Women's Aliyot: Jewish Scholars Weigh In

Women's Aliyot: Jewish Scholars Weigh In
  • We are very excited for our panel Blogcast about women's aliyot which begins today and will continue through June 2nd. For bios of our panelists and resources on the topic, please click here. I'd like to thank our panelists for taking the time to share their views on the subject of women's aliyot, and would encourage all of you to pose questions to the panelists by clicking here.

    While the panelists are primarily going to be conversing without questions from me, I'd like to get the ball rolling. Why does this topic interest you? Have you had a specific moment/s that make this topic hit home for you?
  • Thanks Sharon. I am very much looking forward to this conversation.
  • Hi everyone!

    I've been interested in the topic of aliyot for women for a while. Back in 2000 when I was living on the Upper West Side and participating in various women's tefillah groups, Mendel Shapiro came to New York and spoke to a packed audience about his research on the topic. I felt that the option he was presenting was more halakhically sound than women's tefillah groups, which seemed to me to be glossing over some obvious halakhic problems, and also it was a much more attractive communal model. I attended the inagural Shabbat at Darkhei Noam, the partnership minyan (=a minyan with a mechitza, in which only men lead most of davening, but both men and women can get aliyot and read Torah) on the Upper West Side, in March of 2002, and the excitement there was incredible! I feel that the "partnership minyan" meets a great need for more options for spiritual expression for Orthodox women.

    Having said all that, for the last decade or so I have been davening at more standard Orthodox minyanim. My current kehillah in Modiin provides some expanded opportunities for women (like giving divrei Torah during davening), but is far from offering aliyot to women. There are a few reasons for my choice, but a major one is that I still feel that the "partnership minyanim" are a big social experiment, and I was much more willing to experiment as a young single and newlywed than I am now as a parent of children who I'd like to raise as committed shomrei mitzvot. I have mixed feelings about the halakhic and especially the sociological aspects of this issue, and I'm very interested in hearing everyone's opinions on the topic as a whole and on Rabbi Katz's teshuva in particular.
  • Sharon, thank you for organizing this blogcast, and I am also looking forward to discussing this issue with my fellow panelists.

    I would like to open with a personal note. I spent the past 18 years teaching Talmud and halakha to young women in numerous seminaries in Jerusalem (Midreshet Lindenbaum, MMY, MTVA, etc.). I have also taught halakha to post college and adult women. Teaching women is a unique and enriching experience, a window into their sincere religious aspirations and spiritual frustrations. In that context, I admit feeling great discomfort arguing a position which is perceived as limiting one’s personal, religious expression. I am much more comfortable in my own halakhic element- helping those who turn to me for guidance regarding their day to day halakhic dilemmas. I also recognize the sincere and justified desire of women to seek greater participation in ritual, especially public ritual observance, and my concerns regarding these minyanim should not be taken as ignoring, or not taking their spiritual frustrations and desires seriously.

    I have been following the development of these minyanim since the early halakhic discussions between R. Mendel Shapiro and R. Henkin. I hope that over the next few days we will cover both halakhic and broader social and religious concerns.

    Let me begin by briefly and broadly raising my halakhic concerns, which I hope we will address in greater detail.

    From a halakhic perspective, I am troubled by the tone and content of the discussion over the past few years. It appears that many proponents of this practice promote the view that there is absolutely no halakhic obstacle to women's aliyot, and the only objections are sociological. I have read most of the literature on the topic (and painfully reviewed it over the past week), and aside from creative textual speculation, possible conceptual halakhic models, and a few lines taken from obscure sefarim or recordings, I cannot find any evidence that any halakhic authority ever sanctioned women’s aliyot, certainly not as a normative practice. Since this practice does not enjoy any explicit halakhic support, and contradicts the practice of Jewish communities for at least two thousand years, I believe the burden of proof is on those who promote this practice.

    I have seen various authors confidently claim that they understand the phrases “aval amru” and “kavod ha-tzibbur”, and that that a community can clearly “waive” (mochel) any objection to women’s aliyot. I do not believe that their explanations are compelling, and see no explicit evidence which supports their claim. I see others maintain that one can broadly implement halakhic concepts such as kavod ha-beriot and sha’at he-dechak to today’s society. I believe that his claim is unfounded and based upon unproven assumptions.

    I fear that this strident approach may lead to a form of “halakhic intimidation”- in which young adults (as well as rabbis, educators and congregants) are led to believe that the only objection to this practice is sociological, and any objection to these minyanim is rooted in religious misogyny. As for broader religious, spiritual, sociological or societal concerns, I look forward to hearing the approaches of my colleagues, and I hope to offer my own thoughts as well.

    Again, I look forward to hearing the thoughts of the participants.
  • Hello!

    Thank you to Sharon and JOFA for hosting this forum.

    I am interested in the question of partnership minyanim first because of its direct practical consequences. I do chafe at the place (literally and figuratively) of women in the the typical Orthodox synagogue. At the same time I share a lot of the uncertainty (sometimes tending toward pessimism) that Channah articulated so nicely about what the long term implications of certain communal choices will be. Relatedly, the topic of partnership minyanim - and sometimes the minyanim themselves - seem to be something of a canvas on which a lot of much larger debates about the future of Torah observance are projected, and that is a second reason I have been interested in these discussions.

    On that note, one thing that I found very curious was Rabbi Katz's choice to separate the technical halachic discussion from the larger question of what communities should actually do. On the one hand, as Rabbi Brofsky notes, there is live debate even on that halachic question, which any advocacy of partnership minyanm must grapple with on its own terms. On the other hand, it seems to me that we all agree that technical permissibility, even if it were conceded, is not the end of the question. I therefore found it strange to end the teshuvah without reaching the policy question.

    I look forward to what I hope will be an interesting and productive discussion!
  • It's the end of the day here in Israel so I'll be signing off for the day soon, but I just wanted to make a couple of general comments about the halakhic validity or lack thereof of partnership minyanim. First, I agree that the "halakhic intimidation" that Rav Brofsky describes does exist and is very problematic. I hope that in this discussion we will be able to set a more respectful tone to discuss these issues and hear all sides. I also specifically think it is important that supporters of partnership minyanim view those who oppose aliyot for women, but are concerned with the need to find more opportunities for religious growth for women, as allies. We're all trying to work out this Halacha and modernity thing, none of us know for sure which approaches will pay off in 50 or 100 years and which will not, so let's support each other as much as we can.

    Second, I absolutely agree with Rav Brofsky that since aliyot for women as a normative practice is a huge innovation, the burden of proof should be on those who defend them. And yet the silence of partnership minyanim's detractors when it comes to the halakhic issues sometimes seems even more convincing than the arguments put forth by partnership minyanim's proponents. Rav Henkin argued against partnership minyanim specifically on sociological grounds. Rav Herschel Schachter argued against them on the basis of his view of rabbinic authority and mesorah. And even Rabbis Dov and Aryeh Frimer, who specifically sought to make an argument on halakhic grounds, left room (on a theoretical halakhic level, barring kevod tzibur issues, which we need to come back to) for women's aliyot under certain circumstances, such as a woman reading her own aliyah. Is it legitimate for partnership minyanim's supporters to make an argument from silence? I'm not certain, but it sure is tempting.
  • Re: argument from silence.

    It seems to me like the halachah today flows pretty directly from the well-trodden baraita in Megillah: "תנו רבנן: הכל עולין למנין שבעה, ואפילו קטן ואפילו אשה. אבל אמרו חכמים: אשה לא תקרא בתורה, מפני כבוד ציבור 

    Our Rabbis taught: Anyone can be counted as one of the seven prescribed readers, even a minor and even a woman. But the Sages said: A woman should not read from the Torah, because of the dignity of the community."

    Since the beginning the situation has basically been: women's aliyot technically "work," whatever that means, but there is some (policy) reason not to do them. And that's basically where I think the conversation often - either implicitly or explicitly - ends up today. The policy reason has changed, maybe, but the structure is very similar. I wouldn't quite call the tacit concession that the main questions are on the secondary level rather than the primary "does this even work" level "silence" per se. It's very un-silent on highly relevant questions. Of course this raises the question of to what degree laypeople can run with the technical halachic concession by combining it with their own policy views.

    I also want to add one wrinkle to the burden of proof question. On the one hand, I agree that aliyot for women should be seen as a big change rather than as minor tweaking. On the other hand, the usual threshold for accepting diversity of practice, in non-charged halachic arenas, is not "can you convince everyone that you are right" but more like "can you convince others that you have a colorable, good-faith basis in the tradition for your practice, even if they continue to disagree with you ultimate conclusion." The fact that the partnership minyan debate tends either to require a higher standard, or to assume lack of good faith, I think speaks to the way that it is a microcosm of larger communal debates rather than the the enormity of the specific change under discussion.
  • My journey to this issue is more spiritual and less legal. Getting an aliya (being called to the Torah) is an incredible religious experience. You go up to the bimah, kiss the Torah, and then either read God's words by yourself, or have them read to you. The set up and experience creates a moment of deep religious intimacy.

