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Partnership minyan (pl. partnership minyanim) is a term used by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) to describe a prayer group that, according to its adherents, conforms to the strictures of Orthodox Judaism while still allowing for parts of the services to be led by both men and women. Leading parts of services in a minyan ("quorum") is traditionally regarded as a male role. Partnership minyanim are a new and relatively small phenomenon within Modern Orthodox Judaism intended to provide more opportunity to Jewish women to participate in synagogue services and rituals.


JOFA defines a partnership minyan as:
[A] prayer group that is both committed to maintaining halakhic standards and practices and also committed to including women in ritual leadership roles to the fullest extent possible within the boundaries of Jewish Law. This means that the minyan is made up of 10 men, men and women are separated by a mechitzah, and the traditional liturgy is used. However, women may fully participate in kriyat ha'Torah (Torah reading), including layning and receiving aliyot, and may lead parts of the prayer service such as psukei d'zimrah and kabbalat Shabbat, which do not contain d'varim she bikedusha.

Professor Tamar Ross explains:
A small number of communities in the United States and Israel that consider themselves Orthodox (including one Hartman-Halbertal helped to found) have implemented more egalitarian practices in the synagogue. These include the practice of calling women up to the Torah and allowing them to lead those portions of the service that are not halakhically defined as prayer, such as the set of hymns welcoming the advent of the Sabbath. They rely on minority opinions that halakhic problems with men hearing women sing do not apply to synagogue worship.

Some partnership minyanim also wait to begin parts of the service requiring a minyan until 10 women as well as 10 men are present. Such a service is also known as a Shira Hadasha-style minyan, after Kehillat Shira Hadashamarker in Jerusalemmarker, among the first such prayer groups to be established, in 2001.Various structural innovations have been devised to permit women to lead prayers while maintaining distinct men's and women's sections, such as separate shtenders (reader's lecterns) and a mechitza going down the middle of the room.

In response to arguments that the halakhic underpinnings of the approach are stronger if done on a temporary and situational basis, some Partnership Minyanim, including Shira Hadasha, have deliberately chosen to meet in spaces that are not regularly or permanently used for synagogue worship, and some meet on a situational schedule rather than every Shabbat. In keeping with arguments that women are permitted to read only some but not all the aliyot on shabbat, Partnership minyanim generally do not permit women to be called for the two aliyot reserved to a Kohen and Levi if they are present, but only the last five of the seven aliyot on Shabbat, plus the maftir for the reading from the Prophets. In keeping with arguments that the Talmudic sources involved apply only to the seven aliyot on Shabbat, some partnership minyanim meet only on Shabbat or on other occasions, such as Purim, where other special halakhic arguments supporting greater women's participation have been made. (See Women and megilla reading on Purim.)

Some minyanim, especially in Israel, meet regularly on every shabbat and on every holiday.

A small number of partnership minyanim have been established in Israelmarker, the United Statesmarker, Canadamarker, and Australia.

Support for partnership minyanim

The existence of partnership minyanim was preceded by an opinion by Modern Orthodox Rabbi Mendel Shapiro in 2001, subsequently joined by Bar-Ilan Universitymarker Talmud Professor Rabbi Daniel Sperber, claiming that halakha (Jewish law) permits Orthodox women to be called to, and to read from, the Torah on Shabbat under certain conditions. These opinions rely on earlier authorities including the Magen Avraham. Dr. Joel B. Wolowelsky also expressed an opinion which, while not offering a formal opinion on the halachic issues, suggested that the partnership minyan enterprise was not necessarily inconsistent with an Orthodox hashkafah (outlook)..

Rabbi Shapiro's analysis focused on a Baraita (non-Mishnaic received oral tradition) in the Babylonian Talmud stating that:

The Rabbis taught (teno) that anyone can be numbered among the seven [called to the Torah on Shabbat], even a minor, even a woman. But the Sages said that we do not call a woman to the Torah because of Kevod HaTzibur (the dignity of the congregation). (Megillah 23a).

