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. Responding to a Critique
As the discussion has gone on concerning my analysis of Partnership Minyanim in halakhah I find the critics going further and further afield to try and challenge what I wrote.
These arguments tend to share some troubling common characteristics.
- They misstate what I have written
- The cite me as saying things that others have written
- They challenge peripheral issues with an approach that seems to say that any flaw anywhere in my argument means it all falls, when I was at pains to show multiple arguments that each stand alone
- They draw parallels where none are warranted
- They present sources that support what I am saying as if they actually present a challenge
I do not know Chana Luntz and I don’t mean to be unkind, but her post on Avodah (link) does all of these things and more; while being written in an English that is often difficult to understand.
Let me begin by again stating the purpose of my article because much of what she claims that I didn’t cite simply is beyond the scope of what my goal was in my article.
I wrote an article about Partnership Minyanim (a new phenomenon in the Ashkenazi community where women lead things like Kabbalat Shabbat, Pesukei Dezimra etc. but not Maariv), and about why I believe that these services are halakhically unsustainable within our community. I first challenged those few halakhic defenses of Partnership Minyanim that I have read or heard and then provided many additional sources to challenge the practice. Inter alia I did discuss the custom of some communities that allow male children to lead Pesukei Dezimra and Kabbalat Shabbat because that practice does potentially challenge my conclusion and I then provided answers to that challenge. That is the totality of what this article required for its purposes on this last subject, and as such I did not write the definitive discussion of children leading any and all parts of davening as found in halakhic literature.
This introduction alone responds to 90% of what she says in a general sense (I will be more specific below) but I would add one other general point that takes care of most, if not all of the rest before I get to specifics.
Ms. Luntz cites Sefardi poskim such as R. Ovadiah Yosef and R Untermann in her presentation. Is she seriously suggesting that if they were asked whether women could lead Kabbalat Shabbat or Pesukei Dezimra they would say “yes”? Is the track record of Sefardi poskim on issues such as this one that suggests they would respond in the affirmative?
I think not and that alone raises some serious questions about the things that she is claiming in her post.
Turning to specifics I simply don’t have the time to keep writing ten page responses to these types of posts. So I will do so, hopefully for the last time, to show that what she says creates no problems for me and, in fact, in several important ways supports what I say which has been true all along with all of these challenges that have been raised.
II. Understanding the Beit Yosef
In her very first paragraph there are two serious misstatements
- She says
He (meaning me) then cites as (sic) Meiri, which he (me) quotes as “often cited as a critically important source supporting the arguments of those who see aliyot for women as acceptable”, but which, as he (me) correctly points out, does not discus (sic) prayer services in any great detail,
That is not what I said and more importantly, that is not what the Meiri says.
For at least the 7th or 8th time in my article and in these posts the Meiri says a) that a male child may get an aliyah b) but may not lead services AT ALL. Those who support Partnership Minyanim have used part a of this sentence to support aliyot for women but then have ignored part b and in fact have extrapolated to women leading parts of davening. This is a serious challenge to those who have defended Partnership Minyanim based on the articles that defend women getting aliyot, and that is why I discuss it as I do.
- She then continues:
although it (Meiri) does deal make reference to what is the critical halachic question, which is what is the situation for minors [katanim].(sic)
With all respect, the status of MINORS is not the critical question, the status of WOMEN is the critical question. One can accept any and all participation by male children and still not allow women to lead. I have already suggested that the Sefardic poskim Ms. Luntz cites who allow children to lead in some places in the davening all follow that view. This is true because the permissive argument for children is based on Chinukh which as I have shown repeatedly does not apply to women. I will have more to say about this as we go but even at this point the post has already shown a lack of credible argumentation.
Chana Luntz then goes on:
However it is somewhat astounding, to my mind, that Rabbi Freundel brings this Meiri, Tosepheta and other sources, but does (sic) bring what I would consider the more authoritative halachic literature on the subject. In my view, the key halachic source is rather this Beis Yosef Orech Chaim Siman 53 (letter 2): (sic)
Once again this is simply egregious. First, the source is letter 10 not letter 2. Second, the literature she refers to, including this source from Beit Yosef, is about children leading services not about women leading services and is not “the more authoritative halachic literature on the subject” unless one changes the subject from women to children, which seems to be her intent here. Third, I didn’t bring the Meiri; R. Mendel Schapiro did on p. 7 of his article and I am responding to that fact. Fourth, the Tosefta which she consistently denigrates is discussed repeatedly in the sources she cites and specifically in this text from the Beit Yosef, where what the Tosefta says is cited from Tractate Chullin in the paragraphs just above the one she cites. Therefore, since the Tosefta rejects women from any possibility of being Chazzanim and R. Yosef Caro both here and in Shulchan Arukh accepts the Tosefta’s conclusion (that only beard growing individuals, or potential beard growing individuals, can be chazzanim) and starts the discussion in both places from that point–these sources can’t possibly be justifying women leading services. Therefore, her comments here sadly range from irrelevant to profoundly wrong and in particular her downplaying of the Tosefta which she returns to at the end of her post ignores the fact that what the Tosefta says and its interpretation is codified in the very sources she cites.
