Tuesday, June 25th, 2024

Partnership Minyanim by Aryeh A. Frimer and Dov I. Frimer

May 23, 2010 by  
Filed under Halakha, New Posts, Prayer

Below is the edited text of a teleconferenced lecture delivered by Rabbis Aryeh and Dov Frimer to participants at the 51st Annual Convention of the Rabbinical Council of America on April 27, 2010. These comments are based on a very lengthy and heavily documented article which will be completed shortly; with a few exceptions, only leading references are cited in the present manuscript.

Partnership or halakhic egalitarian minyanim (e.g., Shira Hadasha in Jerusalem and Darkhei Noam in Manhattan) actively involve women in leading the prayer service wherever these communities deem it halakhically appropriate. The practices differ from community to community, but can range from having women receive aliyyot and serve as ba’alot keriah, read Megillat Esther for men and women, read the other four Megillot, serve as Hazaniyyot for pesukei de-zimra and Kabbalat Shabbat, and lead the recitation of Hallel.  Let me make it clear at the outset, that these practices are a radical break from the ritual of millennia and have not received the approval of any major posek.

Because of time limitations, we have decided to focus on two major issues: keriat ha-Torah and the recitation of Hallel – because we believe them to be paradigmatic of many of the issues that have been raised. 

Women and Keri’at haTorah

Our discussion of keriat haTorah begins with the Gemara in Megilla 23a.

תנו רבנן: הכל עולין למנין שבעה, ואפילו קטן ואפילו אשה.

אבל אמרו חכמים: אשה לא תקרא בתורה, מפני כבוד צבור.

The Rabbis Taught: All are eligible to receive one of the seven [Sabbath] Aliyyot, even a minor and even a woman.  However, the Sages said: A woman may not read from the Torah, because of the honor of the community.

This Talmudic statement was subsequently codified essentially unchanged in Shulhan Arukh (O.H., sec. 282:3). Despite the above negative ruling of the Talmud, Shulkhan Arukh and in their wake all subsequent codifiers, within the last decade, there have been two major attempts to reopen this issue. One was an article penned by R. Mendel Shapiro, in the Edah Journal in Summer 2001. The second was the recent book Darka shel Halakha published by Israel Prize laureate R. Prof. Daniel Sperber.

Turning first to R. Mendel Shapiro, he argues that the major barrier to women getting aliyyot is kevod ha-tsibbur, which he understands to be related to a woman’s social status. Since there has been a dramatic change in the sociological status of women in contemporary society, this should impact upon the relevance of kevod ha-tsibbur. Furthermore, the community should be sovereign to forgo its honor.

Evolution of Keriat haTorah

Before responding to R. Shapiro’s analysis, a few words of introduction.  Keri’at haTorah has undergone somewhat of an evolution over the years.  The Talmud  [B.T., Bava Kamma 82a; J.T., Megilla 4:1] records that Moshe Rabbenu instituted that one oleh should read the Torah aloud for all – much like the way we practice the reading of Megillat Esther.  In an attempt to get more people involved, Ezra instituted multiple aliyyot, and he varied the number according to the nature and sanctity of the day. The goal of these readings was public Torah study and to assure that it would take place on a regular basis.

Additionally, each oleh originally read his own Torah portion aloud from the sefer Torah, much the way it is done in Yemenite Synagogues to this day.  This required literacy, knowledge and preparation – a challenge to which all were not equal (Resp.  Rivash, sec.  326). It was not until several hundred years later, in the Gaonic period (Resp. Iggerot Moshe, O.H., II, sec.  72), and certainly by the year 1000, that a ba’al korei was appointed to read aloud from the Torah for each oleh (Tosefot, Megilla 21b, s.v.  Tana,” ;  Piskei haRosh, Megilla, Chapt.  3, sec.  1).

How Can Women Theoretically Receive Aliyyot

            Now this gemara in Megilla indicates that a minor, and – were it not for kevod ha-tsibbur – a woman, might be eligible to receive an aliyya. This statement is quite astounding for one simple reason.  The overwhelming majority of posekim, both rishonim and aharonim, exempt women from any requirement to hear the public Torah reading, just as they exempt them from all other public prayer rituals.[1] The same is clearly true for a minor.

            The Mishna in Rosh haShana 3:8 states categorically:  

זה הכלל כל שאינו מחויב בדבר אינו מוציא את הרבים ידי חובתן

This is the general principle: one who is not obligated, cannot help others fulfill their obligation.”

This is comparable to the reading of Megillat Esther: a minor who is exempt cannot read the Megilla for an adult (Shulhan Arukh, O.H., sec.  689:2). 

            Now remember that in Mishnaic and Talmudic times, each oleh read their Torah portion aloud for the entire congregation.  How, then, could Haza”l even consider allowing women and minors, who are exempt from the keriat haTorah obligation, to receive an aliyya and read the Torah for the assembled?

