Sunday, May 17, 2009

Seeking a Judaism that's good for men*&*women*&*kids

Sigmund Freud claimed that "anatomy is destiny." In my opinion, that's at least part of the basis of the debate between egalitarian and traditional practice. By way of illustration, I'm borrowing some quotes from the comments to this post of mine:
Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...
. . . what would I say to my magnificent, accomplished, learned and learning daughters, that they shouldn't be seen on a bima, leading a service, leyning or reading a haftarah, as they are fully capable of doing? . . .
<!--[if !vml]-->Anonymous<!--[endif]--> Miami Al said...

. . . it is impossible to be Shomer Shabbat, have very small children, and participate in communal prayer. If your expectation of family size is 3-5 children, which is necessary for growth, it is impossible to include women without them losing a large chunk of their 20s and 30s... The net effect is that egalitarianism renders childbirth and nursing small children an impediment to expressive Judaism, while Orthodoxy culturally makes that the primary expression. As a result, Orthodox culture encourages having children, egalitarian culture discourages it.
Judaism that doesn't encourage child birth will suffer a longevity issue. . . .
It's true that, among my non-Orthodox synagogue-going friends and acquaintances, a number have only one child, almost none has more than two children, and I can't think of anyone who has more than three.
On the other hand, as Anonymous Fri May 15, 04:37:00 PM 2009 says in the comments to this post:
"There has to be a place for observant egals. "
As in that old Jewish joke, Steve's right, Miami Al's right, and Anon. is right, too. How can the Jewish people, in the words of Miami Al, "A) retain men in your community, and B) still encourage motherhood and population growth" C) keep Judaism a joy for children, and D) enable full participation by women in public prayer? Constructive suggestions would be appreciated.

Since Miami Al's argument is that it's not possible for a woman to participate in public prayer while raising young children, I'm especially interested in hearing from Orthodox feminists who are parents. Mothers, how have you managed to combine attendance at a Women's Tefillah Group or Partnership Minyan, or even regular attendance at a standard minyan, and/or three-times-daily prayer services bi-y'chidut (as an individual) but at the rabbinically-ordained times, with raising a family? Fathers, how have you managed to participate in the childcare in such a way as to enable your wife to pray with a WTG or minyan and/or three times a day at the ordained times, while continuing to fulfill your own obligation to pray with a minyan and/or three times a day at the ordained times ?

The floor is open.


Anonymous rejewvenator said...

First, there's nothing non-egal about the idea that each family has one primary 'prayer representative' at any given prayer. In other words, if young kids means only one spouse can make it to shul for the bulk of the service, so be it, but I know lots of couples that switch off who that person is each week.

Second, this is largely a timing issue. The earlier you start services the more difficult you make it for parents of younger children to attend. However, if you're talking about a 9:30 start-time, for example, it is reasonable to attend.

Third, in addition to start-time, there's the question of duration. A 3-hour prayer experience is draining for everyone and spiritually uplifting for no one. A 90-minute session would make family participation much more realistic. That's not to say we should spend less time in shul, just that we should spend less of it praying and more of it learning and playing.

Btw, just found this blog, it's great stuff!

Sun May 17, 10:50:00 AM 2009  
Blogger rivkayael said...

Several of my friends who are parents just don't attend the same service--on Shabbat, one attends hashkama and one attends the regular service.

Sun May 17, 05:19:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

Shire -- Its outstanding that you're keeping this discussion going, and a fine way in which to do it. I've been struggling with an appropriate response to several of the comments in the series, particularly Miami Al's, whose sincerity I recognize, but whose opinions I am unable to reconcile with my own experiences. Perhaps my shuls are somewhat unique, or maybe the practice in the larger conservative community of the Northeast U.S. is not representative of conservative experience throughout the rest of the U.S. (the latter of which a frum friend on the West Coast assures me is the case).
I find Miami Al's comments similar to many of those on Hirhurim when the discussion there turns to anything remotely less observant than Rabbi Student's position. Those comments are almost always universally negative, if not derogatory.
Its always difficult for me to understand the basis for such a reaction, since someone else's observance, or lack thereof, should have no effect of a particular commenter. Nu? Why the insecurity? Stop criticizing those who are not shomer shabbat, if they've substantially improved their kashrut, daven at shul on shabbat and yom tov, or made a point of learning. Stop insulting the guy who is only a twice-a-year jew, if last year he was only a once-a-year jew.
I've struggled with this for a long time. And I could easily be one of those who sneers at all those who observe less than me. But I now recognize how precious each jew is. And in America, most are not going to have the intestinal fortitude necessary for what some Orthodox like to call "torah judaism". But lets honor the many of us for what we do observe, and our effort to be part of klal yisrael, rather than strengthen community divisions. And by the way, this sneering is not a one-sided affair; I can think of many reform jews who will complain about the observant for their old-fashionedness!
I'm convinced the worst thing that ever happened to American judaism was denominations. I'm still convinced that a tolerant orthodoxy would have provided the "big tent" that conservative now fails so miserably at providing. While Chabad offers some of this tolerance, it has the effect of bleeding people away from the broader community and its institutions at a cost that, in the present economic situation, is disasterous.

