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.