            Perforce, the obligation of keriat haTorah differs fundamentally from the obligation of reading Megillat Esther.  In the case of Megilla, each adult male and female has a personal obligation to read from the Megilla.  The individual selected to read aloud from the Megilla scroll, thereby, enables others to fulfill their obligation via the principle of shome’a ke-oneh (listening attentively is like saying) – exactly as we do by Kiddush and Havdala.  In order for this principle to work, however, the reader must be a bar hiyyuva – inherently obligated.

But keri’at haTorah is necessarily different than reading the Megilla. Here you need not one knowledgeable individual to read, but seven! The Rivash (sec. 326) indicates that Haza”l were concerned by the difficulty of finding olim who would able to read from the Sefer Torah. They, therefore, considered widening the pool of eligible olim by formulating the keri’at haTorah obligation more leniently. There is a disagreement, however, as to the exact nature of this reformulation. 

One school argues that in contradistinction to the reading of Megillat Esther, keri’at haTorah is a not a personal obligation but a communal one –  hovat ha-tsibbur (see R. Ovadiah Yosef, Halikhot Olam, I, Parashat Ki Tisa, no. 4, note 4).  The men of the community are obligated to ensure that a minyan is available for a Torah reading – and when such has been secured, any Jew present, including women and minors who are not obligated, can at least in theory read for the community.

The second school maintains that the obligation is a personal one.  Nevertheless, in contradistinction to mikra Megilla, one’s duty is not to read from the Torah, but rather to listen as the words of the Torah are read aloud from the sefer Torah by several Jews (their number ranging from three to seven).  As to the obligation of listening to the reading, each one can do that by themselves (see R. Moses Feinstein, Iggerot Moshe, O.H., II, sec. 72, IV, secs. 23 and 40, nos. 4 and 5).  Hence, the exact level of obligation of the readers in keri’at haTorah is unimportant – they can be women or minors, provided they can read aloud.

The fundamental take home lesson from this discussion should be clear.  It’s not that women were obligated in keriat haTorah - and by right should have had aliyyot – and along came kevod ha-tsibbur (which we have yet to define) and took it away.  On the contrary, women are not obligated in Keri’at haTorah and, therefore, should have had no role to play therein.  In an exceptional move, and out of fear that there would not be enough knowledgeable men to read from the Sefer Torah, Haza”l considered allowing women to get aliyyot. It was a very special dispensation, instituted in times of rampant illiteracy, in an attempt to preserve the institution of Keri’at haTorah.  However, because of kevod ha-tsibbur, Haza”l decided that they would not allow this dispensation to become normative practice.  We will come back to this point again – because it is the key to understanding much of the issue of women and aliyyot.

Under a Ba’al Korei System

Let me note that up until now we have only explained the first part of the Baraita in Megilla 23a – namely הכל עולין למנין שבעה, ואפילו קטן ואפילו אשה . We have yet to talk about kevod ha-tsibbur. This we will do shortly.  But we’d like to point out that when the rabbis of the Talmud talked about women getting aliyyot, they were talking about a case where the Oleh made the berakhot and read aloud to the whole community. In fact, the Oleh is the only one in that room who has any obligation to read; everyone else is supposed to listen.

However, as you all know, nowadays the job of Oleh is bifurcated – divided into two. The oleh makes berakhot – but who does the mitsva action? Who does the ma’aseh ha-mitsva? The ba’al korei!  But, how can one person make berakhot and another do the ma’aseh ha-mitsva?  This is contrary to all other cases in Jewish law, where the one who does the action is the one who makes the berakha!   For there not to be a berakha le-vatala, there must be some mechanism to transfer the reading – the ma’aseh ha-mitsva – from the ba’al korei to the oleh.

We’ve already mentioned the mechanism of shome’a ke’oneh. It is through this mechanism that we fulfill our obligation in reading Megillat Esther, Kiddush and Havdala - by listening to the reciter.  However, this mechanism requires that the ba’al koreiwho does the mitsva action of reading aloud, and the oleh – who recites the berakha, be obligated in keri’at haTorah.  Otherwise there is no transfer mechanism to make it one act. The berakhot will not be connected to the act and will be le-vatala.  [Please note: we are not concerned here with how a non-obligated woman can read the Torah aloud for the community – with that we dealt above. Here we are focusing on her inability to read for the oleh or to have someone read for her when she is an olah.]

