Women’s Participation in Ritual: Time for a Paradigm Shift – by Rabbi Zev Farber

Today, the baseline in any Orthodox community is that women do not participate in public ritual at all. In the average Orthodox synagogue, there is not one thing that women do which is part of synagogue performance. Their presence is not felt and their voices are not heard. The paradigm for women’s ritual participation in the Modern Orthodox world must change.

Although what I described above is standard, in some Orthodox shuls women have complained that they feel excluded and marginalized. In the best of shuls there has been an attempt to accommodate their feelings and various solutions have been offered. Some synagogues are unwilling to accommodate the women in the actual prayer space, but allow them to have a separate women’s prayer group, often based around a Torah reading ceremony of some kind. Others have passively recognized women in the synagogue, e.g., meḥitza down the middle, carrying the Sefer Torah into the women’s section, etc. or allowed some active participation, e.g., opening the ark, saying a mi-she-beirakh, reciting qaddish, etc.

Instead of focusing on specific solutions, I wish to describe what I see as the overall problem with the process of coming to solutions. As described above, we begin with the assumption that women currently lead no prayers and play no public role in the synagogue service. If a group of women in a given synagogue feel that this is insufficient for them, they can come to the rabbi with a complaint and he will think about what he may be willing to do to accommodate them. In my opinion this process is seriously flawed, even if in a given case the outcome is satisfactory for the women. Why is it that we have no expectation that the rabbi will work actively to expand opportunities for women? Why is it that the synagogue automatically assumes that the baseline should be no participation and that women need to put themselves out there, at a real risk of humiliation and disappointment, before even the smallest action will be taken on her/their behalf?

I would argue that the reason the impetus for change has fallen so squarely on the shoulders of women stems from the fact that we are still living under an antiquated and obsolete paradigm. Although there are a number of Talmudic pericopae (sugyot) that discuss technical questions surrounding differences between men’s and women’s obligations in prayer and related halakhot, this does not really explain the stark difference between the place of men and women in the synagogue. The larger issue, I believe, is sociological in nature.

In the Rabbinic period, as well as throughout the Middle Ages, the place of women in the social hierarchy was very different than it is now. Women were rarely public figures and were discouraged from receiving too much education, taking visible public roles, participating in the power structure, and generally from being around men. If any woman were to express superior learning or knowledge than a man in front of a group it would have been a serious breach in etiquette. This is why, according to Tosafot (b. Sukkah 38a, s.v. “be-emet”), women do not lead the Grace after Meals for men or read the Megillah for men, since it would be insulting to them (zila milta). For the same reason, R. Israel Meir Kagan, in his Mishna B’rurah (281:4) argues that women should not say Qiddush for men, at least in public. The Talmud offers a similar reason why women do not read from the Torah in synagogue (b. Megillah 23a), although they are apparently eligible to do so, as it would offend the honor of the congregation (kavod ha-tzibbur). This sociological stance, typical of the classical and medieval periods, goes a long way in explaining why the common practice is not only that women do not lead the repetition of the amidah (which requires a man who is obligated in this prayer service) but they do not even participate in p’tiḥah (taking out the Torah) or lead p’suqei de-zimrah (the pre-prayer psalms), neither of which has any halakhic requirements for who should lead it at all.

The sociological realities nowadays are entirely different. In our world, women hold every position of respect and power in the public sphere as men do. Women serve in Congress and the cabinet, women are judges, doctors, lawyers and police officers. The idea that a group of modern Western men would feel offended if a woman were to perform a public function in a synagogue should be laughable, except for the fact that they may think it a religious violation. But it is only a religious violation since the rabbis believed that the men would be offended. It is a vicious cycle that continues nowadays only due to the unfortunate combination of inertia, obliviousness to halakhic sources, and paternalism.

This is where I believe the paradigm shift must occur. To break out of this vicious cycle, we need to shift the paradigm 180 degrees. Instead of saying that since women have never historically participated in public ritual, so each shul and each rabbi will—upon request—think about creative ways to allow women to participate ritually in things that are permitted, we should be saying that all Jews, men and women, can do or participate in any meaningful ritual unless it is clear that halakha expressly forbids this. How to define what halakha forbids will be a question every shul and rabbi will need to answer, but the inertia factor and the women-don’t-do-these-kinds-of-things factor will have to be taken off the table.

In discussing this issue with others, I have sometimes heard the accusation that women are just trying to copy men. For example, in discussing women’s Torah reading ceremonies, which occur in a number of Modern Orthodox shuls around the world, including the shul where I daven, (thanks to the initiative of a number of women and the sensitivity of the rabbi), I have heard people—not from my community—ask “why would women want to read from the Torah anyway? Is it just because men do it?” I have also heard the related claim: “They are just doing this to make a statement. Women should be more tzanua (modest) about such things.”

These dismissive statements are out of touch with the spiritual and sociological reality of the synagogue service. Women do not want to read from the Torah because men do; women and men both want to be called to the Torah because participating in the reading of the Torah is considered an honor (kavod) due to the great respect all Jews have for the Torah and the Torah scroll. Every man who gets an aliyah receives a myriad of hand-shakes and yeyashar koḥakha’s—and this is true on a regular Shabbat. On Simḥat Torah the average shul breaks out all the Torahs so that every single congregant—male congregant—can be called to the Torah. Afterwards, the real kibbudim (honors) begin.

A year or so ago, I received the Ḥatan Torah honor (the aliyah where the last section of the Torah is read). It was quite an honor. There was a speech about the work I do for the shul, there was a very long and overly flattering Hebrew prayer/song sung by the gabbai, and while he was doing so four men held a ṭallit over my head as if I were getting married. Needless to say, only men get this honor. One can use many adjectives to describe this kavod, but tzanua (modest) is not one of them. It seems rather disingenuous for men who receive these honors and take their access to the Torah for granted to then ask what possible reason could women want to be a part of this. It is totally unfair to create a society in which access to the Torah is considered the greatest honor, bar women from it, and then turn around and ask what their problem is.

Another critique that I have heard of women who want more ritual participation is that “most of these women hardly do what they’re supposed to already; they come late to shul on Shabbat, they aren’t punctilious in their own mitzvah observance, they don’t do any extras like shaking the lulav and etrog or praying three times a day. Why should they get to do extras when they haven’t even covered the basics?” I see two basic problems with this critique.

First, they should be granted access to ritual possibilities because it is their right. Since when is the shaking of a lulav the prerequisite to opening the ark, reciting a mi-she-beirakh or dancing with a Torah scroll on Simḥat Torah? Second, even if a rabbi were to say that in his fantasy world he would only give kibbudim to people who were religiously “up-to-scratch,” I do not believe that he would feel that he could implement such a policy with men. For the life of me I cannot imagine a rabbi taking a Torah scroll away from a man on Simḥat Torah on the grounds that he comes late to shul on Shabbat, or announcing a policy that aliyot in his shul would only be given to men who show up consistently for weekday minyan. However, this is essentially what is being done to women who are told that since they do not daven enough, come to shul enough, do enough mitzvot—what have you—their desire to participate ritually in some way in the synagogue will be denied.

This leads to my final point, which is the issue of power structure. Women are finding it very difficult to make changes in their synagogues because they do not really participate in the power structure. In general, women in the Orthodox world are less learned than the men (due to the structure of yeshiva education), and there are virtually no female clergy in the Orthodox world. Happily, both of the above are changing, but the change is slow, and, therefore, it is critical to have men in our synagogues who understand the significance of changing the paradigm of women’s ritual participation. However, the real work will only begin once women are an integral part of the power structure in the Modern Orthodox world. Only then will the important and difficult conversations about the role of men and women in Orthodox Judaism today take place in a fruitful way. Until then I can only call out with my male voice to my colleagues in the Modern Orthodox world: change the paradigm now and let’s feel the presence of the women in our synagogues and hear their voices—the time is way past due.

Rabbi Zev Farber, Atlanta

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101 Responses to Women’s Participation in Ritual: Time for a Paradigm Shift – by Rabbi Zev Farber

  1. sheila cohen says:

    I can’t express myself adequately in saying that this article is a breathe of fresh air. The repeated excuse of that the women who e.g. want to read from the Torah (without a bracha) in a woman’s gathering should be denied this since a)it is not really a mizvah (no minyan) and b)most of them are really not “sincere” because they are not, at this point, fulfilling all of the mitzvot available to them. For women to study the parsha, learn the “trope,” understand and delve into the meaning of the Torah text, is in and of itself a good thing.

  2. Shlomo Pill says:

    “First, they should be granted access to ritual possibilities because it is their right.”

