Posted by Rabbi Barry Gelman
News of the suspension from school of Ophir Ben-Shetreet, for performing on the Israeli hit show, “The Voice” in violation of her school’s policy of Kol Isha (the ban of women singing in public) is now well known.
The school’s decision to suspend Ophir is theirs alone. It is also true that schools have the right to discipline students for breaking the rules. No one should fault the school for implementing a standing policy.
Having said that, this story does offer an opportunity to discuss an issue that is present when rendering Halachik rulings.
This particular ruling on Kol Isha is an example of a ruling that, given the current social reality, may very well result in people feeling alienated from Halacha. On this concern I quote Rav David Bigman, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Ma’ale Gilboa from a full treatment of Kol Isha: “The assertion of the Maharshal, (accepted as practical halakha) that psychological and spiritual need is considered an important concern that justifies reliance upon a lone or minority halakhic opinion. And according to reliable accounts, there are women in certain communities who are so offended by the ruling forbidding them to sing in public that they turn away from the Torah and commandments due to it.”
Writing about Kol Isha (Techumin Vol. 32), Rav Moshe Lichtenstein noted this point and rightly points out that as far as many in the public are concerned, a strict ruling on Kol Isha, is a rule that sheds light on the entire system of halacha, i.e. a system that discriminates against women by restricting their self expression.
There are legitimate and well-substantiated alternative views regarding the nature of the Kol Isha prohibition.
Rav Bigman notes that according to some authorities, the prohibition of Kol Isha only applies in the context of the recitation of the Shema.: “Important Rishonim held that the main prohibition of listening to a woman's voice is only during the recitation of the Shema and other core parts of the prayer service, in accordance with the intuitive context of Shemuel's statement "the voice of a woman is erva."
Rabbi Avraham Shammah wonders why the stricture against Kol Isha is upheld with such vigor while other prohibitions meant to limit contact with women and possible transgression are not. For example, he notes that Shulchan Aruch rules as follows: “ A [male] person has to distance himself from women, very very much” and then asks: “Do all of those who arise to forbid hearing the voices of women uphold everything that is written in this halahka? Do they distance themselves from women very, very much? The answer is “absolutely not!”; certainly not [according to] the intent of our teacher [R. Yosef Karo]. It should be expressed in clear language: in our day, society is mixed (men and woman). And even in the most stringent haredi groups, there is a mixed society at various levels. Work places are mixed, even in the haredi sector, and married men and married women meet there on a daily basis for the course of hours. The grocery stores in this sector are completely mixed, at banks married men and married women work and meet; likewise, in the markets, the streets, and every locale. We find, then, that this halakha has been dismissed and ignored, until it is no longer regarded strictly. Go out and see what people do in the market.”
His answer is insightful: “From a logical point of view, this [inconsistency] is intolerable, especially because those same people who rule stringently are not generally known for deficiencies in [halakhic] judgment. It seems to me, and this should be said as a generalization, that what is being considered is not really a matter of [women’s] modesty. Rather, halakha is being used as a religious marker. That is to say, in a situation where it is quite impossible to be stringent, such as distancing oneself from women very, very much, people aren’t careful. But it is very easy to be stringent in forbidding hearing a woman’s voice, while – in the best case - the added value of an internal sense of religiosity is great. In a less positive light, it is a minute effort for a huge return of being able to externally demonstrate one’s religiosity. This phenomenon, that generally is quite widespread, is worthy of penetrating criticism, and the words of the prophets are brimming with such [criticism].”
Rav Shammah makes another interesting point about how Halacha considers subjective reality. “Centuries ago, the Ritv”a relied on this principle, [and wrote] at the end of Kiddushin: “ … and so is the law that everything is according to what a person knows about himself, if it is appropriate for him to maintain a distance [from women] because of his sexual urges, he should do so, and [for him] even to look at women’s colored clothing is forbidden … while if he knows that his sexual urges submit to him and are under his control … he is permitted to look and to speak with a woman who is forbidden to him and to ask the well-being of another man’s wife, and that was the situation with Rabbi Yohanan who sat near the gates of the mikve and was not concerned about his evil inclination, and [with] Rabbi Ammi,
in front of whom the king’s maidservants went out [to sing and praise him], and [with] several of the Sages who conversed with those ladies, and [with] Rav Ada bar Ahava of whom it is said in K’tubot that he lifted a bride on his shoulders and danced with her and did not concern himself with [unseemly] thoughts- [all these behaved as such] for the reason that we stated …”.
In addition, in spite of all the complexity and difficulty with the matter, one should not easily dismiss the [concept] of the public becoming accustomed [to mixing with women], or that [the public] does not perceive a woman’s voice as [provoking] lewdness. This [aspect] of being accustomed [to mixing with women] has significant weight in general reasoning, and the poskim have relied on it, each according to his method.”
Others have limited the prohibition to circumstances when one intends to enjoy forbidden pleasure (Sdei Chemed citing Rabbi Aharon De Toledo. This is also the opinion of Rambam according to Rabbi Yechiel Yakov Weinberg) or only to women whom the listener knows personally.
The Orthodox establishment should consider these views as L’Chatchilla rulings in the service of the overarching goal of making Halachik living accessible and tolerable to as many people as possible.