Now, a woman could read for herself and make the appropriate berakhot – there is no need in that case for transfer when the same person does both acts. But, she cannot read for others, nor can others read for her – and this is me-ikkar ha-din (basic law) and has nothing to do with kevod ha-tsibbur. It should be clear therefore that, even without talking about kevod ha-tsibbur, what is done in nearly all egalitarian/partnership minyanim is completely wrong; unless the woman who gets the aliyya reads for herself, the birkhot keri’at haTorah are berakhot le-vatala. If the woman who gets an aliyya does indeed read for herself, then we have to discuss the issue of kevod ha-tsibbur – to which we now turn

Kevod haTsibbur Defined

            All we have said thus far has been in the absence of kevod ha-tsibbur.  Let’s now introduce this concept into the equation. Let’s now return to the baraita cited in Megilla 23a

תנו רבנן: הכל עולין למנין שבעה, ואפילו קטן ואפילו אשה

Provided she reads for herself;

אבל אמרו חכמים: אשה לא תקרא בתורה, מפני כבוד צבור.

How are we to understand the kevod ha-tsibbur element by women’s aliyyot? And why does it not apply to a katan – a minor?

R. Mendel Shapiro argued that kevod ha-tsibbur is a social concept – and a woman’s general standing in society was lower than that of men. R. Shapiro unfortunately errs, however, for several reasons. Firstly, the vast majority of Rishonim and Aharonim simply disagree with his analysis – kevod ha-tsibbur has absolutely nothing to do with social standing. It is for this reason that perhaps the greatest social reprobate – a mamzer – can receive an aliyya (Rema O.H. sec. 282:3). Rather, the vast majority of Poskim maintain that kevod ha-tsibbur stems either from tsniut considerations, or from zilzul ha-mitsvah (disparaging or belittling ones obligation).

The Tsniut School includes inter alia such leading scholars as R. Yaakov Emden, R. Avraham David Rabinowitz-Teomim, R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, R. Shaul Yisraeli, R. Dov Eliezerov, R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, R. Eliezer Waldenberg all zatsa”l, and R. Shlomo Yosef Elyashiv, R. Efraim Greenblatt and R. Zalman Nechemia Goldberg Shlit”a.[2]  This school argues that because of possible sexual distraction, women should not unnecessarily be at the center of communal religious ritual.  This is particularly true by keri’at haTorah since women are simply not obligated in Torah reading.

It’s important to note that the synagogue is the one place that we particularly try to sanctify our thoughts; and we make special efforts to avoid all sexual distraction.  Therefore, R. Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim, R. Abraham Isaac Kook and R. Menachem Kasher, note that the standards of tsniut in a synagogue are halakhically greater than those in other venues – as evidenced by the requirement of a mehitsa.

Now, if a woman is obligated to fulfill a particular personal ritual, such as reciting birkat ha-gomel or saying Kaddish yatom, many gedolei ha-poskim see no problem, for this is her individual obligation. The concern of the Tsniut School is for women unnecessarily being at the center of a communal religious ritual.

The second Zilzul haMitsvah School includes among others R. Naphtali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, R. Yosef Kapah, R. Ovadiah Yosef, R. Yosef Messas, and R. Shimon Harrari,[3] but is actually precedented by several Rishonim [Rashi, Tosafot, Tosafot haRosh and Tosafot Rabbenu Peretz to Sukka 38a]. These scholars maintain that the men, who ARE obligated, should be the ones fulfilling the mitsva – not the women who are NOT. To have those exempted lead the communal ritual reveals that the men do not value their mitzva obligations – which constitutes zilzul or bizayon ha-mitsva. This consideration does not apply to ketanim because of hinukh considerations.

Can a Community Set Aside Kevod haTsibbur by Women’s Aliyyot?

Now, in light of this, we believe that in the specific case of women’s aliyyot, the large majority of poskim would rule that a community cannot set aside its honor – for a variety of reasons. Firstly, there is a substantial cadre of rishonim (eg., Rambam and Semag) and aharonim (inter alia, Ma’aseh Roke’ah, R. BenZion Lichtman, R. Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg)[4] who maintain that in the specific case of women’s aliyyot, the rabbis simply forbade women from ever receiving aliyyot – even in cases of she’at ha-dehak where there is no one else knowledgeable to read.

There is another very large group of poskim[5] – probably the majority – led by the Ba”H, who also maintain that a community cannot set aside kevod ha-tsibbur. In cases of she’at ha-dehak – where there is no one else eligible, kevod ha-tsibbur is no longer in effect because Haza”l never forbad under such dire straits. Only then can a woman read, and it is to such cases that the Gemara in Megilla was referring.

Finally, it makes little sense that Haza”l would disallow women’s aliyyot because of deep concerns about kevod ha-tsibbur – be it because of tsniut or zilzul ha-mitsvah – and yet, a community could come along and say, we don’t care about Haza”l’s concerns.

Now let me reiterate the point we made earlier.  It’s not that women were full partners in keriat haTorah, and kevod ha-tsibbur came along and took away from women something that was rightfully theirs.  Rather because of rampant illiteracy and lack of education, the Rabbis as a special dispensation considered the possibility of allowing women to get aliyyot.  Haza”l determined, however, that as normative synagogue practice this would be a bad idea, because it might well introduce an unnecessary element of sexual distraction or would reflect the belittling of the men’s mitsva obligation.  It did, however, remain an option according to most authorities for she’at ha-dehak situations – situations where no one else was able or eligible to read.

