Monday, August 09, 2010

Woman leads KS @ Ortho Shul--improved version

I got my head handed to me--and rightfully so--for "Orthodox bashing/baiting" when I wrote my original post on this topic, so, in keeping with my attempt to turn a new leaf, let me try a more respectful version, in the hope of encouraging a calmer discussion.

Some of my readers have protested that Rabbi Avi Weiss (of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, the Orthodox synagogue being discussed), having just barely recovered from getting his head handed to him by the Rabbinical Council of America for changing Maharat Sara Hurwitz's title to Rabba Hurwitz, moved too quickly in making yet another decision that much of the Orthodox world deems radical. They have a point.

That said, what are some of the other reasons why many in the Orthodox community don't accept the idea of a woman ever leading Kabbalat Shabbat?

It's a chiddush (literally, "new thing" (?)--an innovation)

As DovBear points out here, so's Kabbalat Shabbat itself, dating back only to about the 15th century (give or take). For that matter, Nusach Sfard is an even more recent chiddush, dating back to only about the 16th century.

It's not tzanua (modest) for a woman to lead men

Here's what someone else said on the subject (in a comment to a post on another blog):

"1. L.D. on August 3, 2010 at 4:22 pm Do men not care that when they lead services their rear is on view to the entire congregation… this not also a sniut [tzniut, modesty] concern? Women are not blind, nor are they without feelings. Clearly the men are not very concerned about this. . . . "

I've been blogging for six years, and in six years, I've never once seen a post about tzniut and men, other than the one I wrote myself. If there's a more diplomatic way to say this, I can't figure it out: I honestly don't see any alternative to calling this objection sexist.

Kol Isha (a woman's voice)

My long-term readers are well aware of my personal objection to the prohibition against a man hearing a woman sing--I've posted ad nauseum on the subject. (For newcomers, my best posts on the subject are probably "Men in Halachah--Shirking their responsibilities, part one, and "Damned if we do, damned if we don't, conclusion.") But aside from my personal opinion, there are rabbinic opinions that the issur (prohibition) of kol isha does not apply to zemirot, at least. For further discussion of how the rule affects this situation, see DovBear's post here.

Kavod HaTzibbur (The Honor of the Congregation)

Let me state, up front, that this is a law regarding which I've done almost no reading: I haven't felt motivated to study the law that a woman's participation in parts of a public religious service might constitute an embarrassment to the congregation, as this rule makes me feel that Jewishly-knowledgeable women are being treated as an embarrassment. That said, my limited understanding is that kavod ha-tzibbur applies to those parts of the service that are obligatory for men but optional for women. I don't think that kavod ha-tzibbur is applicable to Kabbalat Shabbat, since it's not an obligatory part of the service. (For a rabbinical perspective on kavod ha-tzibbur, follow the links in now-Rabbi Drew Kaplan's "More Kevod Zibur stuff"--the first link leads to quite a discussion by Rabbis Riskin and Shapiro on the subject of women's aliyot.)

I'll leave the last words to djf:

1. djf on August 2, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Gil, I appreciate you point and while I’m more sympathic to RAW’s position than you are, I wish he would take into greater consideration the effect of his innovations on the community at large.

Unfortunately, though, it’s a one-way street. The Right is not looking over their shoulders, wondering whether the positions they take would alienate the MO [Modern Orthodox] world. When you listen to the promient chareidi [fervently Orthodox] and RWMO [Right-Wing Modern Orthodox] voices speak about the “frum community”, you get the impression that they’ve already excluded most MO.

At what point should we stop asking RAW to turn the other cheek?

Or, as DovBear put it here, "If you can tolerate Hasidic shenanigans without tossing them out of Judaism, I don't see why H.I.R can't be extended the same courtesy."

[ ¶ ]

Rabbi Weiss's move may have been poorly-timed, but I hope it doesn't prove "fatal" to his, and his synagogue's, continued status as Orthodox.


Anonymous Aryeh Frimer said...

I would like to bring to the author and reader's attention the following article which discusses kevod haTsibbur re Partnership Minyanim (and Kabbalat Shabbat) at length: "Partnership Minyanim," Aryeh A. Frimer and Dov I. Frimer, "Text and Texture" of the Rabbinical Council of America (May 23, 2010); available online at

Tue Aug 10, 01:59:00 AM 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shira Hadashah -- an Orthodox congregation in Jerusalem -- regularly has a woman lead Kabblat Shabbat. Their mechizta is down the middle of the room and there are prayer leaders on both sides, male and female. Everyone sings, and the joyful music is tremendously moving.
The group was founded by Tova Hartman, a daughter of David Hartman, who founded the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem (a great place to spend a summer week studying.
Of course, they get some flack from the more Orthodox establishment in Israel, but they've been hanging on for years, and on a summer Friday night, they have a good two or three hundred participants.