    I wonder if this statement encapsulates the various aspects and implications of your suggested paradigm shift. Women have a “right” to participate, and therefore can and should be free to do so unless they are not halakhicly entitled to do so. Indeed, your’ characterizing ritual performance as a right is itself an arguable paradigm shift, a shift away from viewing adherence to halakhic norms in terms of duty and obligation. as a “duty” and “obligation.”

    This is a theoretical and philosophical reorientation of the focus of halakha and the goals of Jewish praxis. Obligations are imposed from without – in the case of halakha, by God – and fulfilling an obligation is thus an exercise in self-effacement and self-transcendence, a moralizing act representative of our awareness of and commitment to the Divine. Rights, by contrast, my be granted from without, but the decision whether or not to exercise them is a self-referential one. The exercise of a “right” to waive the lulav, hear the shofar, or read the Torah, thus bears little relationship to the self-transcendent focus away from the self and towards what God expects of us. Exercising a right, is an act of self-actualization, and thinking of halahka as if they are rights is to make performance of halakha a matter of self-focus; it is to see the halahka as a means of making God in our own image (through our choice about which rights we will and will not exercise) rather than striving to remake ourselves in God’s image.

    As troubling and challenging as dealing with womens’ concerns of this kind may be, reconceptualizing philosophical pillars of the halakhic system is probably not the best way to address the issue. Such paradigm shifts tend to take on characters of their own, characters that become impossible to control, and often provide both cause and justification for far more than nontraditional but halahkicly neutral innovations.

    • Menachem Lipkin says:

      I think you have the frame of reference incorrect. Rabbi Farber clearly stated that these changes need to be within the framework of halahca. The “right” here derives from the idea that one is already permitted or obligated to do something under the rubric of halacha and are being prevented from actualizing that act do to sociological reasons that have nothing to do with what “God expects of us”.

      Talk of “rights” here is more akin to the rights one has to practice his/her religion in a free society. In a religiously repressive regime, for example, one might speak of his “right” keep kosher, perform a brit, etc. In our society, for example, a woman has a “right” to learn Torah, hear the Shofar, shake the Lulav, etc.

    • Shlomo, I think you hit the nail on the head in that modern sociology is about rights but religion is about obligation. But that is what Rabbi Farber is saying: Instead of each Rabbi “granting” certain participation (כן בנות צלפחד דברות), we need to make a general Hiyyuv D’Rabanan that Orthodox women MUST participate in a certain way. Provided that such a decree does not contradict Biblical or Talmudic law. By obligating women we truly bring about the equality and recognize that Judaism is not a “Smorgasbord” for men or women, and we standardize the participation of the entire community (הקהל את העם האנשים הנשים והטף וגרך אשר בשעריך למען ישמעו ולמען ילמדו ויראו את ה’ אלוקיכם)

      • Shlomo Pill says:

        I’m sorry, are you suggesting we somehow create a new chiyuv d’rabbanan that obligates women to perform all mitzvos that they are not prohibited from performing? Or to be more accurate, to cretae a new chiyuv d’rabbanan that obligates women to do everything that resembles men’s mitzva performances as long as such conduct is not expressly prohibited?

        My impression was that we do not enact new religious gezeiros. Also, do we not recognize that women are biblically exempt from mitzos aseh she-hazman grama for good reasons related to their role in caring for home and family? While those reasons may be less compelling in the case of many modern women whose lives closely resemble the lives of men (as bread-winners, ect.), many, if not most women continue to view their primary role as that of family caregiver. Would it be so wise to place a new chiyuv d’rabbanan on them all?

        Perhaps we should not obligate women to perform all those real mitzvos and pseudo-mitzva rituals that are not strictly prohibited, but instead merely allow them to do so. This is, I think, what R. Farber is proposing. Doing so, however, returns to transforming halachic performance from a matter of duty (I do X/don;t do Y because God has commanded it), to a matter of right combined with personal choice (I do X/don’t do Y because nothing normative constrains my choice and my own conscience tells me to act this way). True, cabining this ritualistic license by prohibiting performances that are clearly prohibited (at least on a biblical or Talmudic level) does retain some sense of ultimately being bound by God’s will. Nevertheless, this proposal seems to me to transform the halachic mindset and process from one in which I subjugate my “self” to the positive and negative requirements of God’s law into one where I do as my subjective “self” counsels, bounded only by normative restrictions (interpreted as broadly as possible).

  3. L.A. says:

    Yes!!
    Modern Orthodoxy is losing MEN because of its treatment of women. Thoughtful MEN see that the Rabbinate (all men, educated largely in all-male classes) is stubbornly clinging to limited halachic interpretations and to a self-promotional, regressive approach. If this is the way the Rabbinate treats committed Jews, how many other halachic decisions are being made with the same self-promotional, political mindset? Men and women alike see that the halachic process is not working

    • Eric says:

      Modern Orthodoxy is losing very few men compared to Conservative and Reform, which have opened all their rituals to women and are now almost devoid of men.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m not sure if it’s so much that reform and conservative synagogues are losing men. There is also the potential they are gaining the orthodox women who leave orthodoxy in favor of a more liberated setting

    • Reb Yid says:

      I can’t expect that argument to resonate with any faith-based community. Religious people try to follow God’s will as attested to by their sources. They don’t vet religious ideologies through a numbers game in the pews.

  4. [...] Open Orthodoxy on its way to became much more open? From a post by Rabbi Zev Farber at Morethodoxy, “Women’s Participation in Ritual: Time for a Paradigm [...]

  5. elana says:

    Excellent analysis, really good article…. Change the basic assumptions, challenge the language. love this….

  6. Isaac Shalev says:

    LA, right on! Thank you Rabbi Farber for re-setting the question and challenging the underlying paradigm.

  7. [...] community. [1] See here for a widely shared report on this and a recent column by a YITH member here. [2] Let me give you an incomplete analogy. A bar mitzvah boy is scheduled to read Torah for his [...]

  8. rosey says:

    men and women have separate roles in life. it all began with Adam and Chava. men and women have different needs. i do not think it would be a good idea to change the ways orthodox people pray. there are many ways that women can connect spiritually to the torah. there is a thought, why do men have to wear a kipah and not a women, or were tzizut and bris milah….. bc by nature men are less spiritually inclined and therefore need an extra push to reach the spiritual connections. i see the way men and women pray its sooo different, these traditions were implemented for that very reason.
    another reason is how exactly will this work. men and women sit separately for the reason of distraction, more so men get distracted by women. so when the aron needs to be opened, a women would go and open it and all eyes will be on her….i just don’t see what the point is, it is not a mitzvah its a honor. women can get honored many other ways.
    now i might be wrong, but honestly do men feel good about themselves in the work place, when a women gets the higher position. truth men are holding their true feelings bc so as not to be seen as a bigot. truth i think the feminist movement needs a contour movement call masculine movement. i think men are being emasculated and our generation is losing out. we tell our boys cry all you need to, but when they are older they are told they are not man enough.
    my opinion is that if a community has women expressing concern they the rabbi must accommodate, but if there is no request why make it a big deal and if these women are embarrassed to come forward with their opinion, then what makes them not embarrassed to go in front of everyone and proceed with a shul ritual.

    • LB says:

      Totally agree, Rosey.

    • Anna says:

      I am sad for you that you have for so long lived in a community where women are subjugated that you can no longer see that it is wrong.

      • Carla says:

        What the article doesn´t mention and Rosey does, is that there is a diference in the roles that each plays, and trying to change things based on a feeling of “modernity” and that “we don´t need these things anymore” is wrong…probably, we need them more than ever.
        Not because the role that women play is a more private one, it means that is a lower one or a less respectfull one…the woman is in fact in charge on A HOME, not A SHUL, and that´s diferent, not better or worse…and it is deserving of the same or more kavod.
        I think that women that get so concern with these things are losing out on the real meaning and importance of her jobs, and are just looking over their shoulder on what the other one is doing.
        Not because we live in America, were there is no diference of roles between men and women, it means it is right and we should copy it.

    • Bryan Kolb says:

      As a man who has worked for women and learned from women, I can safely say that if a man’s feeling of success is predicated on his dominance over women simply because they are women, that reflects on his own insecurity, not on a fundamental truth about human nature.

      At what point, according to your logic, should men stop respecting their mothers? I suppose that a mere child obviously must be inferior to an adult, but once that boy becomes a man it must be painful to be required by God to respect, honor, and even fear his mother. After all, she’s just a woman.

      I completely fail to understand what your basis is for saying that men of this generation are being emasculated. In what way is society losing out? Unless your implication is that society loses out any time a woman has any kind of power over a man, because women are physically weaker and spiritually superior?

