Partnership Minyanim: A Defense and Encomium – by Rabbi Zev Farber

Partnership minyanim such as Shira Hadasha in Jerusalem and Darkhei Noam in New York, wherein women lead certain parts of the service, are becoming a significant force in the prayer experience of the Modern Orthodox community. Although these currently exist only in the biggest Jewish communities, they also exist on numerous college campuses, and as time goes on the phenomenon will probably expand. For some, like me, this is an exciting possibility. However, those in the Modern Orthodox camp who believe that women’s leadership of any part of the synagogue service is a violation of halakha, are concerned.

This concern has recently been expressed articulately and forcefully by Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel, noted author and Rabbi of Kesher Israel in Washington D.C.,  in an article titled, “Putting the Silent Partner back into Partnership Minyanim,” available on Hirhurim. I commend Rabbi Freundel for his thorough analysis and critique of the phenomenon and will use his piece as an opportunity to share my own thoughts on the subject in the spirit of collegial debate. (I apologize in advance for responding to a 35 page paper with a blog post, and for inevitably skipping over a number of details.)

Rabbi Freundel opens with the surprising assertion that there has been no “formal attempt in writing” to discuss whether the partnership minyan’s practices are indeed halakhic. Although Rabbi Freundel may be making a unique contribution to the discussion with this article, he is actually part of a larger conversation that began with Rabbi Mendel Shapiro’s article on Women’s Torah reading (which Rabbi Freundel cites) and moves on to other aspects of tefillah as well. Dr. Chaim Trachtman has an edited volume on the subject, with essays by a number of authorities, Women and Men in Communal Prayer: Halakhic Perspectives, and Rabbi Dr. Daniel Sperber has an entire book on the subject, On Changes in Jewish Liturgy: Options and Limitations. The very issue Rabbi Freundel wishes to discuss, women leading Qabbalat Shabbat, was debated by Rabbi Michael Broyde, Women Leading Kabbalat Shabbat: Some Thoughts, and Rabbi Josh Yuter, Land of Confusion: A Response to R. Broyde on Women Leading Kabbalat Shabbat.

It seems unfair to characterize halakha as the “silent partner”, implying that not much thought was put into teasing out the halakha from the sources. It is my understanding, from speaking with people who were involved in the process of designing these minyanim, that halakha committees were formed and many discussions held, with sources analyzed carefully and thoughtfully. Although not all their analyses were written up, there is an entire booklet—as Rabbi Freundel himself references—put together by Michal and Elitzur Bar-Asher Siegel, and available for download on the Kolech website, which describes in detail the practical findings of these committees. In short, Rabbi Freundel’s characterization of halakha as the silent partner, and his article as the first, seems “ungenerous.”

Before getting to the main halakhic point, Rabbi Freundel addresses the question of whether it is incumbent upon the Orthodox community to allow women’s public participation in the synagogue service since barring them completely is hurtful. (Note: I am aware of the “us-them” language here and the fact that this debate is yet again two men talking about women – but I see no way around this as Rabbi Freundel and I are both men.) To this, Rabbi Freundel writes:

“We would need to know who or what group is entitled to speak for women—all women, all Jewish women, observant women, Orthodox women, etc. It is also necessary to have a clear idea of what percentage of women actually feel demeaned, troubled, or unhappy at not being able to lead services, and what percentage is happy or unconcerned with the status quo. To my knowledge no one has made a formal presentation of the data that exists on these questions—if any does exist. Absent an attempt to gather that information scientifically we are dealing with anecdote and hearsay.”

Though I do not have any statistics to offer Rabbi Freundel, I do not think his request for data is to the point. The fact that the Orthodox service, and often the Orthodox shul, is designed for men only should be clear to any objective observer. I have written about this previously, in “Davening Among the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes.” Some Orthodox women have also written about their experience in shul and the pain it causes them; the piece by Dr. Vered Noam (in Hebrew), a Rabbinics professor at Tel Aviv University, is a poignant example. Furthermore, Rabbi Freundel does not mention that a growing number of men are unhappy with this situation as well, a phenomenon one can read about in Elana Sztokman’s The Men’s Section. Simply put, many women and men find the complete lack of female public presence in Orthodox synagogue services to be hurtful. Many women and men wish for a change. These are facts, although not quantifiable; I do not see what more information is needed.[1]

This brings us to the main halakhic point in his essay. Rabbi Freundel describes the argument for the legitimacy of women leading Qabbalat Shabbat as two-pronged. First, Qabbalat Shabbat is not a Talmudic requirement, but a qabbalistic custom that began in the 16th century, so the question of whether women are obligated is irrelevant. Second, Qabbalat Shabbat does not require a minyan, so the question of whether women are part of the minyan is irrelevant.