Rabbi Shapiro's primary argument, based on the language of this baraita as well as traditional commentaries to it, was that women were only discouraged from performing public Torah reading based on a social concern for the dignity of the congregation ("Kevod HaTzibur"). While Jewish law usually demands that public rituals be led by those who are obligated in that particular ritual- and women are generally considered to be not obligated in public Torah reading- R. Shapiro demonstrated that public Torah reading is an exception, based on the baraita's explicitly allowing a minor, who is also not olbigated, to lead. therefore, he argued, only "the dignity of the congregation" was invoked to discourage women from reading. He then analyzed the weight of the "dignity of the congregation" prohibition. Analyzing authorities on the law of Kevod HaTzibur, he noted a number of other situations which were rabbinically prohibitted due to the "dignity of the congregation", such as rolling a Torah scroll in front of the congregation or having a person too young to have a beard serve as Hazzan (cantor). Citing authorities who held that congregational dignity could be waived in some of these matters, including the common practice of having teenagers lead the congregation in contemporary synagogues, he concluded that a congregation could waive its dignity on this issue as well, and an Orthodox congregation choosing to do so could call a woman to the Torah in much the same way that it could choose to have a teenager lead prayers at a Bar Mitzvah. Rabbi Shapiro also briefly addressed certain other objections, arguing for example that because some authorities have held that women can read the Megilla on Purim to men, chanting the Megilla, and hence the Torah, is not a kind of singing subject to restrictions on the issue of kol isha, the female singing voice.

Rabbi Sperber agreed with Rabbi Shapiro's argument that the baraita in Megillah 23a indicated that the Sages instituted "we do not call a woman" as a later prohibition, and that calling a woman was originally permitted. He focused on the concept of Kevod HaBriyot ("human dignity"), a Talmudic concept by which rabbinical prohibitions are sometimes waived in order to preserve honor or dignity. Noting that the concept had received modern applications by Orthodox decisors including an opinion by Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg permitting wearing a hearing aid on Shabbat (based on a Talmudic opinion overriding the rabbinic prohibition against carrying on Shabbat to permit a person needing to defecate to carry wiping material), Rabbi Shapiro argued that the Kevod HaBriyot concept could be applied to override the rabbinic prohibition against calling women to the Torah on grounds of human dignity or respect.

Dr. Wolowelsky wrote that although the Talmud appears to have an iron-clad rule that a Kohen should always be called to the Torah first and early practice gave precedence to Torah scholars, the Magen Avraham proposed the then-novel idea that individuals observing special occasions, such as a wedding or Bar Mitzvah, should have precedence. The Magen Avraham's view eventually prevailed, and subsequent commentators, including Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, developed his ideas to the point of creating various exceptions under which a Yisrael observing a special occasion could sometimes be called first even if a Kohen is present and refuses to waive the first aliyah. Observing that it is important to be able to tell whether a new approach can be considered a legitimate effort to develop the tradition or an illegitimate attempt to manipulate it, he suggested that changes in traditional concepts of respect involved in the idea of sometimes calling a woman to the Torah based on the Magen Avraham's ideas, may not necessarily be any more radical or threatening to the tradition, from a hashkfic (outlook or worldview) point of view, than the changes involved in developments leading to sometimes not calling a Kohen first..

Objections to partnership minyanim

Orthodox objections

The halakhic opinions supporting a partnership minyan and permitting an expanded role for women are developments on the far left of Modern Orthodox Judaism that currently represent the views of a small number of Modern Orthodox rabbis, and have not been accepted by any major Orthodox organizations or rabbinical authorities. A number of objections have been raised to various aspects of partnership minyanim, and to the view that their practices are consistent with halakha (Jewish law). Some critics have argued that their claims to be a practice within Orthodox Judaism are illegitimate.