The quote from Beit Yosef simply supports what I say, repeatedly, and really has no place in the conversation about Partnership Minyanim. I will go through it step by step using Ms. Luntz’ own translation and adding emphasis to illustrate. She writes:
it is derived explicitly that a katan is NOT permitted to go down before the ark even only on a casual basis and there is to wonder on that which is the custom that a katan goes down before the ark on Motzei Shabbatot and prays the prayer of Arvit,
So the discussion is about Maariv on Saturday nights and at this point in Beit Yosef no child (despite a custom to the contrary) and certainly no woman may lead.
Beit Yosef then suggests a view that a child can lead Maariv and not Shacharit because Shacharit contains things that are chiyuvim (this seems to be based on the idea that Maariv is a reshut and not a chiyuv discussed just below), and therefore for Shacharit only one who is chayav may fulfill the obligation for others. He does not distinguish Pesukei Dezimra from the rest of Shacharit (probably because, pace the Rambam as discussed in my response to Prof. Kaplan there is no chazzan at that point in the services in Sefardi circles), and tells of two great Rabbis who actively and forcefully worked against the practice of children leading Maariv.
So at this point again, no children and no women.
We then have Beit Yosef, bringing Rashba citing Ravad, saying what I cite R Uziel as also saying and going even further that because of the rabbinic requirement of chinukh children might lead the davening which is also rabbinic. So at this point children may lead but not women
But children may lead because their leading fulfills a chiyuv (of chinukh). This as Ms. Luntz herself says is the basis of all the Sefardic allowances for children. This is not a type 2 chazzan who just sets the pace and chooses the tunes. It is actually an extended type 1 chazzan who is there to fulfill an obligation which women do not have. I have some problems as I say in my article with this extension of the chinukh chiyuv in this way. Nonetheless it gets you to male children at most and not to women (more below)
But, Rashba continues, such a plan involves a violation of Kavod ha-tzibbur if a child (not a woman) leads.
So at this point, no children and no women.
Nonetheless Beit Yosef argues that the community may forego its honor and so it might be ok for male children to lead Maariv.
In other words it is only because children fit into the category of chinukh that we might suggest that they lead, but that might impact the tzibbur’s kavod. Yet there may be a way around that concern as well according to Beit Yosef.
But this dynamic doesn’t occur with women because they can’t get past the first obstacle since there is no mitzvah of chinukh when it comes to them and therefore they cannot lead the services. Hence we need not approach the issue of kavod ha-tzibbur at all in their case.
So at this point, children may lead but not women.
Beit Yosef then cites Rashi who would not let male children lead because only those who have a chiyuv (for tefillah) can lead, to which Beit Yosef responds that Maariv is different since it is a Reshut and not a Chovah.
My article spends a great deal of time showing that Kabbalat Shabbat is a chovah (derived from minhag) and the fact that it is recited every week (essentially). Pesukei Dezimra is, from Talmudic times, a requirement. We today treat Maariv as a chovah in that we do not see Maariv as optional on any given night and Partnership Minyanim do not allow women to lead Maariv on Friday nights because certainly on Friday nights since the insertion of Magen Avot, Maariv is a chiyuv.
So again, Partnership Minyanim have no support here.
Further for Ms. Luntz, how has a source that discusses male children leading Maariv which is thought to be a reshut (which means it doesn’t reflect our contemporary halakhic reality), which also includes several authorities who were absolutely opposed to that practice (or to children leading anything), in any way a challenge to my position on Partnership Minyanim, even if Beit Yosef, based on Chinukh, Maariv as a reshut and mechilat kevod ha-tzibbur allowed these young boys to lead there is still no challenge to what I say.
Parenthetically, Beit Yosef cites Kavod ha-tzibbur here but not from a Talmudic source. I said that there is no Talmudic source citing Kavod ha-tzibbur in relation to prayer services and particularly prayer services for women and that remains true. Later authorities mention it but I do not include it in my article so its mention does not touch the points that I make.