I will close with a quote form Rav Chaim of Volohzin reminding us of the difference between theoretical Halacha and the very real people affected by Psak Halacha.
“I see that regarding most things we are headed in the same direction. It is just that you incline toward stringency, since the matter is not cast upon you. Just like you, I too did not turn to the allowances that emerge from study before the burden of decision-making was placed upon my shoulders. Now, however, as a result of our many sins, our environs have been orphaned of its sages, and the yoke of ruling for the entire area was placed on my shoulders … And I calculated with my Maker, and I saw it a personal obligation to gather all my strength in order to persevere in finding a remedy for the agunot. (Responsa Chut Ha-meshulash I:8) (see here - Halakha and Morality Part 2)
How Ophir will react to a very strict interpretation that ostracizes her by marginalizing other, equally valid, interpretations, in anyone’s guess. What is so disappointing here is that Halacha is being used to drive people away from observance instead of being used to bring them closer.
5.24.13 at 9:43 am | My mother-in-law is Halachikly alive
4.24.13 at 9:29 am | Over the past two weeks, I received many. . .
3.23.13 at 10:19 pm | Are things perfect? No. Could things be better?. . .
3.7.13 at 7:29 pm | Further argument in favor of the importance of. . .
3.1.13 at 9:48 am | In fact men and women are very different and we. . .
2.28.13 at 1:13 pm | This one is in our hands.
5.24.13 at 9:43 am | My mother-in-law is Halachikly alive (49)
12.3.09 at 12:12 am | (14)
1.18.12 at 3:33 pm | It was suggested that I put the entire letter I. . . (6)
January 30, 2013 | 8:12 pm
Posted by Rabbi Zev Farber
In response to my previous post, Rabbi Barry Freundel has written a characteristically thorough critique of my presentation. I am honored. Although Rabbi Freundel and I seem to be reading matters differently in a myriad of areas, I wish to take this opportunity to offer a brief reframing of my main point in order to further clarify the nature of my claim. I again apologize to Rabbi Freundel for not taking up all of his detailed critiques, with the hope that I will be able to do so some time in the future.
I argued in my first post that there are two types of shaliaḥ tzibbur (the person leading the synagogue service). The first is one who recites certain prayers or blessings out loud on behalf of the congregation or of individuals in the congregation. This person must be one who has the same type of obligation as members of the congregation whom said shaliaḥ tzibbur is representing. The second type of shaliaḥ tzibbur is someone who sets the pace for the congregation, chooses the tune for various songs, etc. This person is not reciting anything on behalf of the congregation (being motzi people in halakhic terminology) and, consequently, the limits imposed on who can be the shaliaḥ tzibbur in halakhic literature do not apply to this type.
Rabbi Freundel, in his critique of my response, argues that I have woven these categories out of whole cloth. Where are the sources, he asks, for allowing women to lead services in the capacity I call shaliaḥ tzibbur type II? The problem with these questions is that it is not I who has invented a new category of halakha, but Rabbi Freundel. I was simply clarifying what has been the given among writers of halakha.
To explain: Rabbi Freundel argues that once a prayer service is generally said in the synagogue as a part of a minyan it becomes either a tefillah be-tzibbur, or at least, a tefillat ha-rabbim. This is a ḥiddush (a novel interpretation) and hardly a consensus position. He then makes the leap that once a given prayer service has attained this status, anyone who leads it must be “obligated” in this prayer service. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that a halakhic category of “leader of Qabbalat Shabbat” or even Pesuqei de-Zimrah exists. In fact, in many yeshivot, nobody leads Pesuqei de-Zimrah, and Rabbi Freundel notes (p. 16) that “in some corners of the world” (some of these "corners" being Jerusalem and New York, I might add) no one leads Qabbalat Shabbat either.
Customs as to whether someone leads these services or not vary because there is no halakhic requirement for anyone to lead them. There is no halakhic requirement for a leader because these services are themselves only customs and they are performed by each individual in the congregation reciting the service to him- or herself. Nothing that these shliḥei tzibbur say is said on behalf of anyone, hence such a shaliaḥ tzibbur has no halakhic status. Finding a text that discusses who can be the shaliaḥ tzibbur in cases where a shaliaḥ tzibbur is unnecessary would be rather difficult.
One may then ask: Why is the prevalent custom for these services to have a shaliaḥ tzibbur? I think the simple answer is that we are accustomed to praying in this fashion, and it makes the experience feel more “community-like” if someone sets the pace and chooses the tune for everyone. I called this (non-halakhic but prevalent) practice shaliaḥ tzibbur type II.
Allow me demonstrate this point with a thought experiment. Let's imagine that after reciting Barkhu (or the repetition of the Amidah, or any prayer with the status of davar she-be-qedusha) the shaliaḥ tzibbur disappears—it turns out he had been a hologram (I’m a Star Trek fan, mea culpa). The congregants turn to the rabbi and ask whether the congregation had fulfilled its obligation to have Barkhu recited? I assume the rabbi says no. If then asked whether someone else should go up to the amud and recite Barkhu again, I assume the rabbi would say yes.
