Orthodoxy Needs Partnership Minyanim R. Yosef Kanefsky

November 29, 2010

Though the OU recently made it quite clear it will not tolerate Partnership Minyanim within its member synagogues, the “amcha” of the Orthodox community should support this newest expression of Orthodox spirituality. For the grassroots movement to create a highly egalitarian form of Orthodox davening will likely prove to be enormously beneficial and healthy for the future of Orthodoxy. 

The halachik debate on the matter has already been fought to a draw, and I won’t rehash the details of that debate here. (You can review it by seeing the articles written by Rabbis Henkin, Sperber, and M. Shapiro at www.edah.org, and that of Rabbi Gidon Rothstein in Tradition 39:2, Summer 2005) Thinking simply in terms of what’s strategically best for the Orthodox community as we move deeper into the 21st century, it’s clear to me that we need to have Partnership Minyanim as part of our mix. They provide an option that is vital for us to have. 

The Orthodox establishment’s read of Partnership Minyanim is predictably upside-down. It assumes that the minyanim are the brainchild of feminist instigators, whose ultimate allegiance is not to Halacha, but to egalitarianism, and who are attempting to lure upstanding but unsuspecting Modern Orthodox Jews into the abyss whose bottom is Conservative Judaism. From everything I have seen both in New York and here in Los Angeles (I have not been to Shira Chadasha in Jerusalem), the movement is led by people who are personally and ideologically committed to halacha, institutionally and financially bound up with the Orthodox community, and who are creating Partnership Minyanim in order so that Orthodox Jews of an egalitarian bent don’t need to consider leaving the Orthodox community, rather can remain within it. It’s not “feminists” who are pioneering this, rather Orthodox men and women who simply believe that we are religiously obligated to create maximal halachik opportunities for all Jews, regardless of gender, to participate in our deepest moments of communal holiness. They’re not looking to leave. They’re looking to stay. 

Most Orthodox Jews will never embrace their approach to davening. This is fine. Partnership minyanim are definitely not intended for the majority of Orthodox Jews.  But we are, and always have been, a community of many voices. And there’s no question that one of today’s vital, sacred voices, is the voice of the Partnership minyanim. It’s a voice that keeps our tent healthy and big. 

And it’s the Orthodox “amcha” who need to give this movement the recognition and space that we all need for it to have. Orthodox institutions will not be able to do so for the time being. It’s part of life that institutions need to balance a great variety of interests and pressures. I know. I head one myself. And I’ve been very open with my congregants as to why we don’t offer a Partnership Minyan. But we are in an age of independent and outside-the-box religious expressions, in which institutional support is no longer necessary (and in fact often hurts). And collectively we will be doing the Jewish people and the Orthodox community the largest of favors by recognizing Partnership Minyanim, and welcoming their emergence onto the Orthodox landscape.

Reclaiming the Jewish Naqba by Rabbi Lopatin

November 11, 2010

I do not know who Mayor Dieter Salomon of Freiburg Germany is, but he recently made some excellent points – transformative – to help Jews and Israelis define their relationship with history and with the Palestinians.  It involves an exhibit that a pro-Palestinian group wanted Freiburg to sponsor, which the mayor rejected because of its one-sidedness.  But note two powerful points by the mayor: First for the Palestinians – and all Arabs – to take responsibility for their own predicament – that will be the only thing that will pull them out of where they are.  Second, we Jews and Zionists have to start using the term The Other Naqba: the expulsion of 800,000 Jews from Arab lands and their welcome absorption into the new Jewish State of Israel.  Let’s start remembering that many Jews were Palestinians and that we have a Naqba story to tell as loudly as anyone else.

From the Jerusalem Post:

The mayor of Freiburg, Dieter Salomon, pulled the plug on a Palestinian “Nakba” exhibit, which was slated to open on Friday in the local library, because “from the perspective of the city of Freiburg, the presentation is one-sided,” Edith Lamersdorf, the mayor’s spokeswoman, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

“One-sided accusations and friend-foe paradigms do not promote insight into the complicated relationships in the Middle East or contribute to understanding and peaceful development in the region,” the Green Party’s Dieter Salomon said in a statement last week.

“Palestinian Arabs do not appear in the presentation as responsible and active actors in this conflict. There is, for example, no discussion of the anti-Semitically motivated Arab pogroms that took place since the mid-19th century, and especially after 1945, in the Jewish settlement areas in the Arab regions. The other ‘Nakba’ [catastrophe] meant flight and expulsion for hundreds of thousands of Arab Jews, who had to leave their homes and were taken in by Israel,” the mayor said.

Rediscovering Prayer –by Rabbi Hyim Shafner

November 4, 2010

Perhaps I speak only for myself but I think generally we have lost the concept of prayer.  The upside of prayer in the Orthodox community is that we do it often.  But this is also the downside.  As a result of the commonness of our prayer I think, at least for me, prayer often can become the saying of words, the recitation of formulas, the fulfilling of an obligation.


The gemara (Berachot 29b)has an interesting instruction for prayer that may help us:

“Rabbi Eliezer says: One who makes their prayer fixed (kevah, which prayer should not be) their prayer is not beseeching/prayerful (tachanunim).   What does “fixed prayer” mean?  Rabbi Yaakov the son of Rav Idi said in the name of Rabbi Oshiyah, (a fixed prayer is)“anyone who feels their prayer to be something which must be carried” (Rash”i- as an obligation to be fulfilled), The Rabbis say, “Anyone who does not pray in words of tachanunim” (Shulchan Aruch- tachanunim is like a poor person asking for alms in pleasant language), Rabah and Rav Yosef said together, “(a prayer is called fixed) If one is not able to say something new in it.”


