. Moreover, if they truly believe in interfaith tolerance, they should surely object to the fate that awaits non-Muslims....'Temple Beth Israel needs to address Pam Hopf's criticism. The secular Left, including, to their utter shame, its female members, prove time and time again that when the choice is between the upholding of women's rights and the appeasement of misogynistic Islam, the latter wins over the former. Surely a religious bastion of female equality is not following suit?