Orthodox breakthrough for women with new service

An Orthodox service led by women as well as men is to take place in London on Sunday – possibly the first of its kind to be held openly in the UK.

It will happen before the start of the inaugural conference of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance UK in Golders Green, although it is not part of the conference.

As Sunday is Rosh Chodesh, the New Moon, a Sefer Torah will be used and both women and men will be able to called up as well as read from it.

Partnership minyans, as they are known, have previously taken place privately in people’s homes.

One of the organisers of the minyan, Miri Freud Kandel, who lectures in modern Judaism at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, said that it was “a happy coincidence” that it was taking place on the same day as the conference.

“There are two Sundays in the year when Rosh Chodesh falls on a Sunday,” she said. “There have been Friday night minyans in people’s homes. The beauty of this is that it will allow women to leyn from the Torah in a manner that will conform with halachah.

“It is an independent minyan so it doesn’t require external halachic authority beyond the permission given to 22 other such communities functioning around the world.”

One of the leading halachic advisers to partnership minyans, Rabbi Professor Daniel Sperber, the British-born Talmud scholar, will be coming from Israel to speak at the Jofa UK conference and will attend the minyan.

At the service, men and women will sit separately and be divided by a mechitzah. “A woman is allowed to lead Pizukei d’Zimra, the opening parts of the service,” Dr Freud-Kandel explained.

“A man will do much of the rest of Shacharit, a woman will lead the Hallel. And both men and women will be called up for an aliyot and to do the leyning.”

The longstanding prohibition on women participating in the leyning, she said, “is based on a talmudic statement that it impugns the honour of the congregation. The halachic interpretation of rabbis like Rabbi Sperber is that in certain communities it could be argued that excluding women is what discredits the honour of the congregation.”

Dr Freud Kandel, who is a United Synagogue member, said if permission to hold such a minyan were sought from “the established authorities of the community, I fear we’ll be waiting a very long time.”

Rabbi Baruch Davis, chairman of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue, said there was concern about the partnership minyan.

“We view it as being outside the realm of halachah,” he said. “The vast majority of rabbis, including modern Orthodox rabbis, are against such a concept.

“There is a small minority of rabbis who are comfortable with it. But you’d be hard pressed to find many in this country.”

Last updated: 6:45pm, June 6 2013