    As has already been pointed out by others, the contrast to davening is also very powerful. In tefilah we want God to listen to us, at keri'at ha'Torah it is the opposite; God needs us to listen to Him. An aliya, therefore, creates a very unique religious encounter. To use a Heschelian formulation: tefilah is mankind in need of God, kri'at ha'Torah is God in need of mankind.

    This in turn makes an aliya a moment of empowered religiosity, in contrast to most of our religious encounters where we are predominantly in a religiously dependent state. Most of our encounters with God come from a place of need and inferiority; we need His help, support or approval. Limmud ha'Torah stands out as an exception. That is when we encounter God from a place of strength and perhaps even superiority: He needs and wants us. An aliya is limmud Torah maximized, it is climactic limmud ha'Torah.

    I, as a man, have constant access to this religious privilege. I can get an aliya as often as I like.

    The thought that this amazing religious encounter is off limits to my wife, daughters, sisters, aunts and countless female students simply because they have the wrong chromosome is deeply saddening. Why shouldn't they have access to this incredible rich religious encounter the same way I do?

    This discriminatory practice is what drove me to explore the issue and see whether Halacha indeed prohibits women from getting an aliya. (I'm using the term "discriminatory" descriptively, not judgmentally.)

    It turns out that it is muttar. There's absolutely no halakhic reason to prohibit women from getting an aliya and experience first hand this amazing religious moment.

    I think the spiritual aspect is not stressed enough in the discussion about women aliyot. Denying women the option of getting an aliya is taking away from them an opportunity for a particular kind of religious growth, one they can't easily obtain by observing any other mitzvah. Those who prohibit women's aliyot need to own and acknowledge that. Not letting women get an aliya comes at a high religious cost to half the population.

    While it is clear to me that there is absolutely no halakhic reason to stop women from it, there are still other questions to consider before we go ahead and start instituting such practices in our shuls.

    Firstly, is "could" the same as "should": should women be oleh le'torah just because halakha allows it? Tzniut is another important question we need to explore. Tzniut is an integral part of the orthodox prayer experience. Does having women be olah le'torah enhance the community's tzniut culture, or does it undermine it? Finally, when should our values and halakhic convictions trump communal norms, and when should they supersede them?

    My community (the PM community) needs to answer these questions. Leaving them unanswered will come at a cost.

    I at the same time think that the opposition needs to tone down its rhetoric. The exaggerated claims undermines the ability to engage in serious dialogue. Doubting the intensions of the proponents, and calling them names, as R. Schachter does in his teshuva on the topic, makes it hard to have a dialogue.

    I for a while now have been occasionally davening in a Partnership Minyan, but, I used to describe myself as an ambivalent insider. I suspected that it was halakhically justified, but I wasn't sure. The Frimer brothers' teshuva, counterintuitively, convinced me of its legitimacy. Their arguments felt forced and agenda driven. It ultimately convinced me that Rabbis Sperber and Shapiro are right. The oppositional rhetoric boomerangs and also makes it hard to discus the real issues that are at stake-pro and con.

    PM, like many of the other hot button issues, is something that is on the minds of many. It would be a terrible shame if either side gets carried away by the certainty of its position in a way that shuts off discussion. There is a lot at stake and both sides need to closely listen to the opposition.
  • Miriam,

    I am not sure why you find my decision not to address the social aspect of women's kri'at ha'Torah strange. It's how poskim have always done it. Teshuvot discuss Halacha, not social policy. The Rashba cared about public policy in Barcelona, as did the Chasam Sofer in Pressburg. And, they no doubt dealt with it and address it-but in a separate venue. Halakha is halakha; public policy isn't.

    This isn't to say that halakha doesn't have what to say about public policy; of course it does. (I'm pretty fundamentalist on this. I believe Torah and halakha have what to say on almost everything.) It is just a different conversation. You first let the core halakha set in. Once that's happened, you turn to secondary halakhic considerations.
  • There are two types of arguments in defense of partnership minyanim. One is the halakhic argument about why it is not forbidden, and the other is the argument about why it is a positive thing. The second argument, which was conspicuously missing in the early years of discussions of partnership minyanim (Mendel Shapiro didn't touch it), is crucial, since otherwise it would obviously be preferable to stick with the halakhic consensus and not offer aliyot to women. The second arguments has been made on halakhic ("kevod habriyot"), spiritual, and ethical grounds. I think it's important that this argument exist, but it needs to be used carefully. First, this argument can be a way of going on the offensive and explaining why standard Modern Orthodox minyanim are unjust and wrong, which deepens rifts and ultimately does everyone a disservice. Second, our friends in the Conservative/Egalitarian world have made some very powerful spiritual and ethical arguments in favor of counting women in a minyan and granting women full equality in halacha. The more strident we are in our insistence that we need to have women receive aliyot because it is spiritually and ethically wrong not to, the sillier we look still excluding women from other aspects of communal prayer. In general I find that I have trouble articulating exactly what the fundamental difference is between the halakhic arguments in favor of partnership minyanim and the halakhic arguments in favor of full egalitarianism.

    On the other side of the coin of halakhic relativism, I wonder whether it's at all possible to tease apart halakhic objections to partnership minyanim from the hashkafic views of those who make them. Are there scholars who think that it's good for the Jewish people to give aliyot to women, but that it is halakhically forbidden? My sense is no - that those who forbid partnership minyanim also think that they are bad for Judaism for various reasons, and that those who defend them also like them. When I read Rabbis Frimer's teshuva, I found myself wondering if a single person was going to stop davening at a partnership minyan because of it; I was highly doubtful. I thought that Rabbi Katz's teshuva expressed this very nicely in the section where he talked about the posek's prerogative to choose between different halakhic opinions. At the end of the day, if you want partnership minyanim you will agree with the positions that allow it, and if you don't, you will agree with the positions that forbid it. And I wonder if this is a particularly agenda driven area of halakha, or if in any area of halakha there is a certain amount of ambiguity in which people will find what they want to find?
  • One question that has come in was about the onus of the shul engaging people in tefillah, men and women. Would it not be relevant to first ask if that is happening? What is working? What isn't working? Is the situation on the women's side of the mechitza encouraging? Disparaging? Would these questions influence or should they influence the topic at hand?
  • Before broadening our discussion and questioning whether contemporary shuls engage both men and women, which is certainly a crucial question, I would like to dedicate a few more lines to the halakhic angle. As Orthodox Jews, we must first examine whether a practice is halakhically permitted, and only then can we discuss whether or not it is advisable. R. Katz asserts that "there's absolutely no halakhic reason to prohibit women from getting an aliya." I rarely feel that I have absolute answers for anything, let alone halakhic questions which are currently debated by leading Torah scholars! I am surprised by R. Katz's confidence and insistence that there is absolutely no halakhic concern. Before moving on to discuss the broader issues, which may support, or oppose Partnership minyanim, I would like to (very) briefly outline my thoughts on the halakhic concerns, and why I believe it is important to keep them on the table. I apologize for the length and somewhat technical nature of these comments, but it is important not to skip over this important step.

    1. Those who have addressed this question focus on the following issues (and others):

    a- Nature of Keri'at Ha-Torah: Many have discussed whether or not women can fulfill the community's obligation. This issue was central to R. Riskin's opposition, and R. Prof. Aryeh and Dov Frimer dedicated much space to this issue. R. Katz responded to their concerns. Personally, I find this to be the more conceptually intriguing issue but I am still working through it. I understand the merits of saying KHT is a communal obligation and therefore the identity of the reader is of less concern, but Rabbis Frimer raise important questions and concerns.

    b. "Aval Amru": Many discuss whether the beraita, which says that women should not read form the Torah, simply offers advice, refers to a prohibition, or a complete dismissal of the original, theoretical possibility. There is no compelling evidence in the Talmud, or Rishonim, which points to either direction. I am inclined to believe that the almost complete silence of the sources indicates that there is no halakhic possibility, or at least normative possibility of women reading the Torah (for the congregation). I believe that is what is implied by the language of most Rishonim (R. Katz disagrees), and the few exceptions noted by the rishonim, such as the debate between the Maharam and Rashba regarding a city of kohanim, may indicate that such a possibility may exist only in extenuating circumstances, and even that possibility is rejected.

    c. Kavod Ha-Tzibur: Proponents of aliyot for women insist that "kavod ha-tzibbur" relates to the shame caused the congregation due to their illiteracy. While that view is documented, there is no indication that it is a dominant or well accepted explanation, and the simple reading of the sources implies a different understanding. Did the Rambam really expect the reader to have that complicated explanation in mind when reading that a woman should not read from the Torah, or a simpler understanding, relating to the immodest mixing of men and women in public prayer (or another variation)? It is not clear.

    d. Mechila: Those who support these minyanim argue that a community may "waive" its dignity and offer women aliyot. That is a reasonable "sevara," but it does not appear in any Rishonim (or Acharonim) and is explicitly rejected by the Bach. Furthermore, if we do not understand what kavod ha-tzibur refers to, how can it possibly be waived?