Rabbi Yehudah Herzl Henkin

Rabbi Yehudah Herzl Henkin objected to Rabbi Shapiro's claims. In addition to point-by-point halakhic counterarguments, he also said:
Regardless of the arguments that can be proffered to permit women’s aliyyot [Torah-reading] today— that kevod ha-tsibbur can be waived, that it does not apply today when everyone is literate, that it does not apply when the olim rely on the (male) ba`al qeri’ah and do not themselves read—women’s aliyyot remain outside the consensus, and a congregation that institutes them is not Orthodox in name and will not long remain Orthodox in practice. In my judgement, this is an accurate statement now and for the foreseeable future, and I see no point in arguing about it.

Rabbi/Dr. Gidon Rothstein

Rabbi/Dr. Gidon Rothstein (author of Murderer in the Mikdash), in an article in the Rabbinical Council of America's journal Tradition, analyzed Rabbi Shapiro's arguments and concluded that

the attempt to read the talmudic concerns about women’s aliyyot out of relevance to contemporary Orthodox Jews has not meaningfully succeeded.

Among other arguments, Rabbi Rothstein argued that even according to the lenient opinions that congregations can waive their "dignity", they can do so only on a temporary and situational basis, or as a concession to a particular circumstance after the fact, but not on a permanent basis. Even having a teenager as a regular Hazzan is not comparable, because:

Appointing a young cantor is a more regularized foregoing of waiving, but only until he matures; as Abba Eban once said when asked about the low median age of the State of Israel, it is a problem that passes with time. In each case other than R. Shapiro’s, the foregoing is temporary and situational.

Rabbi Rothstein also argued that only a few of the medieval commentators held that a women could intrinsically read all the aliyot, that most held they could read only some and some major authorities held they could read only the last one. He argued that the authorities who held a women could read only the last aliyah "carry greater weight" than the authorities who held they could read more:

As he [R. Shapiro] presents it, Or Zaru’a and R. David Pardo would allow women to read any or all of the portions of the Torah reading, R. Isaiah de-Trani (Rid) would allow four or three aliyyot, R. Jacob Emden would only allow women to read where no men are capable of doing so, and R. Meir ha-Kohen of Rothenburg (Hagahot Maimoniyot) only allows their reading the seventh.

Later, he notes that Ran and Rivash were the source of Rema’s claim that women could not be called up to read all the portions of the Torah. Ran’s comment is ambiguous (so that he might agree that they could take any three aliyyot), but Rivash assumes that Ran agreed with him that women could only take the seventh or, perhaps, the reading added on for the maftir. Further, when Hagahot Maimoniyot limits slaves to the seventh portion, the comment closes by citing his teacher, the more famous R. Meir of Rothenburg.

I mention the names because the halakhic process operates with a hierarchy of authority and influence. All other things being equal, Maharam of Rothenburg, Ran, and Rivash carry greater weight in a traditional halakhic discussion than any of the others cited.

Rabbi Rothstein concluded, therefore, that "granting all of Rabbi Shapiros points still only supports women reading the seventh portion."

Rabbi Rothstein also argued that women are not members of the public community with respect to Torah reading, and the dignity of the community would be affronted by "outsourcing" obligations to non-members:

The most plausible suggestion is that having women read the Torah affronts communal “dignity” because they are not generally members of the obligated public community. Relying on someone who is not usually—and in the case of Torah reading, not at all—a member of the public community suggests that the regular members were either unable or chose not to shoulder their communal responsibilities (out of ignorance or apathy). Outsourcing obligations betrays an undignified attitude toward the obligation itself; educating future members of the congregation does not.

Article in The Forward

An article in The Forward (September 20, 2002) summarized Orthodox views immediately following the initial partnership minyan congregations:

No leading Orthodox institution or halachic arbiter is known to have publicly endorsed the new prayer groups or Shapiro's article. At the same time, the new practices have yet to be condemned by Modern Orthodoxy's leading institutions. But insiders attributed the institutional silence to the trend being in its early stages, and said the changes were likely to be criticized by leading Orthodox rabbis.

