While everyone is still debating the current issue of women in rabbinic positions, essentially arguing with facts that are already on the ground, I’d like to offer a prediction about what the next issue will be: halakhic egalitarianism. I believe that the next area where the envelope will be pushed in the self-defined Orthodox community is women fulfilling mitzvos on behalf of the entire community which includes men. I am putting this on the table right now not because I want to encourage this direction, but because I believe it is the next step and we should be aware of it sooner rather than later. I am not, after all, the only one in the world who knows how to read, especially the sources below which were just published in a book by JOFA. This is where, in my admittedly speculative opinion, we will be in a few short years.
For years I wondered why the papers in the Conservative movement advocating for the ordination of women did not quote Tosafos in Rosh Hashanah 33a which suggests that someone who is not obligated in a mitzvah can fulfill it on behalf of someone who is obligated in it on a rabbinic level. While this view is a minority, it is adopted by the Magen Avraham (282:6). I suspect that Conservative scholars were looking to advocate that women can fulfill mitzvos for anyone, even those who are biblically obligated (cf. Prof. Joel Roth’s paper, note 69), and therefore this Tosafos was insufficient. But my prediction is that the next push of the envelope will be towards this type of halakhic egalitarianism.
I already see seeds of such a move. Note that I am not suggesting that either of the scholars I quote below are advocating for this. However, they presented the sources and readers are free to take them and use them.
The following is from R. Mendel Shapiro’s article on women’s aliyyos, reprinted in Chaim Trachtman ed., Women and Men in Communal Prayer: Halakhic Perspectives, p. 214:
Yet another explanation for why women may read [from the Torah] on behalf of men is offered by R. Samuel Halevi Kolin in Mahatsit ha-sheqel, and R. Aryeh Leib Gunzberg in Turei even, based on the principle of Tosafot that rabbinically ordained mitsvot (such as qeri’at ha-Torah) may be performed by the nonobligated on behalf of the obligated.
All you have to do is find rabbinic obligations and women can, according to this view, take the communal lead on them. How much in the synagogue service is not rabbinic? There are even sources that allow you to go farther.
The following is from R. Daniel Sperber’s “Congregational Dignity and Human Dignity” in Women and Men in Communal Prayer: Halakhic Perspectives, p. 117 n. 105a:
Let me give just one example of a reply I gave to someone who wrote to me questioning my argumentation in several comments. One of his comments was that a women who reads the Torah caunot through her reading satisfy the obligation of the male listener. This was a point that a number of critics made (such as Rabbi Shlomo Riskin in his article in Tehumin 28, 2008 (the English translation of this article that was published in Meorot 2008 is included in this book) and a point already made by Israel Francus in “The Ordination of Women as Rabbis,” ed. S. Greenberg (New York, 1988) pp. 40-43. My reply is that the Beit Yosef in Orah hayyim 74 cites the Agur in the name of the Maharil (Teshuvot Hadashot sect 45, subsection 2) who states that women may say the blessings over the Torah (birkat ha-Torah). For, argues the Maharil, though women are not obligated to study Oral Law (basing himself on b. Sotah 20a), if they studied Oral Law of their own initiative, they do receive reward. Hence, they are obligated in this degree by Rabbinic obligation (mi-de-rabbanan) and may satisfy the male listeners’ obligation. See also Tosafot on b. Rosh Hashanah 33a, the view of R”i, who states that women make blessings over all time-related mitsvot, since we learn that “all may be called up for the seven aliyyot, even women.” See further, the view of Rabbenu Tam, ibid. And see, too, Pri Megadim on the Taz, Orah hayyim 47:1, that even if birkat ha-Torah is of Biblical authority (mi-de-oraita), women may say it for men, since they too are Torah obligated (contrary to the views of the Birkei Yosef, ibid, sect. 8). And see the remarkable statement of R. Yair Hayyim Bachrach, Mekor Hayyim vol. I (Jerusalem 1982), sect. 17, 96, that women are included in [the concept of] having received all the Torah, and [the rule of] mutual obligation (‘arvut) …. and consequently they can say [with regard to time-related mitsvot] she-tsivanu “who has commanded us” …. having taken upon themselves these mitsvot, they are obligated (hayyavim). Accordingly, they can also satisfy the obligation of a male listener, on the principle of mutual obligation (‘arvut hadadit). See in further detail, Y. Shilat, Rosh Devarekha (Maale Aduminm, 1996), p. 262. We see, then, that there is ample halakhic evidence that a woman’s birkat ha-Torah will satisfy a male listener’s requirements.
I’m not quite sure that the quote from the Maharil is accurate — it doesn’t seem to say that to me — but I defer to R. Sperber’s expertise. Note, in particular, the quote from R. Bachrach, which I cannot verify because the book is very rare. This is the view of Prof. Joel Roth, that a woman who accepts on herself an obligation can fulfill it on behalf of a man who is biblically obligated. That is beyond the Tosafos and Magen Avraham. I suspect that just like we’ve seen partnership and Shirah Chadashah minyanim, we will eventually see Mekor Chaim minyanim as well, with or without rabbinic approval.