    In addition, some have suggested broad and far reaching rationales. R. Katz suggests that nowadays there is no affront to communal dignity and therefore the entire second half of the beraita does not apply (please correct me if I am wrong). R. Sperber suggests doing away with the entire law, in accordance with the principle of "kavod haberiot".

    As I wrote, I can certainly envision a conceptual model which supports offering aliyot to women, and I can understand someone being convinced of this view (although I would expect them to at least acknowledge that it is far from obvious.) However, I do not see any compelling textual proofs, nor do I see that any of the Torah leaders and scholars of this generation have endorsed this practice, and therefore I have difficulty supporting this practice.

    2- I want to clarify why I believe it is important that the halakhic discussion continues. I am a strong believer in communal rabbinic authority, and the right of a local community to adopt a legitimate, even if not so commonly accepted practice if it is proper for that community. However, in recent years, some of those promoting Partnership Minyanim are insisting that there is no halakhic reason to reject them, and therefore the only objection lies in the old fashion, conservative, and even misogynistic views of some communities and their rabbis. Furthermore, as these minyanim are perceived as being more "progressive," and more in line with modern moral thinking, some are actively promoting them as the only morally acceptable place to worship. That is the current zeitgeist and therefore there is a need for polite pushback, as is common in any academic environment, and acknowledgement that it is a more complicated topic, from a halakhic, spiritual, and communal perspective.

    Finally, I would like to support R. Katz's call to "tone down" the rhetoric. I am troubled the tone and lack of nuance coming from both sides of this debate.

    I look forward to discussing this further, and to addressing the broader concerns which may support, or oppose, these minyanim.
  • Re: Separating the halachic and policy discussions.

    My starting point is that teshuvot are generally addressed to very practical questions: What should we do in X case? May we do Y? The idea of a teshuvah addressed to a question like "is Z theoretically possible, without getting into whether we may/should do it?" strikes me as itself somewhat anomalous. That is to say that while I agree that it is not unusual to discuss technical halachah and then segue into policy discussions, it struck me as very unusual to state that the policy discussion is important - perhaps even the definitive factor on the practical level - and then to omit it completely.

    To pick on example that happens to be on my mind, when Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked (Iggrot Moshe YD 1:144) whether brothers could save up their maaser money to enable their youngest brother to learn in yeshiva in the near, but not immediate, future, he first addressed the various technical sides of the question, concluding that such a use of maaser funds is permissible. He then concluded (in a transparently "policy" based analysis) that nevertheless, the brothers should continue to give some of their charity to communal institutions, to strengthen the norm of giving to those institutions. On the one hand, the considerations are "separate," but on the other hand, since they are both very relevant to the practical question of what the brothers should do, they are in the same teshuvah.

    My knowledge of responsa literature is hardly encyclopedic and I would be interested in other examples either way, but the above is my strong impression.

    R. Katz, What does it mean to "let the core halacha set in" in this case?
  • I also want to flag one thing that I think is relevant to several of the recent comments: Discussing "aloyot for women" is not the same as discussing "partnership minyanim." At least not in theory. For example, we could discuss a conventional Orthodox shul that decided to give women aliyot once a year, on simchat Torah, through the lens of R. Katz's beautiful comments on the spiritual power of an aliyah. Or we can discuss certain other features of PM, such as the frequent lack of a regularly present local halachic authority (a negative in my view) or their ability to make even those women who never take kibbudim feel included in the community (a positive in my view), that are not directly connected to the question of women's aliyot. I agree w R. Brofsky (broadly) to focus on the "narrower" aliyah question first.
  • Miriam - really good point about aliyot for women vs. partnership minyanim. I had been conflating the two and will stop doing that.

    Rav Brofsky, you raised some interesting topics. I hope to post later on kevod tzibur.

    But in the meantime I'll try to answer the question about engagement in tefillah in shul. I think that in Modern Orthodox communities in which people do not feel a strong sense of obligation in communal prayer and other shul-related halakhot, this is a huge challenge. It's just not that interesting for many people to sit through a 2-3 hour prayer service that is pretty much the same every week. In America some rabbis try to make shul engaging by providing more short speeches throughout the service that aim to explain and inspire. In Israel the solution is often to speed up the service. For some people a Carlebach service with lots of singing is refreshing and exciting, for others it is torture.

    Another challenge among people my age is balancing prayer with parenting obligations. Childcare in shul provides a partial solution to this problem, but is virtually nonexistent in Israel. More often than not mothers are doing more of the childcare during shul than fathers, or just staying home altogether.

    Offering aliyot to women will solve none of these challenges. However, it definitely does help some women feel more engaged, both in shul and in Orthodox Judaism as a whole.
  • Thank you Channa and Miriam for leading the conversation in this direction. So much of these debates are predicated on methodological assumptions that are often not spelled out. I would like to explore them with you, please bear with me.


    You are raising one of the tougher questions about the methodology of psak: is the process objective or subjective. In other words, does a posek approach a question tabula rasa , or do they bring any a-priori notions to the table? I am becoming convinced more and more that it is the latter, that the posek starts out with a certain intuition, developed over years of learning and being immersed in torah, and then goes ahead justifying that impression. That does not mean that their intuition can never be wrong, it just means that the debate isn’t purely textual.

    I try to prove this point by doing a little exercise with my students. I tell them that R. Moshe Feinstien and Satmar Rav had three major debates; they fought about chlav stam, the height of the mechitza in shul, and about the permissibility of artificial insemination. They each concluded the same for all three, either lekula on all three or le’chumra on all three. I then ask my students to guess who said what, which of those two was machmir on all three and which one was meikel. They always get it right. Satmar Rav was always machmir, Rav Moshe always meikel. The consistency suggests an a-priori orientation. Satmar Rav had a machmir orientation, while Rav Moshe had a more lenient one.

    For our purposes, it means that we have to acknowledge the pre-existing assumptions we bring to this question, all of us, the proponents and opponents. And, as much as this is a debate about texts, it also a fight over much larger issues: exclusion vs. egalitarianism; tradition vs, modernity; law vs. torah, etc.

    More soon.
  • Re: R. Katz' exercise about the three machlokot, something very similar happens on Sotah 3a-b (which I am, fortuitously, getting ready to teach next week). The gemara cites three apparently parallel machlokot of Rabbi Yishmael vs. Rabbi Akiva, and wonders whether one can therefore generalize to a global machloket in all other similar cases. I offer this as a cautionary tale, because in the end the gemara concludes that in fact each disagreement is determined by reasons particular to that case, and is therefore not generalizable. Of course poskim have tendencies or intuitive inclinations, but I think we risk overlooking the internal mechanisms of halachah if we focus excessively on those broader trends.
  • -point taken, Miriam.

    R. David,

    It’s interesting (though not surprising) how differently we see things. You think that the proponents have not made a compelling case in favor of women’s keri’a, while I think that their arguments are convincing and dispositive. (Then again, I am a shtikel biased.) I suspect though that our disagreement is philosophical as much as it is factual. My bar is very different than yours, because our philosophical disagreement leads us to establish different starting points. I strongly believe that after years of being proven wrong on women’s issues, it’s time we change our orientation towards these questions and always start out with an assumption that it is muttar.

    Our assumptions about women’s roles have been proven wrong repeatedly. We thought women can’t learn gemara; turns out we were wrong. We thought women can’t publicly recite the mi shebeirachs in shul; turns out we were wrong. We thought that women can’t lead kiddush Shabbat morning; turns out we were wrong. We thought women can’t say kaddish; turns out we were wrong. After being wrong for so many times, we need to acknowledge that our approach is flawed. I, therefore, suggest a switch in our orientation. Instead of putting the onus each time on the mattirim, why not switch it to the ossrim? Henceforth, let our starting point on women’s issues be that whatever we are discussing is muttar, and, if someone wants to claim otherwise, let the onus be on them to prove their claim.

    That is partially how I approach this issue and it perhaps also explains our differing impressions. I assume that women are allowed to get an aliya, unless someone makes a compelling case le’issur. For now, that bar has not been met. I have not seen anybody make a definitive case against women’s aliyot. I therefore, assume that it is mutar.

    I, of course, also believe that there are good arguments in favor, but, I would consider allowing it even without them, because, as I said, the ossrim have not satisfied my bar. They need to prove issur, unequivocally. They have not done so.
  • I wanted to share some thoughts about kevod tzibur. Sorry it's so long.

