Opening doors to women

A Masorti view of the role of women in synagogue

By Simon Rocker, February 1, 2014

The Status of Women in Jewish Law: Responsa, David Golinkin, Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, $25

The role of women in the synagogue has become one of the most challenging issues facing the Orthodox rabbinate. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis may have ruled out the possibility of partnership minyans — where women read from the Torah and can lead some of the prayers — within his domain for the time being. But now that such minyans have emerged independently in the UK, following the lead of Israel and America, who knows what will happen within a generation?

Rabbi David Golinkin’s collection comprises a number of responsa on questions of women’s participation in ritual, written from a Masorti perspective; he is professor of Jewish law at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

His topics range from women wearing tefillin to the ordination of female rabbis, in a work for people who are interested in the halachic detail. He reviews such concepts as kol ishah (the prohibition on men hearing a women sing) or kevod tzibbur, the “dignity of the congregation”, which has been cited by mainstream Orthodox rabbis to deny women an aliyah to the Torah.

Whether one agrees or not with his conclusions, he musters an impressive array of sources down the ages. His opening essay is a fascinating survey of innovations from the 19th century, from the Litvak dayan who gave his wife semichah to deal with kashrut questions to the Baghdadi rabbi who supported batmitzvah celebrations.

Last updated: 1:45pm, February 1 2014