Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Partnership Minyan Gabbai Guide

It's well known to readers of this blog that my feelings about partnership minyanim (aka, 10+10's) are ambivalent. On the one hand, they are progressive from the Orthodox feminist perspective, in that they allow women some public role in the service. It appears to me that the partnership minyan has quickly been replacing the womens' tefillah group as the preferred way for women to participate in an Orthodox-style service. The partnership minyan may be contrasted with womens' tefillah groups, which have some characteristics that resemble communal prayer, but always seemed (to me, anyway, having never attended one for the obvious reason) as a kind of play-service, where it is made known (through liturgical changes and omissions) to everyone in attendance that none of the additional parts of the service that look like the activities reserved for a minyan really “count” the way they would have had a minyan of men been present. The partnership minyan, on the other hand, is a “real” service, and, in most cases (see below), where women are allowed to do something, what they do “counts” equally. On the other hand, from the perspective of a full-egalitarian, they are regressive, in that women are only allowed to lead parts of the service which are less important (see below for more about that characterization). Perhaps some of my ambivalence is in seeing these minyanim attract people who might otherwise daven in a fully egalitarian style, where womens' position really is (for the most part) considered equal to mens', whereas the partnership minyan still leaves women in an awkward communal position.

Our local partnership minyan linked to the Guide for the 'Halachic Minyan', effectively, a guide for the gabbaim of partnership minyanim to determine what parts of the service they decided women can definitely lead. The guide also gives a brief description of the rationale behind the movement and behind its halachic methodology. The basic assumptions of the partnership minyan, as expressed or implied by the guide, are that women are obligated in prayer (that is, they may pray any time they want), not obligated in specific prayers, nor are they obligated in the separate mitzvah of communal prayer, nor any other time-bound positive commandments. These are absolute constraints, and women cannot accept them upon themselves and become equally obligated. The goal of the enterprise is to maximize womens' participation under these traditional constraints, resulting in a wholly non-traditional form of congregational prayer.

The guide consciously expresses what women can lead in the positive, and is careful not to say “a woman does not lead” any part of the service. Instead, it expresses the same idea as “a man takes over at ...”, describing a practice instead of prescribing halacha. The guide leaves open the idea that increased permission may be discovered at some future time. The guide seeks to rely only on the direct and plain meaning of the halachic literature it uses as its sources, and only uses sources which explicitly permit women to perform the ritual function in question, without making any logical inferences or any original innovations (with respect to halachic issues, but not with respect to stylistic ones). Minority opinions in the literature may be relied upon, even if they contradict traditional practice. In that way, the guide functions as a sort of clearinghouse of permissive rulings in the literature on the issue of womens' participation. The rejection of innovation of new halacha is perhaps the abstract concept that separates the bases of partnership minyanim from fully egalitarian minyanim.

The abstract conception of the position of a woman in the community is also a primary difference. This can be demonstrated by the guide's answer to a question I brought up in a previous post. Namely, what should be done when 10 men are present and fewer than 10 women are present. In comments on that post, most defenders of the partnership minyan movement said that the group should wait or continue to daven as if no minyan were present (even though all agree that a halachic minyan is present in the room). A few indicated that they had seen such a practice followed. That position struck me as strange, given that the group is already making an assumption that communal prayer is a separate obligation from prayer itself. The guide instructs as follows:
Whenever a minyan is required, it is common practice, to wait for 10 men and 10 women to start pray[sic] (as long as the time of tefilla [Zman Tefilla] has not passed) besides when women are counted for a minyan such as in the case of megilah reading on Purim. (emph added)

As I argued in my previous post and its comments, the function of the 10 women is to hold up an already-present halachically-valid minyan of 10 men, not to contribute positively toward a minyan of 20. The 10+10 custom is acknowledged to be secondary to the halacha, a position that is fully consistent with the current assumptions of the movement. It does, however, support the conception that the function of women in a 10+10 is subtractive, not additive.