    1. If we forget everything we know about the history of interpretation, and just try to do a simple common sense reading of the sentence "אבל אמרו חכמים אשה לא תקרא בתורה מפני כבוד הציבור" (But the Sages said, a woman should not read from the Torah because of kevod tzibur, the dignity of the community), the simplest explanation is that chazal thought there was something undignified or embarrassing about a woman reading Torah for the congregation. And common sense would say that in 2016, when women can be judges and teach Torah and run for president, this cannot be true anymore. Obviously a plain common sense reading can't be the end of the discussion, but I think it should be the beginning of the discussion.

    2. Chazal say that congregations shouldn't do a bunch of things because of kevod tzibur. Some of the things we are very careful about all the time (e.g. reading the Torah from a full sefer Torah), others we are less careful about (e.g. not rolling the sefer Torah in public – people try to avoid it, but sometimes it happens). Rabbi Katz already mentioned in his teshuva the fact that we encourage teenagers to lead davening a lot more than chazal think we should according to the guidelines of kevod tzibur. Kevod tzibur is a concept that has a certain amount of flexibility to it.

    3. Getting back to Miriam's point yesterday about aliyot for women being held to much stricter scrutiny than other halakhic issues, it seems to me that on issues other than aliyot for women, poskim are quite comfortable freely interpreting and reinterpreting kevod tzibur. Here is a teshuva that I stumbled on a few years ago, in which the argument is presented that even though chazal say that you can't read the Torah sitting down because of kevod tzibur, it is permitted for a man who is confined to a wheelchair to read Torah, because "on the contrary, kevod tzibur is integrating people with physical limitations into our communities and including them as equals whenever possible". (Here is the original source for that line.)

    4. The idea that kevod tzibur could be defined as concerns about immodesty and improper mixing of the sexes is intriguing to me, since intuitively that seems like it should be the big problem with women's aliyot. It even makes sense in terms of the braita, in which women are barred because of kevod tzibur but children are not, even though children also presumably had lower social status and lower literacy than adult males. If so, this would be the only context in which kevod tzibur means that, though. Whether this is the meaning of kevod tzibur or not, we need to do more serious thinking about whether it is modest to set up a shul in such a way that women can get aliyot, whether definitions of modesty evolve or not, etc.

    5. In his teshuva, Rabbi Katz quoted the Bach who said that one reason you can't waive kevod tzibur is because if some communities waive and others don't, that would lead to the community becoming "agudot agudot" (Balkanized, in the English translation of the teshuva). Rabbi Katz quotes contemporary teshuvot saying that "agudot agudot" is no longer a concern now that different minhagim abound everywhere. However, I think this is slightly disingenuous. Yes, in my shul as in many other shuls we sometimes daven Nusach Ashkenaz and sometimes daven Nusach Sepharad, depending on the chazzan, and it's no big deal. But nowadays there is a form of "agudot agudot" that does create real separations between communities – different denominations. A real concern that people have about giving aliyot to women is splitting the Modern Orthodox community, which is exactly what "agudot agudot" means. I have argued when I taught this material that people who object to aliyot for women not on halakhic grounds but just because they would like to be part of mainstream Orthodoxy can be seen as a modern day version of a kevod tzibur objection.

    Sorry for the dissertation!
  • A lot to unpack here, Channa, but first a quick question on your last point: ultimately someone is going to have to compromise their values in order to avoid a schism, why put that burden exclusively on the women who want to get aliyot and believe it is allowed? Why should they have to compromise their values for the greater good of the community? Why not tell those who oppose women's aliyot to compromise THEIR values for the greater good of the community?
  • A few methodological comments:

    1. Channa wrote: "Are there scholars who think that it's good for the Jewish people to give aliyot to women, but that it is halakhically forbidden? My sense is no - that those who forbid partnership minyanim also think that they are bad for Judaism for various reasons, and that those who defend them also like them. When I read Rabbis Frimer's teshuva, I found myself wondering if a single person was going to stop davening at a partnership minyan because of it; I was highly doubtful."

    I disagree with this statement and have more faith in the honesty and integrity of my peers. I personally know many people, men and women (and a number of them you know as well) who are inclined towards accepting this practice, but simply do not find the halakhic arguments convincing or compelling. I also know those who believe it may be halakhicaly acceptable but they still oppose this practice for other reasons.

    2. Similarly, I wish that R. Katz would address the sources in a manner consistent with traditional halakhic discussion. Rather, those who disagree with his conclusions are dismissed as having “pre-existing assumptions” or having “philosophical disagreements.” Furthermore, in his view. Poskim intuitively know what they will answer and only then author their teshuvot. I do not deny that there are patterns in psak, at times. R. Katz, however, sounds like he is saying that he has decided which side is correct, in a sort of affirmative action type stance, and therefore there is almost no value in pursuing an honest source based discussion.

    I find that depressing. Is looking to the Torah for philosophical and spiritual guidance no longer a real endeavor? Are we so jaded? Is this a characteristic of an emerging Open Orthodoxy, of RW Orthodoxy, or both?!

    (As an aside, I was raised and educated and I come from a community in which women learn gemara, can say kiddush [and ha-motzi] on Shabbos morning, and can (and should) say kaddish. I support these practices as well. I don’t believe I have the biases you ascribe to me.)

    (As another aside, the assertion that R. Moshe Feinstein was a predictable meikil (one who rules leniently) is difficult to support. Although the post–war Hungarians accused R. Moshe of being lenient (see Ma’ane Iggerot), in light of his view on issues ranging from brushing teeth on Shabbat to abortion, I am not sure a predictable pattern can be determined. I cannot comment on the Satmar Rav.)
  • Since it looks like it is time to move on, Channa raised an important point about the non-halakhic arguments for calling women to the Torah (and, I imagine, other synagogue innovations). While these arguments were somewhat absent in the earlier literature, R. Sperber’s far reaching assertions may indeed be somewhat off-putting, and may lead to greater frustrations, or unacceptable applications. Furthermore, my disappointment with the existing literature, and with the PM community, is that I have not seen any grappling with broader ramifications of their conclusions. In other words, authors and rabbinic figures who are generally inclined to examine the broader implications of every issue remain narrowly focused on halakhic conclusions when it fits their agenda. And yes, I do not think that the opponents have fully grappled with the challenges of our generation either, and I have asserted that numerous times elsewhere.

    The argument for affording women a greater role in synagogue rituals is clear, and, from a certain perspective, compelling. I am a strong believer in strengthening and deepening the religious experience for both men and women, and there is no doubt that there is much work to be done, especially for women. It pains me to hear of women who do not feel comfortable in shul, and as a result, slowly withdraw from participation in public (and even private) prayer, and other ritual observance. I certainly see a difference over recent years. The women’s section in our shul on Sukkot is filled with waving lulavim! I also understand those who are offended by the apparent ritual discrimination; I do not have a full and compelling answer to those concerns, aside from raising other concerns.

    As we end our second day and transition into our third day of discussion, I would like to put two issues on the table (for now).

    First, is there a religious ethic, ideal, tradition, or mesorah that prayer should be separate (i.e. men and woman) and therefore do certain practices of Partnership Minyanim (including our issue) undermine that separation?

    Second, some have raised concerns of lo titgodedu. In a broader sense, are we concerned about establishing congregations which are radically different in practice from other Orthodox congregations? Are their halakhic, or even social ramifications? Educational ramifications? In the 20th century synagogue structure and practice was the focus of a sharp debate between Orthodoxy and other movements. R. Katz has framed this as a question of “which side must give in”. It seems to be much more complex than that. Will the spread of these minyanim make it a mainstream practice, or will it lead to a split within the community? Do we care?

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these questions.
  • I'd like to "third" the feeling that "adugot agudot"/lo titgodedu is a really central issue, even if it can be rendered technically inapplicable. This is a great example of how I think, if possible, I'd love to see some bridging of the "technical" vs. "values" questions, whereas isolating them from each other feels inadequate.

    To wade into the technical details for a moment, though: To my mind, the assumption that the concern of lo titgodedu is inapplicable, despite the Bach's explicit assertion that a community may not waive its "kavod" so as not to generate factions, is a big "if." R. Katz gives two reasons why there is no technical issue of balkanization.