Tue Aug 10, 10:54:00 AM 2010  
Blogger Miami Al said...

Yeah, this is NOT a innovation in Halacha, it happens here, Partnership minyanim.

Rabbi Weiss's innovation was the press release about it.

He's TRYING to make waves. I think he needs to consolidate his gains... By reaching for Rabba, he got attacked, but Maharat seems "moderate" now... he needs to get his women employed throughout Orthodoxy (plus his YCT people), then fight for the next gain.

He should also be conscious of the demographic disaster that became of Conservative Jewry, and in as much as egalitarianism is a part of it, be careful what he asks for.

That's not a Halachic issue, that's a leadership issue.

Tue Aug 10, 12:55:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Sorry, folks, I'm not ignoring you, I'm just crazy busy at the office. Believe me, I have plenty to say--I just have to find a free minute to say it!

Quick thanks to R. Frimer for the article. Hope to comment tomorrow.

Tue Aug 10, 06:38:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Miami Al and Anon. are both correct in pointing out that having women lead *certain* parts of an Orthodox service has been done before, namely, in such Partnership Minyanim as Shira Hadasha in Yerushalayim and Darkhei Noam in New York City. (There's a list of Partnership Minyanim worldwide on the JOFA websit. I'm too tired to link.)

"Rabbi Weiss's innovation was the press release about it."

You probably have a point there.

"He's TRYING to make waves." That's an interesting thought, Miami Al. But then again, Rabbi Weiss has been well known for making waves on other issues, so maybe we shouldn't be surprised. More caution might be advisable, though, if he doesn't want to win the Orthodox feminist battle and lose the war.

Rabbi Frimer, I'll try to respond to your article you when I'm awake. :)

Wed Aug 11, 11:55:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Rabbi Frimer, I'm going to attempt to post a semi-coherent, Hillel-style (standing on one foot) response before I collapse into bed from exhaustion.

I think I understand the concern of the community that allowing someone who's not obligated to fulfil a mitzvah/commandment to represent someone else in fulfilling that commandment might be taken as a sign that those who are obligated don't take their obligation seriously. But I still believe that there's a real distinction between the Matbeah shel Tefilla (roughly, the core required part of the service) and other portions of the service. My understanding of P'sukei D'Zimrah is that it originated in an ancient custom of the pious to recite the entire Sefer Tehillim/Book of Psalm every day before Shacharit/Morning Service. It seems logical to me that what started out as a simple minhag/custom doesn't have the same sanctity as, for example, the Kedushah.

As for the tzniut (modesty) argument, I stand my ground. Your article mentions the opinion that, " because of possible sexual distraction, women should not *unnecessarily* be at the center of communal religious ritual. I appreciate the leeway allowed for *necessarily* being at the center of communal religious ritual, as when reciting birkat ha-gomel (the thanksgiving for deliverance from danger) or kaddish yatom/mourner's kaddish. But I must state that, as a 61-year-old female, I've watched members of the opposite gender be at the center of communal religious ritual for the better part of six decades, and my kavannah (focus on worship) has not been harmed. It's assumed that we women can keep our minds on our prayers. I see no good reason why we shouldn't expect the same of men.

Thu Aug 12, 12:33:00 AM 2010  
Anonymous rivkayael said...

I think that the kol isha issue could be extrapolated from the mishna about women leyning. Women are not given aliyot/leyn in a mixed setting because of kevod hatzibbur. Kol isha is not mentioned in either the mihna or gemara--so I don't think it is an issue in women leading kabbalat shabbat.

The Abarbanel on shirat ha-yam says that Torah is not "read" except with the complete nusach, so it's not even correct to say that "maybe women were reciting it not singing it and that was why it was permissible"--if women were reading Torah, they were leyning, not mumbling in a monotone. That also implies that we should be teaching our daughters how to leyn, since much can also be read into the taamim.

Thu Aug 12, 12:37:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"I think that the kol isha issue could be extrapolated from the mishna about women leyning. Women are not given aliyot/leyn in a mixed setting because of kevod hatzibbur. Kol isha is not mentioned in either the mishna or gemara--so I don't think it is an issue in women leading kabbalat shabbat."

Thanks for the information, RivkaYael.

" . . . we should be teaching our daughters how to leyn, since much can also be read into the taamim."

I agree.

Thu Aug 12, 05:58:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

Shira, did you see my recent post on Kol Isha?

Thu Aug 12, 07:02:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"Shira, did you see my recent post on Kol Isha?" I did now. Thanks for the URL, Tzipporah. I've posted a comment.

Thu Aug 12, 08:48:00 PM 2010  

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