by David Wolkenfeld
During the 1950s and 1960s there were American liberals who adopted (or who were labeled) “anti anti Communists.” These figures, although not supporters of Communism, recognized that McCarthyism was a greater threat to American democracy than armed Communist insurrection. With all necessary caveats and havdalot, some of the published articles criticizing partnership minyanim, has pushed me towards adopting an “anti anti” partnership minyan position.
I have never attended a partnership minyan and I don’t think I will change that policy anytime soon. Ultimately, although shuls can and must change to accommodate women’s religious needs, Orthodoxy cannot be competitive on the plane of equal women’s prayer leadership and we would be better served as a community shifting the discussion to arenas where we can compete and win (such as opening the doors of the beit midrash to women as teachers and students of Torah at every level and in every subject and in every venue). I furthermore think that it is still too soon to know if Rav Henkin shlita was correct in his prediction that a community that instituted women’s aliyot would not “remain Orthodox in practice.” I am not prepared to take that risk.
And yet, I have come to feel that the stridency and forcefulness of the opposition to partnership minyanim is now more of a threat to Orthodoxy than those handfuls of independent minyannim ever could be. We are facing substantial threats to the continued vitality of American Modern Orthodoxy. Day school tuitions are pushing the middle class outside the community. Too many of the graduates of our day-schools and yeshivot complete their formal Jewish educations uninspired and without any positive example of how Torah and mitzvot can be relevant to their real lives. Our busy bourgeois lifestyle fills our days with tasks, but leaves them devoid of opportunities for introspection and transcendence. And our brothers and sisters in the State of Israel remain under threat of missile attack and war in an ever more unpredictable and unstable region.
To respond to these threats we need an “all hands on decks” approach. We cannot afford to discover new issurim where none had been found before. At the very least, a silence motivated by a “mutav she’yehiyu shogegim” stance, would make it more likely that those who find it necessary to avail themselves of a partnership minyan, still consider themselves Orthodox, still send their children to Orthodox schools, and still make their “weekday shul” one that is Orthodox. There is so much Torah scholarship and intelligence to be found among the critics of partnership minyannim. Think of what they could discover if they used their gifts and training towards formulating solutions to our community’s many problems rather than critique solutions they consider misdirected.