    First, R. Katz (p. 4 hebrew/14 english) says that since, in his view, giving women aliyot is no longer about "waiving" kavod ha-tisbbur so much as that principle's general inapplicability, the Bach's concern is neutralized. R. Katz seems to read the Bach as saying that waiver is simply ineffective due to the balkanization concern. It follows, therefore, that, if waiver is unnecessary, balkanization can be overcome. (Happy to be corrected if I have missed something.) I have two difficulties with this, though neither is dispositive. First, while the Bach at one point does say " אין בידם למחול," suggesting that he is speaking of technical incapacity, he also talks about whether the community is רשאין, permitted, to waive. The simpler reading to me is that he concedes the technical capacity to waive, but says it is prohibited due to lo titgodedu. If so, the means by which one community decided kavod ha-tsibbur does not apply to it seem irrelevant to me. Even if "waiver" is not necessary, deciding to give aliyot to women is still engaging in a practice that others believe forbidden (often because of "kevod ha-tsibbur"), and should violate lo titgodedu as much as arriving at the same practice by a different route. The balkanization concern seems to remain in place.
    Second, even if the Bach means that waiver is impossible due to lo titgodedu, it doesn't obviously (to me) follow that lo titgodedu is thereby avoided if waiver is unnecessary. It may be that the way that the rabbis initially made sure their concern would stick, according to the Bach, has dissipated (because waiver is no longer necessary), but that doesn't mean the underlying concern has been addressed.

    This leads into R. Katz's second argument, that nowadays in large cities with a multiplicity of Jewish practice lo titgodedu is not a real concern. I share Channa's skepticism here. Diverse practice seems, quite plausibly, not balkanizing, in contemporary real life when it comes to things like different shuls using slightly different nusach ha-tefillah. Giving women aliyot is not such a situation; it does cause divisions unlike the divisions between nussach sfard and ashkenaz, or even (permit me), unlike the differences between shtiebels and high-church modern orthodox. Further calling into question the relevance of R. Moshe's psak here, not all partnership minyanim are in cities with multiple established synagogues. (Think college campuses or small towns.)

    I think this also connects to the question of "which side needs to give in." The traditional approach seems to heavily favor the status quo, so those who oppose this innovation seem to have a heavy thumb on the scale in their favor. Still, in this context, I do think it's worth challenging the defenders of the status quo on how they are addressing the felt needs of many people who are, or wish to be, their constituents. That question needs to be open-ended, however, allowing, perhaps, for creative solutions that we haven't figured out yet, rather than a yes/no "why can't you accommodate women's aliyot?"
  • Rav Brofsky raised some very interesting questions. I hope that others address his first question about separation in shul because it definitely needs addressing, but I am unable to answer it.

    In terms of the issue of "lo titgodedu" / dividing the community, first a technical point about Miriam's first argument. I think that Rabbi Katz's distinction between waiving kevod tzibur and changing the definition of kevod tzibur applies more to the Bach's first point, about "kevod tzibur" being decrees that chazal instituted in order to ensure a certain level of decorum and gravitas in shul. In a part of the teshuva that Rabbi Katz didn't quote, the Bach explains: דאין פירוש "מפני כבוד ציבור" שהוא כנגד כבודם של בני אדם, שתועיל בו מחילת ציבור, אלא פירושו שאין זה כבוד הציבור שישלחו לפניו יתעלה מי שאין לו הדרת פנים... 

    The meaning of "kevod tzibur" is not that it offends the dignity of humans, in which case the congregation could waive its dignity, but rather it means that it is undignified of the congregation to allow a chazan who has not yet grown a full beard to represent them before God. In that case, Rabbi Katz's distinction is important. Offering aliyot to women is not simply slacking off on shul decorum; those who do it believe that it is proper and even preferable shul decorum.

    Now on to the broader issue - to what extent should we be concerned about creating communities whose practice is so different from other Orthodox congregations? On one hand, I find that overplaying these concerns leads to a situation where all innovation is stifled in the name of unity. My own community here in Modiin was literally split (I daven with the breakaway group) over much less "controversial" women's issues, namely placement of the mechitza and women giving divrei Torah in shul. Perhaps it might have been halakhically preferable to stay together and stick to the status quo for the sake of unity. But as we all know, there is also great risk in not accommodating women's spiritual needs in any way.

    On the other hand, people who join partnership minyanim need to take communal implications into consideration. Living a halakhically committed life is difficult. Raising children who do so is even more difficult. One crucial element, for adults and children, is having a community. And a community means many institutions beyond just a shul: also schools, summer camps, and shuls in other cities that you can attend when traveling. A family who joins a partnership minyan needs to think about whether they will still be comfortable taking part in all those other Orthodox institutions.

    It seems to me that to some extent the question of whether aliyot for women will split the Orthodox community or not depends also on how those who dissapprove of minyanim which give women aliyot choose to relate to those minyanim. When a male partnership minyan member attends a mainstream Orthodox shul, will they welcome him with open arms, or will they refuse to give him an aliyah because of his other affiliation (I've heard that this has happened)? When a Modern Orthodox day school student invites her class to her Bat Mitzvah, in which she will be reading the Torah, how will teachers and other parents in the class react? I personally think mainstream Orthodoxy would be wise, even while disapproving of aliyot for women, to keep people who attend such minyanim "in the fold," especially now that it seems clear that these minyanim aren't going to just disappear. But it's a delicate balance.
  • We are in the final day of our discussion. I would like to share a question from a "listener":

    "Partnership minyanim engage in a number of practices that provide for women's participation beyond women's aliyot (kabbalat shabbat, pesukai d'zimra, leading the torah service, for example). For obvious reasons aliyot get the most attention and halakhic focus, but the question of who leads tefillah (whether it's a d'var she'be'kedusha or not) seems just as significant. How do you approach those questions? And do you see minyanim forming where women don't receive aliyot, but women do lead kabbalat shabbat, for example? Can we really talk about partnership minyanim without taking about what it means for men not to be the only ones leading tefillah?"
  • You are on to something, Miriam. I showed my teshuvah to several readers prior to publication; they all thought that the first Lo titgodedu argument is going to invite the most pushback. Let me try to articulate my point more clearly. Lo titgodedu does not require us to be monolithic. It prohibits us from following competing halakhic views, or disparate legal solutions. Therefore, if one shul chooses to give women aliyot because they are not at all offended by the practice and another shul refrains from that practice because they ARE offended by it, that is not Lo titgodedu, since in this case, the divergence in practice is a result of different realities, and not competing halakhic opinions. In the Bach’s case, the reality was the same everywhere: women’s keri’a offended the honor of the men. Therefore, when one shul chooses to solve the problem by waiving their honor, they create a division wherein one community honors the halakhic concern and the other one chooses to circumvent it. That is Lo titgodedu.
  • One final technical point: "in this case, the divergence in practice is a result of different realities, and not competing halakhic opinions."

    I am not sure I see the distinction. The view that kavod ha-tsibbur is inapplicable (to anyone) today, and therefore that the new practice is simply a response to reality, is itself a halachic opinion that is not universally accepted. In other words, from the perspective of the non-PM shul, the difference is very much on the basis of competing halachic realities. What gives the PM proponents the right to define that away for _everyone_?

    Some other points to come in a separate post.
  • Now, Miriam, you're forcing me to resort to lomdus: is lo titgodedu a "din" in the מגודד or in the נתגודד? In other words, what happens in a case where it's not התגודדות from the separating community's perspective but is from the perspective of those from whom they are מתגודד, is that still lo titgodedu? Why impression is that it isn't, but I'll have to go back and find the sources to prove my claim.
  • As we enter the final leg of this blogcast, I would like to relate to a few of the issues raised by the esteemed panelists, and our moderator. I'll begin with the concern for lo titgodedu.

    Lo titgodedu is a complex topic, and determining how to apply it is even more challenging. I am inclined to believe that R. Katz may be correct, and it would not be fair to hold these minyanim to a standard which is not applied to other minyanim, with different practices, which appear in communities with previously established customs.

    However, as Miriam noted, there may indeed be a difference between the city and a small community. Furthermore, it may also be wise to look towards the reason behind this prohibition. There is a well known debate whether this prohibition is rooted in the fear of machloket (communal strife), or two avoid the appearance of shtei torot (two different codes of law). Do either of these concerns apply to a PM minyan which begins in an established community?

    I do believe that the establishment of these minyanim, even if they do not fit into the precise category of agudot agudot, presents the Orthodox community with a great challenge. I mentioned above my overall respect for local rabbinic autonomy. I believe the Orthodox community is much more tolerant of “quirky” customs than we think, and that different communities might adopt different practices which will go widely unnoticed by the broader Orthodox community. However, in recent years, the “canvas,” as described by Miriam, of Open Orthodoxy, has taken a proactive role in encouraging this practice, and other innovative practices. What could have remained a marginal practice deemed appropriate for certain communities (despite my previous objections) is now part of a movement - two rabbinical schools, a feminist organization, and now a grassroots organization - which is actively breaking away from the broader Orthodox community. I am aware that some may say I am taking different organizations and meshing them into one movement, and others may insist that everyone else has broken away from them, but I believe the average observer does not see it that way. While the topic of this discussion is NOT Open Orthodoxy, in the context of analyzing lo titgodedu, I find it necessary to make this point.