Even Edah director Rabbi Saul Berman, who agreed to publish Shapiro's article in the spirit of open debate, said he could not accept its conclusions.

When asked if such a minyan would be granted membership in the Orthodox Union, the union's professional head, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, said that the matter would be referred to outside religious authorities, including the Rabbinical Council of America. The RCA's executive vice president, Rabbi Stephen Dworken, said that if the issue is ever raised, his organization would have to study it. Dworken added that he did not know of any "halachic authority who permits those types of activities."

Rabbi Yosef Blau, a spiritual adviser to students at Modern Orthodoxy's flagship Yeshiva Universitymarker, said that Y.U. and its affiliated seminary rarely adopt official policies regulating where students are allowed to worship, though they are expected to follow Orthodox teachings. But, he added, even when top members of the Y.U. rabbinical faculty do come out against a controversial practice, such as women-only prayer groups involving Torah reading, graduates often continue to chart their own course without being sanctioned.

Blau predicted that the current phenomenon was likely to generate more controversy than women's prayer groups if the practice becomes more widespread. He added that most Y.U. rabbis probably would object. In a thinly veiled reference to Shapiro, Blau said that no widely respected halachic arbiter had endorsed the recent attempts to expand women's roles

Rabbi Yaakov Ariel

Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, the chief rabbi of Ramat Gan, criticized these minyanim in Hazofe, arguing that they do not conform to Jewish law or to Orthodox ideals of prayer, in which men and women must be kept separate at all times. In his critique, Rabbi Ariel wrote that the violation of the "dignity of the congregation" involved refers to the sexual distraction that would be experienced if men and women were not kept separate. He argued that because this sexual distraction is part of human nature, waiving it is out of the question. He also wrote that there could be a problem of kol isha (hearing a woman's singing voice). He argued that partnership minyanim would cause a dispute that would result in a split in the orthodox community, and that women's participation harms the sacredness of the synagogue. Elitzur Bar-Asher wrote a rebuttal.

Rabbi Aryeh A. Frimer

Rabbi Aryeh A. Frimer, author of a number of scholarly works on the status of women in Orthodox halakha including Women and Minyan, wrote a critique of Rabbi Sperber's arguments in the blog post he entitled "Lo Zu haDerekh: A Review of Rabbi Prof. Daniel Sperber's Darka shel Halakha".

Rabbi Frimer briefly critiqued Mendal Shapiro's argument that kevod hatzibur can be waived, arguing that it was unwaivable both because women have been exempted from prominent communal roles out of considerations of modesty, and because since in his view women are not obligated to read while men are, women cannot fulfill the obligation for men.

Rabbi Frimer had two main disagreements with Rabbi Daniel Sperber. His first disagreement was with R. Sperber's view that the Beraita in Megilla 23a ("but the sages say we do not call a women...") reflected only a recommendation or advice. He marshalled authorities who held that it was obligatory with permission a leniency available only for an emergency. In his view these authorities had the better argument.

Rabbi Frimer's second and what he characterized as his most important objection was to R. Sperber's argument that kevod hatzibur could be overridden by the principle of kevod habriyot. He strongly objected to the idea of kevod habriyot overriding a rabbinic decree in its entirety, arguing that the kind of embarrassment or shame that would make it possible to invoke kevod habriyot had to come from factors (such as excrement or nakedness) external to the decree that occurred only in limited circumstances. He argued that a rabbinic decree cannot itself be regarded as shameful or embarrassing. To permit a rabbinic prohibition to be characterized as an embarrassment, R. Frimer argued, would give anyone "carte blanch" to abrogate any Rabbinic prohibition simply by saying "This offends me." He said that "Such a position is untenable, if not unthinkable." Accordingly, he argued that "kevod ha-beroyyot cannot be invoked to nullify a rabbinic commandment, where the shame comes from the very fulfillment of the rabbinic injunction itself."