Now let’s imagine the same case, but immediately after Lekha Dodi, as the mourners enter the synagogue, the hologram shaliaḥ tzibbur disappears, and the rabbi is asked whether the congregants have fulfilled their “obligation” (to use Rabbi Freundel’s concept) to recite Qabbalat Shabbat. What would the rabbi say? I assume he would say that since everyone recited the proper Psalms together, the congregation has indeed fulfilled its requirement to recite the Qabbalat Shabbat service, and that the congregation may proceed with the evening service without the need to repeat anything.
However, I assume the rabbi would add that he believes that having the hologram lead Qabbalat Shabbat (or Pesuqei de-Zimrah) was inappropriate and should not be repeated. The reason, I believe, he would say this is because it is not kavod ha-tzibbur (in keeping with the dignity of the congregation) to have a hologram lead the services. This point, that the customs adopted by a congregation should be in keeping with their “dignity” has gone unspoken in the debate thus far, but is an important one because it answers the second of Rabbi Freundel’s questions: Why hasn’t anyone until recently discussed the possibility of women leading these services? The answer is that until the feminist revolution, such conduct would have been considered “undignified” for the congregation as well as for that woman.
This is why the Mendel Shapiro article, which Rabbi Freundel consistently claims is irrelevant to this discussion, is, in fact, very relevant. Rabbi Shapiro’s point is that, in modern times, the leadership role of women is a sociological given and, therefore, not a violation of the congregation’s “dignity,” unlike the hologram in my thought experiment. In short, I repeat my previous conclusion. Since there is nothing halakhically speaking barring women from leading these services, and there is no longer any fear that their doing so would be beneath the congregation’s dignity (again I apologize for the us-them language), whether women lead such services is a matter of custom and convention. Personally, I would encourage synagogues to allow women to lead things like Qabbalat Shabbat, but, in the end, such decisions are in the hands of each individual community and the community’s rabbi.
This brings me to one final point. Rabbi Freundel writes that he is well aware of the fact that there have been a number of other debates about women’s issues in halakha, but that this one differs from these others since, in his words, it does not follow “legitimate Orthodox halakhic epistemology.” This is an exceedingly subjective claim.
It is well-known that Rabbi Freundel has championed a number of “changes” on behalf of women in the synagogue that he considers acceptable. He mentions that Kesher Israel (R. Freundel’s synagogue) has a female president, something that many (including the National Council of Young Israel) believe to be forbidden halakhically. It is also well known that Kesher Israel has a women’s prayer group, and one that includes a women’s Torah reading service, something many Orthodox rabbis (including a number of YU Roshei Yeshiva) have vociferously opposed and claimed to be forbidden.
I have great respect for Rabbi Freundel having taken a stand on these issues. Furthermore, although I do not agree with his position on women leading Qabbalat Shabbat, I respect his right as a scholar and rabbinic leader of a community to say that he does not believe a certain practice is halakhically acceptable and will, therefore, not allow that practice in his synagogue. What bothers me is that Rabbi Freundel does not extend this same courtesy to the people on his left, but argues that since he does not agree with their reading of the halakha, this means that they are not "really" Orthodox.
Granted that the idea of women leading any part of the service is a sociological departure from what has been, but the question of who leads Qabbalat Shabbat seems a rather trivial one halakhically speaking, and it is only Rabbi Freundel that seems to believe that it is really “halakha” that is at stake here. In my opinion, most Orthodox rabbis, even the ones who oppose women leading Qabbalat Shabbat, would admit that it is not a question of halakha but one of sociology or public policy. Even though Rabbi Freundel disagrees, and believes it is one of halakha, for him to put such stock in his ḥiddush such that he can dismiss a large swath of halakhically observant men and women—even some rabbis—from the Orthodox camp is disappointing.
Rabbi Zev Farber, Atlanta
 See, for example this random sampling of modern day Orthodox responsa (1, 2, 3) where each author explicitly assumes that Qabbalat Shabbat is not a “real” halakhic service and that the issue of who may lead it is one of minhag and/or public policy.
 See: Nissan Alpert, Abba Bronspigel, Mordechai Willig, Yehuda Parnes and Zvi Schachter, “Teshuva be-Inyan Nashim be-Hakafot ve-khu,” Ha-Darom 54 (Sivan 5745): 49-50.
January 30, 2013 | 7:56 pm
Posted by Chaim Trachtman
[Chaim Trachtman is the editor of Women and Men in Communal Prayer: Halakhic Perspectives. Dr. Trachtman is a pediatric nephrologist, a graduate of Haverford College and University of Pennsylvania Medical School. He is currently the Director of the Division of Nephrology at NYU Langone Medical Center and is the principal investigator for NIH-funded clinical trials in glomerular disease.]
Rabbi Freundel has weighed in on the topic of partnership Minyanim, opening his review with a lament that halakha has been “the silent partner in the development of Partnership Minyanim”, and concluding that there is no halakhic justification for women to lead tefillah. I suggest that Rabbi Freundel check out Women and Men in Communal Prayer: Halakhic Perspectives, a book published in 2010 by KTAV and JOFA, and welcome him as a new partner in the dialogue.
