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.