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Making a Horse Look Like an Elephant

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http://haemtza.blogspot.co.il/2012/07/making-horse-look-like-elephant.html

There is a relatively new phenomenon in Left Wing Modern Orthodoxy called the Partnership Minyan. One such Minyan, Lechu Neranena, is located in Bala Cynwyd, Pensylvania which in on the western edge of Philadelphia.

Michael Gordan who is the president of this Shul has written an article about it. Here is how he describes it:

(A Partnership Minayn is) where women are able to participate more fully than in traditional Orthodox synagogues. Though services are conducted with a mechitzah, or divider, between men and women, women may speak before the congregation, make Kiddush and lead Kabbalat Shabbat, the service of psalms and poetry welcoming the Shabbat. In those minyanim that meet on Shabbat morning, women may have aliyot, read from the Torah and lead some other parts of the service.

I am not going to go into the technicalities about the Halachic problems involved here. I believe there may in fact be such problems. But for purposes of this post I will concede that everything they do falls within the parameters of the strict letter of Halacha.

I will even concede that there may actually be a place for such Minyanim. If there is no technical violation of Halacha, it is far more preferable to attend this type of Shul than it would be to attend a non-Orthodox Shul. Or even a Traditional Shul where there is no Mechitza. So I do not support any bans against them. But that does not make me any more comfortable with the idea of such radicalism.

For those seeking a more  tailor made prayer experience – there is a lot of latitude in the way a Shul can operate and still be considered within the mainstream.

There are Modern Orthodox Shuls with Halachicly minimal Mechitzos.  There are Chasidic Shtieblach  that have women in an entirely separate room. There are high walled Mechitzos, balcony Mechitzos… One Orthodox Shul I attended in Canada has women seated in a balcony whose walls facing the men are  made out of ordinary ‘see-through’ glass!

The style of prayer is widely varied. Yeshivsh, Baalei Battish, Chasidish, Agudah, Mizrachi, Young Israel, Modern Orthodox… Some have weekly speeches by the rabbi on a wide variety of subjects – some don’t. There are singing shuls  and dancing shuls (like Carelbach). There are rabbis wearing  Shtreimlach, Hamburgs, Fedoras, and knit Kipot, suade Kipot, and velvet Kipot.

There are fast shuls and slow Shuls; Shuls with a Kiddush and Shuls without a Kiddush.There are Shuls that will have men and women together for the  Kiddush and Shuls that will sepearte them.

There are even MO Shuls that allow women to speak after Davening from the pulpit.

The point being that a very wide variety of choices are available that are well within the mainstream of Orthodoxy where the Shul experience will be relatively confortable for just about anyone. But when one begins to tamper with the essential features of a Shul to the point where it starts looking like something else altogether – that goes too far in my view. Those shuls start looking like they are prioritizing something other than prayer.

I happen to believe that these Partnership Minyanim are sourced in a culture that is foreign to Judaism -  the radical feminist ideal of equating the sexes in all areas of life. In Orthodoxy that idea is doomed to failure. The mere fact that women can never be counted towards constituting a Minyan means that equality can never be fully achieved in the sense that feminism requires it. Even if there are a hundred women and 9 men, there is no Minyan. And there are many other such impediments for Orthodox women with respect to the synagogue.

Many Orthodox feminists will counter by saying that they understand that Halacha comes first. But they insist that they should be allowed to get as close to feminist ideal of equality of the sexes as possible. They will therefore seek novel ways to do so sometimes bordering on violating Halacha  – like Rabbi Avi Weiss’s innovation of allowing women to lead  Kabalas Shabbos.

Just because Halacha has technically not been violated that doesn’t mean that you are doing the right thing. No matter how sincere those who advocate such shuls are  – the Partnership Minyan makes a priority of feminist ideals first albeit while making concessions to Halacha in the process.  It’s like taking a horse, attaching elephant ears and a trunk; painting it grey -and still calling it a horse. Yes – it’s a horse. But it sure looks like an elephant. We should not be making horses look like elephants.

Advancing the cause of feminism is not the purpose of a Shul. The purpose of a Shul is prayer. A Minyan enhances our prayer. That’s it. Everything else is peripheral. Not that peripherals are bad. On the contrary. Many of them are very good. But not all of them.

One of the points made by Mr. Gordan is the following:

Partnership minyanim have gained support from some rabbis and opposition from many more. The debate they have inspired reflects how central the public prayer service is to the identity of Orthodox Jews. Apologists for the current state of affairs in Orthodoxy will contend that the true seat of Judaism is the study hall, but the resistance to allowing any change in women’s roles in the synagogue makes clear the importance this institution has in Jewish life as well.

Perhaps this is where the problem really lies. As important as a Shul is – it is not the central focus of Judaism. But in Heterodox movements this has certainly been the case. Just as the church is the central focus of most Christians so too has the Shul been the focus in Heterodoxy. I think this is one reason Orthodox feminists are so focused on the Shul – seeing it as a central defining part of religion.