Rabbi Freundel believes the above analysis to be mistaken. Qabbalat Shabbat, he argues, is a custom that was accepted amongst all Jews and is therefore as binding as if it were halakha. A discussion about when the service was instituted is of academic interest only and he believes such discussion to be an example of the Genetic Fallacy (i.e., assuming historical accident defines the essence of a thing.) Additionally, as the custom is to have a mourner recite Qaddish at the end of this service, it seems clear that it was instituted as part of the public synagogue service—Rabbi Freundel calls this category tefillah be-rabbim (public prayer)—and should be subject to the usual requirements that the leader must be “obligated” in the service and be part of the minyan, in other words, the leader must be a man.

With all due respect to Rabbi Freundel, I believe his analysis is dependent upon a category error. There are two possible functions of a shaliaḥ tzibbur (prayer leader). The classic function of the shaliaḥ tzibbur is to say certain prayers out loud either on behalf of the congregation as a whole, e.g. Qaddish and Barkhu, or on behalf of individuals who do not know how to recite the prayer on his or her own, e.g. the repetition of the Amidah (=ḥazarat ha-shatz) and the repetition (Rashi) or out-loud recitation (Rambam) of the Sh’ma service (=pores al Sh’ma, no longer practiced in most synagogues).

The second function of the shaliaḥ tzibbur is to set the pace and tone of the prayers. In such cases, the shaliaḥ tzibbur is not reciting prayers out loud in order to fulfill anyone’s obligation, but to enhance the collective prayer experience by keeping the various participants together, saying the same prayers, singing the same tunes, etc. This is how the shaliaḥ tzibbur functions in the Qabbalat Shabbat service as well as in the Pesuqei de-Zimrah service, for example, another staple of partnership minyanim. The leader will generally recite the psalm silently, like the rest of the congregants, but will say the last couple of lines out loud so that everyone will know “where they are.” Sometimes, the leader will sing one of the psalms and the rest of the congregation may join in.

This tone and pace-setting function of the shaliaḥ tzibbur is entirely different from the recitation-on-behalf-of-others function since the leader is not reciting any prayer on behalf of the congregation or any individual. Rather, each participant is reciting the prayers on his or her own. Therefore, even if Rabbi Freundel were correct in claiming that there is an actual halakhic obligation to recite Qabbalat Shabbat (I do not think he is), this does not mean that the leader of the service need share this obligation. The shaliaḥ tzibbur is simply setting the pace and tone for the service, he (or she) is not reciting anything on anyone’s behalf.

This point can be illustrated in two examples Rabbi Freundel brings to demonstrate the existence of a public recitation not limited to the classic Sh’ma and Amidah prayers: Magen Avot on Friday night and the ten-person zimmun after meals. The first, although instituted as a way of extending the evening service, was built as a kind of mini-repetition of the Amidah. For this reason the leader recites the prayer out loud on behalf of the congregation. The second is a classic example of a prayer said by one person on behalf of the participants. In both of the examples, the shaliaḥ tzibbur fulfills the classic function of reciting a prayer on behalf of those obligated in that prayer service (Ma’ariv and Birkat ha-Mazon respectively), and must be someone obligated in the prayer service in order to do so.

Another example referenced by Rabbi Freundel is seliḥot, which he correctly points out is treated as a davar she-be-qedushah (a holy service requiring a minyan) even though it is post-Talmudic. This is an excellent example because the function of the shaliaḥ tzibbur in this service is subject to interpretation. In some traditions, the leader recites certain parts out loud (the 13 attributes of God, the aneinu paragraphs, etc.) while the participants listen silently. In other traditions all of these are said together or privately. The difference between these two traditions is illustrative precisely of the difference between whether the shaliaḥ tzibbur is performing the function of recitation on behalf of the community or whether the shaliaḥ tzibbur is setting the pace and tone for the participants’ prayers. (Ostensibly, whether there is a restriction on who can lead seliḥot would be dependent on which custom one follows.)

Rabbi Freundel finds further support in his claim that a woman can never be a shaliaḥ tzibbur by pointing to the Tosefta (Ḥagigah 1:3; b. Ḥullin 24b) which states that for a male to be the shaliaḥ tzibbur he must have a full beard. Clearly, Rabbi Freundel points out, the text does not even contemplate the possibility of women fulfilling this role. Firstly, the fact that the Rabbis didn’t discuss it doesn’t prove that they thought it was halakhically illegitimate. More importantly, I will again point out that the Rabbis are talking about a shaliaḥ tzibbur who recites the prayers on the people’s behalf, not someone who sets the pace and chooses the tune. There was no Qabbalat Shabbat service or Pesuqei de-Zimrah service in the Talmudic period; the former didn’t yet exist and the latter was recited privately by individuals. In Talmudic times, the shaliaḥ tzibbur only fulfilled the function of reciting prayers on behalf of others—a very important role in an age before prayer books.

