One of the problems troubled the Modern Orthodox movement is its lack of structure. As noted elsewhere, it is too often defined in the negative. It is not Chareidi and it's not heterodox. What it is, however, is harder to define.
There are those who who this nebulous definition to push the boundaries of acceptable Torah observant behaviour in order to satisfy their personal inclinations and desires. Too often these initiatives are undertaken in order to minimize the conflict that many in the Modern Orthodox community undergo when Jewish law and practice conflict with the values of the surrounding secular society.
One of the areas that is pushed most is that of tefilah, prayer. Davening is traditionally a male-dominated affair as women lack the obligation of tefilah b'tzibur that is incumbent upon males. However, we live in a society that strives towards full egalitarianism (except in divorce court, for some odd reason, but I'll save that for a different rant) and this discordance can be quite troubling for the observant Jew who wants to be traditional but also in sync with current values and mores.
The answer for some has been to try and push the boundaries of egalitarianism within the Jewish prayer service. For example, under the guidance of Tova Hartman of the Hartman Institute, the Shirah Hadashah congregation in Israel has created all sorts of innovations and even a mini-guidebook to explain the halachic basis of the liberties they have taken with expanding the role of women within the conventional prayer service. I've previously reviewed this booklet and shown how it abuses the halachic process in order to come to a pre-determined set of answers.
Now comes news from Toronto courtesy of The Canadian Jewish News that another group of pioneers are greating an egalitarian Orthodox minyan called the Partnership minyan. Now, this isn't the first foray of Modern Orthodoxy into egalitarian practice. For decades, many MO synagogues had something called family seating in which married couples and young children sat together while older singles sat in separate wings. With only one exception, these synagogues all left Orthodoxy to join the Conservative movement.
Despite the impressive curriculum vitae of some of its founders, this Partnership minyan misses the point of halachic davening in several major areas, especially that of Krias HaTorah.
With reference to other parts of the service, there is much debate amongst the authorities about the obligations incumbent upon women. This is important to review as some Orthodox egalitarian congregations encourage women to lead certain parts of the service based on certain assumptions.
Krias Shema, for example, is a time-bound positive injunction which implies women are exempt from reciting it, but the Rambam holds that women are obligated to accept the yoke of Heaven upon themselves daily implying that they should say it to fulfill the mitzvah. As for Pesukei D'zimrah, the Mishnah Berurah considers it an adjunct to the Amidah which women are obligated to say and therefore holds that they have to pray that too. However, in his Shaar HaTziun commentary, he questions that assumptom. The Aruch HaShulchan and Kaf HaChayim seem to compromise by saying that women can say pesukei d'zimrah but are not obligated to. However, this would lead to a problem for the Shirah Hadashah congregation which explicity allows women to lead that part of the service. If pesukei d'zimrah is obligatory upon men and not upon women, how can someone who is not obligated (the potential chazanit) fulfill the requirement for those who can (the men)?
The next issue in terms of women leading services comes from the issue of kol ishah (Berachos 24a). Like se'aros ishah, there has been much discussion amongst some modern poskim (see Seridei Eish 2:8, Tzitz Eliezer 5:2 for examples). The most lenient position seems to be that of the German poskim who allowed women to sing zemiros with men. However, it seems clear that a solo chazanit leading services in a shul was not what they had in mind when they permitted this. Thus for a woman to lead services, especially during pesukei d'zimrah where much of the singing is simply the shaliach tzibur moving from paragraph to paragraph, there would be a problem permitting this. The only way around would be to have her read the relevant parts out loud instead of sing them but when contrasted with the ability of the male prayer leaders to sing the same sections, the result would be a highling of the inequality, not a blurring which is clearly the Partnership's intention.
The basis for the belief that women can have aliyos in Torah observant shuls comes from a very suggestive baraisa (Megillah 23a): "The Rabbis taught: All (who go to read the Torah) count towards the seven (who are called up), even a child, even a woman. However, the Sages said: a woman should not read from the Torah out of consideration for the dignity of the congregation (k'vod hatzibur)." This ruling is brought almost verbatim by the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 282:3) and the Rema, far from disputing it, only qualifies it by noting that since the baraisa uses the word "even" it implies that women and children can have some of the aliyos but not all of them. Even then, he does not set an upper limit so theoretically according to his ruling, women could take six of the seven aliyos.