The idea that men are given primacy over women, even for things they are otherwise allowed to do is still present, at least in some congregations (eg, in the divisions of aliyot — “some congregations reserve a majority of aliyot for men” on the basis of Rema OH 282:3). A similar note indicates that some congregations reserve the first two aliyot for men when a kohen or levi is not present. (If the kohen/levi precedence for the first two aliyot is considered to be a purely historical artifact, then only men would take the first two aliyot, even in a fully egalitarian minyan.) The movement, although it has gone a long way [over traditional Orthodox practice] in allowing limited womens' participation, has not completely abandoned the idea that womens' participation in prayer services is a denigration of the honor of the congregation. By citing these halachic sources, the movement implies that women are, at best, ancillary members of the congregation (which is traditionally defined as the men only).

I often characterize the services at partnership minyanim as ones where “women do things that aren't important.” The guide divides the service into three categories. The first category is that of parts of the service that women can lead — those that may be left out of the service, or may be led even by a child. The other two types are parts in which womens' participation may be considered problematic or is apparently barred. The methodology used for approaching the second and third categories is a bit more instructive than the first. Where sources are found for womens' obligation (such as Hallel on the first night of Passover), they are allowed to participate equally. Another method used for finding room for womens' participation, where it is deemed possible, is to find halachic opinions that reduce the level of obligation associated with the particular prayer such that it no longer has communal importance. An alternative approach is used for Hallel on Festivals, in which it states that the leader need not fulfill the congregation's obligations.1 Parts of the service containing devarim sh'biqedusha are (as of now) non-negotiably led entirely by men. Some partnership minyanim have adopted the practice of assigning any part of the service (excluding the Torah reading) that can be led by women to a woman. This essentially divides the entire service leadership on the basis of gender. In a sense, it is inclusive, but counter-egalitarian.

The partnership minyan movement also calls itself “halachic egalitarian” (a term full egalitarians do and should consider objectionable). The guide goes through considerable trouble to defend the use of the term:
This guide does not refer to parts of the tefillah that are categorized as devarin shbiqdusha, in which the chazzan fulfills the congregation's obligation. It is not our intention to claim that communities in which women lead these parts of the prayer are not halachically justifiable. ...
In conclusion, a word about the name “halachic minyan.” The congregations for which this guide is intended have been described by many names. From among them this name has been chosen as it is meant to describe the essence of the process by which the practices of these congregations are determined and the nature of their connection to the tradition of halachic decision making. Halachah is the basis upon which we stand. With the chosen name we mean to convey that, despite our departure from traditional practice to include women, we may only innovate as far as the Halachah, as recorded in the writings of traditional decisors, permits. The name thus functions descriptively, not contrastively. We do not at all mean implicitly to denigrate other practices and movements as non-halachic.

It is difficult to parse out an entirely positive interpretation of the name, without it being a comparative term. Did not the movement which calls itself “traditional egalitarian” jump through hoops to justify their practice within halacha (albeit under a moderately different set of halachic assumptions)? The guide leaves open that it is not a final answer to the question of womens' participation, and that further progress innovation allowances may be made discovered in the future. Both movements essentially started with a goal and trawled the literature for their defenses. Both accept that minority opinions in the literature may be relied upon, and may even overturn traditional practice.

1 I once attended an Orthodox service on a Festival night following Shabbat at a college Hillel, where the custom in the Hillel's dining hall was for a woman to make kiddush at the meal, and for a man to lead birkat hamazon. (This was clearly a concession to the Orthodox minyan which did not want women leading birkat hamazon). The Orthodox minyan held that a woman could not fulfill the congregation's obligation (the partnership minyan gabbai guide says that they may). The gabbai of the minyan made an announcement after services, which essentially said that the kiddush and havdalah that would be made later by a woman would not fulfill everyone's obligation and that they should all say it for themselves. Had I been the woman making kiddush, I would have found that announcement mildly insulting, even though I could fully appreciate the halachic basis. I would hope that the partnership minyan could handle this issue more tactfully.