Considering the above, it appears to me that since the shaliaḥ tzibbur for Qabbalat Shabbat (and Pesuqei de-Zimrah) is not reciting any part of the service in order to fulfill the participants’ obligations, but is merely setting the pace and tone of the prayer service, there is nothing, halakhically speaking, to bar women from leading these services.

This brings me to my final point. Although this blog post has focused on questions of halakhic minutia, this really isn’t the main issue. The main issue is that the way Orthodox services and synagogues are run is hurtful to the sensibilities of a number of contemporary women and men, who have become accustomed to social parity in every place but the synagogue. Solutions must be found. Sadly, instead of trying to find a solution Rabbi Freundel—and he is just one example—goes to great lengths to create an issur (prohibition) where there is none. Now I do not know whether partnership minyanim will prove to be the solution; nevertheless, I believe they are halakhically defensible and sociologically critical.

Rabbi Freundel ends his piece by urging Orthodox people not to have partnership minyanim, and warning the reader that this phenomenon might “split the community.” In my opinion, offering an option that many Orthodox people (even rabbis) consider to be halakhically valid is not what splits the community. What splits the community is the threat from one group to declare the reasonably defended practice of another to be illegitimate. The Orthodox community has survived halakhic debates of more gravitas that who gets to lead Qabbalat Shabbat. There are debates about what foods are kosher and what actions violate Shabbat. These debates often concern real Torah prohibitions (not just customs) and yet both sides remain Orthodox. There are serious debates about whether day schools should be mixed-gender or separate or what prayers should be instituted to celebrate the founding of Israel. The Orthodox community has survived these as well. If the community splits over this issue as Rabbi Freundel predicts, it will not be the fault of the partnership minyanim.

The partnership minyanim are trying to offer a religious service to Orthodox people who feel uncomfortable with the level of participation available to women in the establishment synagogues. The disenfranchisement of women in our synagogues is a real concern 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 their voices need to be heard. The partnership minyan is an excellent example of this type of necessary paradigm shift, and I, for one, wish to see them go mi-ḥayil el ḥayil, from strength to strength.

Rabbi Zev Farber, Atlanta

[1] Two technical notes: Rabbi Freundel states that he does not wish to discuss the already highly debated question of women reading from the Torah. Instead he limits his discussion to the Qabbalat Shabbat service. For the sake of this blog post, I will do the same and, as he suggests, will forego discussion of the oft-quoted Talmudic passage of kevod ha-tzibbur (the honor of the congregation), which forms the basis of the debate surrounding women’s Torah reading. Rabbi Freundel goes on to discuss whether kevod ha-briyot (human dignity) should be a mitigating factor in this debate – he thinks not – but I will skip over this issue for the sake of brevity, as I think it unnecessary to invoke kevod ha-briyot here.

30 Responses to Partnership Minyanim: A Defense and Encomium – by Rabbi Zev Farber

  1. Bravo! Let the fun begin.

    On Thu, Jan 24, 2013 at 9:33 PM, Morethodoxy: Exploring the Breadth, Depth and Passi

  2. […] Partnership Minyanim: A Defense and Encomium, a post by Rabbi Zev Farber at Morethodoxy […]

  3. “There was no Qabbalat Shabbat service or Pesuqei de-Zimrah service in the Talmudic period; the former didn’t yet exist and the latter was recited privately by individuals.”

    Rav Farber, I know that the Seder of Q”S was first compiled by the Qabbalists of Tzfat (AR”I, etc.), but what is the maqor for Pesuzei de-Zimrah being omitted from public prayers?

    P.S. In this comment, I am using the English letter Q for Kuf, leshitaskha; why do you transliterate using it?

  4. Lee Smith says:

    It seems to me that Jewish practice with respect to women has historically followed the practices of the larger community. When it was the practice that “a women’s place was in the home” in the non Jewish society at large, so went the Jews. Women were treated in the synagogue in the same way as in the community at large — that is as private, not public, participants in the world. When it became the practice that women could enter the educational and professional spheres in the world at large, this created a new gap between what happened in the synagogue and what happened in the outside world. Traditionally there was no such gap, and it seems to me that it is incumbent to remove or at least minimize this gap. One could argue that just because the rest of the world does it, doesn’t mean it’s right, but one could equally argue that just because the rest of the world does it doesn’t make it wrong. THe bottom line here is that unless one thinks it’s wrong for women to be physicians, lawyers, engineers etc (and I don’t think most halachists would argue this) — it follows that it is right to seek ways to include women in the synagogue.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for this! I do appreciate all of this seriousness discussion, but why not post and reconsider the just-as-serious discussion of the very same sources by no less frum Conservative Jews a generation ago?

    This is a question of immigration and americanization/westernization for the grandchildren of the Holocaust survivors, just as the last time it came around it was for the grandchildren of the pogrom victoms who came in the 1920s and before. The halakhic sources are the same and the hermeneutic brought to them by all parties are strikingly similar.