The truth is that Orthodox Judaism is a full time religion. Halacha mandates that we pay attention to God throughout our day and provides many rituals for both men and women to do so. The Shul is a place where one of those rituals take place. It is our house of prayer. But it does not define us in our totality.

As I said I would not ban these Minyanim. I would even encourage Jews who might be attracted to the egalitarianism of Conservative and Reform Judaism to give these Minyanim a try first. But in my view these Shuls are not the wave of the future. Nor should they be.

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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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7 Responses to “Making a Horse Look Like an Elephant”

  1. Muriel Coudurier-Curveur says:

    Little problem with the article a) women have always been welcome to pray with the minyan (once there are 10 men present), b) they aren't counted among the 10 first persons needed to constitute a minyan because -according to the Talmud- some men used to force their wives and daughter to neglect their other tasks in order to complete the minyan, c) contrary to the perception of many men (and quite a few women), women are allowed to do all the time related mitzvot, they just aren't held to accomplish them, because other tasks may be more urgent (it's more urgent to nurse your child than to read the Torah), d) there are many sexists things in Judaism, this is just not one of them. Speaking of sexist male intervention in Judaism, why did the rabbis suddenly barred women from wearing Tallit and tsitsit in the 14th century and when are they going to correct this abuse of power?

  2. Muriel Coudurier-Curveur says:

    tongue in cheek, if you've seen a Percheron, you've seen a horse which already looks a lot like a trunk-less elephant while nonetheless still being the epitome of horsedom.

  3. Johanna Yaffe says:

    we aren't talking about women being included in the minyan.. you reveal your agenda when you say with what seems like shock.. 'There are even MO Shuls that allow women to speak after Davening from the pulpit.'
    what on earth is wrong with that? why can't a woman give a devar torah, make an announcement etc…AFTER dovening? unless you have a real issue with kol isha… and I don't see what the problem is.. there are cases of women teaching Torah in yeshivot to bochrim way back in the days of the shtetl (admittedly usually behind a screen)… so even more so today when women are in the public sphere in all walks of life….
    kol isha only applies to women singing (and then only individually..and not in groups..) and not in community like at the Shabbat table…(qv Rabbi Twerski of Denver -who was happy for his 6 daughters to sing zimrot…etc) and certainly not giving a talk… I even understand that the only real reason women aren't allowed to lain from the Torah is because it would 'shame' the men who aren't able to lain…
    and for goodness sake let women be able to contribute to their shul, because it is their shul too…in whatever way they can within halacha including dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah, making announcements, giving speeches from the pulpit etc… or would you prefer it if women were banned from the shul altogether like in some parts of beit shemesh and meir shareem?

  4. Jeffrey Dorfman says:

    Dear Mr. Maryles,
    Do you think that everything that we do is somehow intrinsically Jewish? Many halachot are based upon the society around us. The Rambam held that a woman who walks in the marketplace without a veil can be divorced by her husband without dmei ketubah. Why did he think this? Based upon a pasuk in the Torah? No, he presumably felt that the woman had violated dat yehudit(Ketubot, msihna on 72a) as he understood it and as he lived in the world around him. Why did no European poskim hold the same way? European women usually did not wear veils! Mr. Maryles, why is it OK to wear wedding rings, which come from a Roman tradition, in which a ring was given to claim a woman? Many religious Jews do not know we copied from Ovdei Kochavim u'Mazalot. And, like wearing a veil to Rambam, many of our ideas of how women should be are not so intrinsic to Judaism, but are based on the place and role of women in the society around us at the time the halachot were written. Rambam argued married women should wear veils. Rav Kook argued women should not vote in elections. None of these standpoints were reasoned from psukim or anything but the outer society's understanding of a woman's place. Even mechitza is not so clearly d'oraitah, although you have a good leg to stand on if you think so (Rav Moshe). Some of our ideas of the propriety of women are no more Jewish than a wedding ring, and your horse got its mane and tail from somewhere not so completely Jewish, although it may have been toyvelled much longer ago.
    Best regards,
    Jeff

  5. You tell him!!! I keep telling the Roman Catholic church, but they keep ignoring me. My church probably does not understand my language, lol.

  6. Arwen Kuttner says:

    I attend a partnership minyan for the following reason: I am committed to being an active Orthodox Jew and as a result I like to be an active member of my shul. Being in a partnership minyan allows me to do that. I know that any contribution I make to the minyan is filling the space of an enormous list of things that must be accomplished each week in order for a shul service to happen. (I never knew before this how much coordination goes into lining up people to leyn, daven for the group etc.) When I show up, it matters. When I agree to lead, it matters. To me a partnership minyan is a venue in which anyone who wishes to show their dedication to making a service happen is able to do so.

  7. Arwen Kuttner says:

    I don't really get Facebook… the above comment I made was in response to the attached that I found rather offensive. I'm not sure that that's clear from the way it's all juxtaposed on my page here…

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