Guest post by R. Dr. Barry Freundel
Rabbi Barry Freundel is the rabbi of Kesher Israel congregation in Washington, DC, Associate Professor of Rabbinics and Liturgy at Towson University, Vice President of the Vaad of Washington and head of the conversion committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. His books include Why We Pray What We Pray: The Remarkable History of a Jewish Prayer and Contemporary Orthodox Judaism’s Response To Modernity.
I. Weak Responses
I have not had a chance to thoroughly review the last week or so of posts about my article, but I have seen and been told about several of them and particularly about some recurring themes in them. I intend to respond to three of these here and hope in the next week or so to read through the rest and see if they need a reaction. Prior to the specifics, a general comment in reaction to an ethos spread by the internet age that is profoundly troubling precisely because it reflects the glorification of a lack of seriousness, and that has been evident here.
I have no problem with people challenging or questioning what I write or say here or elsewhere–with one proviso: that they base the challenge either on a source or sources or on at least a somewhat logically rigorous argument. A presentation of that nature levels the playing field and regardless of whatever credentials I might have, deserves a respectful response which on occasion may even be a reconsideration and reformulation of what I have said. That happened here when Lawrence Kaplan raised the Rav’s article and I responded (though I state again that what the Rav writes clearly supports what I say to such an extent that if I revise the Partnership Minyan article at some point the Rav’s analysis would get its own section). (I may have more to say about Dr. Kaplan’s response at another time).
But what I find troubling in the context of halakhic or academic argumentation is people who think that sitting behind a keyboard and (often anonymously) declaring “I don’t agree”, “that’s a weak argument”, “I think that’s wrong”, or similar sentiments, with essentially no textual or conceptual support for their statements, is an action that contributes anything of value to the conversation. When students do things like this in my classes they appropriately get an F on their assignment.
I would ask those who respond in this way to recognize that the determination we make about Partnership Minyanim or anything else being analyzed in a halakhic and historic context is simply not subject to individual sentiments such as these. As I have said before, halakhah and academic research are not the servants of emotions. Challenging an extensive research project by someone with the credentials to accomplish that research in this way is simply not serious, though unfortunately in too many places in this world it has been accepted as such.
Again I welcome arguments from text or logic, but truly wonder where we got the idea that our feeling state or someone’s emotional reaction, untested against the realities of what exists, belongs in a discussion of this type. I am not trying to offend anyone (though in this era I am sure I have). I am simply trying to challenge people to move beyond purely subjective reactions to investigate, analyze, research, conceptualize, etc. at least to a certain extent. Halakhah and historic analysis are not about how anyone feels, certainly until and unless we first understand the factual structure in which we are operating, and we would all do well to realize that reality.
A step up from this (or maybe only a half-step), is the attempt made by one commenter to explain why no one has responded to my challenge from the Meiri. Again the Meiri says that young boys can be called to the Torah because “the intent is only to have it (the reading) be heard by the people, and this is not a complete mitzvah like other mitzvot about which it is said “whoever is not required… (cannot fulfill the obligation of the many)” And even though he says a blessing, after-all he has a connection to Torah study to the point where others are required to teach him. Similarly the child may translate (offer the Aramaic targum). But he may not divide the Shema (understood to mean recite Barhu in the presence of a minyan that is not praying so that he can then go on to the sections of Shema and the Amidah having offered this important liturgy that requires a prayer quorum for its recitation) and he does not go down before the ark (he cannot serve as Chazzan).”
This commenter suggests that Meiri is allowing boys to function as Chazzan for things like Pesukei De-Zimra and Kabbalat Shabbat here. Such a reading is simply wishful thinking. The Meiri is clearly making a distinction. A child may do x and he may not do y. The x is to be called to the Torah; the y is to lead services. If there were parts of the service that a child could lead Meiri, if he were functioning responsibly (which I assume he was), would need to specify those parts here in detail. To suggest that he is saying here that a child can both be called to the Torah and lead some parts of the services, but not others, simply denies the reality of what this text says. Again the lack of any indication of someone as Chazzan who is other than a full grown man for any part of the service is reaffirmed–despite yet another attempt to put words in the mouths of halakhic authorities that they did not say. Further my challenge to those who cite Meiri with regard to women and leining and then ignore Meiri’s undeniable statement not to extrapolate his position to prayer (all present in this text) simply shows again that we are in a universe of verdict first; evidence second.
III. Descending to the Lectern
The commenter also makes the claim that the term Yored lifnei ha-teivah is a term of art referring only and specifically to sections of the davening that require a minyan (others might phrase this as “containing a davar she-bi-kedushah”). Unfortunately (and this is why I suggest that this is no more than half a step better than the arguments from personal sentiments), the commenter makes this claim having clearly done no research to see if this is true. One of the things that happens when you get a halakhic position correct is that when you do additional research more and more sources appear that support the conclusion you have reached. That has happened several times in this inquiry and it happened again on investigating the term Yored lifnei ha-teivah. In fact there are at least 3 places in rabbinic literature where this term is clearly used in a setting that involves a tefillah that is not a davar she-bi-kedushah and does not require a minyan.
