Thursday, March 21, 2013

Resource Guide: Changing the Role of Women in Public Prayer

[Note: I have used the label "women's issues" to tag this post, but under protest. I don't truly believe that there are "women's issues" in Judaism, any more than there are "men's issues". I use the label only because, realistically, I know that this is how people will find the post when they are looking for it.]

During the past few decades, numerous changes have been proposed for the role of women in Orthodox public prayer. These include women's tefillah groups, women's Torah readings, women leading Kabbalat Shabbat and Psukei d'Zimra, and women's aliyot in the context of partnership minyanim.

One set of arguments surrounding these changes is technical - what is permitted, what is prohibited, and so on.

The other set of arguments looks at the mechanisms of change, and the ramifications of change - slippery slope, motivations, strife, speed of change and so on. I find these arguments and counter-arguments interesting, but they are scattered across blog posts and articles, with considerable overlap as well as conflict.

Recently, I presented a shiur for avreichim in our Beit Midrash on these change-related arguments, and I tried to organize the positions, listing sources for the argument as well as opposing the argument.

Here is the chart I used for the shiur, grouping the change-related arguments into five categories. I hope that this will be useful for people. 

Note: I am not saying whether I agree with any particular argument brought here.

PREFACE: Web-available articles on the technical issues surrounding women's involvement in particular parts of davening

CATEGORY 1: Where will this lead?
Slippery slope – Once you change this, what's next?
Sources for the argument

Objections to the argument

The lines are blurry – Having women lead a permitted part of davening will naturally slip into women leading other parts of davening


This will cause inappropriate mingling of genders
Source and Objection: R' Shapiro pg. 50 (Torah reading)

This will strengthen non-Orthodox movements


The arguments supporting change will be borrowed by non-Orthodox authorities

CATEGORY 2: Is this change justified?
No one has provided statistics supporting the need for change


Is the motivation positive, and addressing a real need?
Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 4:49

R' Shapiro pg. 49 (Torah reading)

CATEGORY 3: Danger to a woman's "true role"

This is inauthentic, endorsing a false goal instead of promoting mitzvot
R' Broyde here (Hirhurim - Tallit) and here (Hirhurim - Torah reading)

R' Farber (Morethodoxy - General)

This will assign identical roles to men and women
Mechon Yerushalayim l'Dayyanut (Partnership Minyanim)

This will lead to men not being involved
Source and Objection R' Broyde pg. 55 (Hakirah - Women Rabbis)

CATEGORY 4: This will create division in the community
The halachic issue of Lo Titgodidu
Source and ObjectionR' Shapiro pp. 50-51 (Torah reading)

The change will create unjustified strife
R' Broyde (Hirhurim - Torah reading)

R' Farber (Morethodoxy - Partnership Minyanim)

CATEGORY 5: This isn't the proper approach to halachic change
It's too fast; time is needed
Sridei Eish 1:139
R' Dr. Norman Lamm, cited on pp. 48-49  (Hakirah - Women Rabbis)

R' Sperber pg. 14 (Edah - Torah reading)

"Kvod haBriyyot" does not warrant carte blanche
R' Freundel pp. 8-10 (Hirhurim, long article - Partnership Minyanim) 

We have a negative masorah against these changes
R' Frimer (Seforim Blog - On R' Sperber's Darkah shel Halachah)  
R' Henkin pp. 5-6 (Edah - Torah reading)  
R' Broyde pg. 44-46 (Hakirah - Women Rabbis)
R' Sperber pp. 5-13 (Edah - Torah reading)  
R' Shapiro pp. 44-48 (Torah reading)

Those who justify change are fabricating halachic concepts to justify their actions
R' Freundel here (Hirhurim - Partnership Minyanim) and here (Hirhurim - Partnership Minyanim) 

R' Farber (Morethodoxy - Partnership Minyanim)

The established chachamim object
MiPninei haRav pg. 82
R' Henkin pg. 6 (Edah - Torah reading)
R' Broyde pg. 48  (Hakirah - Women Rabbis)
R' Aharon Lichtenstein, cited on pp. 51-52  (Hakirah - Women Rabbis)

R' Broyde (Hirhurim - Kabbalat Shabbat)


  1. Chana's improvised personal prayer was to the point and effective. Why does there have to be some new paradigm?

  2. Anon1-
    I think there are many reasons why this is promoted. Part of it is the fact that we live in a general egalitarian society. Part of it is the fact that regimented ritual is respected far more than spontaneous prayer in our community.

  3. Disclaimer - I am Conservative, married to a woman who is a Conservative Rabbi.............

    The arguments laid out are, for the most part - extremely well thought out and laid out, and I note you are using sources across a broad spectrum of Judaism. Clearly, we have looked at the arguments and come to an entirely different conclusion, but some of your fears (men become less involved, for example - not a fear, it's a fact) BUT.........

    .....the argument "It's too fast; time is needed" really hurts everything you've written. The hallachic arguments for - and against are made (and again, you have basically done a very fair job in laying them out) and delay for the sake of delay only serves to give the impression that the side trying to maintain the status quo doesn't feel the facts are with them.....and are merely trying to stall.

    Aside - this blog is a fabulous resource . Just found it, but will be diving in deeply over the days to come.

    1. Hello Rebitzman,
      Thanks for posting, but please note - none of these arguments are necessarily mine, including the "it's too fast" argument. As I wrote in a note in the post, I am presenting these positions without declaring any of them as my own. They are the arguments which are made on the topic by responsible writers.

  4. A new in-depth article by the Frimers has appeared: “Women, Kri’at haTorah and Aliyyot” Aryeh A. Frimer and Dov I. Frimer, Tradition, 46:4 (Winter, 2013), 67-238 -- which is attached. Available at