Rabbi Freundel chooses to focus his review on tefilla be-tsibbur and specifically on the halakhic permissibility of a woman leading Kabbalat Shabbat. He asserts that the groundbreaking article by Mendel Shapiro (Edah Journal 2001) only addresses women being called to the Torah to get an aliya or to read a portion. However, Rabbi Shapiro does distinguish between parts of the tefilla that involve dvarim she-bi-kedusha such as borchu, the amidah, and kedusha versus other parts of the tefilla. He posits that the former category can be led by women while the later portions mandate leadership by men with a quorum of at least ten men. This is the key point that must be considered in analyzing Rabbi Freundel’s position. If tefilla be-tsibbur is invoked anytime ten men constitute themselves into a group for prayer and covers everything from start to finish then Rabbi Freundel is correct and there is no space for women. However, is there intellectual room for Rabbi Shapiro’s interpretation? I think the answer is yes. For one, the Rabbis clearly distinguished parts of the tefilla with regard to prohibitions about allowable conversation and interruption, indicating that the tefilla is not one homogeneous activity. In addition, as Rabbi Freundel acknowledges, it has been customary in many synagogues to allow underage boys to lead parts of the tefilla. Rabbi Freundel may disagree with this practice but it does support the notion that there is a gradient in intensity within the tefilla service. This variability in the sanctity of the tefilla provides a halakhic basis for decisors to justify the inclusion of women in select portions of the prayer service.
Rabbi Freundel appears to take a maximalist position of what constitutes tefilla be-tsibbur to include anything done that includes the word tefilla in it, such as tefillat ha-derech, tefilla ketzara. If ten people on a flight to Israel decided to say tefillat ha-derech together does that imply that that he would prohibit a woman from leading the recitation? Moreover, he goes even farther and asserts that the category of tefilla be-rabim, prayer said in a public setting, constitutes a diminished form of tefilla be-tsibbur, but a form of tefilla be-tsibbur nonetheless. As such, women would not be allowed to lead any such service. He uses this logic to further disqualify women leading Kabbalat Shabbat. But consider other forms of public prayer from which he is thereby excluding women. Communal services for Kristallnacht or Yom Hashoah usually include recitation of tehilim and conclude with Kaddish. Would Rabbi Freundel prohibit a woman from leading the recitation of the chapters of tehillim? The fact that women regularly participate in and lead services like this in many Modern Orthodox settings suggests that the community has a broader conception of tefilla be-tsibbur than Rabbi Freundel does.
Once Rabbi Freundel has decided what constitutes tefilla be-tsibbur, the key argument that he applies to prohibit women from leading the tefilla is their lower status as non-commanded versus men who are commanded in community prayer. The operative legal principle is that one who is not commanded cannot fulfill the obligation of one who is commanded to perform a mitzvah. However, Rabbinic classifications can and do change. The most compelling example is the movement towards inclusion of deaf individuals into full participation in Jewish life without exception. This Rabbinic adjustment flies in the face of the frequent Talmudic linkage and exclusion of minors, mentally incompetent, and deaf individuals as a class from the performance of mitzvoth and is evidence of the inherent dynamism of halakha. Moreover, it demonstrates the Rabbinic appreciation for the value of social inclusion, for the importance of ensuring that all members of Klal Yisrael feel like they are part of the collective. Indeed, there are Rabbis who feel that the same sensitivity should be applied to women, for whom the pain of social exclusion is no less poignant than that of the deaf. Some suggest that a new class of women should be created to acknowledge the profoundly different status of women in modern society – in secular and religious contexts. Partnership Minyanim reflect an acceptance of this position by a group of men and women in Israel and around the world.
Rabbi Freundel briefly addresses the issue of kevod ha-tsibbur and kevod ha-briyot in the justification for Partnership Minyanim. He speculates that there is no “evidence” of significant numbers of women to warrant the modifications to the traditional tefilla that are practiced in Partnership Minyanim. However, this rationale is problematic. For one, Chazal did not generally require hard statistical evidence to justify changes in practice. Second, the standard phrase used by the Rabbis is “go out a look” and if, in fact, we were to do just that we would find that most major American cities with significant Orthodox communities currently have at least one Partnership Minyan. According to research done by William Kaplowitz, there are some 25 or so Partnership Minyanim, and the number is growing all the time.
Another difficult claim is Rabbi Freundels’ presumption about what is in women’s minds. He argues that the modest changes that have been made in Partnership Minyanim are unlikely to satisfy women interested in participating in tefilla. Considering the sheer excitement with which women everywhere embrace their new-found practice of leading services and reading Torah, this is a very difficult claim to sustain. (See, for example, the beautiful description of the powerful effect that newly discovered Torah reading had on a group of women in Toco Hills, Atlanta, this past Simchat Torah.) Moreover, I can imagine many women taking offense at this analysis. Rather than using the advent of Partnership Minyanim with its limited changes as evidence that the women are trying to adhere to a halakhic framework while embracing expanded roles in tefilla, he patronizingly dismisses their spiritual yearnings and the meaningfulness of the practices that have been adopted.
Finally, an interesting aspect of Rabbi Freundel’s review is his assertion that that irrespective of the origins of Kabbalat Shabbat in Kabbalistic prayer services in the 15th and 16th centuries, it is now a staple of tefilla be-tsibbur. He justifies this by prioritizing a survey of current practices about Kabbalat Shabbat which show that Orthodox Jews around the world go to shul Friday night and say Kabbalat Shabbat and end it with Kaddish. Therefore, it is an integral part of the tefilla and can only be led by a man. But, if we give such credence to current practice, that undermines one of the key criticisms of Partnership Minyanim, namely that the fact that it was not done in the past is the strongest halakhic proof that is it impermissible.