    רב תודות


  6. IH says:

    Anonymous — I’m not sure of your point. Do you forbid a modern Orthodox Bat Mitzva because it originated in the American Reconstructionist Society for Advancement of Judaism in 1922?

    Just because something was done by a “non-Orthodox” movement should not matter. Orthodox poskim make decisions based on the halachic process ke’shitatam.

  7. Two questions:
    1) Is there a single legitimate posek, just one, that agrees with the concept of partnership minyan?
    2) If there isn’t and it can be shown that al pi halacha there is no legitimacy to a partnership minyan, would that cause all those minyanim to fold or would they continue on because “it’s the right thing to do”?

  8. Anonymous says:

    I appreciate Rabbi Farber’s respectful response to my paper on Partnership Minyanim and particularly to his recognition that a blog post is not really the best venue for a full treatment of what I presented. Nonetheless, what he posted is really the first serious attempt to offer a halakhic defense for Partnership Minyanim in writing that I know of.
    Rabbi Farber takes me to task for making this claim in my presentation, but in fact the literature I have read, including the items he cites, do not address Partnership Minyanim in a thorough serious scholarly or halakhic way. They either, by the author’s own words, represent a preliminary reaction or deal with women’s emotions (which certainly are important- see below), but are certainly not dispositive in a halakhic or academic sense, or with Kol Isha which is not the central issue here (I do not mention it in my article at all), or present a practical guide to Partnership Minyanim with little or no halakhic analysis, or, in the large majority of cases, with women receiving aliyot.
    Many proponents of Partnership Minyanim cite this last group of writings as does R Farber, but as I say in the article this is insufficient. Even if one were to accept their approach (which I do not), Torah reading is not the same as leading services. As I point out in my article, Meiri, who allows pre-Bar Mitzvah age boys (he is silent on women), to receive aliyot, EXPLICITELY says that this does not apply to leading prayers. Therefore, citing him, as those who argue for women’s aliyot do, and then extending his approach to women (in itself a stretch), while then not respecting his statement that his rationale concerning aliyot does not apply to prayer seems a bit disingenuous. So too, writ large, citing articles on women’s aliyot as a defense for Partnership Minyanim falls to provide a bridge that crosses the gap between Torah reading and leading prayer. I, therefore stand by the claim that there has been no serious thorough written attempt to defend Partnership Minyanim within halakha.
    R Farber takes up my discussion of women feeling demeaned by traditional services but does not quote that point as I make it, nor the entire discussion that I bring. Instead he takes several sentences from my text and prefaces this with the claim that “barring them [women] completely is hurtful” (emphasis mine since making this a fact begs the question I am asking and prejudices the answer). He indicates that he has no statistics for me but he has anecdotes and published statements. I of course, don’t deny that some are pained, I assume it. But to claim that halakha and halakhic practice should change under the rubric of Kavod Habriyot for this “pain” requires at the very least that we first know with some degree of accuracy what percentage of Orthodox women (and men if you want) feel that way.
    As I write in the article itself: “Certainly there are some who do feel this way and that should be taken seriously—but there are also many who do not feel this way at all”. If you are going to seek change based on distress you, at the very least, need to measure the parameters of that distress or else the claim loses legitimacy. I do not know the answer to the question of how widespread this pain is, but taking it a step further what does it mean if it is only a minority of Orthodox women (and men) who feel this way? What happens if it is only a small minority? Is it legitimate to expect to perform significant surgical alteration on halakha and create the potential schism that has appeared concerning Partnership Minyanim in that case? I would think that a study of this question (along with an investigation of the several other issues that I raised in this section of the article) would be of crucial interest to those objectively pursuing the idea of Partnership Minyanim.
    This brings us to what R Farber calls the main halakhic point in the essay. I would reject that characterization as there are several other and very different points that I make. In fact I could accept R Farber’s entire analysis whole cloth (which I don’t as described below) and it would make only a small dent in my arguments and halakhic concerns. Nonetheless I will respond to what he chooses to write here.
    I will also mention briefly that R Farber conflates different arguments that I make into a single presentation and misses several points either entirely or presents them as part of a larger rubric rather than as stand-alone issues that each must be dealt with individually. I would urge those interested to read my entire article where I believe this is quite clear.
    R Farber posits that there are two different functions for the Shaliach Tsibbur; 1) The classic function to say certain prayers out loud either on behalf of the congregation as a whole, e.g. Qaddish and Barkhu, or on behalf of individuals who do not know how to recite the prayer on his or her own,… 2) to set the pace and melodies of the prayers. He then assumes different rules for the individuals who perform these two different functions.
