On Partnership Minyanim

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In the latest issue of Tradition, Rabbis Dov and Aryeh Frimer have published a comprehensive article on women being called to the Torah, with an appendix on Partnership Minyanim. Their conclusion is that halakhah does not allow any of it. The article is available here: link (PDF). Two other letters/articles are available, one by R. Hershel Schachter (link-PDF) and another by R. Gedalia Dov Schwartz (link-PDF). Not posted online but provided to me via e-mail is a letter from R. Nachum Rabinovich. See below at the end for it. (I post these all with permission)

R. Schwartz concludes that:

“Davening” and “Kriat HaTorah” as it has been observed in Torah observant communities for many centuries rejects creating a profile of worship that is alien to normative balanced congregational activity. As a rav who has extended himself in being sensitive to women’s educational and marital rights, I reject the support for “Partnership Minyanim” halachically and intuitively as going beyond the bounds of communal Torah observance.

R. Hershel Schachter’s article is ably discussed by R. Yitzchok Adlerstein: link

Here are some selected quotes from the Frimers’ article:

[U]nder the bifurcated oleh/ba’al keri’ah system, because women are not obligated in keri’at ha-Torah, they cannot read for others, nor can others read for them. Should they do so, the Torah reading benedictions may well be for naught. This conclusion is me-ikkar ha-din (the basic law) according to the overwhelming majority of posekim and has nothing to do with kevod ha-tsibbur (which we have yet to discuss). This conclusion challenges and undermines the prevalent keri’at ha-Torah practice in nearly all egalitarian/“Partnership” Minyanim (see Addendum); unless the woman who gets the aliyya reads for herself aloud, the birkhot keri’at ha-Torah will be berakhot le-vattala. However, if the woman who gets an aliyya does indeed read for herself, then we have come to the issue of kevod ha-tsibbur…

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In conclusion, we have presented three fundamental explanations of kevod ha-tsibbur found in the halakhic literature. Contrary to R. Mendel Shapiro’s understanding, in none of these explanations is the social stand-ing of women a consideration.Furthermore, we have demonstrated that, regarding women’s aliyyot, the overwhelming majority of posekim would forbid setting aside kevod ha-tsibbur, except in the rare situation of bona fi de widespread communal illiteracy. Since this is rarely the situation, there is generally no halakhic justification to set aside kevod ha-tsibbur to permit women’s aliyyot.

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We conclude, therefore, that even if there were grounds to set aside kevod ha-tsibbur, this is precluded by clear longstanding custom and practice.

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In summary, an in-depth survey of the posekim and the established rules for the application of kevod ha-beriyyot inexorably leads one to respectfully conclude that R. Sperber’s attempt to apply kevod ha-beriyyot to the issue of women’s aliyyot is both unsubstantiated and erroneous.

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In conclusion, a more general application of kevod ha-tsibbur – according to either of the above defi nitions of bizyon ha-mitsva or tseni’ut – leads several leading posekim to a further conclusion. In addition to women’s aliyyot, many of the other practices of Partnership Minyanim in which women lead public ritual are halakhically unacceptable. This principle would preclude the appointment of women as a shelihot tsibbur for the recitation of any regular communal prayer or ritual such as pesukei de-zimra, Kabbalat Shabbat, communal Hallel and for the reading of the Megillot.

R. Nachum Rabinovich’s letter reads:

We are indebted to the distinguished Frimer brothers, Rabbi Aryeh and Rabbi Dov, הי”ו for their wide-ranging and apparently exhaustive study “Women, Keriat HaTorah and Aliyot”. They have defined the basic issues in a manner which makes clear that their conclusions are sound and on the whole entirely implicit in the halachic tradition.

Regarding R. Rabinovich’s view, the following is from the Frimers’ paper, note 396:

R. Moshe Mordechai Karp, supra, note 389. R. Rabinovitch, supra note 389, clarified that halakha le-ma’ase (in practice) he would not allow women to lead any of the accepted tefillot including pesukei de-zimra or kabbalat Shabbat. Nonetheless, it is important to emphasize that tefillot be-tsibbur, pesukei de-zimrah and kabbalat Shabbat are not all cut from the same halakhic cloth. They are, therefore, not of the same level of stringency – which may have halakhic significance in specific, she’at ha-dehak situations.
Thus, while there is no question that women cannot lead tefillot be-tsibbur, pesukei de-zimra is historically somewhat different. In fact, there were communities in the past where no shali’ah tsibbur was appointed to lead pesukei de-zimra. What is more, the opening benediction Barukh sheAmar is nowhere mentioned in the Talmud – suggesting perhaps that these Psalms were recited privately. We today, however, have generally accepted the Geonic custom of appointing a shali’ah tsibbur to lead in the recitation of pesukei de-zimra beginning with berakha – Barukh sheAmar – and closing with a berakha – Yishtabach; see, supra, notes 392 and 393. According to this widespread minhag which invokes bookend benedictions, pesukei de-zimra is indeed part of tefilla be-tsibbur and as such commands the rules of kevod ha-tsibbur. Consequently, R. Nachum Rabinovitch rules in practice that it would be forbidden for women to lead pesukei de-zimra – although in origin it is of a lesser degree of stringency than the rest of public prayer.
Similar considerations apply to Kabbalat Shabbat which was initiated by the mekubalim of Safed only in the 16th century. This service is merely a collection of seven chapters of Psalms bracketing the piyyut Lekha Dodi recited on Erev Shabbat. See: R. Jacob Emden (Yaavets), Siddur Bet Yaakov, Seder Kabbalat Shabbat, attributes the custom to R. Moses Cordovero (1522-1570); R. Issacher Jacobson, Netiv Bina, II (Sinai: Tel Aviv, 1987), sec. 1, p. 30-31. See also the in depth discussion of R. Yechiel Goldhaber, “Likrat Shabbat Lekhu veNelkha (Part A),” Kovets Bet Aharon veYisrael, XI:4 (64), Nissan-Iyar 5756, pp. 119-138, at p. 127ff. Kabbalat Shabbat is generally said from the bimah, and not the amud, in order to demonstrate that it is not really part of the formal davening; see: R. Abraham Werdiger, Siddur Tselota deAvraham, IV (Shabbat II), p. 17; R. Issacher Jacobson, Netiv Bina, II (Sinai: Tel Aviv, 1987), sec. 1, p. 33; R. Yechiel Goldhaber, “Likrat Shabbat Lekhu veNelkha (Part B),” Kovets Bet Aharon veYisrael, XI:6 (66), Av-Elul 5756, pp. 91-112, at p. 99ff and note 79 therein. In the Alt Neu Shul in Prague and elsewhere, it was the custom to recite Kabbalat Shabbat with musical instruments very early on Friday afternoon, as early as 90 minutes or more before the Sabbath. The music stopped ca. 30 minutes before the Sabbath when the women went home to light candles. See: R. Aaron Epstein, Resp. Kapei Aharon, sec. 20; R. Daniel Sperber, Minhagei Yisrael, IV (Mosad haRav Kook: Jerusalem, 5755), Chapter 1; R. Yechiel Goldhaber, “Likrat Shabbat Lekhu veNelkha (Part D),” Kovets Bet Aharon veYisrael, XIII:1 (73), Tishrei-Heshvan 5758, pp. 119-134. (We thank Prof. Shnayer Leiman for bringing these latter sources, and particularly the outstanding Golhaber series of articles, to our attention.) As a result, Kabbalat Shabbat is of a lesser degree of stringency even to that of pesukei de-zimra. Nonetheless, the almost universal custom today is to incorporate Kabbalat Shabbat into the Erev Shabbat davening, recited immediately prior to Maariv. In addition, it is said today by Ashkenazim, led by a shali’ah tsibbur (although there are no berakhot) wearing a tallit (see supra, note 395). The result is this minhag Yisrael also warrants that the principles of kevod ha-tsibbur apply. Therefore, in practice R. Rabinovitch would not allow a woman to lead Kabbalat Shabbat.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link of New Jersey, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student recently served on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

3 comments

  1. “In fact, there were communities in the past where no shali’ah tsibbur was appointed to lead pesukei de-zimra.”

    Kabbalat services in most Sephardic traditions do not have a Sheliach Tzibur, it is read/sung aloud by the entire congregation. The partnership minyan issue doesn’t even feature here, there’s nothing to lead.

    Pesukei dezimrah on Shabbat can vary, usually a few people will split it between them,but not from the bimah, with some bits chanted together. So there’s a bit more a a sheliach tzibbur status going on compared to Friday night, but it’s not really and it’s often children.

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