Is this kosher? Is this halachically allowed?
In a partnership minyan, women only take on roles in leading the service for which there is halachic justification.
The common halachic arguments against women leading services are kol isha (the prohibition on hearing a woman’s voice), kavod hatsibur (congregational dignity), and the question of whether women can lead services on behalf of men. To give a very brief summary, these arguments can all be halachically countered as follows.
On kol isha, Rambam, Rashba and Ra’aviah – the major Rishonim who dealt with this topic – are all of the opinion that not all women’s voices are prohibited. There is no decree forbidding a woman’s voice as such: rather, only kol isha which invites feelings of intimacy and sexual thoughts. The mainstream halachic opinion is that for singing of a spiritual nature, eg. Shabbat zemirot, the prohibition against hearing kol isha does not apply.
Considering kavod hatsibur, the societal context has great relevance. Times change. We now accept (in mainstream orthodox services) certain things that had previously been forbidden on the grounds that they offend (or once offended) congregational dignity. These include giving a person who is deaf an aliya, and rolling a Torah scroll in front of the congregation. Moreover, there is no reason why the fact that women lead parts of the service, or lein, should imply that the men present are incapable of doing so. Rabbi Sperber has also written contrasting congregational dignity with human dignity, which is a far more fundamental value. Kavod hatsibbur is by no means an insurmountable obstacle to women leining.
Regarding the question of whether women can lead the service on behalf of men: this is the reason why women only lead certain parts of the service in a partnership minyan. Women do not lead those parts of the service where the leader fulfils the congregation’s obligation. Women do, however, lead parts which are considered minhag (tradition) or parts which are not always led by adult men. As for leining, the obligation regarding this is communal rather than personal. The obligation is that the Torah should be read in the community, as opposed to each person having an individual obligation to read from the Torah. Therefore, as the halachic argument goes, the principle that a woman cannot fulfil the individual obligation of a man is not problematic regarding leining.
While some of these justifications are, admittedly, minority opinions, it is important to consider that a minority opinion can also be halachically valid. As we see time and again, change does occur, albeit slowly, in orthodox Jewish practice, and change typically begins as a practice based on a halachic opinion held (at least initially) by a minority.
For more in depth consideration of the discussion surrounding these issues, please consult the resources posted on this site.
How is this different from Masorti? Is this Orthodox?
The halachic answers to the objections to women taking on certain roles within the partnership minyan service come from the standpoint of Orthodox halachic interpretation.
Theologically, Masorti Jews typically don't believe that the Torah was written by G-d, and given to Moses at Mount Sinai, but rather that the Torah is inspired by G-d and written by humans. This minyan however, comes from an orthodox theological (and halachic) perspective.
What can I expect at the services?
The content of the services will be exactly the same as a regular Orthodox service – the minyan will be made of 10 men, there will be a mechitzah, and the prayer service will be from the Orthodox siddur. The difference is that women are able to lead certain parts of the service: kabbalat shabbat, p’sukei d’zimra, leining and receiving aliyot. (You may also find that there is rather more ruach and kavanna than usual, too.).
What does the minyan look like?
Men and women sit on either side of the room, separated by a mechitzah. The service takes place at the front with equal viewing for all. As far as possible, men will daven on the men's side of the mechitzah, and women on the women's side.
Who is allowed to come?
Who is invited to lein and daven?
People leading the services and leining must be halachically Jewish and committed to orthodox Judaism, able to read Hebrew, and able to lead the services or lein accurately and competently. We can set you up with a teacher if you would like: please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Will there be a minyan of men if I need to say kaddish?
Yes, we will have a minyan of 10 men.
If it is acceptable for women to lein, why are they not able to in my Shul?
If you have been to Shira Hadasha in Jerusalem, or Darchei Noam in New York, you will have seen this type of service before.
However, while there is halachic backing for increased women’s participation, it is currently a minority opinion, and does not appeal to everyone. Much opposition to this is from traditional, or personal comfort reasons, rather than halachic. Partnership minyanim are becoming more widespread as people become more comfortable with the idea, and learn more about the halacha.
Yet, as most synagogues are organised under an umbrella body, and as this type of davening does not appeal to many people it is most likely that most orthodox synagogues will retain the traditional practice of men leading the services and the leining for the foreseeable future.
Who is the rabbi?
There is no rabbi for our minyan – it is lay led. However, halachic questions are directed to Professor Rabbi Sperber in Israel.
Where can I learn more?
There are some resources for further reading here. If you are interested in learning more about a particular topic which we are not yet addressing, please do let us know and we will try to arrange a relevant shiur as part of our ongoing learning programme.
Do I need to be a member?
No, everyone is welcome to attend. If you would like to support us financially, we would always be grateful for sponsorship of kiddushim, or venues for services. If you would like to support the minyan in this way, please get in touch at email@example.com.
Why do people want this?
There are several reasons why people are excited about this type of service. Some women feel that through increased participation in prayer, they feel more spiritually fulfilled. People have mentioned the desire to take on more mitzvot and to learn more, in order to grow in their Judaism and develop their connection to Hashem. Both men and women have expressed a desire for more uplifting and spiritual prayer. Ultimately, that is what we are aiming for.
Who is this for?
Anyone who wants a more focused and uplifting prayer service, and who is open minded about increased women’s involvement in accordance with halacha - and everyone who wishes to develop their Jewish connection by being part of, or contributing to, a service where women take on a more active role in prayer, to the greatest extent permissible by orthodox law.
Is anyone not welcome?
We welcome everybody at Kehillat Nashira!
To read more about our views regarding inclusivity click here