    But R Farber presents no sources for this dichotomy in halakha or for women being allowed to fill role 2. He presents two rationales in Rishonim for the repetition of the amidah that might fit definition 1, but no sources that discuss or present model #2. Most importantly he presents no sources that suggest different rules for who may perform this second function, which again he creates whole cloth without a textual basis. It may well be that his role 2 is an assumed part of what a hazzan does in any role he may have and not something with a separate halakhic reality. Also, wouldn’t a metronome and a list of tunes be able to serve as Hazzan 2 according to R Farber, even though the role of Hazzan seems to require a human being? And would someone filling this role when they and a friend are praying alone be a Hazzan? If so what has happened to the portrayal of the Hazzan as a Shaliah Tsibbur? There seems to be no element of community in any of this, though the Hazzan is portrayed in the literature as functioning within a tsibbur.
    R Farber does present a partial discussion of the Tosefta passage cited in my article that clearly excludes women from the Shaliach Tsibbur role, and claims, again without source or substantiation, that this speaks only to Shaliach Tsibbur type one. However the Tosefta passage goes further than he describes. It doesn’t just speak of men as hazzanim. It compares and contrasts men’s roles in several areas with women’s roles. If women had the ability to function as Hazzanim in any way at all, here is the place that some indication would need to appear since the source does speak of men filling that role. No such indication appears either here or anywhere else in rabbinic literature. And that presents a very significant problem for his position despite his attempted answer in his post.
    Further, as I show in the article from a number of sources, the presence of a shaliach tsibbur does have a second function (there is a Hazzan #2 if you will) that applies for any prayer regardless of its era of origin or when or where it is recited and which faces none of the problems I have raised here with R Farber’s formulation. This role is that the presence of a Haazzan transforms what would otherwise be individual prayer on the part of ten or more individuals into tefillah betsibbur which, as is well known is a spiritually higher and more “readily acceptable to God” way of praying at any point in the service. (This is true even if we are discussing something which constitutes Tefillat Rabim. As discussed in the article, that too is a form of Tefillah Betsibbur). Think of the difference between reciting Tehillim privately as opposed to having a communal recitation in times of trouble. The experience is different and the Hazzan is necessary to create the communal prayer experience and not just to set the pace or choose the tunes. Since women are not hayyav in communal prayer they cannot fill this role in any service where men and women are both present. This is all in the article and R Farber does not comment on it.
    To put this affirmatively: Pre-partnership Minyan and the need to find a justification for those services, when someone put on a tallit (which can only be done after sunset- as my article shows- because we are talking about Tefillah Betsibbur), and came forward to lead Kabbalat Shabbat, we all understood that he was the Hazzan leading Kabbalat Shabbat in communal prayer. It is only with the coming of Partnership Minyamin that R Farber’s model #2 with its claim that Halakha (without ever mentioning it) knows of a Hazzan whose job is only to set the pace and choose the tunes and (again without mention in halakhic sources), that Hazzan can be a woman, appears. That type of post-facto justification that alters the accepted understanding is very questionable.
    I have already satisfied the principle of Okham’s razor with this presentation, but with respect to R Farber he makes the issue even more complicated. He again commits the genitive fallacy by citing Talmudic era prayer as a source for his current approach. Everyone should understand that there are far too many centuries, poskim and community customs (none of which, incidentally, allowed women to serve as shaliach tsibbur in any mixed gender setting) to make the jump from the Talmudic period to today. (Paranthetically, the reality of talmudic era prayer was far more complex and by all available evidence was far more varied and diverse than his statements of universal liturgical practice in that era would suggest. I wrote my PhD. Dissertation on the Shmoneh Esrei in the Talmudic period and his statements about prayer in that time frame ignores the fact that, for example, the recitation of the weekday Shmoneh Esrei was not considered a mandatory individual daily requirement in Babylonia until almost the end of the Amoraic period at least. That fact alone challenges much of the history and halakhic conclusions from it that he reports. The Hazzan could not have been fulfilling the individual’s requirement under those circumstances because there was no such requirement. However he could well have been convening those in attendance for communal prayer in which venue Shmone Esrei appears to have been a daily requirement in that time period. According to R Farber only his type 2 Hazzan would have been known in Babylonia in this era. His type 1 would not have existed. If so why is there no mention of Hazzan 2 in a Babylonian source or anywhere else in rabbinic literature?).