      The main point of this article is that the restrictions imposed upon women’s performance in these rituals was in adherence to outdated social mores, not necessarily halachic principles. If the halacha does not forbid a woman to engage in a ritual then her inability to do so does not stem from the inherent spiritual difference between men and women, it derives instead from a need for men to dominate women, or to relegate them to an inferior status (not just a different status, because we have left the realm of halacha at this point).

      As you said, these rituals are not commanded, they are honors that we grant to members of the congregation. More importantly, they are honors that are an integral part of our prayers and our religious observance as a whole. What reason is there for denying such an honor to a woman if there is no true halachic basis for it? What substitute honors would you recommend for women (as if a “substitute honor” is an honor in the first place)?

      I don’t really know enough about the halacha involved to make any calls regarding specific applications of this article, but thankfully you didn’t actually address the halacha, you just said that women need to be kept in the kitchen.

  9. Great article, and I am sympathetic to the thesis, but it seems to me that you need to consider other factors as well: First, does the Torah have a preferred sociological norm? There is an argument that whatever the norm is today, it is not the Torah ideal. Much of the halacha seems derived from a non-halachic statement that ‘the glory of the King’s daughter lies within.’ Is this a true statement of halachic preference? Or is that statement used as an excuse to justify misogynist ideas. Many things involving tzniut are the norm today in our world but are most certainly not the preferred Torah norm. Second, halacha is a process that develops over time. One cannot just hit the reset button and pretend that centuries of decisions have no force because they were based on erroneous assumptions. If we could do that in halacha, lots of things would change: we would eat meat during the 9 days (see R Sperber’s Minhagei Yisrael), get rid of the kitniyot nonsense, revise piskei halacha based on newly discovered correct texts, etc. But we don’t do any of that. That is not how any legal system I know of works. Perhaps a Sanhedrin could do it, but this smacks of heterodox movements and is a huge departure from orthodox theory and practice.

    • Benjamin E. says:

      You shifted from talking about “a preferred sociological norm” to talking about “halakhic preference” and how a legal system works. I don’t believe he was talking about hitting the reset button on halakha; far from it, as he states clearly that women should continue not to be permitted to do things if “it is clear that halakha expressly forbids [it]“. What is being proposed is that things that are merely sociological norms and not expressly forbidden by halakha should be treated as such.

      Second, nobody said anything about erroneous assumptions – merely a difference in context. In fact, he seemed to suggest that for long periods of time, these norms were absolutely appropriate: “In the Rabbinic period, as well as throughout the Middle Ages, the place of women in the social hierarchy was very different than it is now.” Context affects concrete halakha all the time – you could think of three examples off the top of your head without even trying. Kal va-chomer non-halakhic norms.

  10. Jacob says:

    These dismissive statements are out of touch with the spiritual and sociological reality of the synagogue service. Women do not want to read from the Torah because men do; women and men both want to be called to the Torah because participating in the reading of the Torah is considered an honor (kavod) due to the great respect all Jews have for the Torah and the Torah scroll.

    I’m confused. R. Farber correctly starts by pointing out that getting called to and reading the Torah is supposed to be an honor FOR THE TORAH, not a personal honor for the individual. Yet many (if not most) men mistakenly hijack that honor for themselves. Is the opportunity for this the false honor what R. Farber wishes to provide for women?

  11. It’s clear to me that there are many rabbis who feel the way you do, and many congregants who would follow where you would lead. The problem is that this issue is all “blog” and no action. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but none of what anyone says will matter until someone actually leads; steps up and says “Call us what you want but this is how we’re running our shul. We hope you follow.” If I’m right about this, the real question that this entire question hinges on is: Are we willing to break from all current forms of orthodoxy if it means risking the ability to officiate “legitimate” rituals such as conversions, brisim and marriages? This seems to me to be the big catch-22 that keeps anything from happening.

    I’m becoming more of the mindset that it’s better to make the changes that need to be made and risk exclusion by the rest of the orthodox world than it is to let our generation’s candle burn out with our having done nothing about it. Wish a rabbi would step up. I’d follow.

    • Cara says:

      There are already some communities of this kind, although most of them are lay-led independent minyanim rather than established shuls. Look up Shira Hadasha in Jerusalem, Minyan Tehila in Cambridge MA, or Darkhei Noam in New York. Even apart from these “partnership” minyanim, as some are called, I’ve certainly seen more mainstream Orthodox shuls that have permitted at least modest women’s participation – holding Torahs, opening the ark, reciting the prayer for Israel, etc.

  12. Moshe says:

    I know women who prefer traditional synagogues and would feel very uncomfortable in an entirely new setting. They find it easier to connect spiritually the way things are. And making huge shifts in halakha doesnt usually turn out too well. While you may be well meaning, many of your proposed changes would lead towards actual disobedience of halakha ( and although the lack of those changes also does, that doesnt mean you should actively cause it). Lastly, how do you know that when the talmud prohibits women reading from the Torah because of kavod hatzibbur, it doesn’t mean to tell you that in a Jewish society, women having public performance is disrespectful? It is possibly even disrepectful to them, for you are undermining the more important parts of a woman’s role in Judaism (which aren’t meant to be exactly the same as a man’s).

    • Yael says:

      It is possibly even disrepectful to them, for you are undermining the more important parts of a woman’s role in Judaism (which aren’t meant to be exactly the same as a man’s).

      Moshe, I appreciate this subtle view of kavod tzibbur in a conversation where it is usually equated with an antiquated view of women’s lower social status. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on what those “more important parts of a woman’s role in Judaism” might be. It’s a question I’ve thought a lot about and would love to hear your thoughts.

      • Moshe says:

        Obviously, everyone’s role in life is different. However, a woman’s role in generally categorized into being moral role models. This is most applicable in child bearing/ rearing, but it does apply to other areas. The Talmud says we were redeemed from Egypt on behalf of the righteous women. They didn’t donate gold to the golden calf idol. In general, they are stereotyped as being more passionate then men. Although, I must admit that I haven’t read enough to answer your question fully. For example, most of my philosophy is based on that of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. I know that in one of the volumes of his collected writings he has an essay on A woman’s Role in Judaism. I haven’t read it. I’ve only seen what he has to say in volume 7, which is itself entirely about education only, so obviously it only discusses the mother’s role as a moral guide and nurturer (as opposed to the father who is more of the line-drawer and command-giver.) But like I said, every specific person is different, and I haven’t learnt enough yet.

    • Adam says:

      The line about kavod hatzibbur and women reading from the Torah specified that women are allowed to do so, but then the chachamim later came and made a gezeirah against it. We have records of women reading from the Torah in earlier times. Although you could argue that this was the chachamim coming to fix errant values, it seems to imply that keeping women out of public ritual performance wasn’t always a Jewish value.
      I wonder if we should be worried that many women feel more comfortable in traditional settings. If many men felt the most comfortable in a setting where they did not attend often and did not participate often, I would worry about the spiritual welfare of the men in our community! So too, I wonder if we should all push women who are not comfortable contributing out of a sense of tradition to attempt to contribute and participate. If an individual is not skilled at doing so, then so be it, but one who naturally would contribute should not avoid doing so out of a sense of discomfort with the idea.
      And although you may know women who are more comfortable in a traditional setting, I know women who are not. For some reason, the women you know are the winners by default. I’m not quite so sure of any good reason to keep the default the way it is…

      • Jay says:

        Please be accurate and admit you are citing an utterly fallacious argument by Sperber and others. There are no two stages in the Gemara. The fact that it says a woman is olah la-shivah, but the Rabbis said she should not read because of kavod ha-tzibbur does not mean they used to go up to the Torah – it means they count in the number. Do not propagate lies to make your case. It is one beraita.

      • Dov Weinstein says:

        “We have records of women reading from the Torah in earlier times”
        I wasn’t aware of that. Could you please share the exact sources? Thank you.

      • Benjamin E. says:

        Jay – it is quite explicit: “Hakol olin la-minyan shiva, afilu isha” – how could this mean anything other than that they “go up,” the meaning of “oleh”/”olin”? It doesn’t say “nimnin” or something, that they “count” for the minyan – it says that they “go up.” In fact, the next line begins with “aval,” implying that what the sages came to limit was something that, in the first half of the beraita, is implied to be fine. I don’t see how else you could read the beraita.

      • Lisa Liel says:

        If the chachamim made a gezeira against it, what makes you think you can go back to the Gemara and reopen the issue? It’s not like it was a machloket rishonim or something. It’s done, at least until there’s a real Sanhedrin that chooses to revisit the issue.