It is important to note that most Partnership Minyanim are self-constituting. They always represent the product of a choice made by a community of like minded people and are never imposed from the outside. As Rabbi Sperber has correctly written, they will not seem necessary or be satisfying for many people. But for those groups of women and men who embrace this as a form of tefilla, it is important to acknowledge that there is substantive halakhic basis for them to draw upon and that the social need they are addressing is immediate and legitimate. Moreover, the decision to form a Partnership Minyan should not be viewed as an intellectually dishonest stitching together of random sources to create something from nothing. As David Berger points out in an thoughtful essay in the new book “Radical Responsibility” dedicated to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Rabbis who adopted novel positions did not see themselves as capitulating to external circumstances but rather as formulating responses that they thought were right, that were compatible with their conception of the overall objectives of halakha. So too for those like Rabbi Sperber and Shapiro who have written in support of Partnership Minyanim. I fully respect Rabbi Freundel’s detailed response. But I would hope that he see Modern Orthodoxy as broad enough to include those who adopt practices that differ from his own.
Chaim Trachtman, New Rochelle, NY
January 24, 2013 | 8:09 pm
Posted by Rabbi Zev Farber
Partnership minyanim such as Shira Hadasha in Jerusalem and Darkhei Noam in New York, wherein women lead certain parts of the service, are becoming a significant force in the prayer experience of the Modern Orthodox community. Although these currently exist only in the biggest Jewish communities, they also exist on numerous college campuses, and as time goes on the phenomenon will probably expand. For some, like me, this is an exciting possibility. However, those in the Modern Orthodox camp who believe that women’s leadership of any part of the synagogue service is a violation of halakha, are concerned.
This concern has recently been expressed articulately and forcefully by Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel, noted author and Rabbi of Kesher Israel in Washington D.C., in an article titled, “Putting the Silent Partner back into Partnership Minyanim,” available on Hirhurim. I commend Rabbi Freundel for his thorough analysis and critique of the phenomenon and will use his piece as an opportunity to share my own thoughts on the subject in the spirit of collegial debate. (I apologize in advance for responding to a 35 page paper with a blog post, and for inevitably skipping over a number of details.)
Rabbi Freundel opens with the surprising assertion that there has been no “formal attempt in writing” to discuss whether the partnership minyan’s practices are indeed halakhic. Although Rabbi Freundel may be making a unique contribution to the discussion with this article, he is actually part of a larger conversation that began with Rabbi Mendel Shapiro’s article on Women’s Torah reading (which Rabbi Freundel cites) and moves on to other aspects of tefillah as well. Dr. Chaim Trachtman has an edited volume on the subject, with essays by a number of authorities, Women and Men in Communal Prayer: Halakhic Perspectives, and Rabbi Dr. Daniel Sperber has an entire book on the subject, On Changes in Jewish Liturgy: Options and Limitations. The very issue Rabbi Freundel wishes to discuss, women leading Qabbalat Shabbat, was debated by Rabbi Michael Broyde, Women Leading Kabbalat Shabbat: Some Thoughts, and Rabbi Josh Yuter, Land of Confusion: A Response to R. Broyde on Women Leading Kabbalat Shabbat.
It seems unfair to characterize halakha as the "silent partner", implying that not much thought was put into teasing out the halakha from the sources. It is my understanding, from speaking with people who were involved in the process of designing these minyanim, that halakha committees were formed and many discussions held, with sources analyzed carefully and thoughtfully. Although not all their analyses were written up, there is an entire booklet—as Rabbi Freundel himself references—put together by Michal and Elitzur Bar-Asher Siegel, and available for download on the Kolech website, which describes in detail the practical findings of these committees. In short, Rabbi Freundel’s characterization of halakha as the silent partner, and his article as the first, seems “ungenerous.”
Before getting to the main halakhic point, Rabbi Freundel addresses the question of whether it is incumbent upon the Orthodox community to allow women’s public participation in the synagogue service since barring them completely is hurtful. (Note: I am aware of the “us-them” language here and the fact that this debate is yet again two men talking about women – but I see no way around this as Rabbi Freundel and I are both men.) To this, Rabbi Freundel writes:
"We would need to know who or what group is entitled to speak for women—all women, all Jewish women, observant women, Orthodox women, etc. It is also necessary to have a clear idea of what percentage of women actually feel demeaned, troubled, or unhappy at not being able to lead services, and what percentage is happy or unconcerned with the status quo. To my knowledge no one has made a formal presentation of the data that exists on these questions—if any does exist. Absent an attempt to gather that information scientifically we are dealing with anecdote and hearsay."
Though I do not have any statistics to offer Rabbi Freundel, I do not think his request for data is to the point. The fact that the Orthodox service, and often the Orthodox shul, is designed for men only should be clear to any objective observer. I have written about this previously, in “Davening Among the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes.” Some Orthodox women have also written about their experience in shul and the pain it causes them; the piece by Dr. Vered Noam (in Hebrew), a Rabbinics professor at Tel Aviv University, is a poignant example. Furthermore, Rabbi Freundel does not mention that a growing number of men are unhappy with this situation as well, a phenomenon one can read about in Elana Sztokman’s The Men’s Section. Simply put, many women and men find the complete lack of female public presence in Orthodox synagogue services to be hurtful. Many women and men wish for a change. These are facts, although not quantifiable; I do not see what more information is needed.