    The problem becomes only more serious when R Farber takes up Magen Avot. He ignores the large number of sources I cite to show that it was the very presence of a Hazzan which made these paragraphs both obligatory and communal and refers to it as “a kind of mini-repetition of the Amidah”. While no one can deny the similarities to the Friday night Amidah only a small minority of scholars saw it as a mini-Amidah. The classic mini-Amidah, Haveneinu, requires recitation of the first and last three blessings before and after the central paragraph to achieve that designation. In Magen Avot there are a few words from the first three blessings and no reference to the last three at all. In other words to make R Farber’s case, he needs the support of a small minority while he is challenged by the majority. As for me neither the majority nor minority opinion here has a negative impact on what I am claiming. I am at home with either or both of them.
    Similarly he cites my discussion of the post -Talmudic Selihot and its sacred status-which is undeniable. He then claims that in some traditions the Chazzan here is only type 2 and therefore a woman could lead. First there is no indication in previous halakhic history that this is true. No commentator or Posek says such a thing and no one suggests that women can lead. Second Selihot in any tradition ends with Kaddish Titkabel which even proponents of Partnership minyanim (including R Farber in his discussion of Hazzan Type 1) agree CANNOT BE RECITED BY A FEMALE CHAZZAN. Also in any selihot custom there are sections that require a minyan which again even for Partnership Minyan advocates can’t be led by a woman. If the purpose of the Chazzan for Selihot is Chazzan type 2 in some communities, these things shouldn’t exist in their customs-but they do. On the other hand if the presence of the Hazzan is to create the Tsibbur at prayer, none of these things are an issue in any Selihot rite regardless of how it is recited by the Hazzan. In fact the Hazzan’s presence is necessary for these elements to be recited.
    R Farber’s last point about responding to people’s feelings and about other debates being tolerable within Orthodoxy brings us to a critical point. The classic Talmudic passage about bringing Nahat Ruah to women tells us that responding to legitimate emotions is important. But in that particular case (the laying of hands on an animal before it is sacrificed) a limit was placed on how women did it so that they would not violate halakha even as a mechanism was found to allow the laying of hands in some form. The Rabbis understood that responding to the feelings was important but that responding to a need or concern by stepping outside of the structure of halakhah does more harm than good in many ways.
    The debates that R Farber cites that Orthodoxy has absorbed all come from people following legitimate Orthodox halakhic epistemology to reach their different conclusions. That sadly is not the case here. From written justifications that are nowhere near complete scholarly studies, to positing a category of Hazzan not discussed in classic literature, to not defining the parameters of such a Hazzan if it exists through halakhic texts, to relegating the Tosefta passage on the respective roles of men versus women to only one type of Hazzan when nothing in that passage or anywhere else suggests this to be true, to ignoring what the literature does say is the second function of the Hazzan, to accepting and even expanding a comment by the Meiri while ignoring the second half of that same comment, to relying on minority opinions, to mis-characterizing the role of the Hazzan at Selihot with its sections that no one thinks can be led by a woman, to inaccurate historical claims- this is sadly not Orthodox halakhic epistemology. What it is, is an attempt to satisfy a real concern which is admirable. But it attempts to do so in a way that violates halakhah, is helping to create a schism and leading to other unfortunate consequences (cf my discussion of Elliot Dorff’a teshuva on homosexuality that uses Danny Sperber’s rationale for women receiving aliyot as part of its defense discussed in my article.) I am glad to work on solutions, but part of doing so requires analyzing and having the courage to admit that a proposed solution is halakhically unsustainable-even if for some that is politically incorrect. We need to know what doesn’t work along with what works.
    I will end on a personal note: By coincidence unknown to me the same week Hirhurim posted my article, Jofa posted an interview with the President of my synagogue who is doing a great job in the position and who happens to be a woman. As part of that post one can find my synagogue by-laws that include a teshuva by me providing a halakhic rationale as to why a woman may serve as President of Kesher Israel Congregation (my shul). I am proud of that letter and of the approach we took that said: thorough objective halakhic analyses first; take action second. In that way I believe my community took an important step to enfranchise women within a legitimate halakhic framework. We would all be better off if those advocating Partnership minyanim and other “advances” for women would do the same thing while allowing that the answer in any individual case might be “no”. There are things that halakhah will allow women to do and we should explore that question objectively and from within an accepted and acceptable methodology of halakhah. Partnership Minyanim do not meet that test and it is past time that this needs to be recognized.
    Barry Freundel