Take for example one who is invited to dine with his colleagues or clients, would we allow him to avoid embarrassment by eating fruit and vegetables from which terumot and ma’asrot (which nowadays is Rabbinic) have not been removed, or by consuming hamets she-avar alav haPesah, or by drinking Stam yeynam (wine touched or poured by a non-Jew). Or alternatively, suppose someone is at a meeting and is ashamed to walk out in order to daven Minha. And what about prayers at the airport in between flights. Would we allow him to forgo his rabbinic prayer obligation because of this embarrassment? The answer is that in those cases where acting according to halakha - be it to not eat terumot and ma’asrot, or to not drink stam yeynam, or to fulfill ones prayer obligation – creates the embarrassment, then kevod ha-beriyyot cannot set aside the Rabbinic prohibition. One should be proud to be fulfilling the halakha.

After noting that R. Sperber "did what a Torah scholar is supposed to do" in making a creative suggestion and presenting it to the scholarly community for criticism and discussion, R. Frimer finished by criticizing those attempting to enact R. Sperber's views into practice immediately. "Considering the novelty of this innovation, religious integrity and sensitivity requires serious consultation with renowned halakhic authorities of recognized stature - prior to acting on such a significant departure from normative halakha." He concluded with a reflection that "the halakhic process is a search for truth - Divine truth" and stressed the importance of not adapting an approach "simply because it yields the desired result."

Liberal objections

Because liturgical roles in partnership minyanim are based on gender, some liberal Jews find partnership minyanim objectionable on egalitarian grounds. The Reform and Reconstructionist movements, as well as most of Conservative Judaism, grant men and women identical roles in their synagogues, services, and leadership.

A test of the Partnership Minyan format at the Wesleyan Universitymarker Hillel in 2005 led to significant objections among non-Orthodox students, with sophomore Erica Belkin calling it "a test of how far the Jewish community's pluralism and tolerance would extend" and junior Daniella Schmidt stating that "At Wesleyan, we make an effort to provide safe spaces for everyone, including those who prefer orthodox traditions like the mechitza. However, these traditions should not come at the expense of others’ safe space and inclusion."

Halachic Minyan guide

In February 2008, Elitzur and Michal Bar-Asher released a guide to partnership minyanim called Halachic Minyanwhich the Jerusalem Post characterized as "the first official guide of its kind".

The guide, in addition to covering the issues of Torah reading and Shabbat services covered by the Shapiro and Sperber opinions, outlined women's participation in a variety of additional areas, the third aliyah to a daily Torah reading; serving as gabbai for a Torah reading; leading kabbalat shabbat and pseukei d'zimra, the tekiot for blowing the Shofar, leading piyuttim during the repetition of the High Holiday Amidah, and other areas. Audrey Trachtman, a board member of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, characterized it as "an exciting and important step" but as "a discussion, not intended to be uniform practice."

According to the Jerusalem Post, Ramat Gan Chief Rabbi Ya'acov Ariel responded to the publication of the guide by repeating a prohibition against taking part in a partnership minyan, saying that doing so is prohibited by Jewish law.

Alan Haber wrote an op-ed editorial in the Jerusalem Post criticizing the guide. He argued that the guide is "not a work of halacha" because:
  • The guide "utilizes sources selectively and partially, without regard to majority opinion or precedent."
  • It sometimes issues rulings "in express contradiction to the conclusion drawn by the authorities they cite as proof."
  • It assesses sources "tendentiously", seeking to find sources to justify a pre-determined agenda rather than to neutrally discern the intent of the earlier authorities.
  • Its authors are not rabbis, and are seeking to determine by lay decision-making matters on which Rabbinic Judaism defers to rabbis. ".

Calling this last point a "much more fundamental deficiency," Haber wrote that

More than anything else, Halacha requires submission to the authority of poskim - halachic decisors. One is free to choose a halachic authority who shares one's world view, and there is also room for debate about the exact scope and extent of the posek's authority. But Halacha is a system of law based on commandments; it is not source material for independent decision-making.".