It seems from the Talmud there are 3 factors in making prayer what it should be (in fact some achronim say that one who prays kevah,  a prayer which is fixed, has not prayed at all (Elyah Raba, Magen Giborim, et al).  To review the three factors in the gemara above which make prayer what it should be are:

  1. How we feel about the prayer.  If we see prayer as a chiuv, an obligation to be fulfilled like other mitzvoth, instead of as a conversation with God.
  2. The language with which we pray. If we read words from a book, instead of speaking like one person to another in nice language and tone.
  3. If we read the siddur and do not say anything new in each prayer.


Since we are different every day we must in our conversation  with God, insert words of our own.  This should be done, the poskim say, in the middle 13 berachot of the amidah.  In at least one beracha and some say in all of the berachot, we should speak to God about and ask for what we personally and our people and world generally need at that moment.


I personally have found that numbers 1 and 2 are hard to control but 3 is more doable.   It is hard to pray 3 times a day without feeling it obligatory, hard to see God as a personal Deity in conversation.  But I find that by beginning with number 3, in my very small way, that numbers 1 and 2 sometimes develop.   Try it.   Next time you daven, in each of the middle 13 berachot of the amidah talk to God about what you need pertaining to that blessing just before the chatimah, the ending of the paragraph.   Talk to God about what the world and Jewish people need.  If you can do it in Hebrew that’s great but English is ok too.


This mode of beseeching, of seeing God as a parent from whom we request what we personally need rather than an infinite Deity before whom to laude, is the real path of Jewish prayer, as the Talmud said long ago.  Don’t worry about it taking you too long to daven, it will become something that at least sometimes you will look forward to and will change everything.


Modern Orthodoxy and Rabbinic Authority – Rabbi Barry Gelman

November 3, 2010

Rabbi Benny Lau has written an impassioned plea for education towards independent thought within the Religious Zionist / Modern Orthodox community. He criticizes blind obedience to Torah sages. Such obedience e, Rabbi Lau argues, leads to a “culture of dependency and submission.” This, in turn, represses independent thought and personal freedom.

 I agree with Rabbi Lau’s overall contentions. I offer three points in response.

  1. There is no denying that Orthodox Judaism does call for a degree of surrendering personal autonomy. We mustn’t leave our children with the impression that “anything goes” as long as they arrive at their conclusions with clear thinking.
  2. The arguments made by Rabbi Lau supporting a culture of argumentation both in the times of our early sages and in contemporary times, are related to arguments by Rabbis who were well versed in Torah. We must be careful that Rabbi Lau’s call for independent thinking not degenerate into a situation where Torah scholarship is not recognized as the key factor in halachik argumentation. I seems like an obvious point but, often in the Modern Orthodox community,  Torah scholarship and the Halachik process are not valued as much as they should be.  While scholars should not be deified, as pointed out by Rabbi Lau, our community must find a happy medium between appreciation of learning and scholarship on the one hand and deification of Rabbis on the other hand.
  3. The Religious Zionist / Modern Orthodox Community must work on developing top flight poskim who have the scholarship needed to be widely accepted (no one gets universal acceptance) and an appreciation of the importance of fostering independent thinking. I have wondered about a mode of Psak wherein Poskim offeria range of acceptable options to any given question along with the reasoning to allow for the questioner to feel more empowered in the process.

 All in all, I agree wholeheartedly with Rabbi Lau’s sentiments, however, the community he is speaking to both in America and Israel, need to be cautious about these points.

Standing Together: Chicago’s Muslims Stand with her Jews, by Rabbi Lopatin

November 1, 2010



I have worked over the years with building Jewish-Muslim relations in Chicago by co-chairing the Jewish Muslim Community Building Initiative of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, a social justice organization.  Our shul has hosted every year an Iftar meal for Muslims to break their Ramadan fast and to come together – after Jews davening Mincha and Ma’ariv and the Muslims  praying their Salat (in the JCC) – in camaraderie and friendship.  We learn during the year, frequently with a rabbi and an imam presenting their own respective religion’s take on a biblical/Q’ur’anic story or an issue such as health care.  The letter below is from the head of the largest Muslim organization in Chicago, which includes the diversity of the Muslim community – Arabs and non-Arabs – and even the controversial CAIR-Chicago.  I think the letter speaks for itself:

(CHICAGO- OCTOBER 29, 2010) – The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago stands with our faith partners and the Jewish community in condemning the recent terrorist act to send explosives through cargo airlines to Jewish organizations in Chicago.

President Barack Obama declared today that authorities had uncovered a “credible terrorist threat” against the United States following the overseas discovery of U.S.-bound packages containing explosives aboard cargo jets. President Obama said both had been addressed to Jewish organizations in the Chicago area.

“We are thankful to our law enforcement agencies to uncover this plot before it could cause any harm,” said Dr. Zaher Sahloul, chairperson of the Council. “Illinois Muslims stand united with our Jewish partners and organizations in condemning this terrorist and heinous act. There is no place in Islam for terrorizing innocent people or spreading mayhem.”

“We urge our fellow citizens to stay alert and cooperate with law enforcement agencies,” said Mohamad Nasir, executive director of the Council. “This is our duty. One of the best ways to fight the perverted message of terrorists and protect our homeland is to affirm our patriotism through civic work, interfaith action and voting in large numbers on November 2nd.”

Peace has not broken out in the world, and Jews and Israel still have our enemies who wish to destroy us at any opportunity.  But at least we have come to the point where the local Jewish and Muslim communities can work together as “faith partners”.  Words do mean something, and the words are sweet.