    • Anonymous says:

      Rabbi Freundel does not satisfactorily explain why or how it is widespread orthodox practice for a katan to lead kabbalat shabbat and p’sukei d’zimrah. I believe this seriously undermines his core argument that women cannot lead kabbalat shabbat because they are not hayyav in communal prayer.

      • Anonymous says:

        First I am not at all sure that what you describe as a “widespread orthodox practice” is anything of the sort.

        Secondly, boys under bar mitzvah and woman are in different positions. Even if your assertion is true you cannot learn one from the other. Young boys will one day have to daven, and even sadly have a cheuv to daven from the Amood at some point in their life. There is an issue of Chinuch here that simply doesn’t exist with women.

        Third we should note the mission creep in your paragraph. Its not just qabalat shabbos anymore, now its peskui dzimrah and likely the end of davening (despite the presence of kadish). So you’re totally unmoored even from the normal arguments of your side. This is an argument for egalitarianism “by any means necessary.”

        I find it ironic that a supposed supporter of an expanded role of women in public life sees the categories as “men and other” and doesn’t stop to think about what makes every group unique and distinct. Women and children are not interchangeable in their roles in Judaism and its demeaning to women to assume they are, far more so than following normative Orthodox halcha regarding leading prayer.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Since both sides seem to agree that a blog post is not the proper forum for this discussion why don’t we have an in person debate? If each side has the strength of his convictions he should be open to meeting in person and debating in front of a shul full of people (while recording the debate and posting it on the internet.) If these are in fact important issues regarding the future of Judaism and if this debate is over which faction will control Orthodox Judaism it would be a service to make the issues known to as wide a variety of people as possible. If these Rabbis believe their claims are strong enough to persuade the Jewish people as to how to live they should be happy to present them to as large a percent of the Jewish people as possible.

    R’ Farber certainly seems to feel strongly about remaking Jewish practice (disdainfully comparing traditional Orthodox Shuls to the “Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes”). R’ Freundel feels strongly enough about preserving traditional Orthodox Judaism to post a response to a blog post in what is clearly hostile territory. So let both men face each other and an audience and make their points for the world to see. Maybe the Orthodox world will adopt one view and consign the other to the ash heap of history. Maybe the Orthodox world will have split and some new denomination will form. But lets have it happen in public.

  10. I would just like to point out that it’s not only “the biggest Jewish communities” that have minyanim in this model. For almost a year and a half, now, Madison, WI has been home to Madison Minyan, in which women may lead kabbalat shabbat and men lead maariv.

  11. Shlomo says:

    I am not sure I agree with the conclusion of this post, but I appreciate the respectful and temperate tone which is sometimes lacking from discussions on this topic. Thank you.

  12. Placido Etzioni says:

    With regard to the Meiri’s acceptance of a minor as Torah reader but not as sheliah tsibbur: based on this position, as interpreted by R. Freundel, should we eliminate the common practice of youngsters (often exclusively boys!) leading the conclusion of services (e.g. Ein Keilohenu, etc.)? I am told that many Israeli orthodox congregations, who would never imagine allowing a woman to lead Qabbalat Shabbat, do, indeed, allow boys under the age of 13 to do so. Again, what would the Meiri say?

    • Anonymous says:

      I have to say I appreciate the indigence of the exclamation marks. I see that you are quite outraged about the little boys.

      Why do you assume that even if this practice is permissible it stems from the Meiri’s position and not from Chinuch? These boys(!) are one day going to be men(!) and as such have to lead davening. That is one possible reason for leniency and there may be others are are unrelated to the Meriri.

      Also your question in large part answers itself. There is a tradition of under bat mitzvah boys(!) ending davening. There is no such tradition of women leading Kabat Shabbos or any other part of davening. The burden of proof is much heavier when you are trying to institute a revolutionary practice contrary to the weight of Jewish tradition than if you are defending a traditional practice. That is not only the case in theological matters, that is a prudent approach to any sort of issue. That seems all the more reasonable in a framework called Orthodoxy.

      • Jamie says:

        As far as the nature of rugoliies authority, the Conservative movement is by far the most centralized of the three major denominations when it comes to rugoliies authority on the movement level Actually, the Reform world has always been far more movement oriented than the Conservative world has ever been. And the Orthodox world has seen nothing but increasing crystallization since the 1940 s. I am not sure the point stands without your narrowly crafted rugoliies authority assumption.In striking similarity to independent models, Conservative halacha has arguably never had real authority outside of the communal practices of the minyan either. Outside of the shul, the Conservative Rabbi has been largely a pastoral figure, perhaps the one element the independent model lacks. Intuitively, the Rabbi as lifecycle facilitator is a key component of intergenerational/congregational Judaism. Inside the synagogue, where more often than not the Hazzan plays defender of ritual for worship purposes, the main halachic issue is kashrut.A better argument could be made that the independent model is simply the result of Conservative Judaism poorly articulating its own value system and ideology to the masses. Perhaps Conservative Judaism would have been better served by being more movement oriented, not less. The high number of insider Conservative types in the independent minyanim seems to indicate that some people felt the need to extricate themselves from a situation where they felt their religion had been hijacked from within by people who did not necessarily share their rugoliies values (or education).

  13. Jon Baker says:

    An in-person debate is not a good forum either, in that it’s dependent on what you think of on the spur of the moment. It gives no time for reflection, for research, for deciding what is important and what unimportant.

    On the other hand, what’s the alternative? Publications in rabbinic journals that are quarterly (Tradition) or semi-annual (Yeshurun, Hakirah)? Blog exchanges seem to me to be a much better form of hashing out the issues,if not for issuing final psak – they give one some time to write a considered article, but encourage quicker responses, perhaps within a week or two, instead of 6-12 months (given lead times for journals).

    • Anonymous says:

      When I read that it sounds like this argument is not ready for prime time and someone doesn’t want the widest possible audience to hear both side’s positions.