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Comments:
I didn't read the partnership minyan guide that you posted, but for what it's worth, it's normative law (e.g. Shulchan Aruch, Rema, Mishnah Berurah if I recall correctly) that women are obligated in both morning and afternoon prayers at the appropriate time, and in fact it's not uncommon even at Charedi girls' schools for women to daven both prayers, and they even pray these prayers in "women's tefillah groups" (although they would never call them that h-shem forbid) where there is no minyan because there aren't enough rabbi teachers at the school. The Aruch haShulchan says they are obligated in evening prayers again at the right time.

The opinion that you are referencing that women are obligated in prayer not tied to time or content is an attempt by the Magen Avraham to justify the prevalent practice for women not to daven the fixed prayers, and he doesn't seem to believe the argument himself; until recently, few decisors seemed to view women not davening in a structured way as preferable. Feminism, of course, changed all that.

Communal prayer is a separate issue for both men and women, as far as I know.

The reasons/excuses for why women cannot fulfill men's obligation for the prayer services end up being contorted around the different levels of obligation.

It's similar for Friday night kiddush, but the difference between men and women's obligation is narrower, so much so that nearly everyone concedes that strictly speaking women can make kiddush for the group even if they have some philosophical objections to the idea. The more (small-c) conservative decisors say that women should daven Friday night evening service to ensure that they remain less obligated than the men that they are eating shabbat dinner with, so that there is no doubt that the man should be making kiddush: otherwise, if the man davens Friday night and the woman doesn't, it might be more appropriate for the woman to make kiddush for the two of them, which would be a perversion of all things good and right.
 
In all fairness, they do not explicitly *say* that women are not obligated in specific timed prayers. They do include a quote from the Rambam's hilchot tefillah (it's on the first page, not that hard to find), where it is clearly implied that fixed-time prayers are time-bound and that women are not obligated.

The questions of whether women *do* something and whether they are obligated in doing it are clearly different.
 
I've been waiting for this post! :)

Anyhow, one comment (though we can discuss the substance more another time). It seems to me that we have a spectrum which includes "halachic egalitarian" (partnership) minyanim and "traditional egalitarian" (post-denominational or conservative fully egalitarian) minyanim. And then there are a few oddities in between (i.e. DCM & WSM) which don't quite fit either. What do you call 10+10 and separate seating but no mechitza and full participation?
 
It's well known to readers of this blog that my feelings about partnership minyanim (aka, 10+10's) are ambivalent.

Is 10+10 part of the definition of partnership minyanim? I think Darkhei Noam in New York (for example) has a minyan of 10 men. Then, as Sunkist Miss pointed out, there are other minyanim that are 10+10 but not conventionally "partnership minyanim".

I often characterize the services at partnership minyanim as ones where “women do things that aren't important.”

Some have responded (as an apologetic for these minyanim) by saying "But kabbalat shabbat is much more important than ma'ariv for my prayer experience." I would respond to them by changing your characterization to "women do things for which the formal role of the sha"tz isn't important."

Another method used for finding room for womens' participation, where it is deemed possible, is to find halachic opinions that reduce the level of obligation associated with the particular prayer such that it no longer has communal importance.

The important thing is that, one way or the other, we're talking about communal, not individual obligations. Other than shofar, there are no parts of the service for which individuals depend on the sha"tz for their individual obligations -- e.g. everyone says their own silent amidah nowadays.

It is difficult to parse out an entirely positive interpretation of the name, without it being a comparative term.

I agree that "halachic egalitarian" is objectionable (both because it implies that fully egalitarian minyanim are not halachic and because these minyanim are not egalitarian). But in this case, insofar as they're using "halachic" as a comparative term, they may also be referring to Orthodox minyanim and claiming that they are not operating "halachically" by excluding women from certain roles. That doesn't excuse it though; I've never been a fan of using the word "halachic" as a rhetorical bludgeon.
 
BZ said:

But in this case, insofar as they're using "halachic" as a comparative term, they may also be referring to Orthodox minyanim and claiming that they are not operating "halachically" by excluding women from certain roles.

They could be, but I think that in fact they are not making such a claim.

