Orthodoxy Needs Partnership Minyanim R. Yosef Kanefsky

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.

9 Responses to Orthodoxy Needs Partnership Minyanim R. Yosef Kanefsky

  1. Lisa says:

    The thing is, they aren’t an option. Not a halakhic one. You might as well say that mixed seating is okay if a bunch of Jews decide to do it and call it Orthodox.

    And I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. These groups are agenda-driven. They’re unacceptable.

  2. minda says:

    the lead seems to have been taken in Canada. And many of them are going on Aliyah. IYH their proactivity will filter into the establishment.

    I want to see more discussion of the Sefardi Judaism of happiness(yetzer ha tov), other than grasshoppers (thank you, Marc)& kitniyot (altho being able to have a joint seder might be healing)

  3. David says:

    Your conclusion is a bit iffy. Respected individuals like R.Saul Berman have advised against such minyanim. I think that you need to be more realistic. At this point, partnership minyanim have the weight of halachic opinion against them. It will take much more than a few articles to justify the statement you made.

  4. Skeptic says:

    “The halachik debate on the matter has already been fought to a draw”

    The only posek (someone who has authored published and widely read tshuvot) in the list is R. Henkin, and he is against them. So where is the draw?

    If halchic ambiguity is a predicate for your argument, then your case doesn’t really get any traction. However, if your argument is non-halachic (which I suspect it is), then why muddy the halachic waters with a rather dubious claim. Just come out and say that you feel (like many poskim in other contexts) that it is better people sin unwittingly than intentionally, and that is the basis for having partnership minyanim — in order to prevent an even worse sin.

  5. Ms. Kober says:

    I am an orthodox’ baby boomer, now in my early 60’s — grew up that way, am a currently member of a YI. Thanks to my children, who were so turned off by traditional orthodoxy, I have davened numerous times in both egalitarian and partnership minyanim and find them at least as inspiring, and often more inspiring, than those in a typical orthodox shul. I recognize, as Lisa notes, they these minyanim are not “orthodox,” and never will be accepted as such, by the current orthodox Rabbinic leadership, which is too bad, as I agree that our tent needs to be bigger (point in case–my sons). But I wonder why, Rabbi Kanefsky, despite your strong support for partnership minyanim, you don’t support them in your own shul, and you don’t state why here? If this is as far as YOU can go, why expect other Rabbi’s in the orthodox fold to do more?

  6. Shachar Ha'amim says:

    IIRC at a recent orthodox feminist conference, a known orthodox feminist leader said that there are only about 1,000 women world-wide that are really interested in this. That’s not the ‘amcha’ – not even close!!!!

    I would add that I am a big believer in “big tent” orthodoxy. But “big tent” orthdoxy and conservatism (lower case “c”) in the synagogue are not mutually exclusive.

  7. me says:

    Your claim that
    “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…”
    shamefully attempts to put “feminists” on one side and “Orthodox Jews” on the other.
    First of all, it would be appropriate to acknowledge that it was feminism that provided the impetus for any of this to even be a consideration.
    Second, by throwing “feminists” under the bus, you allign yourself with the very people you are pretending to oppose.
    Third, what a failure of leadership on your part – how anyone in your congregation who wants greater involvement for women putsup with this is hard to fathom.

  8. Anonymous says:

    There aren’t such clear lines between halakhic parts of the Conservative movement and the parts of Orthodoxy that support partnership minyanim. The most obvious place where such forces are joining is at the Canadian Yeshiva and Rabbinical School. Why not just follow this model of cooperation, rather than insisting that partnership minyanim are “Orthodox and not Conservative”? I’d love to hear your thoughts about this in a future post.

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