    Therefore, when these minyanim are part of a larger network, advertised, defended and promoted by organizations leading the protest of, and withdrawal from the broader Orthodox community, consciously but not intentionally, one must wonder whether on some level lo titgodedu may apply. I agree with the concerns raised by Channa as well. The goal of religion is not to afford women the opportunity to be called to the Torah. Religion is the framework within which we serve God, and bring God and His Torah to our community, to our children and students, and on some level, to the entire world. The PM community should question whether they are risking the broader goals of religion in order to maintain the narrower ones. I identify with Channa’s call not to marginalize these communities, but it may not be realistic, or fair to expect the larger community to waive their dignity and beliefs and participate, or even identify with minyanim which, due to some of their practices, are perceived as straying from tradition, violating halakha, and encouraging a spiritual model antithetical to theirs.

    (Of course, being that Miriam and Channa are inclined to apply to prohibition of lo titgodedu, I plan on reviewing this topic over the summer.)

    I hope to relate to some of the other topics mentioned, including other aspects of Partnership Minyanim, later this evening.
  • I think that the reader's question about women leading kabbalat Shabbat and other parts of tefillah actually fits right into our discussion as it stands right now. Miriam pointed out earlier on that the specific question of aliyot for women can be isolated and examined without getting into all the issues surrounding partnership minyanim. The halakhic issues are unique, and also on a practical level we can imagine circumstances in which women might be given aliyot outside of a full blown partnership minyan. One example, which Miriam mentioned, is giving women aliyot specifically on Simchat Torah. My neighbor wrote a teshuva on this topic, and tried to promote the practice at our local minyan (it was voted down). One could also imagine a family putting together a one-time minyan at home in order to give an aliyah to a bride or a bat mitzvah girl.

    However, in general women's aliyot have appeared hand in hand with women's involvement in other parts of davening. In partnership minyanim, women may lead all aspects of davening that are not devarim shebikdusha: psukei dezimra, kabbalat shabbat, hotzaat sefer Torah. The halakhic issues with these parts of tefillah are different, but emotionally/socially they seem to be the same; on the whole, those who are comfortable with women's aliyot are also comfortable with women leading kabbalat Shabbat and those other parts of prayer as well, and those who are uncomfortable with the former are also uncomfortable with the latter.

    There have been fewer halakhic discussions about these practices. Some attempts have been made to say that there are halakhic problems with women leading these parts of prayer, to the point that men's obligations would not be fulfilled. I have not found those arguments terribly impressive. To me the main issue seems to be one of modesty (perhaps kol isha?) and the need for separation in the synagogue.

    The combination of women leading all these parts of prayer, plus getting aliyot and reading Torah, results in a prayer service that looks radically different from a standard Orthodox service. It may have been wiser to take these changes more incrementally and thus have more success integrating into the Orthodox landscape. Yet the attraction of partnership minyanim for those who participate in them is exactly how different they are from standard Orthodox minyanim, and the feeling that women are being included in every possible way.
  • Following on Channa's post.

    For a long time I said/thought that the issues with women in orthodoxy for me are largely conceptual. Why should being "allowed" to lead pesukei de-zimra, which can also be led by a child, feel empowering, if the whole rationale is that it's not really important anyway? If women aren't counting in the minyan, isn't the rest window dressing?

    And yet, more and more, I appreciate the experiential difference between a community that conceives of itself as a community of men and women, together (even if women have some formal disabilities) and a community focused on men, with female spectators. The former is the feeling of a PM, generally, but is exceedingly rare outside that setting (or at least outside the world of minyanim set up with an explicit goal of including women, even if it just means giving women petichah). My sense is that for some men this is a feature, rather than a bug. But I think communal leaders who want to offer a compelling alternative to PM that retains mostly traditional practice when it comes to gender should think hard about how, or whether, they can make women feel like we are really wanted there.

    A related point, perhaps: As long as the discussion of aliyot or women leading tefillah is largely about whether men can fulfill their obligations this way, it generates, at least for me, an initial impulse along the line of "if women aren't obligated anyway, what is so wrong with us doing this alternative thing?" I am not prepared to defend that intuition halachically, but it has emotional force. That force is compounded by the general feeling that many orthodox rabbis seem to have no issue if women go the playground instead of shul, or show up just for kiddush - yet they see PM as the threat. If PM are really schismatic I see how that can be theoretically justified. Still, I do think this is a case where an ounce of prevention (in the form of welcoming women to the conventional synagogue) is worth more than a pound of anti-egalitarian tirades.
  • In light of Channa's post, and in addition to my previous post, I wish to relate to another question I raised yesterday: mixed prayer/synagogues.

    Yesterday, I questioned whether there is an ethic, tradition, or ideal of separate prayer which may be violated by certain practices adopted by Partnership Minyanim. I admit that the attempts to codify, and search for Talmudic, or even biblical sources which attest to an obligation to separate men and women during prayer are not always compelling. That said, I believe that there is a long standing tradition that structurally, Orthodox synagogues maintain a separation between men and women, and that during prayer, either due to tzniut related concerns, or other reasons, prayer is also meant to be separate. While fundamentally I believe that kedusha is achieved through immersion in this world, and sanctifying it through our actions, I also believe there if a firm basis to insist that spiritually intensive experiences take place in a separate environment. (Incidentally, I have found that while there are a lot of frustrations about the structure of Orthodox synagogues, and the location and type of mechitza, Orthodox men and women usually do not question the assumption, and intuitively prefer to pray separately.)

    A “mixed” keri’at haTorah, as well as other PM practices (which I will relate to below), threaten or even violate this ethic. While the mechitza is generally still intact, by definition, there is a mixing of the sexes during prayer. I have not heard members of the PM community discuss this issue. I am not sure if they deny the premise, lack the spiritual sensitivity I described above, or have been simply too busy attempting to defend the halakhic justification for their minyanim and therefore have not dedicated themselves to addressing this issue. Either way, I think it is an important question, and one should not under estimate the extent to which this issue impacts one’s perception of, and how one experiences, some of these newer innovations. For one who envisions experiencing prayer in a completely separate environment, some aspects and some practices of Partnership Minyanim may be especially jarring.

    I would very much like to hear the thoughts of those who support these changes, and how they grapple, if at all, with this issue.
    In this context- I want to add that I do not believe that "separate" means unnoticed and unseen. I strongly believe that shuls should be built in a manner which affords women full accessibility, and proximity to the service. Women's sections should never be closed, or occupied by men, and I find the divide down the middle, or sides, most in tune and consistent with an attempt to balance separation with equality (although interestingly, not all women agree). Furthermore, at times I find it difficult to pray knowing that women feel distanced and disenfranchised. Together, men and women form a congregation and community. Miriam's previous post touched upon this issue, and those who oppose PM should dedicate time to thinking about the points she raised (and not just as preventative medicine..)
  • Your observation is correct, Channa, for the most part they do go hand in hand, women's keri'a and women leading non-chiyuv tefilot.

    While I understand why people would do that, I personally don't think that it is a good idea. Lumping causes is bad policy. It does injustice to the process, and also hurts the cause(s) politically.

    Although an imperfect analogy, I remember being extremely disappointed when Darchai Noam (the PM on the Upper West Side) did exactly that. After being just a shul for a few years, the leadership decided to also start offering learning opportunities for community members. Along those lines they started a Scholar-In-Residence program. The first scholar they invited was a very prominent advocate for LGBT issues. I was extremely disappointed. I am an LGBT ally but I still thought that it was bad policy.There is a big difference between advocating for "A" cause and becoming an agitator for causes.

    In the PM context, it would've been a far richer experience if we explored these two issues (Women as shlichei tzibur and women as olot and korot ba'Torah) separately. The halakhic issues are different, and the theological, communal, and sociological issues are not the same either. We lost out on several important conversations because we lumped the two issues.

    I also get the sense that this might change, that we might see communities that explore one without the other. My own shul is an example. We are not becoming a PM any time soon, but we nevertheless offer women the option of getting an aliya on simchat torah. While there are many reasons for that distinction, part of it is because women having the option of getting an aliya has far greater religious appeal for my community than women leading davening.
  • R. David,

    A correction, a comment and a critique.

    You wrote: “Similarly, I wish that R. Katz would address the sources in a manner consistent with traditional halakhic discussion. Rather, those who disagree with his conclusions are dismissed as having “pre-existing assumptions” or having “philosophical disagreements.” Furthermore, in his view. Poskim intuitively know what they will answer and only then author their teshuvot. I do not deny that there are patterns in psak, at times. R. Katz, however, sounds like he is saying that he has decided which side is correct, in a sort of affirmative action type stance, and therefore there is almost no value in pursuing an honest source based discussion.