As the guide says: With the chosen name we mean to convey that, despite our departure from traditional practice to include women, we may only innovate as far as the Halachah, as recorded in the writings of traditional decisors, permits. (Emphasis added.)

Likewise, as Elf's DH points out they are open to the idea of further allowances being discovered.

The idea behind partnership minyanim is not to say that traditional orthodox practice is not halachic or is mistaken. It is to say that the halacha permits (not requires) women's participation in certain areas. According to this understanding, orthodox shuls that do not permit this practice are simply not relying on the leniencies available.
 
BZ:
The important thing is that, one way or the other, we're talking about communal, not individual obligations. Other than shofar, there are no parts of the service for which individuals depend on the sha"tz for their individual obligations -- e.g. everyone says their own silent amidah nowadays.

It appears that the partnership minyan assumes that individuals *may* rely on the shat"z (hence the differentiation with respect to Hallel on Festivals). I don't know how this is handled in practice. In other forums (DCM?), it may be assumed that nobody ever fulfils any individual obligations by the shat"z. In your average Conservative synagogue, it's likely that individuals do fulfill their obligations by the shat"z (given the number of upside-down and/or perpetually closed siddurim being held by space-starers around).

BZ:
Is 10+10 part of the definition of partnership minyanim?
I had assumed it was, not knowing (or not remembering) the practice of DN. The answer, I think, is, "usually, it is, but not always." In the same way, egalitarianism is usually the practice of the Conservative movement, but isn't always. If there's any defining characteristic of partnership minyanim, it seems to be left wing Orthodox theory + mechitza + limited womens' participation. The PM movement is pretty small, and, while there was lots of copying going on, it didn't come out of a cookie cutter. That makes finding "normative practice in the movement" a bit difficult.

Hence you end up with questions like:

SM:
What do you call 10+10 and separate seating but no mechitza and full participation?
I don't know. DCM seems to think they're "traditional egalitarian." WSM defines itself by a tagline. Just like any individual institution that straddles the boundary in practice, stamping on a label is difficult.
 
DCM seems to think they're "traditional egalitarian."
Lol. Depends on the day of the week. Yes, the website says that, probably partially because they view themselves as a sibling of Hadar. But actually, if you ask anyone in the leadership they will try to avoid labels, and instead say that the minyan is "traditional and egalitarian" (the "and" is very consiously included), and then proceed to define the minyan by describing its practice. :)

BZ: Is 10+10 part of the definition of partnership minyanim?
Elf's DH: I had assumed it was, not knowing (or not remembering) the practice of DN.

For what it's worth, JOFA has a definition of partnership minyanim available on their website. Among other things it says that in such minyanim, "the minyan is made up of ten men (and in some congregations a quorum of ten women is also required for those parts of the service that require a minyan),"
 
Except that DC Minyan isn't egalitarian (even if it's symmetric). They don't count 10 adult Jews (regardless of gender) as a minyan.
 
Better late than never, right?

My reading of the pamphlet (which I expected to like a lot less than I did) is that the line "We do not at all mean implicitly to denigrate other practices and movements as non-halachic" was actually an admission that halakha allows for more participation than the guide (representing partnership minyan practices) admits.* Given that at least one of the pamphlet's authors expressed in public a desire to include women as full shelihot tzibbur, I was assuming the intent of that line was actually an admission that "other practices" were, minimally, equally acceptable, and, maximally, preferable to their own.

I've expressed my thoughts about 10+10 before, so I'll stop here. (In sum: they solve the sociological problem of male or female dominance by demanding the equal presence of men and women, and they can be justified halakhically through a shevuah/neder, at least according to those rishonim who don't hold that forming a minyan in the presence of 10 Jews is a de-oraita mitzvah.)

* (This is, of course, a tautology, since halakha is best seen as a particularistic language for expressing responses to human needs, and therefore _anything_ can be expressed in halakhic language, but their's is such a common expression of the nature of halakha that we'll leave that on the side.)
 
wolfman --
I was assuming the intent of that line was actually an admission that "other practices" were, minimally, equally acceptable, and, maximally, preferable to their own.