Kevod haTsibbur and Partnership Minyanim

Now here comes our central point! This understanding of kevod ha-tsibbur clearly applies to the vast majority of innovations in Partnership Minyanim.  While women are welcome, even encouraged to attend shul, they are not obligated to maintain a properly functioning minyan in their community. They are not obligated in minyan attendance, nor in tefilla be-tsibbur nor in keri’at haTorah nor in any other public prayer rituals – which we do as a tsibbur

Having women lead such public rituals would at least be a violation of kevod ha-tsibbur – according to either of its possible definitions. The zilzul ha-mitsvah view of kevod ha-tsibbur maintains that since it is the men who ARE obligated in public prayer rituals, they should be the ones fulfilling them – not women who are NOT at all obligated. The source and nature of this obligation is not critical. It may be biblical, rabbinic, custom or mitsva min ha-muvhar. The recitation of the megillot, kaballat Shabbat and certainly pesukei de-zimra in shul – is a long standing communal minhag of at least hundreds of years. Indeed, R. Saadya Gaon holds that the role of the shaliah tsibbur begins before pesukei de-zimra, and that is our minhag. In a shul context, it is the men who are obligated in performing and running public prayer. To have women fulfill these communal obligations would reveal that the men-folk do not value their halakhic responsibilities and obligations, and that is a serious issue of zilzul or bizayon ha-mitsva. Again there is no kevod ha-tsibbur by a katan because of Hinukh.

The Tsniut School, on the other hand, argues that because of possible sexual distraction, women should not unnecessarily be at the center of any communal religious ritual. By contrast, birkat ha-gomel and even Kaddish yetoma are individual obligations done in a minyan. Reciting Kiddush after shul can be viewed as fulfilling ones personal obligation in the presence of many; but its not part of the public prayer ritual – hence kevod ha-tsibbur is not relevant

We note that the correctness of the above analysis, that the practices of Partnership Minyanim violate kevod ha-tsibbur, has been confirmed by Moreinu veRabbenu R. Aharon Lichtenstein and the noted posek R. Moshe Mordechai Karp, she-yibadlu le-hayyim tovim ve-arukim.

Kavod haBeriyyot

The second attempt to reopen the issue of aliyyot for women is that of R. Prof. Daniel Sperber, in Darka shel Halakha.  There is much to critique in this book and AAF has written a lengthy review which appeared on “The Seforim Blog” in June 2008 (http://seforim.blogspot.com/2008/06/aryeh-frimer-review-of-daniel-sperbers.html). We will focus, however, on Prof. Sperber’s major hiddush in this book. Briefly, Prof. Sperber focuses on the halakhic concept kevod ha-beriyot, which refers to shame or embarrassment which would result from the fulfillment of a religious obligation. Thus, the Gemara in Berakhot 19b indicates that if one is wearing sha’atnez –the wearer is obligated to remove it even in the marketplace, despite any possible embarrassment. However, if the garment is only rabbinically forbidden, one can wait until they return home to change.  The reason is that kevod ha-beriyyot, the honor of the individual, can defer rabbinic obligations and prohibitions. Hence, Prof. Sperber maintains that if there is a community of women who are offended by their not receiving aliyyot – because of the rabbinic rule of kevod ha-tsibbur, then kevod ha-beriyyot should defer kevod ha-tsibbur.

Prof. Sperber is correct that kevod ha-beriyyot has always been an important consideration in psak.  However, an in-depth survey of the responsa literature over the past 1000 years makes it clear that it cannot be invoked indiscriminately.  Indeed, the gedolei ha-poskim make apparent that there are clearly defined rules – we have found 14 – which Prof. Sperber totally seems to ignore. Violating any one of these rules nullifies R. Sperber’s claim and we believe he has violated nearly all 14 of them. Because of time limitations we will very quickly cite only seven (7).

(1) Firstly, kevod ha-tsibbur is merely the kevod ha-beriyyot of the community (Resp. Bet Yehuda, O.H. 58).   Hence it makes no sense that the honor of the individual should have priority over the honor of a large collection of individuals. Indeed, this is explicitly stated by the Meiri, Bet haBehira, Berakhot 19b):”שאין כבוד רבים נדחה מפני יחיד או יחידים”

(2) Secondly, The Meiri (ibid.) also emphatically states: “שלא אמרה תורה כבד אחרים בקלון עצמך.”  Giving women aliyyot by overriding kevod ha-tsibbur with kevod ha-beriyyot would effectively be honoring women by dishonoring the community – and, hence, should not be done.