Rav Yehuda Herzl Henkin in Bnei Banim vol. 4 specifically addresses the question of women getting aliyos. He notes that during the time of the gemara, only the first and and last called to the Torah recited the berachos on the reading. A woman is not obligated to read the Torah and therefore her recitation of the berachah would not fulfill the obligation of the men listening but that only meant she couldn't go up for the first and last aliyos. The middle ones which were free of blessings before and after would be fine. However, he brings two opinions from the Meiri. The first notes that since nowadays each person recites the blessing over the Torah, a woman would not be able to have an aliyah. However the second states that since only the first aliyah is d'oraisa (since Moshe established it) and the remainder are only d'rabbanon, the concern with a woman not fulfilling the men's obligations would only apply to the first aliyah.
There are some halachos that are theoretically possible but impossible to do in practice. For example, one who is eating seudas shlishis at the end of Pesach (assuming the holiday ends on a Saturday night) might, in theory, be able to draw the meal out until chometz is permitted and then eat some bread. Yet because the meal was begun during the holiday, he would be able to mention the holiday of Pesach in his bentching despite having eaten bread! However, this is not possible in a practical way since he must daven Maariv and make havdalah before he can rebuy his chometz and doing so would mean bentching beforehand.
Similarly, while the baraisa permits women to have aliyos, getting them to the bimah would be problematic. The Chasam Sofer (Ch.M. 190) notes that the main reason for avoiding the mixing of men and women in shul is to prevent unseemly thoughts that would lead to the congregation's prayers being rejected. This begs the question: how does the woman get through the men's section and stand on the bimah without mingling with the surrounding men?
(Interestling, the Maharam paskens that in a congregation where all the men are kohanim, a kohen should take the first two aliyos and the rest should be given to women, but this is certainly an exceptional situation. Rav Henkin notes that this negates the concern of peritzus with the woman going up to the bimah with the men. He further brings references from the Rishonim that show that peritzus is not a consideration in preventing women from having aliyos)
On the other hand, the Levush says that "nowadays" (back 450 years ago or so) men and women commonly mingle leading to a habituation that would negate the possibility of unseemly thoughts. (It's interesting to note that the Aruch HaShulchan uses the same reason to permit the reciting of Krias Shema in the presence of a married woman who does not cover her hair) But looking at the context of his remarks, he was talking about a seudas mitzvah which is not as stringent a situation as public prayer. Thus this source cannot provide support for a woman walking through the men's section to stand for a prolonged period of time on the bimah.
Other potential lenient sources are the Mishpetei Uziel and the Igros Moshe who both permit mingling during gatherings. However, they limit their permissiveness to small groups, not fixed congregations.
In terms of the assumptions the partnership group makes to get around these problems, the logic seems quite flawed. For example:
The minyan’s mission statement reads, in part, that the community “follows the approach of those Orthodox rabbis who have argued that the dignity of human beings (kavod ha-briyot) is a crucial halachic value that permits us, and in fact obligates us, to expand the roles of women.”
How does kavod habriyos obligate an expansion of the roles of women in the prayer service? That women have no public roles during prayer is not a humiliation or denigration of the gender that they should need to have their kavod defended in the first place. In other words, the Partnership seems to have made up a problem and found those "Orthodox rabbis" who have a solution to it. But I would contend that the problem doesn't exist in the first place.
Halachic values do evolve, Rabbi Lockshin said. As an example, he said that in halachic literature there is no expectation that a parent will support a child beyond the age of eight or 10, but rabbis in Israel agreed unanimously to change the age until which parents must support their children.
But this also makes no sense when you recall that this minyan is basing itself on a baraisa to permit many of their innovations. In other words, they're not looking at forward evolution but at grabbing at rituals that may have existed centuries ago. I doubt, however, that they are interested in many other unobserved laws, like those of selling one's daughter into marriage or a thief into six years of slavery, things we just don't do anymore today. The article mentions that Prof. Lockshin avoids the obvious comparison with Conservatism but I can think of another reason why: his new group seems to be picking and choosing when it comes to setting their values.