        This is what the early Conservative Movement did. Looked for b’dieveds and daat yachids and Mishnas that we don’t pasken according to, and used them to answer the demands of their membership. But Judaism isn’t a demand-driven religion.

        As far as good reasons to keep the default the way it is, it’s because that’s what it is. Follow? Ha-motzi mi-chaveiro, alav ha-raaya. And not just in dinei mamonot. If you want to change the status quo, the burden is on you. You don’t get to say, “If we go back to before the status quo was set, things could have been different, so I want to ignore what came between then and now and start over.” That’s the actual definition of a reform moveemnt, in and out of religious contexts. An attempt to go back to a point in time where you think things went wrong and take a different path. But that’s diametrically opposed to a Torah that follows a direct chain of tradition from Sinai. You have no choice but to deal with the default as it is, or to find greener fields elsewhere.

  13. Moshe says:

    Adam, obviously different women feel differently.And I definately agree that women should want to have a more spiritual experience. Some feel that more participation is crucial to this last point, others don’t. Rabbi Farber was suggesting a widespread dramatic shift in all modern orthodox synagogues. I was simply saying that not all women would appreciate that. Instead, if those who wish to participate feel the need to do so, they can petition a request and accomadations will be measured based on the judgement of the synagogue’s religous commitee. It should include representatives of all parts of the synagogue, and not just the Rabbi. (I surprised that such a commitee existed, I had always assumed the Rabbi made all the decisions. Last year I asked my Rabbi if i could decorate the sanctuary for Adar, and he told me he would have to discuss it with them) All changes to the synagogue should be dealt with similairly.

  14. Naomi says:

    I grew up Modern Orthodox but as an adult I moved more into the charedi camp. In many ways my thinking is still MO and it has taken me a long time to adjust to the charedi thinking, which is obviously not even considering such changes to ritual life.

    But over time, I have come to deep understanding of the balance that is achieved when women make the most of their Torah roles and men make the most of theirs.

    Last week we had Simchas Torah, and at our shul (which I rarely attend – not even on Rosh Hashana and only briefly on YK – because I have small kids) only the men and children dance, while the women watch from the sidelines. They set it up really beautifully outside so everyone had plenty of space, but basically there was nothing for us to do but watch.

    Or at least that is how I would have seen it in previous years. I would have come for half an hour, watched the dancing a bit, and then gone home. What do I need to stand around doing nothing for?

    But this year, I experienced it differently. I felt that I needed to be there for my kids, so that they could wave at me as they twirled in circles, run to me in excitement to show me whatever candy they got and ask me if I saw them when they kissed the Torah. I also kept an eye on them to make sure they were steering clear of some of the rowdier kids who have a tendency to exclude other kids. My oldest is of an age where he is easily influenced by their rough talk and behavior.

    Also I should mention, that I got a ton of nachas from seeing my kids and husband dancing together. I felt like my smiles and waves and periodic cuddles were an essential part of that family experience.

    At that moment, my role as a Jewish woman felt clear to me, and very satisfying. I don’t spend everyday as a martyr… giving, giving, giving, nor I am always feeling so clear on what my Jewish womanly role entails. But there are times when I stand on the sidelines and I clearly perceive that I play a central role from there.

    There is no doubt in my mind that my kids would not have had the same joyous experience if I had been busy off davening and doing my own thing with the Torah. I’m also pretty sure that they would have had some negative encounters with the wrong kinds of kids (and every shul has these).

    One of my dearest dreams and ambitions is to transmit a love of Torah and Yiddishkeit to my kids, and on Simchas Torah that meant that my role was to facilitate the optimum shul experience for my husband and kids.

    I’m sure that most readers of this blog will find my perspective antiquated and reactionary, but it is what it is. They will throw facts and figures into my face about how women are frustrated and leaving Orthodoxy, and yet my experience is, and we all know I’m not alone in feeling this way.

    I think many of us have mixed feelings about the kinds of changes Rabbi Farber is suggesting. Let’s be adults and acknowledge that most of us agree that something will have to be compromised if Jewish women become more active in communal ritual, or even join the “clergy,” as he suggests.

    Our children and family will lose out.

    Maybe you think the sacrifice is worth it. But be adult enough to admit that part of you is scared about the impact this will have. If you’re not even a little bit scared, you’re living in LaLa land.

    • michal says:

      Naomi, you raise a valid point about the potential impact that women’s involvement in public life (be that religious or secular) has on the family. It’s true that its a hard balance to find….and everyone needs to figure it out for themselves.

      However I find your views about the amount you have to sacrifice in the shul setting to be extreme. Did your husband and kids really need you to “cheer them on” so badly? And I don’t mean this harshly, but have you thought that perhaps the periodic cuddles and waves from your children were them feeling bad for mummy standing on the side watching and not having fun dancing?

      Don’t you think you could fulfill your dearest dreams and ambitions of transmiting a love of Torah and Yiddishkeit to your kids by actively participating and they will learn by example? Couldn’t you express your love of Torah by dancing on Simhat Torah rather than standing on the side watching?

      • Naomi says:

        Good question, Michal.
        The answer is no. No one was feeling sorry for me, nor was I feeling sorry for myself. Such a sentiment never occurred to anyone.
        My Simchas Torah experience is just a single story in a sea of experience that makes up the Jewish people and I don’t claim to represent “womankind” or anything. Also I don’t feel that way everyday. It was simply a moment of clarity, a rare moment when I was at my best as a mother, and it was clear to me why things are the way they are.
        I was proud to take a step back, to facilitate and enjoy the unadulterated delight of my children in the age-old Jewish traditions.

    • Alexis says:

      My children had a very joyous experience on Simchat Torah as I danced with them. I was able to supervise them adequately throughout. In fact, I think they got a wonderful sense of Torah and Yiddishkeit as they watched their mother participate, and they learned that I, too, am part of the congregation. If my children had been dancing with their father instead, I would have expected him to supervise them as I did.

      • mshappy5769 says:

        Naomi, I accept that you were happy with taking a supporting role. If you genuinely get nachat from adopting that role however often you do, then I accept that – I don’t need to convert you to my way of thinking. However I can’t accept that your way is the Torah ideal for how a woman should perceive her role in life.

    • Menachem Lipkin says:

      With all due respect, the Simchat Torah experience you describe is not unique to a Jewish mother. It’s the experience of any parent watching their children enjoy themselves. Not much different from the parent who roots their child on at a little league game, for example. When your boys are off in Yeshiva for Simchat Torah this role will no longer be necessary and I don’t imagine you’ll get the same fulfillment from your Simchat Torah experience then.

      I’m sure your daughters, if you have, are being raised to be dutiful observers as well. But can you at least imagine that it might be far more meaningful for them to be dancing with their mother? And even more so if their mother was dancing with a Sefer Torah? It might not be for you, but what is being “compromised” in such a scenario?

    • Bryan Kolb says:

      I don’t in any way want to imply that I think that you are wrong for feeling the way you do about your role. I just want to point out that the reasoning you use could also be used to exclude women from the workplace (I would think that this role is equally important on weekdays as it is on Shabbos and Yom Tov), or from any activity that has the potential to compromise their role as mother and wife.

      To come up with a rough analogy to get across what I think is the point, in part, of the article: the fact that cheerleaders (women) serve an important role, just as the players (men) do, doesn’t mean that women should never be allowed to play football. Especially if the official rulebook doesn’t say that they can’t.

  15. GD says:

    In my shul the women are allowed (and encouraged!) to set the kiddush out every single week and they do a very good job.

  16. David cohen says:

    Zev, while your examples of women being in congress, being doctors, etc., are ll very true, they are true inthe nonreligious or gentile world. If you are going to argue with the great rabbis who made these prohibitions, what prevents you from arguing on other things like keeping shabbos or kosher. Surely we are not as wise as they. All my best to you and your lovely family

    • How many frum women work to either support learning husbands or to keep pace with mounting tuition bills? How many couples are married in which the wife has a college degree while her husband does not? Say what you will about the ideal “kol kevuda bas melech p’nima,” we can’t have it all ways. We can’t have women being both breadwinners and nurturers for our own convenience.

  17. debbie says:

    I am a female physician firmly rooted in the orthodox community. I daven 3 times a day, more often than not in shul ( on time) , am starting my second cycle of daf yomi, teach a women’s mishna class, have a steady gemara shiur with a Rabbi (on-line through Web Yeshiva), lead a women’s tefillah service, give periodic shiurim for my community ( women only) etc. ( also practice medicine full time and am busy with my husband, children and grandchildren) Though all the excuses stated above clearly do not apply to me regarding inferior education or observance I have no opportunity for ritual participation in my shul. I don’t even have the ability to give a co-ed shiur in my community. Though our Rabbi is very respectful of me and other women in our shul and encouraged me to say kaddish in my year of aveilut, there seems to be no room here for a creative paradigm shift. I salute you for your words.