(3) More fundamentally, R. Sperber’s suggestion would ask us to uproot completely the rabbinic ban on women’s aliyyot. However, the Jerusalem Talmud (Kilayyim 9:1) indicates that kevod ha-beriyyot can only temporarily (sha’ah ahat) set aside a rabbinic ordinance. That this proviso of sha’ah ahat is applied to Rabbinic mitsvot as well – by Tosafot, Or Zarua, Penei Moshe, Vilna Gaon, R. David Pardo, Arukh haShulhan and others.[6]

(4) Fourthly, many poskim including R. Yair Hayyim Bachrach, R. Isaac Blazer, R. Meir Simha of Dvinsk, R. Jeroham Perlow, R. Moses Feinstein, R. Chaim Zev Reines[7]  indicate that the “dishonor” that is engendered must result from an act of disgrace – not from refraining to give honor.

(5) Similarly, nearly all authorities (including R. Naftali Amsterdam, R. Elhanan Bunim Wasserman, R. Makiel Tsvi haLevi Tannenbaum, R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, R. Elijah Bakshi Doron, R. Chaim Zev Reines, R. Israel Shepansky, and R. Yitzchak Nissim[8]) maintain that kevod ha-beriyyot requires an objective standard that affects or is appreciated by all.  This view rejects subjective standards – in which what is embarrassing results from the idiosyncrasies or hypersensitivities of an individual or small group.  Many religiously committed women would perhaps prefer it otherwise; but they understand and accept the halakhic given, that they are not obligated in keri’at haTorah and, hence, cannot receive aliyyot.

More fundamentally, however, does it make any sense that a group of women or men could say: “this Rabbinic halakha or ordinance offends me” and as a result the Rabbinic injunction or obligation would be abrogated thereby?! Is there a simple carte blanche to uproot Rabbinic ordinances like mehitsa, tsni’ut, kashrut, stam yeynam, bishul akum, many aspects of taharat ha-mishpahah, who counts for a minyan, and who can serve as a hazzan?! Such a position is untenable, if not unthinkable. 

(6) Resp. Rivash (sec. 226) forbad sewing baby clothes during hol ha-moed for a newborn’s circumcision despite the wealthy parents’ desire to dress him according to his status for the event. One of Rivash’s rationales is that since all understand that Haza”l forbade sewing new clothes on hol ha-moed, kevod ha-beriyyot cannot be invoked to circumvent this rabbinic prohibition. Similarly, one cannot invoke kevod ha-beriyyot to allow women to receive aliyyot, because all understand that this has been synagogue procedure for two millennia and that the Rabbis of the Talmud themselves prohibited it.

(7) Rivash (ibid.) and Havot Yair (sec. 95) and others categorically rule against extending the leniency of kevod ha-beriyyot beyond those 4 categories explicitly discussed by Haza”l - honor of the deceased, personal hygiene dealing with excrement, undress and nakedness, and the sanctity of the family unit.

Thus we believe that the arguments of both Rabbis Shapiro and Sperber do not stand up under close scrutiny and there are no grounds to permit women’s aliyyot. Hence, we take strong issue with those who would enact women’s aliyyot in practice, and hastily undo more than two millennia of Halakhic precedent. Considering the novelty of this innovation, religious integrity and sensitivity would have required serious consultation with renowned halakhic authorities of recognized stature – before acting on such a significant departure from tradition and normative halakha. Often it takes time before a final determination can be reached as to whether or not a suggested innovation meets these standards. But that is no excuse for haste.

Recitation of Hallel in the Talmudic Period

            One of the new major innovations instituted by Partnership Minyanim is having a woman serve as the shelihat tsibbur for the recitation of Hallel. What is the rationale behind this innovation?

            In the Talmudic period, the general custom was for the shali’ah tsibbur to recite the entire Hallel alone, out loud, with the congregation punctuating the Hallel with various responses of Halleluya and the repetition of specific verses. The community fulfills its obligation of Hallel via the recitation of the shali’ah tsibbur by the general mechanism of shome’a ke-oneh. The precise nature of the communal response is the subject of much debate: yet the model of the responsive Hallel interplay is the shira ve-aniyya (song and response) of Moshe Rabbenu and Am Yisrael when they sang shirat ha-yam in praise of the Almighty – as described in Sotah (30b). This unique responsive Hallel format (also referred to by the classic commentaries as ker’ia ve-aniyya, recitation and response) is invoked, according to the vast majority of authorities, only when reciting Hallel be-tsibbur; but not when Hallel is recited be-yehidut (alone).[9]

            What kind of tsibbur is required for the responsive Hallel? Rema (O.H., 422:2), allows a responsive Hallel even when there are merely three males (see next paragraph) davening together. R. Moshe Soloveitchik (Reshimot Shiurim, supra note 9, p. 190) maintained, however, that except for Seder night (see Shulhan Arukh, O.H., 479:1), a regular minyan of ten men is necessary for shira ve-aniyya. Hallel was enacted to be part of the shaharit service; and just as shaharit be-tsibbur requires a minyan, so too Hallel be-tsibbur. Arukh haShulhan (O.H., sec. 422, no. 8) indicates that the general custom follows the latter position.