This brings us to the main halakhic point in his essay. Rabbi Freundel describes the argument for the legitimacy of women leading Qabbalat Shabbat as two-pronged. First, Qabbalat Shabbat is not a Talmudic requirement, but a qabbalistic custom that began in the 16th century, so the question of whether women are obligated is irrelevant. Second, Qabbalat Shabbat does not require a minyan, so the question of whether women are part of the minyan is irrelevant.
Rabbi Freundel believes the above analysis to be mistaken. Qabbalat Shabbat, he argues, is a custom that was accepted amongst all Jews and is therefore as binding as if it were halakha. A discussion about when the service was instituted is of academic interest only and he believes such discussion to be an example of the Genetic Fallacy (i.e., assuming historical accident defines the essence of a thing.) Additionally, as the custom is to have a mourner recite Qaddish at the end of this service, it seems clear that it was instituted as part of the public synagogue service—Rabbi Freundel calls this category tefillah be-rabbim (public prayer)—and should be subject to the usual requirements that the leader must be “obligated” in the service and be part of the minyan, in other words, the leader must be a man.
With all due respect to Rabbi Freundel, I believe his analysis is dependent upon a category error. There are two possible functions of a shaliaḥ tzibbur (prayer leader). The classic function of the shaliaḥ tzibbur is to say certain prayers out loud either on behalf of the congregation as a whole, e.g. Qaddish and Barkhu, or on behalf of individuals who do not know how to recite the prayer on his or her own, e.g. the repetition of the Amidah (=ḥazarat ha-shatz) and the repetition (Rashi) or out-loud recitation (Rambam) of the Sh’ma service (=pores al Sh’ma, no longer practiced in most synagogues).
The second function of the shaliaḥ tzibbur is to set the pace and tone of the prayers. In such cases, the shaliaḥ tzibbur is not reciting prayers out loud in order to fulfill anyone’s obligation, but to enhance the collective prayer experience by keeping the various participants together, saying the same prayers, singing the same tunes, etc. This is how the shaliaḥ tzibbur functions in the Qabbalat Shabbat service as well as in the Pesuqei de-Zimrah service, for example, another staple of partnership minyanim. The leader will generally recite the psalm silently, like the rest of the congregants, but will say the last couple of lines out loud so that everyone will know “where they are.” Sometimes, the leader will sing one of the psalms and the rest of the congregation may join in.
This tone and pace-setting function of the shaliaḥ tzibbur is entirely different from the recitation-on-behalf-of-others function since the leader is not reciting any prayer on behalf of the congregation or any individual. Rather, each participant is reciting the prayers on his or her own. Therefore, even if Rabbi Freundel were correct in claiming that there is an actual halakhic obligation to recite Qabbalat Shabbat (I do not think he is), this does not mean that the leader of the service need share this obligation. The shaliaḥ tzibbur is simply setting the pace and tone for the service, he (or she) is not reciting anything on anyone’s behalf.
This point can be illustrated in two examples Rabbi Freundel brings to demonstrate the existence of a public recitation not limited to the classic Sh'ma and Amidah prayers: Magen Avot on Friday night and the ten-person zimmun after meals. The first, although instituted as a way of extending the evening service, was built as a kind of mini-repetition of the Amidah. For this reason the leader recites the prayer out loud on behalf of the congregation. The second is a classic example of a prayer said by one person on behalf of the participants. In both of the examples, the shaliaḥ tzibbur fulfills the classic function of reciting a prayer on behalf of those obligated in that prayer service (Ma’ariv and Birkat ha-Mazon respectively), and must be someone obligated in the prayer service in order to do so.
Another example referenced by Rabbi Freundel is seliḥot, which he correctly points out is treated as a davar she-be-qedushah (a holy service requiring a minyan) even though it is post-Talmudic. This is an excellent example because the function of the shaliaḥ tzibbur in this service is subject to interpretation. In some traditions, the leader recites certain parts out loud (the 13 attributes of God, the aneinu paragraphs, etc.) while the participants listen silently. In other traditions all of these are said together or privately. The difference between these two traditions is illustrative precisely of the difference between whether the shaliaḥ tzibbur is performing the function of recitation on behalf of the community or whether the shaliaḥ tzibbur is setting the pace and tone for the participants’ prayers. (Ostensibly, whether there is a restriction on who can lead seliḥot would be dependent on which custom one follows.)
Rabbi Freundel finds further support in his claim that a woman can never be a shaliaḥ tzibbur by pointing to the Tosefta (Ḥagigah 1:3; b. Ḥullin 34b) which states that for a male to be the shaliaḥ tzibbur he must have a full beard. Clearly, Rabbi Freundel points out, the text does not even contemplate the possibility of women fulfilling this role. Firstly, the fact that the Rabbis didn’t discuss it doesn’t prove that they thought it was halakhically illegitimate. More importantly, I will again point out that the Rabbis are talking about a shaliaḥ tzibbur who recites the prayers on the people’s behalf, not someone who sets the pace and chooses the tune. There was no Qabbalat Shabbat service or Pesuqei de-Zimrah service in the Talmudic period; the former didn’t yet exist and the latter was recited privately by individuals. In Talmudic times, the shaliaḥ tzibbur only fulfilled the function of reciting prayers on behalf of others—a very important role in an age before prayer books.