    I find that depressing. Is looking to the Torah for philosophical and spiritual guidance no longer a real endeavor? Are we so jaded? Is this a characteristic of an emerging Open Orthodoxy, of RW Orthodoxy, or both?!"

    I think you completely misunderstood what I was saying. What I wrote was descriptive, not judgmental. (I was not “dismissing” anybody.) I firmly believe that many of these debates are at their core theological and ideological. The contestants have fundamentally different religious views that inform their core beliefs. I also believe that those views are deeply informed by torah, gemara, halkha and poskim. I therefore, think that a more fruitful conversation would be to discuss the textual merits of the philosophical underpinnings of these issues, rather than debating the minutiae of this seif kattan in the Magen Avraham versus that diyuk in the Shach.

    In other words, I personally appreciated sparring with Rav Schachter more than I enjoyed debating the Frimer brothers. The Frimer brother’s essay is really a distraction. The real issues are ideological: how do we reconcile mesorah and modernity; which approach is more likely going to create sacred community; what happens when communal norms feel discriminatory and exclusionary, etc. etc.

    I strongly believe that torah and halakha has a lot to say on these issues and those are the questions we should be discussing.

    (Derech agav: I don’t know how you can argue that R. Moshe didn’t have a meikel orientation. There are of course examples of chumra in his teshuvot but his overall orientation on communal issues is almost always le’kulah; hard not to see a pattern there.)

    You are frustrated by the proponents of PM’s lack of concern for the breach in tzniut women’s aliyot creates. לא עלינו תלונתך That is a tension that preceded us. I deeply cherish the philosophy behind mechitza. A mechitza’ed space creates a sacred atmosphere which is highly conducive to focused davening. It minimizes the distractions and allows us to focus our davening. However, we as MO Jews can’t afford to make that a hermetically closed space. If we are going to insist on absolute separation, we will also have to not carry the sefer torah to the women’s section (because when the sefer torah is handed back to the men’s side, men and women stand side by side); we’ll have to relegate women’s divrei to when davening is over; nor will we be able to have them publicly recite anything in shul (because a mechitza’ed space requires women not to be seen nor to be heard).

    In other words, the hermetically closed mechitza has been breached by our communities a long time ago. What PM are doing is operating on a continuum of what has been going on for a long time. For a while now, MO shuls have been negotiating their commitment to a mechitza’ed space and their desire to create a more inclusive environment. The difference between us (the proponents of PM) and what is already happening is therefore quantitative, not qualitative. We differ in degree, not in substance.
  • Before I submit my final posts for blogcast, a few sentences in response to R. Katz.

    1. I understand that you believe that behind every halakhic position is a philosophical angle that you would prefer, or would find it more meaningful and productive, to discuss. I don’t think that that is always true. As I noted to Channa, I know plenty of people who would love to embrace this practice, but are not convinced by the halakhic arguments, and are not willing to allow their philosophical orientation dictate how they read the sources if they can’t be reconciled. What does that say about them? Are they philosophically shallow? Or loyal to the integrity of the halakhic system?

    Furthermore, as a participant in a discussion listening to your argument, it basically sounds like this: “I have a certain philosophical orientation towards these issues, and spent time writing a teshuva to express this orientation in halakhic language. But I am not really interested in engaging in a halakhic discussion about the topic, because ultimately, my teshuva is just a written expression of my philosophical orientation, and the only arguments which interest me relate to the philosophical position.”

    I don’t know if that accurately describes your approach (I hope not), and I have a feeling we will have to continue this discussion off-line, but it appears to be somewhat dismissive of the reader who may have spent much time working through your halakhic research, which doesn’t really seem to interest you anyway. Now, maybe you don’t sufficiently recognize my personal, intellectual and philosophical world, but I certainly don’t deny preconceived intuitions, patterns, and halakhic opinions rooted in world outlooks, However, the outlook which emerges from your post (and previous discussions regarding your teshuva) doesn’t appear to be balanced. I strive to conduct both conversations simultaneously, the halakhic and philosophical, at times with success, and at times not, but always striving to maintain the integrity of each area.

    (As for R. Moshe, I agree that overall, I was a somewhat lenient Posek, although I am not sure if he is always predictable, and furthermore, I hope the message your rabbinical students receive isn’t, “first decide what you think is correct, and then manipulate the sources to support your position.”)

    2. As for the breach of tzniut, I never advocated for a hermetically sealed men’s and women’s section. I will say that the practice of passing the Torah, which I don’t necessarily object to, is hardly the common practice in MO shuls (but, as I said previously, tolerated because it stands alone). Furthermore, at times, the quantitative leap becomes qualitative; I think the leap from passing a sefer Torah around or having women deliver divrei Torah to having a women lead Kabalat Shabbat is not just quantitative, but I discuss that below.

    I look forward to reading your critique; again, unless I don’t sleep tonight, I imagine we will continue this conversation privately. Yishar koach!
  • In response to the question regarding other aspects of Partnership Minyanim, I’ll relate to some of the considerations which I raised above, and then discuss one of these practices in particular.

    I raised two considerations above, which I think may be relevant to this question.

    First, I noted that I believe that the Orthodox community, overall, is tolerant of local rabbinic autonomy and of changes which are intended for specific local congregations. This may be changing, but I believe it is still true. This distinction is not only tactical- it reflects the proper manner in which halakhic flexibility is meant to be implemented. When these innovations are promoted, by organizations and rabbinic leaders, as a change to traditional prayer customs, it is perceived as a greater threat to tradition and will evoke a harsh response.

    Second, as I wrote above, I would like to see PM (and other) communities grapple with whether a woman leading a part of the service undermines, or violates the nature of Jewish prayer. In addition, while proponents of PM are not always swayed by the weight of custom (mesorah?), I hope that more thoughtful people will take this into consideration.

    Third, regarding Kabalat Shabbat, I disagree (and at the time, argued) with those who maintained that Kabalat Shabbat should be viewed as a devar she-bikdusha and therefore women, by definition, cannot lead the congregation. However, I am rather convinced that aside from being a breach of traditional prayer customs, a woman singing the psalms of Kabalat Shabbat in a beautiful, soulful voice is a classic example of kol isha. Now, I recognize that kol isha is a somewhat complicated topic, and its parameters are subject to debate. Personally, I do not follow the strict opinions regarding kol isha, and I have no objection to singing zemirot and other shirei kodesh in mixed groups (as I do), in accordance with the German tradition, as recorded (and supported) by the Seridei Eish. However, attending a service in which a woman I probably know chants and sings the psalms of Kabalat Shabbat, alone, in her most beautiful voice, appears to me to be a classic example of kol isha, and it would certainly cause me discomfort.

    I am sure there if much more to discuss regarding Partnership Minyanim, but for now, these are my thoughts.
  • You wrote: "I don’t know if that accurately describes your approach (I hope not)"

    It does not!

    You wrote: "2. As for the breach of tzniut, I never advocated for a hermetically sealed men’s and women’s section. I will say that the practice of passing the Torah, which I don’t necessarily object to, is hardly the common practice in MO shuls (but, as I said previously, tolerated because it stands alone). Furthermore, at times, the quantitative leap becomes qualitative; I think the leap from passing a sefer Torah around or having women deliver divrei Torah to having a women lead Kabalat Shabbat is not just quantitative, but I discuss that below."

    -but we are discussing women getting aliyot, not women leading davening.
  • This brings me to my final comment. I will say the following, at the risk of being clobbered and yelled down: anybody calling themselves Modern Orthodox can’t resort to the lo titgodedu argument. Modern Orthodoxy history is one long story of ignoring lo titgodedu. We are constantly exploring innovations without paying heed to the balkanization of the community. Our narrative is a string of changes: Women’s learning, bat mitzvah, women publicly taking lulavim, women giving divrei torah, women teaching Talmud, women saying out loud the mi shebeirachs, women carrying the sefer torah, etc. etc. Each of these innovations were opposed by a significant segment of the orthodox population when they were introduced and the MO leadership still went ahead with them, completely ignoring the prohibition of לא תעשו אגודות אגודות. Al korchach lomar, it must be, that the MO leadership felt/feels that it is not applicable in our context.

    I could suggest two reasons why they ignored it. 1) A variation of R. Moshe’s argument: given that we have become a melting pot of customs, where at every given place one can find a smorgasbord of practices, lo titgodedu no longer applies. 2) Perhaps this is a case of value preference. The value of undoing what turns out to be an unjustified discriminatory practice, trumps the admonition to avoid balkanization.

    Be the reasons what they may, it is quite clear that lo titgodedu doesn’t have halakhic currency for MO poskim, we have been negating it for a long time. In which case, to prohibit women from doing one more ritual practice because of lo titgodedu makes no sense. We have been מתגודדים for a while, why should we have to stop now?
  • Before we wrap up I have a few footnotes, if you will - please forgive the disjointed nature of this comment.