            The Mishnah in the third chapter of Sukka teaches that the responsive shira ve-aniyya form can only be utilized – even be-tsibbur – when the shali’ah tsibbur is an adult male, who is obligated in Hallel, either by takana or by custom. However, if the congregation cannot find a qualified adult male shali’ah tsibbur, then they willy-nilly must rely upon a woman or a minor to serve as shali’ah tsibbur. However, since both a minor and a woman are exempt from the obligation of Hallel, the general mechanism of shome’a ke-oneh cannot be invoked. This is because, as noted above, shome’a ke-oneh requires that both the listener and the reciter be obligated; as a result, the responsive Hallel cannot be said. Instead, for the congregation to fulfill it’s basic Hallel obligation it must repeat the words of the minor or woman, word for word. Moreover, the Mishnah states that a person or congregation that needs to rely on such a non-obligated minor or female shali’ah tsibbur, is to be cursed – tavo lo me’eira.

            The rishonim give two reasons for this drastic punishment of me’eira. The first reason is that the congregation has allowed itself to be so ignorant as to be forced into a position where it needs to rely upon non-obligated shelihei tsibbur. However, even if the members of the congregation are educated, they are nonetheless deserving of a curse; this is because they have appointed as their communal representative before the Almighty one who is not even obligated in the task. They have thereby insulted both the mitsva and the Metsaveh Himself [Rashi, Tosafot, Tosafot haRosh and Tosafot Rabbenu Perets to Sukka 38a].

Hallel in the Post-Talmudic Period

Our contemporary pattern of reciting Hallel differs dramatically from the Talmudic form. Today, our communities are all considered to be educated (beki’im) who are knowledgeable in the proper recitation of Hallel. As a result, our custom is for everyone to recite Hallel for himself and not rely on the Shali’ah Tsibbur. Nevertheless, we have maintained some semblance of the original custom of a responsive Hallel when recited be-tsibbur, although the segments of Hallel actually recited responsively are far fewer than those of the Talmudic period. Thus, only by the recitation of Yomar na Yisrael…Yomar na Bet Aharon Yomar na Yirei Hashem…Ana Hashem Hoshi’a na and Ana Hashem Hatsliha na is there shira ve-aniyya. Yet, even with regard to these responsive portions of the Hallel, the aharonim note that the general practice today is to have the community say these verses as well, and not rely solely on their recitation by the hazzan.

            If so, the argument goes, why can’t a woman lead the Hallel service in our day and age? After all, the members of the congregation are anyway reciting Hallel themselves word for word, individually, fulfilling their own Hallel obligation. Consequently, the lack of obligation of the female Shat”z in no way impacts today on the obligation of the congregants.

            We, however, believe this argument to be erroneous for three major reasons. First, having a woman lead the congregation in Hallel – as in pesukei de-zimra – violates kevod ha-tsibbur. This understanding – confirmed to us by both R. Aharon Lichtenstein and R. Moshe Mordechai Karp – was discussed at length above.

            Second, having a woman, who is not obligated in the recitation of Hallel, lead the service, raises the concern of me’eira. Haza”l’s criticism of have one who is not obligated in Hallel lead the service, has little to do with the Hazzan being motsi. After all, one who is not hayyav simply cannot be motsi the congregation. Even in the Mishnah of Sukka, the non-obligated minor or female shaliah tsibbur is not being motsi the tsibbur. That is precisely why the Mishnah requires each member of the congregation to recite the Hallel individually, with each person fulfilling his own obligation. Rather, as the Rishonim emphasize, Haza”l’s criticism results from the fact that by appointing a non-obligated person to lead the service, the congregation is: “mevazeh ba-mitsvot la’asot sheluhin ka-eileh mi-shum de-lav benei hiyyuva ninhu” (Tosafot Rabbenu Perets, Sukka 38a). Through their appointment, the congregation demonstrates that it does not take their Hallel obligation seriously. Even today, the Shaliah Tsibbur plays a central role in leading the communal Hallel service, especially in those parts that are recited responsively. While the hazzan today is not motsi the tsibbur, he, nonetheless, melds the congregation into a cohesive unit and leads them in the communal Hallel.  Only one who is obligated in Hallel can be an appropriate messenger/leader for his agent-congregation before the Almighty. [This analysis was also concurred to by Rabbis Aharon Lichtenstein, Moshe Mordechai Karp and Barukh David Povarsky (personal conversations with DIF, April 2010).]