The first is Shabbat 24b and the gemara cited in my article on Magen Avot where initially the Chazzan is Yored lifnei ha-teivah simply to extend the time of davening because of danger. There is no hint of a davar she-bi-kedushah or a tefillah be-tzibbur at the beginning of that process and yet contra our commenter it is called yored lifnei ha-teivah. Interestingly the Yerushalmi Pesachim 10:2 37(C), records that the Chazzan is Yored lifnei ha-teivah to recite Magen Avot only if there is no wine for Kiddush and then this prayer becomes the Kiddush. In other words Kiddush is recited by someone who is yored lifnei ha-teivah and so again this commenter is incorrect.
Second, another very famous Gemara, Ta’anit 25b, tells of a fast day on which R Eliezer was Yored lifnei ha-teivah and recited the requisite 24 berakhot (clearly a tefillah be-tzibbur setting) and wasn’t answered. He was then followed by R. Akiva who was “yored acharav” and recited “Avinu Malkeinu” (clearly not a tefillah be-tzibbur prayer) who received a response. Yet Yored lifnei ha-teivah applied to him as well.
Now all of this is easily available and should have been researched before someone made blanket claims about the meaning of terms in rabbinic literature. It is troubling (and this commenter is not the only one) that people take on serious issues like this and make definitive statements without doing even a minimum amount of research
IV. Moshe’s Hands
The third is the most intriguing and fruitful for our purposes. In Mekhilta Derashbi 17:12 and Yalkut Shimoni Beshalakh 264, the war with Amalek, where Moshe prays with his arms in the air and Aaron and Hur hold his arms aloft, is seen as the source that teaches that at least on some occasions 3 people should be Yored lifnei ha-teivah, one Chazzan and 2 to assist. But in the original setting involving Moshe, clearly there was no tefillah be-tzibbur and no davar she-bi-kedushah and in fact no formal prayer (historically the event is far earlier than any formalization). Yet what they did is seen as yored lifnei ha-teivah. Again the commenter’s claim is simply incorrect.
Also, there are only three people present here, and yet this is seen as a legitimate place to discuss yored lifnei ha-teivah. In my article I discuss tefillat rabim which, as Afarkasta De-Anya says, is defined by having a minimum of three at prayer and which Rav Kook says is a form of tefillah be-tzibbur.
V. Tefillat Rabim
Mentioning tefillat rabim allows me to respond to another series of troubling comments–those that suggest that tefillat rabim is either my invention or some type of outlandish chiddush.
First, in addition to Rav Kook and Rav David Sperber, the concept is mentioned by the Shakh in explaining a halakhah in Shulchan Arukh. Simply put, not only didn’t I create the idea, but important authorities have referred to it in halakhic contexts. That certainly gives me license to do so as well.
Second, if there is a chiddush here it is only that I may be the first to discuss Kabbalat Shabbat and Pesukei De-Zimrah in relation to tefillat rabim, but I have not changed even one of the parameters of tefillat rabim as described by previous halakhic authorities. The fact that I may be the first to ask whether Kabbalat Shabbat and Pesukei De-Zimrah might be tefillat rabim simply means that Partnership Minyanim have raised questions that demand that we look through existing halakhic categories to see what applies and what doesn’t apply. Such is the way of Torah. It is the essence of doing work on contemporary halakhah to apply existing halakhic categories that may have been relatively dormant in the literature that are then brought forward to respond to situations that match their criteria. If you don’t do this halakhah and the halakhic process come to a screeching halt. I could cite dozens of examples.
But what is not within the halakhic process is to claim that there is a Chazzan type 2 (sets the pace and chooses the tunes), when there is no such a typology in the sources and when there are at least a half dozen places that I have pointed out where if such a thing existed it would need to be mentioned. Similarly suggesting new halakhic categories for women based on deaf mutes when women do not meet the criteria that allow for the proposed change in deaf mute status is precisely the type of out of the box chiddush that I am being accused of. And I believe any objective reading of this discussion shows that I have functioned within appropriate halakhic methodology, while those on the other side have not.
That is also true for those who continue to raise the fact that in some communities young boys lead Kabbalat Shabbat and Pesukei De-Zimrah. First that fact alone does not mean that women can lead even if the practice is halakhically fine. One needs to do some work to make that connection and no one that I have seen has. Second, many of the commenters have it completely backwards. By all accounts that is a relatively recent (no more than a decade or two) innovation. What halakhic sources allow it? I have indicated that I was always uncomfortable with the practice precisely because it seemed to diminish the importance of significant parts of the service. New practices are almost always subject to challenges like this that must be met. Again, such is the way of Torah. As such the defenders of this practice have the burden of proof. If you change things you need to find support for the innovation.
In my review of the literature I found only Rav Uziel’s hesitant defense. Again, he bases the practice on the mitzvah of chinukh (which as I have shown is weak here), and which cannot be used to justify women leading that service.
How any of this provides any kind of challenge to my position is beyond any reasonable halakhic extrapolation from the sources and this history and just points out again that there is no reasonable halakhic defense for Partnership Minyanim.
If I find some time I may do a more thorough review and response to the other comments here, but I say again that I still have seen no halakhic defense of Partnership Minyanim that in any way conforms to appropriate Orthodox methodology. I know that a significant group of people wish that this were not so, but that is just not the reality. So in the end, absent any new information it comes down to a choice whether one is committed to and believes in the halakhic process or not.