He based part of what he said on an article by Rabbi Mendel Shapiro titled Qeri’at ha-Torah by Women: A Halakhic Analysis, which appeared in the Edah Journal, a modern Orthodox publication, in 2001. (Links to Rabbi Shapiro’s article and other sources can be found at www.jofa.org/social.php/ritual/synagogue/partnershipm.)
The Edah article “has led to some serious changes in the way people are thinking,” Rabbi Lockshin said.
Perhaps this is the greatest article in the world. I haven't read it so I can't say. However, I am not aware of Rav Mendel Shapiro being a posek with any authority. Unlke the world of modern academia where anyone with a degree can write an opinion, the system of halachah is simply not run that way. Grabbing at any halachic opinion without consideration as to whether it has any authority behind it is not a proper way to run a Torah observant group.
Jay Nathanson, a 37-year-old father of two young daughters who was at the meeting, said it’s important for him not to have them excluded. As well, he told The CJN, “it’s crucial for me to raise my [six-year-old] son in a community where every possible effort is made to treat women with as much dignity and respect as is feasible within the rigid confines of traditional halachah.”
This for me is the real crux of the matter. The real gut check of the observant Jew comes when he is told he, or she, cannot do something. There are limits. Not just anyone could offer a sacrifice in our holy Temple (may it be speedily rebuilt). Not just anyone could be king. Not just anyone could serve as a judge. Merit, while important, is not the only criteria for certain social positions within klal Yisrael and a major test of a person's faith is his or her acceptance of those limitations. If this man's two daughters will feel excluded by Torah Judaism because they cannot participate in services, if their fealty to God is entirely predicated on their getting what they want regardless of reigning halachic norms, then how loyal will they be in the first place?
Finally there is the issue of minhag to be considered. The rituals and conduct of k'lal Yisrael during davening are not routines performed without intelligent thought. Each community has its own customs as to how to handle different services and situations. The people of Israel in general have customs that are considered universal amongst all who call themselves Torah observant and it is a great sin to disparage these customs or abandon them on the assumption they have become obsolete.
One quick example will suffice. Would any Torah observant person seriously suggest abandoning the concept of Yom Tov Sheni because we now have a fixed calender? The gemara in Beitzah urges us to be careful with the customs we inherit from our ancestors.
The fourth chapter of Pesachim brings this into greater detail. The mishnayos in this chapter demonstrate multiple cases of varying customs in different places and the respect to be shown by people visiting a locale in terms of regional behaviours. Based on this, one might think that bringing egalitarian innovations into an exisiting shul might be considered improper but that creating a new congregation would avoid the problem since it could create its minhagim from scratch.
But to this, the gemara in Pesachim 51b writes about multiple cases of chachamim going to different places, engaging in behaviour that is technically permitted by halachah and then stopping when the locals complain that "we've never seen such things". The gemara continues that the Sages could have protested and pointed out that their behaviours were perfectly legal but they did not because "we've never seen such things" is a reason to forbid a particular action.
If this is so, what can be said about the innovations of allowing women to lead certain parts of the service or receive aliyos to the Torah? The practice of restricting these roles to men is certainly no local custom but one that has been adopted for centuries (at least) by the entire Torah world. To create a new congregation that allows these changes to the ritual would inevitably run afoul of the gemara's protest: we've never seen such things!
In conclusion, the words of the Rav seem especially relevant. (From "Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik" Volume 3, by Aharon Zeigler, p.19-21)
"Our bond and closed with Hashem comes from our performance of His Divine commandments which have intrinsic meaning. The objective fact of the mitzvah is primary and not the subjective emotions of the one performing the mitzvah... The absence of kavanah (emphasis and feeling of job) definitely indicates something lacking in the Divine servce. But the exhilaration is an outgrowth of the mitzvah, not its goal. We to the mitzvot because they are Divine commandments from Hashem... Any uplifting feelings must come from the satisfaction of having served the Will of hashem inthe prescribed manner He has commanded us. Women therefore can acquire the same satisfaction and exhilaration by performing the mitzvot they are commanded and need not seek closeness to hashem through mitzvot they have not been commanded."