            The final objection is based upon the teachings of Moreinu ve-Rabbenu haRav Yosef Dov Ha-Levi Soloveitchik zt”l (Reshimot Shiurim, supra note 9). The Rav explains that there are two dimensions to the mitsva of Hallel. The first is the simple recitation of Hallel; the second is the responsive reading of Hallel. While an individual can fulfill the obligation of the simple recitation of Hallel, only a tsibbur can fulfill the mitzvah of reciting Hallel responsively. Reciting Hallel responsively is a unique kiyyum of Hallel ha-tsibbur – similar to reciting kedusha in tefilla be-tsibbur. The Rav further emphasized that tefilla and Hallel be-tsibbur are not merely enhanced forms of tefillat veHallel ha-yahid. Rather they are separate and distinct categories, each being its own unique heftsa shel mitsva, with its own set of rules. One such unique feature of Hallel be-tsibbur is the responsive keri’a ve-aniyya format.

            Since women cannot create the heftsa  of mitsvot ha-tsibbur, the Rav maintains that women cannot lead the  tsibbur in their kiyyum. Consequently, women would be barred from serving as shelihei tzibbur for the recitation of Hallel ha-tsibbur.

            Professor Haym Soloveitchik, in his now classic work “Rupture and Construction,” [Tradition, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Summer 1994)] skillfully documented the gradual move in Contemporary Orthodoxy from a mimetic halakhic tradition to a text-based tradition. He further noted the profound impact that this transition had on the move of contemporary Orthodoxy in the 20th Century towards greater humra (stringency). What we are now beginning to witness is a similar, but opposite, text-oriented movement towards greater kula (leniency).

            We would like to suggest that neither is healthy for the halakhic process or for the Torah community. Perhaps what is called for is a balanced return to a more mimetic-influenced tradition, with its inherent sensitivity and stability without rigidity. But that is for another occasion.


[1]. See, for example: Tosafot, Rosh haShana 33a, s.v. Ha”; Rosh, Kiddushin 31a; Meiri and Ran on Rif,  Megilla 23a, s.v. haKol Olim”; Sefer Avudraham, Sha’ar haShelishi, s.v.Katav haRambam zal”; Sefer haBatim, Beit Tefilla, Sha’arei Keriat haTorah 2:6; Beit Yosef, O.H.  sec.  28, s.v.  haKol” and Derisha ad loc

[2]. R. Jacob Emden, Mor uKetsia, O.H., sec. 55, s.v.Katuv baMordekha” and sec. 282; R. Elijah David Rabinowitz-Teomim, Over Orah, sec. 110, s.v.ve-Nireh”; R. Walter S. Wurzburger, “R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik as Posek of Post-Modern Orthodoxy,” Tradition, 29:1, pp. 5-21 (Fall 1994), at p. 17; R. Shaul Yisraeli,  Resp. beMareh haBazak, I, sec. 37, no. 7; R. Dov Eliezerov, Resp. Sha’ali Zion, Tinyana, part 1, O.H., sec. 19; R. Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg, in Resp. beMareh haBazak, V, addendum to sec. 113, pp. 225-228; R. Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg, Resp. Binyan Ariel, E.H., “Birkat Hatanim biSe’udat Sheva Berakhot al yedei Isha,” pp. 135-141; R. Shlomo Yosef Elyashiv, cited in R. Abraham-Sofer Abraham, Nishemat Avraham, V, Y.D., sec. 195, p. 76-77; R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, cited in R. Abraham-Sofer Abraham, Nishemat Avraham, V, Y.D., sec. 195, p. 76-77 – see also Halikhot Shlomo, I, Hilkhot Tefilla, Chap. 20, sec. 11, note 20; R. Eliezer Waldenberg, Resp. Tsits Eliezer, XX, sec. 36, nos. 2 and 3; R. Efraim Greenblatt, Resp. Rivevot Efrayyim, I, sec. 449.

[3]. R. Naphtali Zvi Judah Berlin (Netsiv), Meromei Sadeh, Sukka 38a, s.v. Mishna. Mi sheHaya”; R. Joseph Kafah, Commentary to Yad, Hilkhot Megilla, chap. 1, no. 1, note 3; R. Ovadiah Yosef, miShiurei Maran haRishon leZion Rabbi Ovadya Yosef Shlita, Gilyon 19, Motsash Parashat vaYeira 5756; R. Ovadiah Yosef, Mishnat Yosef, III, Shiurei Maran haRishon leZion 5762, Parashat veYetse, Hilkhot Keriat beSefer Torah beShabbat, no. 11; R. Joseph Messas, Resp. Mayyim Hayyim, II, sec. 140; R. Simeon Harari, Resp. Sha’ar Shimon Ehad, I, sec. 4, s.v. veHineh ma”.