    • Michal says:

      It’s the community’s loss that you are not being actively encouraged to lead/contribute to the community. I agree that a paradigm shift is needed in how the religious community views a woman’s contribution to public religious life. However, I think efforts should focused on expanding leadership roles and halachic-decision making roles. Of course basic things that show that womens’ presence is shul is desirable should still be implemented (mechitza in the middle, women giving divrei torah, taking the sefer torah round the women’s section etc.). However, increasing women’s involvement in halachic and communal decision-making will bigger impact on the power structure than whether a woman can lead hazarat hashatz or not.

  18. David Goldberger says:

    Rabbi Farber’s article here continues his basic approach, which I think takes him out of the Orthodox community. Consider the comments of his daughter, which he takes us to with his link. She states “What I don’t understand — it really does baffle me — is how we call ourselves Modern Orthodox. This patriarchal design we call a religious experience is not reflective of modern society; it’s as anachronistic as possible. The few allowances—the girls’ dvar Torah and the prayer for the State of Israel—take some of the sting out of the experience of invisibility, yet I still find myself perpetually irked. The caging restrictions are conducive to the small number girls present — why come when you mean nothing to the service?”. Zev – if you read his column closely — more or less agree with this view. He is interested in a community that adheres to the bare minimum of talmudic rules – which he shrugs off with the phrase “Although there are a number of Talmudic pericopae (sugyot) that discuss technical questions surrounding differences between men’s and women’s obligations in prayer and related halakhot, this does not really explain the stark difference between the place of men and women in the synagogue” instead of acknowledging the much more basic truth — There are dozens of talmudic pericopae (sugyot) that presuppose vast differences in the Jewish law status between men and women, and the custom of the Orthodox community has been – for centuries – to stand firmly by that line. So, while is it true that as a matter of technical halacha that a woman can lead kabballat Shabbat, it is also true as matter of technical halacha that so can a gentile (goy). The common practice is to not allow a chazon for any part of the davening who cannot be a shaliach tzibur for all of the davening. The idea that this is a social construct – with no real foundation in halacha or the Talmud – is silly and it is what makes Zev not really part of the Orthodox community, really. Rabbi Asher Lopatian got it 100% correct with his criticism of Zev, and it is a shame that someone pressured him to take that important post down. Rabbi Lopatian, Can you please put it back up?

  19. Lisa Liel says:

    Why do the people on this site continue to advertise themselves as Orthodox Jews. The site should be called Lessodoxy.

  20. Lisa Liel says:

    One of the things, possibly the main thing, which separates Orthodox Judaism from the various heterodox movements is that we never, ever, raise any -ism above the Torah. That means that if Zionism conflicts with the Torah (which is rarely does, in my opinion), we go with the Torah. If feminism conflicts with the Torah, we go with the Torah.

    More than this. We don’t start from an -ism as our baseline and interpret the Torah through it. We don’t force the Torah into this -ism or that -ism.

    Zev Farber asks, “Why is it that the synagogue automatically assumes that the baseline should be no participation and that women need to put themselves out there?” And the answer is simple. Because there is a difference in obligation. And the Torah makes distinctions. And Orthodox Jews don’t blur those, certainly not because of an -ism.

    If Zev Farber doesn’t daven with a minyan, he’s remiss. If I don’t daven with a minyan, I’m not. It’s that simple.

    Judaism isn’t egalitarian. Egalitarianism is just another foreign -ism that American culture is so in love with that many ostensibly Orthodox Jews find themselves committed to it ideologically. And so long as they leave it outside of Judaism, that’s fine. Once they bring it into Judaism, it’s not fine at all.

    I belong to a Women’s Tefillah Group. Why? I grew up Conservative. I have a personal connection to doing things that are outside of the Torah norm. I make no apologies for it. I think Women’s Tefillah Groups are good for BTs and giyorot. They rarely continue into the next generation, because girls who grow up frum don’t feel the need for them. Unless their mothers go out of their way to tell them how “oppressed” they are otherwise.

    The idea of women’s participation in shul came about for a very simple reason. In the heterodox movements, Judaism is all about shul. Judaism is one thing that exists in the framework of their lives. In shul. At life cycle events. To an Orthodox Jew, life is something that happens in the context of the Torah. Not the other way around. It’s a matter of what’s the ikkar and what’s the tafel. And because Judaism is the tafel in the heterodox movements (as well as in the minds of many left-wing modern Orthodox Jews), shul is the focus of Judaism. So being less participatory there stings. Whereas to real Orthodox Jews, who recognize that Judaism isn’t just our religion, but rather our life, shul isn’t at all the center of Judaism for us.

    Zev Farber’s entire thesis fails before he even gets started. Because his complaint isn’t even with the details. I belong to a Young Israel, so my Women’s Tefillah Group can’t meet there (it’s in the YI bylaws). That’s a detail. But for Zev Farber, that’s not something to struggle with — he wants to revamp Judaism entirely, so that the default is that we all participate equally in shul.

    Some Jews grow up Orthodox. Or become Orthodox. And some of these Orthodox Jews move away from Judaism, opting for something that suits them more, philosophically. Conservative. Reform. Reconstructionist. Renewal. Humanist. Some of those who move away philosophically also move away in practice. Alice Shalvi, the noted feminist, resisted this for years. Philosophically, she had left Orthodox Judaism behind her. But she felt an emotional tie to it. She didn’t want to acknowledge the move that she’d already made inside. Eventually, she “came out” as Conservative, but it was sort of like Ellen Degeneris coming out as gay. It was only a surprise to those who weren’t paying attention.

    I hope that Zev Farber and other members of this blog will learn from Alice Shalvi. I hope they will stop trying to drag Judaism off the derekh, and if they feel so strongly opposed to it philosophically, just go.

    • nicejewishgirl says:

      Most of the women who participate in the women’s kriyat ha torah in our shul seem to have been raised Orthodox. A number were taught to leyn by their (Orthodox) fathers. Many went to seminary and/or learned at Drisha after going to Orthodox schools their whole lives. So I don’t buy the argument that women’s Torah leyning or tefillah groups are obsolete amongst women who were raised Orthodox. Where on earth did you get that idea? Much of the push for women’s inclusion is from people who were raised religious, and not by the bitter feminist mothers you allude to.

      • Lisa Liel says:

        In any case, that wasn’t the main point of what I wrote. Maybe some of the people who go to Partnership Minyanim are simply misinformed, and not ideologically opposed to halakha. In fact, maybe there are Partnership Minyanim which will start davening when there are 10 adult men present, and not stand on ceremony waiting for 10 adult women as well. But as far as I’m aware, those groups do precisely that, sacrificing the principle of davening with a minyan (an obligation for men) to the -isms of feminism and egalitarianism.

      • Benjamin E. says:

        Lisa – while Partnership minyanim do wait for 10 men and 10 women, I have rarely if ever seen one actually miss zman tefila waiting for only women. They absolutely uphold the principle of davening with a minyan. There are times you wait to start out of respect; in many shuls I’ve been to, if they’re waiting for ten and they get ten while the rabbi has stepped out of the room for a minute, they’ll wait a minute until he returns out of respect for him. As long as zman tefila is not a concern, there’s no problem with this.

      • nicejewishgirl says:

        I’m aware it’s a lesser point, but your lesser points are just as eligible as your greater points for criticism and questioning. Who’s making a sacrifice, exactly? Men choose to go to these minyanim, not just women. They choose to wait. The men still daven with a minyan, just (theoretically, if not enough women show up on time) a few minutes later than a man down the street at the mainstream shul. No one’s forcing them – They could go to the minyan down the street that will finish more quickly. Waiting a few minutes for women to show up is sacrificing? Geez, try davening in a shul that’s so small that you sometimes wait 1/2 hour for a male minyan to show up – who’s sacrificing then? Also: The people who go to these minyanim tend to be serious and learned, in my experience – They are not women who come for the last 10 minutes of davening. Just so you know, I am not a fan of partnership minyanim. But this critique just sounds petty and nonsensical (since it’s not based in reality at all) and like you think a group of entitled women are making men not be able to fulfill mitzvot, which simply isn’t the case… even if it’s not the style of davening you’d choose for yourself, as is the case for me.

      • Lisa Liel says:

        The issue is, again, putting another ideology up as more important than Jewish ideology. Even just waiting for more women before starting once you have a minyan (assuming it’s at least the time davening was called for) is going against the idea of zerizim makdim l’mitzvot.