Sun May 17, 09:02:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous jdub said...

I'm orthodox and I call hooey on the idea that this is a problem. We solve it by my going to an early minyan, and then watching those kids incapable or unwilling to go to groups while my wife goes to a later minyan.

And when my wife was saying kaddish for her mother, I went to hashkama and left before the speech so she could get there on time. It's very doable.

Mon May 18, 10:09:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous Al said...

Have I ever passed judgment on "individuals" for their level of Jewish practice? Every single one of my comments has been at a cultural/communal level involving participation rates & birth rates.
When my wife was interested in going to services, I did an early minyan and watched the kid (there was one then), when she lost interest, I got more adaptive. As the kids demanded my time on Shabbat morning, and started waking up before I could go to Shul, my attendance dropped. If/when my kids take an interest in groups, it will hopefully pick up again.
I've NEVER claimed to be a super-observant Jew or criticized the INDIVIDUAL who isn't interested. I've criticized egalitarianism for watching their numbers decline, men disappear, birth rates plummet, intermarriage soar, and the leadership's solution is "gay Rabbis."
Regardless of whether you need more inclusion for gay Jews (I'm dubious that any Torah/Old Testament based religion can include homosexuals without sacrificing their authenticity and bleeding numbers, which the liberal Christian protestant denominations provides a case study in), a vibrant Jewish expression MUST GROW. Any Judaism that causes it's families to shrink each generation is a failed cultures.
Cultures grow or die. It's not about right or wrong, it's about continuity. Fail to provide continuity, and you are a slow bleeding version of the Shakers, who celebrated celibacy and died off.

Mon May 18, 10:52:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

Miami Al -- I'd really like to pick a fight with you, but I can't. Because I agree with your entire comment (which should immediately precede this one), as well as yours of 5/19 at 11:16 am on Shira's Future of CJ post. I had drafted, but not polished, a similar comment. So, if I have a beef with you, its only as to tone, and not as to sentiment. But I don't think I have a beef with you.
I suspect that the conservative judaism practiced by many in my community (which, I'm pretty sure, is also larry lenhoff's vicinity) maybe a tad more committed than most CJ congregations outside of the Northeast U.S. (A frum friend on the west coast assures me that this is the case.)
And my view of conservative institutions is essentially no different than yours. Nor will you get an argument from me on some of the more extreme positions recently endorsed by the CJLS -- the treatment by some members vis-a-vis homosexuality is, regrettably, intellectually dishonest and the reasoning employed would support the nullification of just about any mitzvah. Great, no more obligation to keep kashrut. I view all of this as nothing more then a misguided effort to secularize judaism, in response to a young, politically liberal but otherwise unsophisticated and naive student body at JTS hellbent on equating the Torah with the U.S. Constitution.
I have come to believe that the gravest injury to American jewry was the rise of denominations. A tolerant orthodoxy would have provided the big tent that conservative judaism now fails miserably to provide. Chabad's approach, as you note, is beneficial, but Chabad sucks away resources from the established community, while its educational offerings to non-day school youth appear unnecessarily light weight.

Tue May 19, 07:03:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Please forgive me for not responding to comments, but I'm working on a major project at the office, and am just now getting ready to go home! I have been reading your comments, though, whenever I can sneak a peak.

Quick responses, just to put off facing the subway ride:

Rejewvenator, I love the idea of having one "prayer representative" for the family at services, and mentioned it in a previous post in this series. Al points out, though, that this reduces a man's obligation. That's not a problem for some of us non-Orthos, but it is for more traditional non-Orthos and for Orthos.