[4]. Maimonides, Yad, Hilkhot Tefilla, sec. 12, no. 17; R. Moses ben Jacob of Coucy, Sefer Mitsvot Gadol, Divrei Soferim, Aseh, no. 4, Hilkhot Megilla, s.v.Tanya beTosefta”; R. Masud Hai Rokei’ah, Ma’ase Rokei’ah, Yad, ad loc; R. Ben-Zion Lichtman, Benei Zion, IV, O.H. sec. 282, no. 3, note 6; R. Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg, in Resp. beMareh haBazak, V, addendum to sec. 113, pp. 225-228; R. Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg, Resp. Binyan Ariel, E.H., “Birkat Hatanim biSe’udat Sheva Berakhot al yedei Isha,” pp. 135-141; Tehilla leYona – Masekhet Megilla,

[5]Inter alia: R. Joel Sirkis, Bayit Hadash (Bah), Tur, O.H. sec. 53, s.v. veEin memanin;” R. Joseph Caro in Shulhan Arukh, sec. 53, no. 6 according to Pri Megadim, O.H., sec. 53, Eshel Avraham, note 9; R. Israel Lipschutz, Tiferet Yisrael to Mishna Megilla 4:6, no. 45; R. Hayyim Sofer in his comments to R. Jacob Alfanadri, Mutsal meEish, sec. 10; R. Judah Ayash, Resp. Bet Yehuda, I, O.H., secs. 22 and 55; Kaf haHayyim, O.H., sec. 143, note 10 – see, however, sec. 690, no. 5; Resp. Mishpitei Ouziel, IV, H.M., sec. 4;

[6]. To JT Kilayyim 9:1, see: R. Moses Margaliyot, Penei Moshe and Mareh Panim; R. Elijah Kramer of Vilna (Gra), Perush haGra; R. Yitshak-Isaac Krasilchikov, Toldot Yitshak. This is also the opinion of: Tosafot, Ketubot 103b, end of s.v. Oto;” R. Isaac of Vienna, Or Zarua, II,  Hilkhot Erev Shabbat, sec. 6; R. David Samuel Pardo, Resp. Mikhtam leDavid, Y.D., sec. 51; Arukh haShulhan, Y.D., sec. 303.

[7]. R. Jair Hayyim Bachrach, Resp. Havot Yair, end of sec. 96 (“shame visible to all”); R. Isaac Blazer, Resp. Pri Yitshak, sec. 54, s.v. Yikrat devarav;” R. Meir Simha of Dvinsk, Or Same’ah, Hilkhot Yom Tov, chap. 6, sec. 14; R. Jeroham Perlow, Commentary on Sefer Hamitzvos L’Rav Saadya Gaon, I, Esin 19 (p. 146, column 4); R. Moses Feinstein, Resp. Iggerot Moshe, Y.D., I, sec. 249, s.v.veNimtsa; R. Chaim Zev Reines, “Kevod haBeriyyot,” Sinai 27:7-12 (159-164; Nisan-Elul 5710), pp. 157-168.

[8]. Responsum of R. Naftali Amsterdam quoted in R. Isaac Blazer, Resp. Pri Yitshak, sec. 53; R. Elhanan Bunim Wasserman, Kovets Shiurim, I, Bava Batra, sec. 49; R. Makiel Tsvi haLevi Tannenbaum, Resp. Divrei Malkiel, I, sec. 67 and III, sec. 82; R. Isaac Nissim, unpublished responsum cited by R. Aaron Arend, “Hagigat Bat-Mitsva bePiskei haRav Yitshak Nissim,” in Bat-Mitsva, Sarah Friedlander ben Arza, ed. (Jerusalem: Matan: 2002/5762), pp. 109-115, at p. 113; R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Divrei Hashkafa, pp. 234-235; R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik cited by R. Zvi Schechter, “miPeninei Rabbenu,” Bet Yitshak, 36 (5764), p. 320ff; R. Elijah Bakshi Doron, Resp. Binyan Av, II, sec. 55, no. 3; R. Chaim Zev Reines, supra, note 3, p. 157; R. Israel Shepansky R. Israel Shepansky, “Gadol Kevod haBeriyyot,Or haMizrah, 33:3-4 (118-119; Nisan-Tammuz, 5745), pp. 217-228 – p. 225, note 48; R. David Povarsky, Sefer Bad Kodesh to Berakhot, Zera’im, Shabbat and Eiruvin (Bnai Brak, 5767), Berakhot, sec. 4, pp. 13-18, at p. 17.  

[9]. See: Tur and Arukh haShulhan, O.H., sec. 422; R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik in R. Zvi Joseph Reichman, Reshimot Shiurim [New York: 4749], Sukka 38a, p. 185-190; R. Barukh David Povarsky, Bad Kodesh – Berakhot, Zeraim, Shabbat, Eruvin, sec. 18; R. Moses Mordechai Karp, Mishmeret Moed, Sukka, pp. 332-338.

* Rabbi Dr. Aryeh A. Frimer is the Ethel and David Resnick Professor of Active Oxygen Chemistry at Bar Ilan University.  Rabbi Dr. Dov I. Frimer is an attorney practicing in Jerusalem and Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Law at The Hebrew University.

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