        Some people have a very basic ideological problem with the idea that halakha is different for men and women. That isn’t part of Judaism, and to the extent that they raise it up as their own personal egel, neither are they.

      • Benjamin E. says:

        Zerizim makdimin? If we’re invoking ideas as having relevant force, then perhaps *not* waiting goes against the idea of kavod ha-briyot.

      • Lisa Liel says:

        Kavod ha-briyot doesn’t mean, “If I don’t get what I want, my kavod ha-briyot has been violated”. Hell, I know people who find it both offensive and unspiritual to bar instrumental music from Kabbalat Shabbat. They could make the same kind of kavod ha-briyot argument, particularly if they’re musicians themselves. And then you can defend their position by pointing out that mashmia kol isn’t an av melacha. This is just ridiculous.

      • Benjamin E. says:

        I think it’s pretty clear that waiting for women is a question of demonstrating respect for them as human beings – that they, as people, are important in their presence as Jews and members of our community – and not for a particular preference like music.

        Zerizim makdimin as you are applying it is still subject to a choice – you could argue that everyone should begin davening immediately without waiting for a minyan. But of course we don’t, because we balance all of the elements and say zerizim makdimin for *davening* takes a back seat to davening with a *minyan* as opposed to just *davening* – so long as that’s balanced against *zman tefilla*. The same argument can be made here with kavod ha-beriyot introduced, incorporating more principles without sacrificing halakhic integrity (i.e., they daven before zman no matter what).

        (Reposted here – accidentally posted it below in the wrong part of the thread.)

      • Lisa Liel says:

        And I think that’s ridiculous, Benjamin. Otherwise, it would be disrespect for men and women equally to start before they arrive. So what’s the difference with 10? Is it not disrespectful to start before an 11th woman shows up? How will she feel when she gets there and davening has already started? Or an 11th man, for that matter. Will his feelings be hurt because they didn’t wait for him?

        This isn’t about kavod ha-briyot. This is about an ideologically based attempt to modify Judaism to look more like western egalitarianism. If kavod ha-briyot works for you with some people, ma tov. If they think it through and realize how ludicrous it is to say that there’s anything difference between the first 10 women and any other women who arrive later, you’ll find some other rhetorical tool to use.

      • Benjamin E. says:

        It’s not a rhetorical tool – the difference is precisely the same as with men. Did you think needing ten men was a chok? It is understood that there is “communal” prayer and “individual” prayer, and some cutoff is sufficient to represent a “community”. This is not about the kavod ha-beriyot of individuals – it’s about collectives. We’re trying to give kavod to the *collective* of women, not to individual women.

        10 vs 11 is conventional, sure, but 10 seems to be acceptable to indicate a representative presence of a collective. (Honestly, though, if they wait for 10 or 11 or 5, the point could still theoretically stand.) That’s what this is about – finding some way to respect the kavod ha-beriyot of the *collective* of 50% of the nation who are currently the only subgroup of the nation systematically excluded from representative significance.

      • Benjamin E. says:

        Incidentally, the truth is that I wouldn’t normally go to something vague like “kavod ha-beriyot” to make an actual practical point. But I wouldn’t go to “zerizim makdimin” either in a case like this. I think in general we’re better off, at least at the moment, if we don’t focus on using these more vague, hand-wavy principles for practical purposes – because there are vague hand-wavy principles of all sorts.

    • Benjamin E. says:

      Lisa – perhaps we shouldn’t start with an -ism as our baseline and go from there. But this is precisely R. Farber’s point. Judaism has been hijacked by another -ism – *anti*-femin-ism. Women’s participation in areas that are mutar according to halakha is being prevented because of some sociological state of anti-feminism. What he suggests is that we reject this -ism and move to a pure Torah-ism perspective: “[A]ll Jews, men and women, can do or participate in any meaningful ritual unless it is clear that halakha expressly forbids this.” No more preventing women from doing things for sociological reasons – expel the foreign -ism of anti-femin-ism from Judaism and return to permitting and forbidding actions based on halakha.

  21. Lisa Liel says:

    Farber is suggesting that we throw away the past 15 or so centuries (maybe more) of Torah development, because he doesn’t like the way it developed. But only in that one area, mind you. We can keep things like Simchat Torah and Taanit Esther, even though they didn’t exist in the Gemara, because those suit him fine. But other decisions, ones that he doesn’t like, he wants to pretend like he’s living in the days when this became halakha psuka l’lo machloket, and participate in those discussions as a peer.

    He can’t.

    You can’t.

    I can’t.

    That’s not how Judaism works. And for crying out loud, Farber wasn’t alive at that time. All he has is his personal feelings about what the motivations of the rabbanim at the time were. He assumes they were as shallow and culturally driven as his own.

    You want a pure Torah-ism? Well, there’s Karaism. They’d contend that they practice pure Torah-ism. Or there are the Rambamists, who claim that since Ravina and Rav Ashi represented “sof hora’ah”, no rabbinic decisions are anything but local and temporary enactments.

    “[A]ll Jews, men and women, can do or participate in any meaningful ritual unless it is clear that halakha expressly forbids this.” This is not the halakha. Not in Orthodox Judaism, at any rate. What Farber is proposing is no more and no less than abandoning Judaism for yet another heterodox movement.

    And let me run this by you. Reformers of your kind (I’m not suggesting you belong to the Reform movement, btw) often point to things like Hillel’s prozbul as an example of “rabbinic creativity”. But that was done — explicitly — for a sociological reason. And I imagine you’re okay with that. Which would mean that it’s okay to enact halakha for sociological reasons when it achieves a goal that you approve of, but not when it achieves a goal that you disapprove of. And that’s exactly what I’ve been talking about. You need to adjust what you approve and disapprove of based on the Torah, and not adjust the Torah based on what you approve and disapprove of.

    • Menachem Lipkin says:

      It’s very funny that you use the prozbul as an example to make your point. One could also posit that it supports far more than what even RABBI Farber is suggesting. All he’s saying is to make changes WITHIN halacha in response to societal realities. Hillel, effectively, negated a biblical commandment with the prozbul for soietal/economic reasons! In other words it’s exactly the opposite of your conclusion, ie he adjusted the Torah based on societal need.

      • Lisa Liel says:

        Hillel negated a rabbinic zecher. Shmitta hasn’t been d’Orayta since the Assyrians exiled the northern tribes. And even then, to paraphrase a famous line, I’ve studied Hillel, and Farber is no Hillel.

        And that’s what this is really about, isn’t it? “Zev Farber tanna u-palig”. He wants the authority of a Tanna. But that’s not how it works.

      • Marty Bluke says:

        Actually Lisa that is a dispute between the Rambam and the Raavad (and Rashi and Tosafos) whether pruzbul works if shemitta is d’oraysa.

        The difference is that Hillel worked within the halachic system to create pruzbul.

    • Benjamin E. says:

      Shall I bring up R. Moshe Feinstein’s permission to drink chalav stam? That was absolutely driven by the need of the community. Am I saying it’s wrong? Of course not – it’s fine halakha. But it’s not what had been halakhically done before then (and here we’re talking about *actual* halakha, mind you). And yet, it is common practice now.

      In fact, the whole nature of the mode of she-eilot utshuvot is a halakhic mode driven by the needs and questions of the community, of real people who have real questions.

      Do you suggest, too, that Hillel should have adjusted what he wanted based on the the Torah rather than deciding on this prozbul thing?

      • Menachem Lipkin says:

        Lisa, that’s a machlokes rishonim. Regardless, the point still stands that Halacha can be modified for societal reasons, all the more so non-halachic conventions.

      • Lisa Liel says:

        By all means, bring up the chalav thing. He did *not* give permission to drink chalav stam. He said that the USDA was sufficiently strict that we could rely on USDA supervised milk. That’s a matter of definitions. I suppose, if you wanted to define women as being men, you could use that same sort of dynamic here.

        What I’m saying about Hillel is that had shmitta been d’Orayta at the time, he would have had to have found another solution, since the prozbul would not have worked.

      • Lisa Liel says:

        Menachem, not all societal issues are the same. Being able to obtain milk is a bit more serious than not having the egalitarian agenda integrated into Judaism as a default position.

      • Benjamin E. says:

        Before Rav Moshe, milk not supervised by a Jew was forbidden. Rav Moshe effectively argued that the prohibition was based on an *assumption* with a *reason* behind it – that there is a concern someone might treyf up the milk. Given that in our historical/factual context the facts upon which the ruling was made have changed and the USDA imposes harsh penalties upon milk to which that has been done, we may now drink such milk because though once we could not trust anyone, now we can trust someone.

