Women and Men in Com­mu­nal Prayer: Halakhic Perspectives

Rab­bi Daniel Sper­ber, et al.
  • Review
By – October 10, 2011

Women and Men in Com­mu­nal Prayer is a com­pendi­um of high­ly respect­ed schol­ar­ly views on the equal” par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in pub­lic com­mu­nal prayer. It is a joint pub­li­ca­tion of the Jew­ish Ortho­dox Fem­i­nist Alliance (JOFA) and KTAV Pub­lish­ing House. The book opens with a fas­ci­nat­ing intro­duc­to­ry chap­ter that clear­ly dif­fer­en­ti­ates the var­i­ous per­spec­tives on the top­ic. It is writ­ten by Dr. Tamar Ross, a pro­fes­sor emeri­ta of the Depart­ment of Jew­ish phi­los­o­phy at Bar-Ilan Uni­ver­si­ty and for­mer Blaustein Vis­it­ing Schol­ar in Res­i­dence at Yale Uni­ver­si­ty. Dr. Ross does a mas­ter­ful job of explain­ing the crit­i­cal argu­ments both defend­ing and oppos­ing women’s right to be called up to the Torah (i.e. to receive aliyy­ot) and to engage in some (if not all) por­tions of the pre­scribed pub­lic read­ing of the Torah (qer’at ha-Torah).” She also dis­cuss­es oth­er aspects of the chang­ing role of women and men in com­mu­nal prayer. There are already con­gre­ga­tions (who con­sid­er them­selves Ortho­dox) in the Unit­ed States, Israel, and Aus­tralia who have formed part­ner­ship minyan­im” or egal­i­tar­i­an prayer groups. 

Pre­sent­ing the halakhic and his­tor­i­cal cas­es for” increased women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion are Rab­bi Daniel Sper­ber, pro­fes­sor of Jew­ish his­to­ry and Tal­mud at Bar-Ilan Uni­ver­si­ty, and Rab­bi Mendel Shapiro, who prac­tices law in Jerusalem and was ordained at Rab­bi Isaac Elchanan The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary of Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty. Rab­bis Shlo­mo Riskin, the Chief Rab­bi of Efrat, Israel, and Pro­fes­sor Eli­av Shock­et­man, pro­fes­sor of Jew­ish law at Sha’arei Mish­pat Col­lege and pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus in the Law fac­ul­ty of Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty in Jerusalem, pro­vide the halakhic argu­ments against.” The book includes live­ly respons­es to each other. 

This book helps clar­i­fy how halakhic issues are resolved and how Judaism changes over time. I believe these dis­cus­sions and devel­op­ments have impor­tant impli­ca­tions for all Jews. Appen­dix, end­notes, glossary.

Car­ol Poll, Ph.D., is the retired Chair of the Social Sci­ences Depart­ment and Pro­fes­sor of Soci­ol­o­gy at the Fash­ion Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy of the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. Her areas of inter­est include the soci­ol­o­gy of race and eth­nic rela­tions, the soci­ol­o­gy of mar­riage, fam­i­ly and gen­der roles and the soci­ol­o­gy of Jews.

Discussion Questions