    Re: agudot agudot, first, I wanted to clarify that I was commenting specifically on the relevance of the issue as raised by the Bach. From a more general standpoint, I suspect R. Brofsky is right that it's not easy to violate lo titgodedu just by doing something that can be described as "divisive" in ordinary language. As I (and others) said before, however, I do think that this is a useful lens to look through, even if not in strictly halachic terms.

    As for the actual nature of the threatened divisions, here are some amateur sociological observations: The type of division people are concerned about is not your run of the mill breakaway shul. The concern is that we may be headed toward a situation where both sides - and I do think it's both sides - will see the other as not just "the shul I don't go to," but as completely off the radar. That type of communal split is very connected to potential splits in other institutional affiliations (schools, camps, etc., as discussed by Channa). Diversity of such institutions, and the concomminant risk of schism, is, perhaps ironically, _more_ available in large population centers than in small towns - sort of the inverse of R. Moshe's lo titgodedu argument. This is also very related to the bundling of changes. Although R. Katz may wish that different "causes" were separated, it seems to me that often PM draw constituents precisely because they bundle these causes, providing an ideological comfort zone for some people who find themselves outliers in a conventional Orthodox community.

    Another observation: I am aware of no full-service synagogue that gives aliyot to women and has a mechitzah, nor do I expect there to be one in the near future. By "full service" I mean offering daily prayer (ideally 3x) as well as rabbinic services such as selling hamets, hevra kadisha, and perhaps other elements. As long as PM attendees ever want to say kaddish on a Tuesday, or bury a loved one, there will be some connection with mainstream Orthooxy, but I am not sure it will be enough to maintain self-identification as one community.

    Finally (for now), on R. Katz's point about Modern Orthodoxy's inherent divisiveness: I have a very different perspective on this, perhaps due to being a fourth-generation American and a descendant of Orthodox Jews who were here pre-war. I don't see the grand narrative of Modern Orthodoxy as primarily a string of innovations in women's ritual participation, or even a string of explicit innovations at all. [Certainly, some important (and controversial) innovations became defining features, such as Zionism.] Further, all of the changes R. Katz mentions, while controversial, were not of the truly schismatic sort. The test I like to use is: if an average Orthodox (or average haredi, even) man found himself stranded for shabbos near a minyan that did X, Y, or Z, for example to be near a hospitalized family member, would he go to shul? or would he rather stay alone? Anecdotal evidence suggests that, for the most part, a scandalous (but present) mechitzah, a prayer for the state of Israel, "Young-Israel" style congregational singing with zionist pronunciation, or minor roles for women, will not drive such a traveler away, much as he might oppose such practices in his own back yard. But a woman leading kabbalat shabbat or reading from the Torah would be a dealbreaker. That's why the analogy to earlier MO innovations doesn't really convince me.
    I also want to make sure I haven't given a misleading impression of my personal relationship with PMs. Riffing off Rabbi Katz, I think at this point I would have to describe myself as an ambivalent quasi-insider. And as many questions as I have raised or endorsed about the risks of raising children in a giant experiment (to borrow Channa's phrase), in my current circumstances, at my kids' current ages, with their current layout of friends, it's the local PM that often provides the best and most engaging shabbat experience for them. All of Orthodoxy in the US needs to be asking serious questions about transmissibility and engagement, and sometimes the lay-led, relatively fledgling communities are doing a better job than more entrenched ones. (For myself, if I want to daven like an adult, or hear Torah reading, I have to go to hashkamah anyway. No PM option then, unsurprisingly.)
  • While regarding the halakhic application of lo titgodedu I am inclined to agree with R. Katz, Miriam raises a crucial distinction, and also offers a more accurate historical picture of Modern Orthodox communities. R. Katz seems to believe that all communities were once more "yeshivish" and one by one Modern Orthodox shuls led a cultural rebellion by offering bat mitzvahs, having women carry the Torah and saying mi shebeirakhs, etc. Aside from that not being true even today, as the overwhelming majority of Modern Orthodox synagogues have not adopted all of these practices, his description sounds more like the history of a handful of proto-Open Orthodox synagogues. Historically, were Modern Orthodox communities defined by these innovations? It is also, in my view, a very unhealthy self image, i.e. a community which breaks away and rebels, as opposed to focusing on its fundamental beliefs, which other Modern of Centrist Orthodox thinkers chose to emphasize. Furthermore, I think that in reality, outside of a few suburban centers, the distinctions that R. Katz offers don't precisely describe the communities, or their shuls.
  • One thing that strikes me is how everyone in this conversation has expressed significant hesitations, each in our own way, over the speed of change in PM communities. And yet, I don't find this hesitation mirrored in the on-the-ground experience in PM circles, where the bundling of causes and the pace of innovation tend to be greeted with enthusiasm. Perhaps this is a reminder that we professional Jews do not entirely set the communal agenda, nor control the directions even of conversations that we (speaking broadly) start. What exactly that means I don't know - it could be read to counsel even greater caution, or to counsel greater identification with the aspirations of laypeople, or something else entirely. As with so many things, on some level we will have to wait and see.

    Although there remains much to say, I think this is my last post. Thanks to the other panelists for a lively, thought-provoking, and nuanced discussion, and especially to R. Katz for opening himself to critique like this. And thanks again to JOFA and Dr. Weiss-Greenberg for hosting! Shabbat Shalom!
  • As this blogcast comes to a close, I would like to thank JOFA for hosting this blogcast, and R. Katz, Channa and Miriam, for participating with me in this interesting and engaging discussion. Their contributions were articulate, thoughtful, and thought provoking.

    As I wrote over the past few days, I am unable to support the conclusions of those who support calling women to the Torah (and some other aspects of Partnership Minyanim.) I stressed that I believe the first and primary discussion must be halakhic, and I am not convinced by the halakhic arguments of the supporters. In addition, I think we must grapple with how these communities relate to the broader Orthodox world, as well as with questions relating to the weight of tradition, and the extent to which men and women may mix during communal prayer.

    I am concerned that those who do not support these minyanim, due to the weight of halakhic evidence, or due to a strong sense of tradition (mesorah), are portrayed as insensitive and inflexible. I do not think that is a fair accusation.

    Of course, that does not exempt the rest of us from finding ways to make shul a place where everyone belongs, and to search for opportunities to deepen and enrich the religious experience of both men and women. As ovdei Hashem, we humbly turn to the Torah for guidance and inspiration, and constantly balance, in the words of R. Soloveitchik, the religious dialect of advance and retreat. I pray that we find that proper balance, which remains loyal to tradition and the halakhic system, but which also recognizes the depth, extent and urgency of challenges we face.

    Shabbat shalom!
  • I want to echo what Miriam said. Yasher koach, Channa, David and Miriam for a lively and stimulating conversation. הרבה למדתי מחברי, I learned a lot from these probing and enriching conversations.

    Finally, as chazal say: חמרא למריה טיבותא לשקייה; the ultimate thank you goes to the host. Thank you JOFA and Dr. Weiss-Greenberg for providing a platform in which we got to explore these important issues. ישלם ה׳ פעלכם ותהי משכורתכם שלימה מעם ה׳.
  • I'd like to end with two observations/questions:

    1. Apropos Miriam's important observation that women tuning out of shul completely is not considered a division in the community while partnership minyanim are considered divisive: it is ironic, but inclusiveness is divisive. The more we include one group, the more we alienate others. (Rabbi Katz's concerns about a partnership rushing to adopt a pro-LGBT platform speaks to this as well.) How do we negotiate that?

    2. Rabbi Brofsky raised the issue of Kol Isha, and others also discussed questions of modesty in one form or another. I think that there is a fundamental dilemma here: is it possible to create a religious community which is modest and which includes women as full participants? Mechitza is one good example: any time we increase women's participation in shul in any meaningful way (giving divrei Torah, passing the Torah through the women's section, and even more so Torah reading and tefillah), we are also breaching the mechitza, decreasing the sense of separate prayer spaces. Another example is kol isha: here we have a halakha that literally silences women and limits their self-expression. Is there any way to possibly create a community that truly respects women without relying on the most lenient possible interpretations of kol isha? I am not sure if I can think of any community in the world that has managed to achieve both modesty and women's participation successfully. Is modesty incompatible with women's equality? And if so, which of those two values do we choose?

    I'd like to thank the excellent Dr. Sharon Weiss Greenberg for initiating and hosting this discussion. It has been interesting and thought provoking. To my colleagues: thank you for sharing your fascinating thoughts, which taught me so much. To all, Shabbat shalom!
  • On behalf of the over 1,000 people who have been following this insightful, intelligent, passionate conversation that was certainly l'shem shamayim, thank YOU! We certainly have what to think about and discuss around our shabbat tables this week. Thank you for sharing your knowledge, wisdom and perspectives to make this conversation meaningful.