Considering the above, it appears to me that since the shaliaḥ tzibbur for Qabbalat Shabbat (and Pesuqei de-Zimrah) is not reciting any part of the service in order to fulfill the participants’ obligations, but is merely setting the pace and tone of the prayer service, there is nothing, halakhically speaking, to bar women from leading these services.
This brings me to my final point. Although this blog post has focused on questions of halakhic minutia, this really isn’t the main issue. The main issue is that the way Orthodox services and synagogues are run is hurtful to the sensibilities of a number of contemporary women and men, who have become accustomed to social parity in every place but the synagogue. Solutions must be found. Sadly, instead of trying to find a solution Rabbi Freundel—and he is just one example—goes to great lengths to create an issur (prohibition) where there is none. Now I do not know whether partnership minyanim will prove to be the solution; nevertheless, I believe they are halakhically defensible and sociologically critical.
Rabbi Freundel ends his piece by urging Orthodox people not to have partnership minyanim, and warning the reader that this phenomenon might “split the community.” In my opinion, offering an option that many Orthodox people (even rabbis) consider to be halakhically valid is not what splits the community. What splits the community is the threat from one group to declare the reasonably defended practice of another to be illegitimate. The Orthodox community has survived halakhic debates of more gravitas that who gets to lead Qabbalat Shabbat. There are debates about what foods are kosher and what actions violate Shabbat. These debates often concern real Torah prohibitions (not just customs) and yet both sides remain Orthodox. There are serious debates about whether day schools should be mixed-gender or separate or what prayers should be instituted to celebrate the founding of Israel. The Orthodox community has survived these as well. If the community splits over this issue as Rabbi Freundel predicts, it will not be the fault of the partnership minyanim.
The partnership minyanim are trying to offer a religious service to Orthodox people who feel uncomfortable with the level of participation available to women in the establishment synagogues. The disenfranchisement of women in our synagogues is a real concern and many women—and men—need a different venue. A short while ago I wrote about the need for a paradigm shift in Modern Orthodox prayer services. The presence of women in the synagogue needs to be felt, and their voices need to be heard. The partnership minyan is an excellent example of this type of necessary paradigm shift, and I, for one, wish to see them go mi-ḥayil el ḥayil, from strength to strength.
Rabbi Zev Farber, Atlanta
 Two technical notes: Rabbi Freundel states that he does not wish to discuss the already highly debated question of women reading from the Torah. Instead he limits his discussion to the Qabbalat Shabbat service. For the sake of this blog post, I will do the same and, as he suggests, will forego discussion of the oft-quoted Talmudic passage of kevod ha-tzibbur (the honor of the congregation), which forms the basis of the debate surrounding women’s Torah reading. Rabbi Freundel goes on to discuss whether kevod ha-briyot (human dignity) should be a mitigating factor in this debate – he thinks not – but I will skip over this issue for the sake of brevity, as I think it unnecessary to invoke kevod ha-briyot here.
January 8, 2013 | 12:12 pm
Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
I began reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables during the summer, around the time that my wife started rehearsing for the Jewish Women’s Reparatory Company’s production of the musical version. (The show was staged a month ago. I’m still reading…). Naturally, we rushed right out to the theater when the movie version came out a few weekends ago. The film is mercilessly true to its title, of course. I never drink, but I really felt that I could have used a shot of something as the credits were rolling.
But the story also features a great redemptive theme of course. And although Jean Valjean’s fall and rise is a great Christian drama of grace and self-sacrifice, Jews can easily enough transpose it into a story of profound teshuva, repentance. The sort of teshuva that Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik described as “redemptive”. It was for this reason that I was disappointed that one particular scene from Hugo’s tome was not chosen for the film (nor for the show I presume, but who can remember that far back?) I’m referring to the scene which portrays the essential moment and the primal power of teshuva, in a way that rivals and indeed exceeds almost any composition on the topic.
After leaving the bishop of Digne’s home with the additional gift of the silver candlesticks in tow, having been granted another chance and having been told by the bishop that his soul no longer belonged to evil but to good, Jean Valjean comes across a child who is in possession of a forty-sou piece. When the coin drops from the child’s hand and rolls toward Jean Valjean, he brings his heavy boot down upon it, and is deaf to the child’s pathetic pleadings that he lift his boot and return the coin to him. Soon enough, the child runs away, weeping. Jean Valjean watches until the child disappears into the darkness. And then, a moment later,
"…he shuddered; he had begun to feel the cold night air. He pulled his cap over his forehead, fumbling mechanically to do up his smock, took a step forward and stooped to pick his stick up off the ground. At that moment he spotted the forty-sou coin that he had half-ground into the dirt with his foot, and that was glistening among the pebbles. The sight of it was a bolt from the blue. “What the hell is that?” he hissed between clenched teeth."
Jean Valjean searches frantically for the child, screaming his name like a wildman and asking every passer-by if they had seen him. But all this proves futile, and the child is nowhere to be found.