Issues and perspectives in application

In the JOFA 10th Anniversary International Conference on Feminism & Orthodoxy (February 10-11 2007), three members of these minyanim (Elitzur Bar-Asher, Michal Bar-Asher Siegal and Alanna Cooper), in a session under the title: "Beyond Women's Issues: Partnership Minyanim Engages Orthodoxy," discussed issues they encountered and approaches to resolving them in implementing this style of worship, as well as their personal ideological approaches.

See also


  1. JOFA Partnership Minyan Page
  2. Ross, Tamar. Expanding the Palace of Torah: Orthodoxy and Feminism. Brandeis University Press, 2004, p. 97. ISBN 978-1-58465-390-5
  3. Website of Kehillat Shira Hadasha, Jerusalem
  4. "Thinking outside the ortho-box", Canadian Jewish News
  5. Website of Shira Hadasha of Melbourne, Australia
  6. Mendel Shapiro, “Qeri’at ha-Torah by Women: A Halakhic Analysis” (Edah 1:2, 2001) (pdf)
  7. Daniel Sperber, "Congregational Dignity and Human Dignity: Women and Public Torah Reading” (Edah 3:2, 2002) (pdf)
  8. Joel B. Wolowelsky, "On Kohanim and Uncommon Aliyyot". Tradition 39:2 (2005)
  9. Yehuda Herzl Henkin,
  10. Murderer in the Mikdash: Books: Gidon Rothstein
  11. Gidon Rothstein, "Women’s Aliyyot in Contemporary Synagogues." Tradition 39:2, Summer 2005.
  12. *Eden, Ami. "Gender Taboos Fall at New Orthodox Prayer Services", The Forward, September 20, 2002
  13. Rabbi Ariel Yaakov "Aliyat Nashim ba-Torah 'o la-Torah" (Women's Aliyot: In the Torah or to the Torah?") "Hazofe" August 8, 2007
  14. Ramat Gan chief rabbi slams 'radical feminist' egalitarian minyanim Jerusalem Post February 20, 2008
  15. Bar-Asher, Elitzur Avraham, "It is called a 'Halachic Minyan'" "Hazofe" August 8, 2007
  16. Rabbi Aryeh A. Frimer, "Women and Minyan", Tradition, 1988.
  17. the Seforim blog: Aryeh A. Frimer Review of Daniel Sperber’s Darka shel Halakha
  18. R. Frimer cited as an example of a case where leniency was available the ruling of Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg holding that women should be called for the third through seventh aliyah in a minyan consisting entirely of kohanim on grounds that the prohibition against calling two kohanim in a row overrides the prohibition against calling a woman.
  19. "A Mechitza Down the Middle" New Voices, November 25, 2005
  20. Kobi Nahshoni, "New Guide for the halachic and Egalitarian Minyan". Ynetnews February 10, 2008
  21. First guide for inclusive prayer services is published. New book outlines halachic borders for women's participation in synagogue services Jerusalem Post, February 20, 2008
  22. Alan Haber, "Egalitarian minyanim? Not authentic. Not Orthodox", Jerusalem Post, February 27, 2008.
  23. "Orthodox Conference explores "partnership minyan",The Jewish State

Further reading

  • Eliav Shochetman. Sinay 135-136 (2005), pp.271-336 (Article by Hebrew University Law School professor criticizing Mendel Shapiro's analysis )
  • Daniel Sperber, The Path of Halacha, Women Reading the Torah: A Case of Pesika Policy, Rubin Mass, Jerusalem, 2007 (Hebrew)
  • Kevod Hatzibbur: Towards a Contextualist History of Women's Role in Torah Reading Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues - Number 12, Fall 5767/2006, pp. 261-288
  • "Dignity of the Congregation" as a Defense Mechanism: A Halakhic Ruling by Rabbi Joseph Messas Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues - Number 13, Fall 5767/2007, pp. 183-206
  • Tova Hartman, Feminism Encounters Traditional Judaism: Resistance and Accommodation. Brandeis University Press, 2007. ISBN 1-58465-658-1.

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