III. Other Sources
Ms. Luntz goes on to cite the Mechaber as saying that we should find a defense for those communities that allow a katan to lead Maariv on Motzaei Shabbat. I again fail to see the relevance (his defense is presumably what he said in Beit Yosef). Again, it is male children, not women, and Maariv as reshut, and no other prayers. Also I believe no communities follow this practice today, and Ms. Luntz cites none who do. So what part of what I say is challenged by all of this?
Ms. Luntz then cites the Ramo in two places being absolutely opposed to children as chazzanim and saying “a katan cannot go down before the ark EVEN FOR the prayer of Arvit”, and apparently for no other prayer either. Now as I have said several times Partnership Minyanim are an Ashkenazi phenomenon. As such any challenges to me from children leading Pesukei Dezimra or Kabbalat Shabbat should end right here and any Ashkenazi shuls letting kids lead these things should stop right now. Again the sources support me. They do not challenge me.
We then see two versions of Dagul Mervavah, both of which speak of Maariv as a reshut, which is not how we see it today. Both versions exclude the katan from Friday night Maariv but allow him to lead on other nights because Maariv is a reshut. We have already responded to all of this and despite Ms. Luntz assertions these sources are irrelevant to my discussion.
What follows is Ms. Luntz’s most disingenuous comment in her entire post. She writes and I will interject
as can easily be seen from these sources, that distinctions can and are made within halacha between those parts of the prayer service in which the leader needs to exempt the obligations of others (this is only in her version of the dagul mervava but not in R. Ovadiah’s version and not in the other sources where the issue is only Maariv as reshut verses chova which Dagul Mervava cites in her version of his text as well), where a katan cannot fulfill those roles and others where he may (not according to Ramo et al and only in Maariv when it is seen as a reshut according to others- there is no wide ranging permissive stance from anyone she cites as she suggests), but where there may be issues of kovod hatzibbur. It seems to me that without these sources you cannot have a meaningful discussion about the topic, and that it is rather odd that they have not been quoted in favour of a Meiri.
But Ms. Luntz fails to point out that I do distinguish between the role of the chazzan in chazzarat hashatz etc. where he fulfills the obligation of others and his role elsewhere where he serves to create the tzibbur for tefillah be-tzibbur and she leaves out the part of the Beit Yosef where citing Ravad and Rashba, the katan only has a role because the rabbinical mitzvah of chinukh applies to him so that he can recite berakhot and tefillot which are derabannan for others. All of this would preclude women from the role.
Further, please see above regarding the Meiri. He is here because R. Schapiro brought him to the dance – not me.
Ms. Luntz moves on to a discussion of Kavod ha-tzibbur but I don’t cite that issue and don’t see it as relevant so that even though some of what she says supports my position I am not moving to embrace that concern. As I have said before, Aryeh Frimer deals with this in his critique of Partnership Minyanim but it doesn’t belong in a discussion of my article. I would only point out that the Bach which she quotes here and is central to what she says is also based on the Tosefta that she so denigrates.
Next she, quite unfairly, does what R. Farber did previously and uses her understanding of Kavod ha-tzibbur against my position. She says:
the real issue at (sic) portrayed by this portion of the Bach, and the part picked up by the Taz and Magen Avraham is that you would not send a child to represent a community for an important matter. In past times one would also almost certainly not send a woman, but I doubt that is the case today – many countries have female ambassadors – I doubt there are any that have children. Whether this changes the nature of this halacha is an interesting question.
Maybe it is interesting for some, but I never raised this issue in my article in part to avoid this type of argument and in part because the Gemara doesn’t raise Kavod ha-tzibbur in regard to women and tefillah. It is simply dishonest scholarship to associate me with a position I never articulated and then to try to score points by challenging that position which I never presented. Again this raises questions about the seriousness of her post.
IV. Sefardim and Ashkenazim
Ms. Luntz then offers an ad hominem attack:
But the real problem with Rabbi Freudel’s (sic) analysis is, as I have mentioned, that in his zeal to write partnership minyanim out of Orthodoxy, appears to be doing a good job to write the Sefardi Community wholesale out of Orthodoxy.
Now I have said here and previously that Partnership Minyanim are an Ashkenazi phenomenon. As such it is the positions of Ashkenazi poskim that are relevant to them to a far greater degree than Sefardi poskim. So this attack is just preposterous. Second, I cited and analyzed Rav Uziel on male children and Pesukei Dezimra in my article. Third, is Ms. Luntz suggesting that Sefardi poskim who do not allow women to recite Kaddish in shul or say a blessing on mitzvoth for which they are exempt would accept Partnership Minyanim? Based just on what I have said a woman could not say Barukh She’amar the berakhah that begins Pesukei Dezimra since women have no chiyuv for Pesukei Dezimra.