      Both parties have written blog posts on this and seem to consider it a deeply held position. We’re not asking two random guys off the street to debate the issue, we’re looking at two men who hold themselves out as experts on the subject. Two men who claim to have researched and understand the source material. Both make strong claims and it would be Rabbinic malpractice if they were not sure of their positions. This isn’t a joke or a game, it’s the future of the Jewish people. Its implausible to me that either rabbi would honestly assert that he cannot engage in a public discussion in an area of his expertise. One may recognize that he has the weaker point and want to avoid putting his case to a wider audience but that is not a legitimate objection and is quite frankly a disservice to the Jewish people.

  14. Judith Gelman says:

    One of the things that Rabbi Freundel misses is how many women have left Orthodoxy because they will not be second class citizens in a service.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m not sure how that is supposed to weigh in. Rabbi Freundel allows, in his own shul, for as much women’s participation as he feels is compatible with halacha. He has a women’s davening, women’s megilah reading, women’s ha kaphot, and women’s leining on Simchat Torah. He is sensitive to women’s desires to participate in Judaism in an halchically acceptable manner. The shul has a female president and often has female speakers from the amood after davening. There is no greater ally to halchically acceptable women’s participation than Rabbi Freundel.

      There is however a big difference between allowing greater women’s participation in an halchic manner and in violating halacha. If women will leave become less frum becuase they misperceive their role as “second class” I don’t know how much more you can ask of RDBF. If he were to allow steps that violated halacha he would be violating the trust of his congregation and those who depend on him for spiritual guidance.

      Its not easy being a religious Jew. We have a yoke of 613 biblical commandments. I don’t see your comment as any different than saying “more people would be religious if we didn’t have that pesky shabbos.” That is simply unpalatable to anyone who takes our relationship with god seriously.

    • J says:

      Indeed, to get an accurate sense of how women (and men) feel, one would need to survey those who have left Orthodoxy (whether they remain in partnership minyanim or not) as well as those who have remained in the fold. Otherwise, the data merely express the views of those find the staus quo acceptable or bearable, not those who it has pushed away or out altogether.

      • Anonymous says:

        This misses the point. Assuming we were going to ignore the various other reasons why he Cavod Ha Breot argument is inappiciable here the relevant question regards how many people are not made uncomfortable. The comparison case is a case where we do not force people wearing rabbinc shatnes to remove their clothing in the street becuase such behavior is universally considered shameful. It doesn’t matter how many people are willing to disregard all of Judaism in a fit of pique, what matters is that there are is a significant number of people who do not consider this state of affairs to be dehumanizing.

        And once again the Cavod Harbeyot argument fails for all sorts of other reasons (ie. it only applies in exigent circumstances and not to permanently remove halacha.)

        I am however glad you seemingly admit that those who “remain in partnership minyanim” are a part of “those who have left Orthodoxy.” I agree that this is an obvious fact, but it is one that too many haven’t realized yet.

    • Robert S. says:

      Please answer your own rhetorical question, if you dont mind, and tell Rabbi Freundel how many left? Not enough, apparently, to either stunt the growth of the Orthodox population or preclude the shrinking of the Conservative movement.

  15. […] response to my previous post, Rabbi Barry Freundel has written a characteristically thorough critique of my presentation. I am […]

  16. Robert S. says:

    The respectful discourse here is admirable. That said, the author seems to undermine his own argument when he writes “The main issue is that the way Orthodox services and synagogues are run is hurtful to the sensibilities of a number of contemporary women and men, who have become accustomed to social parity in every place but the synagogue”. Putting aside technical debate of halakha, the elevation of values of contemporary secular life, (i.e. making men and women interchangeable for “social parity”), above Orthodox understanding of plans and roles that G-d has for individuals and groups would seem to invert Jewish theology. Call it ritual egalitarianism, but dont call it Orthodox.

  17. Only a tiny percentage of women have the vocal qualities required to set the tone and pace of kabbalat shabbat — i.e have voices loud enough and low enough for the congregation to sing along with them without drowning them out,
    And yes, having the right kind of voice to lead prayers is a halachic requirement.

  18. Karolyn says:

    I appreciate this healthy debate and applaud all parties for their depth of learning and understandingof these issues.

    I am a bit concerned by some responses which state that partnership minyans are seeking to “change” halachah. Jewish law has always been open to interpretation and change. Were it not for this critically important feature Judaism would not have survived thousands of years of exile, persecution, and drastic changes in society, technology, and government.

    Our society has clearly changed in how it views and treats women. It does not make sense to maintain an interpretation
    of halachah that regards women the way they were understood hundreds of years ago. Those women no longer exist. and the women of today, who vote and are doctors, lawyers, professors, etc., are not acknowledged in current understandings of Jewish law.
    If halachah has adapted to maintain Judaism over the centuries I suggest we consider another adaptation, not for the sake of women, but for the sake of Judaism.

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