Wednesday, May 16, 2007

“Too cussedly independent-minded . . . “

The Punster and I were yakking with Steg as he kindly drove us home from the blogger bash. "For me,” I told Steg,” the problem with becoming Orthodox is that it’s not enough just to be shomer mitzvot (someone who observes the commandments)—you have to buy into the whole package. I’m too cussedly independent-minded to be Orthodox.”

Steg was highly amused, responding that, considering all the Orthodox skeptics he’d encountered in the blogosphere, he wasn’t so sure about that. [Some Jewish bloggers observe all the rules of Orthodox Judaism without holding the beliefs that are often considered integral to Orthodox Judaism. This practice is sometimes described as an “Orthoprax approach.]

I replied that, if by any chance our son married an Orthodox Jew and ask us to make the switch, “Orthoprax” is probably the kind of Orthodox Jew that I would be.

“But on the other hand, it’s kinda hard for a woman to lead musaf in an Orthodox synagogue.”

Let’s leave aside, for the moment, my hard-core egalitarian approach to Judaism (that is, my belief that women should have equal obligations and rights in terms of Jewish law and ritual observance) and consider this other issue that’s preventing me from “taking the plunge”—anyone who’s been following my blog for more than a month :) is probably aware that I have a serious problem with this perspective:

Adam Ragil said...

“ . . . Judaism does not shed prohibitions and limitations once they have been aquired and accepted. That isn't always good or always bad. It just is. . . . “

Thu Oct 14, 05:41:00 PM 2004

What it comes down to, in plain English, is that I prefer to think and make decisions for myself—if a law not only no longer makes sense, but contradicts what I consider to be logical and/or, in some cases, ethically acceptable, I’m not enough of a believer in God and/or Torah miSinai to see a good reason to continue to observe it. Keeping kosher is not such a big deal that I can’t keep at least some semblance of kashrut as a nod of respect to my ancestors and the current Jewish community. Not having an aliyah is another matter entirely—since the original reason for the prohibition against women having aliyot no longer exists (see link above), I see no good reason to maintain the prohibition. Adopting, at a minimum, a “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude toward homosexuals seems to me to be a matter of simple human compassion for a difference that can’t be changed, and I think it’s a legitimate question whether excluding people from the rabbinate solely because Hashem made them in accordance with his will is really consistent with the pursuit of justice (“tzedek, tzedek tirdof”).

So, much as it would simply my life, in some ways, to complicate my life in other ways by becoming Orthodox, I really don’t see that as something that I would feel comfortable doing. As uncomfortable as I can sometimes be with the inconsistencies of Conservative Jewish observance (or the sometime lack thereof), I spent too much time as a member of a dual-affiliated Conservative/Reconstructionist synagogue not to believe, as Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan used to say, that “the past has a vote, but not a veto.” At this point, I truly don't see any alternative to living the rest of my life as a perpetual misfit. That's what I am. So be it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is not difficult for a woman to lead musaf if you attend Darkhei Noam- an independent orthodox davening community on the West side (meets at the Heschel gym). Look at: A fully Orthodox type service from the Artscroll siddur, an egalitarian mechitzah that goes right through the amud- women daven, lead, leyn etc. from one side and men from the other. As far as I can tell there is no monopoly on honors by either gender. "Egalitarian Orthodox".

Wed May 16, 06:13:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Max, this is how Darkhei Noam describes its approach to women’s participation: “At Darkhei Noam, women lead pesukei dezimrah, hotza'at vehakhnasat sefer torah (the Torah service), and fully participate in keriyat ha-torah (Torah reading). This is done in the context of a traditional minyanwith ten men and a mehitzah.”

Jerusalem’s Shira Hadasha “. . . allows the participation and leadership of women in certain parts of the prayer service: kabbalat Shabbat, Pesukei de-Zimra, the removal and replacing of the Torah in the Ark and Torah reading.”

A member of MigdalOr - The Lighthouse, a new minyan in Washington Heights (at the northern end of Manhattan in New York City) has this to say of women’s participation in the leading of services in an Orthodox minyan:

1. Karen Shulman, on March 11th, 2007 at 4:28 pm Said:
We aren’t exactly inventing the wheel here. We are using the Shira Chadesha model for prayer. Some people call it a “partnership minyan” model.
The logistical difference between this model for a minyan and a “mainstream” Orthodox minyan, as I understand it- is that women will be invited to do Kabbalat Shabbat and Kiddush.”

I’ve read about some of these “partnership minyanim,” and never once has anyone involved in any of them of which I’m aware said that halacha/Jewish religious law would permit a woman to lead any part of the matbéah shel tefillah, the core required parts of the service (beginning with Bar’chu/Yotzer Or and ending, in Shacharit, with the [repetition of the] Amidah, plus the Amidah of Musaf [and its repetition]) in a group in which men were present. To the best of my knowledge, a woman would never be permitted to lead the Musaf Amidah in any group in which men were present. (Interestingly enough, I haven't seen anything said about women leading Ein Kelkeinu, Aleinu, and/or Adon Olam, all of which are sometimes lead by pre-Bar-Mitzvah-age boys in Orthodox synagogues. If there's a halachic reason—other than kol isha, which these groups don't seem to think is an issue—why women couldn't lead any of these prayers, I'm not aware of it. I'd appreciate it if someone would explain what the issue is, if any.)

Don’t shoot the messenger—obviously, the exlusion of women from leading *any* part of a service is not the approach that I myself would prefer, but these seem to be the facts from an Orthodox perspective, to the best of my knowledge.

Thu May 17, 03:11:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Malachi Rothschild said...

It's good to be the misfit. Like the bumper sticker my sister once gave me said: "Different people change the world. Ordinary people keep it that way." Nothing moves without a little friction.

Mon Jun 04, 12:17:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Malachi, I suppose that's some consolation for being an "insider agitator."

Tue Jun 05, 06:38:00 PM 2007  

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