Her next statement concedes the entire issue. Ms. Luntz states:
Because the Sefardi approach to chinuch (and this may not be true of the Spanish and Portuguese, who are after all very European, I do not know, but is very much the case amongst the Gibralterians, Moroccans, Iraqis and various others of my acquaintance) involves the active participation of katanim in a way that is flabbergasting to your average Ashkenazi.
But if the rationale is chinukh, as I cite Rav Uziel as saying in my article, then for the umpteenth time this does not and cannot apply to women. So again, Partnership Minyanim are illegitimate and that is what I wrote about and what I said.
Now I did raise a question about Rav Uziel’s position but I never suggested that to follow his opinion puts one outside of Orthodoxy. If this is what Ms. Luntz is reacting to I suggest she go back and reread what I wrote and apologize for wasting our time.
Ms. Luntz then says:
Now Rabbi Freudel (sic) does note this, but appears to treat it as some sort of halachic aberration.
As far as I know, I raised some questions about the practices but never used terminology like this. And the questions are legitimate. Rav Ovadiah Yosef, Rav Uziel and the Mechaber (all of whom she cites), all indicate some trouble with these practices even while defending them.
Ms. Luntz then quotes Rav Uzziel, whom I quoted, back at me. This is just strange. So is the claim that many communities allow children to lead Pesukei Dezimra (a point which I also made though I said “some”). While this is interesting those communities still need to provide halakhic rationale for doing so. And if that rationale is chinukh, as it appears to be, that raises the questions which I asked in my article. Even if the rationale is accepted that does not offer license for Partnership Minyanim, which is my subject unless you sidetrack me into this discussion, large parts of which are irrelevant to my point despite her claims to the contrary.
The Quote from Rav Yosef is even stranger since he challenges the leniencies suggested by Ms. Luntz throughout her post in terms similar to my own concerns and again limits any possible leniency to Maariv which he sees as a reshut. (how a katan would do this, since it includes Barchu and Kaddish is unclear but again his only basis is chinukh which is not applicable to women).
We then get a series of customs that occur in Sefardi shuls which find children doing various things that are troubling even to Sefardi poskim. Again, this is all under the rubric if chinukh and doesn’t involve women.
Ms. Luntz then takes an unconscionable leap and declares that what she herself has called practices that emerge from chinukh represent R. Farber’s second type of Chazzan who only sets the pace and chooses the tunes, but again she cites no one who says so. This is the same wishful thinking we have seen all along in this dialogue. Everything she says about a katan is predicated on the chiyuv of chinukh. As such, if a katan leads, he does so as a sort of type 1 chazzan fulfilling a chiyuv and not as R. Farber’s type 2 who has no chiyuv at all. I am sorry but this is just not serious halakhic analysis.
To allow a male child to lead parts of the service because of the rabbinic mitzvah of chinukh, whatever questions I may have (and Rav Ovadiah has) about that practice is still dramatically different than allowing women with no halakhic chiyuv or basis to do the same. No Sefardi posek makes that leap and, as I have said, I seriously doubt anyone would. Also, continuing to distinguish between Maariv, which some Sefardi poskim are willing to still see as a reshut other than on Friday nights, and Maariv on other nights does not get you to the practices of Partnership Minyanim which do not deal with weekday Maariv.
Finally, Ms. Luntz challenges my use of the Tosefta again despite the fact that many of the sources she cites especially those from Caro and the Bach explicitly cite this source and accept it. Again I find this to be very troubling as a serious halakhic presentation.
In sum, there is no question that Sefardi practice, despite some hesitation from Sefardi poskim, allows male children to do things that Ashkenazim do not. The rationale for this is chinukh, which is not applicable to women and I already mention all of this in my article
Partnership Minyanim are an Ashkenazi phenomenon, so while this is all interesting it isn’t relevant and in any case no Sefardi posek allows women to lead any part of the services.
No Sefardi posek cites R. Farber’s second type of chazzan and if it did exist there would be no need to mention chinukh as the rationale.
Maariv is the prototype here because it is still seen as a reshut by some in the Sefardi world–but not by Ashkenazim
Everyone, including me knows that some parts of the service require a chazzan who fulfills peoples obligations and some parts do not. My article spends a good deal of time explaining what this second type of chazzan is and I have shown repeatedly that it is not R. Farber’s type 2 chazzan and nothing Ms. Luntz writes comes close to changing any of that.
I end with a plea. Can we please be a little more responsible in our halakhic analysis and save everyone the time and effort of going through this type of exchange.