"…his legs suddenly gave way beneath him as if an invisible power had suddenly bowled him over with the weight of his guilty conscience. He dropped, exhausted, onto a big slab of rock, his hands balled into fists and buried in his hair, his head propped on his knees, And he cried, “I am a miserable bastard”.
He burst into tears. It was the first time he had cried in nineteen years."
And the story of course pivots right there. This is teshuva’s primal essence.
All of us have felt regret over particular deeds that we’ve done. But how often do we part the clouds and see that it’s not the deeds, but the doer that is twisted and corrupt. How often does our introspection and reflection bore through the layer of specific actions we wish we could retrieve, and touch the heart the matter, the person who we are? It’s not that we don’t know that this is what we need to do if we hope to change, to redeem, ourselves. But we are often frightened by the sheer amount of courage and inner strength that parting the clouds requires.
Maybe it’s better that this scene didn’t make it from the page to the screen. This way, I have the freedom to imagine myself within it, rather than only having the image of its happening to 24601.
January 2, 2013 | 10:01 am
Posted by Rabbi Barry Gelman
Recently comments made by Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein on the topic of Homosexuality and the way that the Orthodox community approaches this issue have been posted on the internet. Follow the links below.
Follow this link for a statement of principles on the place those in the Orthodox community who have a homosexual orientation.
December 26, 2012 | 11:32 pm
Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
This one goes straight into my memoirs (if I ever write them).
This past Sunday, I had the privilege to officiate at the headstone unveiling for one of our shul’s most beloved members, who died just about a year ago. For privacy’s sake, I’ll call her Rose.
The unveiling ceremony opened with Rose’s daughter reading a letter she had found in her Mom’s house a few months earlier. It was a letter to her children filled with practical advice for living. Everything from how to dress for certain occasions, to how to hold on to Jewish tradition. Prominently featured in the letter was the advice to not get into squabbles and arguments with family members. “Always ask yourself”, Rose instructed, “whether you are quarrelling over something that’s really trivial”. Family bonds were precious as gold, Rose wrote, and should be treated as such. All of us present in the cemetery that morning had known Rose well. And we smiled through our tears as we could hear her voice saying all those things that were in her letter.
As is my custom when I officiate at unveilings, I asked everyone assembled to share his or her favorite memory of Rose. Some recalled the Passover Seders at Auntie Rose’s home, others remembered the birthday gifts she sent cross-country, a granddaughter recounted going shopping with Bubbe Rose. And then, without warning, it happened. One member of the family, roughly of Rose’s generation, stood up and faced the group. She said, “I always wanted to be like Rose when I grew up”. She then turned to a younger woman in the crowd, also a member of the family, and asked if they could finally reconcile, right there and then. And as we all watched silent and spellbound, the younger woman took several steps forward as well, and then literally over Rose’s grave, the two women embraced and wept. I heard myself simply whisper,”wow”.
We all aspire to be a source of blessing to our family and friends. And what I see now, as I never saw before, is that this aspiration need not be confined to the span of time when we actually walk the earth.
November 17, 2012 | 10:10 pm
Posted by Rabbi Barry Gelman
Recently I was involved in two great Modern Orthodox events.
Two weeks ago the American Jewish Committee honored the four senior Rabbi Emeritus of the Houston Jewish community, Rabbi Joseph Radinsky (Orthodox ), Rabbi Roy Walter (Reform), Rabbi Jack Segal (Conservative) and Rabbi Samuel Karff (Reform). I had the privilege to pay tribute to Rabbi Radinsky as the current Rabbi of each synagogue was asked to speak in honor of their emeritus. These four Rabbis were honored by the Houston Jewish community for their decades of service.
People often talk about how in well the synagogues of all the denominations work with each other and how all of the denominational rabbis respect each other and work well together in Houston. It is true and the reason is it is true is because the four honorees worked very hard on it. They all respected each other and valued what each was doing for the sake of the Jewish community.
I have been to many community dinners, but this one was the most meaningful of them all. The large turnout, the outpouring of love and the deep respect expressed at the dinner was overwhelming.
I consider it a great Modern Orthodox moment as, for me, it served as a vindication of the policy of Modern Orthodox rabbis to work with Rabbis of all denominations and to recognize that non-orthodox institutions are our partners is building and strengthening Jewish life.
The other great Modern Orthodox moment was the show I just returned from. Tonight the Houston Jewish community was treated to Musicals and The Bible. Rav Gal Ben Meir, a very talented musician and singer who is doing shlichut in our community as a teacher, is also a lover of Broadway musicals.
Over the last year, Rav Gal, as he is known, has been producing the show that teaches Jewish themes using some of the best known songs from popular Broadway shows.
Tonights show reviewed 11 key moments in Jewish history through the lens of songs form The Lion King, Wicked, Billy Elliot, Phantom of The Opera, Les Miserables, Oliver and others. The show was a dream come true for Rav Gal.
The narration, done by Rav Gal as well, made it clear that for years Rav Gal suppressed his desire to perform these types of songs, being told that show business, with it’s focus on fame and fortune was diametrically opposed to the inner and contemplative life of a pious Jew. Tonight, Rav Gal proved that aspects of popular culture could be used to teach important Jewish ideas and bring people a greater appreciation of their faith. It also proved to Rav Gal that he could achieve his dream and reminded al of those present that we should reach for the stars and not let anyone crush our dreams.
Kol Hakavod Rav Gal!