Timing is another halachic issue. Rabbinic law specifies how late one is permitted to say certain parts of the service--especially the Sh'ma--and get "full credit," so to speak. For example, the Orthodox Union's website,, I have no patience for setting up hyperlinks after a whole day of reformatting Word files--says that this morning, the latest rabbinically-ordained time to recite the Sh'ma in New York City was 9:14 AM. If memory serves me correctly, Sof Zman Kriat Sh'ma can be as early as 8:32 AM. Yes, that's difficult with kids.

"A 90-minute session would make family participation much more realistic."

True, but I don't think it's possible to pray an entire Sabbath morning service with a Torah reading in less than 1 1/2 hours, even without a sermon. I don't have any good answers for you.

I'm glad you like my blog. Welcome aboard!

RivkaYael, I love the idea of the parents taking turns. Question, though: Does the hashkama (early) minyan exist in smaller congregations?

Sorry, falling asleep. Must drag myself to subway and go home.

Tue May 19, 08:55:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Al said...

I think your assessment of JTS and the CJLS is spot on... The few completely anti-halachic rulings of the Conservative movement to more to alienate people and jeopardize their legitimacy than anything else. Those include "driving on Shabbat," "Kohanim marrying converts," and "permitting gay practice/Rabbis." They often stake out intellectually interesting views (non-Kosher wines, non-kosher cheese, swordfish, etc.) that are consistent with halacha (or mostly consistent), then sometimes they rule out of left field and drive wedges.

I think that the continuing collapse of Conservative Judaism is going to be HORRIBLE for egalitarian bent observant Jewish women, and it's WAY faster than the numbers show.

The strongest expression for egalitarian women is the Rabbinate/Cantorial tracks which presents a problem... the only employment opportunities for those graduates are really synagogue positions, with secondary ones in non-Orthodox schools... A shrinking conservative movement means shrinking employment opportunities for JTS graduates.

Interestingly, as employment opportunities shrink, one presumes salaries will decrease (slowing demand, more supply), which if following historical trends, will make the field much more heavily female. You will likely have a scenario in 30-40 years where a male Rabbinic students in the liberal branches will be an anomaly, which will contribute to the MASSIVE cultural divide between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews.

Wed May 20, 04:45:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

TOTJS Steve said, "I have come to believe that the gravest injury to American jewry was the rise of denominations. A tolerant orthodoxy would have provided the big tent . . ."

You may have a point. Some among the Sefardi community still have that big-tent attitude--in some Sefardi communities, it's accepted that everyone, observant and non-observant, prays in the same synagogue.

(Miami) Al said, "I think that the continuing collapse of Conservative Judaism is going to be HORRIBLE for egalitarian bent observant Jewish women, . . . "

Indeed, if the Conservative Movement disappears, egal. women who are (at least reasonably) observant will be out in the cold. Conservative Judaism is really our only home--the Reformim aren't as observant, and the Orthos aren't egal.

Thu May 21, 10:05:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

The situation is not quite as serious as you think. Don't confuse the loss of a particular movement's institutions with the loss of shuls. If USCJ closed its doors tomorrow, most shuls, including those with egalitarian minyanim, would experience no meaningful effect. The shul would not close, the rabbi would not disappear, and davening would continue as usual. It would just be an unaffiliated shul. And there is nothing inherently wrong with that. Egalitarian women will have the same places then that they have today.

Thu May 21, 10:53:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

The disappearance of USCJ would leave USY (United Synagogue Youth) and programs for college students and seniors with no central support. Maintaining these programs independently could prove challenging.

The disappearance of the Conservative rabbinical schools that are part of the Jewish Theological Seminary in NY and American Jewish University in California would do serious damage to the future ability of Conservative synagogues to find Conservative-trained rabbis. I can tell you, from personal experience, that having an Orthodox-trained rabbi in a Conservative synagogue can create certain challenges that would be best avoided. By way of example, the rabbi of our local Conservative synagogue attended a rather right-wing rabbinical seminary, and it's difficult to discuss outside influences on Judaism with him because he believes, in all sincerity, that Judaism was not influenced by any other religion or culture. So I do have some concern about the future of the Conservative rabbinate.

I guess time will tell. Future generations are more likely than mine--remember that I'm 60--to see changes in Conservative synagogues, if central Conservative institutions disappear. Will unaffiliated synagogues that follow egalitarian Conservative practice thrive, in the long run? We shall see.

Sun May 24, 12:00:00 AM 2009  

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