        The same argument can be made about kavod of all sorts (beriyot, tzibur, etc.) and the various sociological issues at play here – in a context in which they are accurate, the norms apply; when they are not, the appropriate application of the norms changes.

        As to the seriousness of the issue, the communal status of 50% of the nation is felt to be serious to many in an honest way (in the same way that R. Soloveitchik felt about the Jewish educational opportunities afforded to 50% of the Jewish nation).

      • Benjamin E. says:

        You’re right, though, we could be a little more precise about R. Moshe’s mechanism – though reclassification is close to being accurate.

        The requirement for milk is not about strictness; it’s originally defined as “seeing.” R. Moshe essentially declared that the purpose of “seeing” was “verification” – or more precisely, what seeing really *means* is “verification” even though the words say it must be “seen.” Seeing was, of course, the only way of verifying – but if we could acquire verification by some other means (like this newfangled USDA thing), well, of *course* that would be acceptable as well – it’s not fundamentally about the presence of a literal pair of eyeballs, even though the correlation had for a long time been strong to the point of being unique and definitive.

        Feel free to re-read these sources with the underlying goal not being about “women” but as preventing “undignified occurrences” (not necessarily in all cases – just this one where this is explicit in the text). Women in public were definitely undignified – but If there were some way to involve women *without* it being undignified, well, of *course* that’s not a problem – it’s not fundamentally about the absence of a literal Y chromosome, even though the correlation was strong to the point of being definitive.

      • Avigayil says:

        Ms. Liel, you say that ” Being able to obtain milk is a bit more serious than not having the egalitarian agenda integrated into Judaism as a default position.” Having read this entire comment thread, my ire rising, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, compelling me to join the conversation of people who are older and more learned than I. I am a sixteen-year-old Orthodox feminist, and I have a life-threatening allergy to milk. I can tell you, having never consumed milk in my life, that not being treated as a full human being who “counts” in a synagogue setting has done far more harm to me than not drinking milk.

      • Lisa Liel says:

        Avigayil, not being treated as a man in shul has done no harm to you whatsoever. Being raised to think that you should be treated like a man in shul has done immeasurable harm to you. You’re blaming the wrong people.

      • Avigayil says:

        I have been raised to believe that I am as good as and equal to my male peers, and in my Orthodox day schools I have been taught that I should be socially and academically equal. If by “being like a man” you mean being acknowledged by my community as a full and equal commited halachic person, then yes, I want to be like a man. In shul, a man is equivalent to a person. The language of “everyone gets an aliyah,” we need two more people for a minyan,” and from tefillah itself, “the members of the community, their wives, and their children?” When you say that not being treated like a man has done me no harm, you clearly have no concept of how I cannot bring myself to sit in shul for more than a half-hour stretch because it pains me, that I ran out out hakafot on Simchat Torah crying, that when I see that my male peers are automatically assumed to be important and told that “we need you for mincha” at school while I am ignored, that it makes me feel like I should abandon the entire enterprise. I am a committed, dedicated Jewish person. I learn Mishna Yomit, coordinate a dvar Torah program at my school, and am always among the first people to come to tefillah at school, because I value Torah and the Jewish community. This is why I am so deeply hurt when I am told, directly or implicitly, that I do not “count” as part of the community.

      • Benjamin E. says:

        Avigayil, hang in there. It’s a really frustrating situation to be in, and you’re right – it’s painful the way in an Orthodox shul “people” means “men,” “everyone” means “all men,” etc. Orthodoxy has not yet, in large part, hit upon much in the way of anything that will concretely demonstrate that women are valued. But I think Orthodoxy’s working on it in legitimate ways, as this piece is evidence of, and I hope that Orthodoxy will be able to hit upon some stable, concrete ways for women’s value to be apparent in the context of shul beyond people just saying that of course you’re important.

  22. Jay says:

    Again, Olah Laminyan does not mean “gets an aliyah”. See for example Nedarim 61a, Yovel is oleh laminyan shavua. It means to count.

    • Lisa Liel says:

      Jay, I don’t understand what your point is. I really don’t. What on earth do you think it means, then? There’s no issue of counting other than counting as one of the required 7 aliyot. No, it doesn’t mean “gets an aliya”, as such, but it does mean that women, me-ikkar ha-din, can leyn and have it count as one of the 7 required aliyot on Shabbat.

      Farber is wrong about everything he wrote here. But making a wrong argument in opposition isn’t helpful.

      • Jay says:

        This actually was not a response to Farber. It is a response to the claim that there was a historical period where women were olah latorah. That claim is based on assuming that olah means they used to go up, and then reading the “Takkanah” of Hazal as a later innovation. This read becomes impossible if it means – everyone counts [in theory], but Hazal ruled that women cannot do it despite that theoretical possibility. That’s all.

      • Lisa Liel says:

        So… how do you read it? I get how you don’t read it, but how *do* you read it?

  23. Moshe says:

    Avigayil, the concern for women was the reason of their exemption in the first place. Due to a complexity in Jewish law, Once exempted, one cannot fulfill other’s obligations for them, or combine with those who are required to create a minyan. that does not mean you’re prayers aren’t as valued. The Jewish people need them just as much as they need mine. You are a Jew, and you are very special. And, assuming that since you are 16 that you aren’t married, “the members,” includes you, doesn’t it? And there are synagogues where women can dance with the Torah on Simchas Torah, btw. Back then, many women couldn’t make it to synagogue due to other obligations. Therefore they were made exempt, and their husbands prayed for them. Thank god, that isn’t entirely true nowadays, and many women can attend synagogue. I am inspired by this and your devotion to Judaism.You matter just as much as I do. However, as I mentioned, the fact that you are exempt from many commandments causes a problem in Jewish law. It applies not because you are inferior, but because of the Rabbi’s exemptions for women, which was due to their concerns for them. It applies to kids, slaves, in some instances blind, mentally unstable and many other people ( I know that doesn’t really sound like the best group to be joined with, but…) Of course you “count” as part of the community. You are vitally important to the Jewish people and the world.

    • Benjamin E. says:

      Your categorization is slightly off – in practice, kids are actually *more* valuable in shul than women because in many shuls, they get to lead Ein Keloheinu and/or Adon Olam. People seek out the kids in shul because they actually fulfill a minor role in participating in the davening. Not so with women, though. So slightly amended – she is in good company with the slaves and the mentally incompetent, though the nine-year-olds do sit slightly above her in the shul hierarchy of significance. (Incidentally, this is something that should seriously bother people if it doesn’t already.)

    • Benjamin E. says:

      The more general point, though, Moshe, is that your note is good to talk about but not so good in practice. For all people *say* they value women in shul, there is nothing concrete whatsoever that demonstrates that. Especially when we do things like note that their value to our community is like that of slaves, five-year-olds, and the mentally incompetent.

      If you mean what you say, then we need to find some way in an Orthodox shul for women to not just be told that they’re great, now sit quietly, or if you feel like leaving that’s fine too because it won’t actually make a difference at all in our service, but to make it *felt* that they are valued. R. Farber has suggested doing this by looking for concrete forms that are consonant with halakha and working to incorporate women into those roles. He has discussed a number of points that don’t fall under that “complexity in Jewish law” you talk about, and if they don’t, then we should do what we can to demonstrate that we mean what we say.

      Ultimately, what we choose to *do* to demonstrate how we value women as full Jewish adult members of our community will reflect much more than what we *say* about them. Let’s put some teeth behind everything we say and put our money where our mouth is.

      • Moshe says:

        As I explained (or actually did a bad job of explaining) above to Yael, the way women show their value to the community is inherently different from men. And due to the halakhic complexities, minor changes won’t really settle much.

      • Benjamin E. says:

        So in other words, when when R. Farber wrote, “in some Orthodox shuls women have complained that they feel excluded and marginalized,” your answer is, “Yes, and that’s how it *should* be. They *are* irrelevant to the davening community and we *intend* to exclude them because shul is not their realm. Their realm is [the home, the kitchen, teaching kids, etc.].”

  24. Neil says:

    Rabbi Farber,
    I would encourage you to listen to or read a transcript of the Rav’s famous 1975 RCA talk. Are the changes that you are suggesting consistent with the general thrust of what he describes there?

  25. Anonymous says:

    “Ritual committees often employ common sense to reach halachic decisions. All Reform movements, from the Sadduccees to contemporary religious liberals, pleaded the cause of common sense. Korah also operated with a common-sense methodology. Moshe replied that Korah’s criteria were irrelevant because Halacha has its own, independent methodology and logos. Only a scholar who mastered its conceptual structure can understand this logic.”

    Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

    • Elli Sacks says:

      The changing social status of women in Judaism is a matter of HALAKHIC concern — it is not just “common sense” rhetoric dictated by ritual committees. For example, look at the rabbinical literature on whether women should recline (perform “haseivah”) at the Pesach seder. The crux of the matter is whether wives were still considered subservient to their husbands as they were in Talmudic times (in which case they would not recline) or whether their status had evolved and they were considered “important” or “primary” in their own right (in which case they would recline.)
      For more on this, see the following link: http://www.biu.ac.il/JH/Parasha/eng/pesah/ger.html

      The social status of women has direct halakhic implications…

      • Sammy says:

        “Simply for lack of male reproductive organs, otherwise qualified women are still barred from the rabbinate.”

        Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

        It seems to me that this perspective is awfully closer to “the common sense methodology” than one espoused by “a scholar who mastered its conceptual structure.”

    • Anonymous says:

      And yet it’s exactly common sense which the Rav applied in deciding to allow women to learn Gemorah.

      • Sammy says:

        With all due respect, women’s learning Torah Shebe’al Peh appears to be forbidden in classical halachik sources. Based on an in depth understanding of the halacha, the Rav came to the conclusion that it was permitted for women to learn Gemara. Simply dismissing classical sources as “applying common sense” demonstrates a profound lack of reverence and understanding of halacha and the halachik process. It is exactly this perspective that the Rav attacked in that talk.

      • Menachem Lipkin says:

        Oh please. He was very clear that his logic was based on the fact that women had reached an academic level in society that was far outstripping their level in Jewish learning. Of course he found halachic basis. But there’s no way he would have come up with this innovation 50 years earlier when there was no need for it.

      • Sammy says:

        “Oh please…of course he found halachic basis.”

        So much of what’s wrong with the approaches espoused here is captured in these words.

        Perisha writes that a woman may study Torah Shebe’al Peh if it is out of her own volition. He lived more than 50 years before the Rav.

        There is a difference between how one understands the halacha, and how one suggests implementing it. Perisha didn’t have a need to start giving a Gemara shiur in the woman’s branch of his local Modern Orthodox University; the Rav did.

        But that is all predicated on how one understands the halacha, is it absolutely forbidden or not. The Rav, a Torah giant, came to the conclusion that it is not absolutely forbidden through his “mastery of its conceptual structure” . Stating that the Rav came to his conclusion based on the times, or through simple “common sense”. I believe, belittles a Torah giant, and says a lot about the person who makes such a claim.

  26. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Your nasty ad hominem attack aside. You’re not really saying anything so different. Nobody, including Rav Farber, is saying that what is assur should be made mutar. Throughout our history, within the very broad range of what’s permitted, societal context has played a significant role in how we practice. And it’s that very practice that is at issue here. You stated it quite clearly, it’s all about implementation and the “NEED” to do so.

    There was a “NEED”: for Bais Yaakov 100 years ago
    There was a “NEED” for women to be able to learn gemorah in a formal setting 40 years ago.
    And there may be a “NEED” for some halachically permitted ritual changes now.

    • Sammy says:

      “You’re not really saying anything so different”

      I apologize if I haven’t been clear. I cited Rav Soloveitchik’s comments above without explaining my point, I thought that the implication was clear. Scholars who have mastered the conceptual structure of halacha can sometimes have a diametrically opposed perspective than the individual who is relying on his common sense. I was implying that the rabbis involved with significantly changing millennium old rituals of the Jewish people should be scholars who have mastered the conceptual structure of halacha, Torah giants.

      Anonymous above commented on the citation of the Rav:

      “And yet it’s exactly common sense which the Rav applied in deciding to allow women to learn Gemorah.”

      To which I responded that I believe that dismissing the Rav’s psak regarding women learning Gemara as “applying common sense” as profoundly lacking in reverence and understanding of the Rav and halacha.

      We both agree that there are different steps involved in how one understands the halacha, and how one goes about implementing it. It appears to me that the Rav’s point above, regarding scholars who have mastered the conceptual structure of halacha, that is Torah giants, as opposed to someone else using common sense. very well applies to the implementation of the halacha as well.

  27. Eli says:

    There is a basic problem with Rabbi Farber’s article is his foundational premise. His foundation is not Torah but his personal views on equality. His premise is that we need to make Torah fit his notions of equality. These women should be trying to do is be the best Torah Jews they can be. The fact that you perceive your spiritual fullfillment is lacking because you cant practice a particular ritual is your personal hubris. Nadav and Avihu were punished because they sought spiritual fullfillment in violation of G-d’s laws.

    • Benjamin E. says:

      A related question: Is every mitzvah in Torah a true chok? Does anything in Torah have any relationship to human intrinsic morality and sense of the Good, or is it all entirely, 100% independent? Is every overlap of Torah with human morality a mere coincidence that we can feel lucky about but nothing more? Is it truly arbitrary that Torah doesn’t want us to, e.g., steal from old ladies?

      • Lisa Liel says:

        What on earth makes you think that chukim are arbitrary? Being a chok doesn’t mean it has no reason. Only that we don’t necessarily know it.

        Human morality is something we’re required to tweak to the point that it matches God’s, as He communicated to us. That’s the whole point of what it says in Pirkei Avot: Make your will as His will, so that He will do your will as though it were His will. Farber is doing the opposite.

      • Benjamin E. says:

        Forgive me – I meant arbitrary in the sense of no known correlation to anything we can understand – that is, for all human intents and purposes, arbitrary.

        As for your approach to morality, that is certainly an approach. It is not the only Jewish approach. Rav Kook has a different approach:

        אסור ליראת שמים שתדחק את המוסר הטבעי של האדם, כי אז אינה עוד יראת שמים טהורה. סימן ליראת שמים טהורה הוא כשהמוסר הטבעי – הנטוע בטבע הישר של האדם – הולכת ועולה על פיה במעלות יותר גבוהות ממה שהוא עומד מבלעדה.

        אבל אם תצוייר יראת שמים בתכונה כזאת שבלא השפעתה על החיים היו החיים יותר נוטים לפעול טוב, ולהוציא אל הפועל דברים מועילים לפרט ולכלל, ועל פי השפעתה מתמעט כח הפועל ההוא, יראת שמים כזאת היא יראה פסולה.

        רב א.י. הכהן קוק, אורות הקדש ג’, עמ’ כז

        “It is forbidden for yir’at shamayim to displace the musar ha-tiv’i
        [natural ethical sense] of a person, for then the yir’at shamayim is no longer pure. A sign of pure yir’at shamayim is when the musar ha’tiv’i – which is rooted in the straight nature of a man – goes and rises on its mouth (i.e. through the yir’at shamayim) to levels higher than it could attain by itself.

        But if yir’at shamayim is expressed in such a way that without its
        influence on life one would be more inclined to do good, and to put into action beneficial acts, both specifically and generally, and through its [yir'at shamayim's] influence this power is decreased–yir’at shamayim like this is invalid yir’ah.”

      • Lisa Liel says:

        I think you misunderstand Rav Kook. Yes, there’s such a thing as naval birshut haTorah. One should not be holier-than-thou super pious and be a dick about it. But that doesn’t mean — ever — that we are allowed to place our personal musar ha-tiv’i above the halakha.

      • Benjamin E. says:

        That’s not what he says – he doesn’t say you shouldn’t be arrogant about being overly religious. He says that if your religious behavior is effecting less good in the world than without it, if it is contradicting your “natural morality,” then there’s something wrong in your religious behavior. The implication being, that *can’t* be right. This is not about putting your musar hativ’i above the halakha – it’s saying that musar hativ’i is an inherent component of what halakha is. Halakha cannot be so disconnected from that as to become *un*ethical by a natural measure.

      • Benjamin E. says:

        Incidentally, I never even thought Pirkei Avot addressed the question of different ideas of what’s ethical/moral – I think it’s quite plausible to read it as simply a call to submit your own general desires to Godly ones, both religious and ethical ones. In other words, not God thinks A is moral and you think B is moral – it doesn’t address that. It’s you would *like* to do X, maybe something immoral, maybe something unethical but that won’t hurt anyone directly, maybe something you just are better off not doing, but your job is to sublimate your personal selfish desires to higher, positive ones. Don’t cheat the person, even if she’s old and won’t know. Don’t go shopping on Shabbos, even if nobody will see you. Sublimate your personal, selfish, admittedly human desires toward a system of morality. But I don’t think it even *addresses* that point of *conflicting* ideas of morality or the sources of them (even if they’re both Torah-based).

  28. [...] and many women—and men—need a different venue. A short while ago I wrote about the need for a paradigm shift in Modern Orthodox prayer services. The presence of women in the synagogue needs to be felt, and [...]

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