It's possible that what you're saying is what one of the authors really believes. What they wrote is that theirs is, at this time, the maximally attainable participation level for women. They have to express it that way because otherwise, they'd be arguing for full egalitarianism.

In sum: they solve the sociological problem of male or female dominance by demanding the equal presence of men and women, and they can be justified halakhically through a shevuah/neder, at least according to those rishonim who don't hold that forming a minyan in the presence of 10 Jews is a de-oraita mitzvah.

My point in bringing it up is that this is precisely what the guide (which at least wants to be compendium of the practices of this style of minyan) doesn't say about the practice. The zman tefillah exception is instructive in this regard.
 
"What they wrote is that theirs is, at this time, the maximally attainable participation level for women."

On a further careful parsing of the paragraph cited, I don't see them saying this. What I see is "With the chosen name we mean to convey that . . . we may only innovate as far as the Halachah, as recorded in the writings of traditional decisors, permits." That is a description of process/method, but not one that, in my reading, claims that they have any final answers, temporal or not. Do you read this line differently (or see any other) that explicitly claims that their pamphlet represents anything more than "state of the art" in a particular subcommunity?

(There is another deep irony in that line. If it's so simple that women may have aliyot, why did Mendel Shapiro have to write an 85-page article on the topic? And if it's _not_ so simple, upon which of the "writing[s] of traditional decisors" are they relying? Is Mendel Shapiro a "traditional decisor" under their definition? That whole line is a mess, as far as I can tell.)
 
wolfman --

I just keep coming back to the seeming contradiction between:
It is not our intention to claim that
communities in which women lead these parts of the prayer are not
halachically justifiable.
(p5), We do not
at all mean implicitly to denigrate other practices and movements as
non-halachic.
(p7) and This guide’s goal is to indicate the parts of the prayer
service that women may halachically lead.
(p1) and similar. They don't claim anywhere that their guide is the final answer, and, I think I pointed out above that they think it's the state of the art. You're parsing it as "state of the art in a particular subcommunity," I wasn't quite sure how to resolve the p5/7/1 ideas into something coherent, given that I'm thinking about halacha as something more absolute.
 
Ah, I see. Given the pains to which they go to stress the existence of other halakhically-justifiable options (as you quote from pp. 5 & 7), and from what I know of the authors, I'd rather see the quote on p. 1 as implicitly acknowledging that halakha is a communally-bound notion, rather than something more absolute. The other option is to see the quotes on pp. 5 & 7 as disingenuous at best (or bald-faced lies at worst), and that doesn't jibe with what I know.

It does warm my heart to see such sentiments about halakha expressed by people entrenched in the partnership minyan world. It also fascinates me when such a viewpoint is seen as incoherent by those in other communities, particulary on the left. (But then again, Reform Judaism subscribes to the same inefficient notion of halakha as a system of legal formalisms as does Modern Orthodoxy, so it's no surprise that those which such a view of halakha would have trouble accepting the local model implicitly advocated by the authors of the pamphlet, as least as I have harmonized them. And yes, I'm ignoring the horrible line I savaged in my previous post.)
 
You're reading too much into what I wrote.

given that I'm thinking about halacha as something more absolute.
should have said:
given that I'm thinking about the authors' premises about halacha as something more absolute.
which makes sense from the sets of premises on which the halachic analyses are based.

Granted, that it is possible that the position the movement views itself in within the global Jewish community is not the same as in its internal deliberations. This is true of most (all?) Jewish movements to the left of center-Orthodoxy.
 
wolfman writes:
But then again, Reform Judaism subscribes to the same inefficient notion of halakha as a system of legal formalisms as does Modern Orthodoxy

What in particular are you referring to here? If you're talking about the people who say "We're not a halakhic movement" (while implicitly holding an Artscroll definition of halakha to describe what they're not), then I totally agree that this is self-destructive.
 
(just enjoying watching the tennis match go by...)

Thanks for the post!
 
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