FROM A REVIEW BY RABBI ISRAEL DRAZIN FROM THE JEWISH EYE
What are the halakhic concerns that bother the rabbis and scholars? Unfortunately, this volume makes it clear that there is no agreement either on what is significant or what the apparently significant concern means, and this is one of the many problems frustrating a solution. For example: The code of Jewish law, Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 282:3, states that "congregational dignity," kevod ha-tsibur, is affected by women being called to the Torah, reading the passages, and making a Hebrew blessing. The book shows that the reason for this exclusion is far from being clear. Did the concern develop, as many rabbis maintain, because there was a period in Jewish history when most Jewish men could not read Hebrew and when they saw women being able to do so they were embarrassed? Is this ancient notion still relevant? Men can now read the blessing in Hebrew or in transliteration. Rabbi Shapiro and Rabbi Professor Sperber argue that this is really the only tenable halakhic objection to women's aliyot, and there are reasons, as we will discuss below, why this halakhah should be overrun and women's aliyot should be allowed for all the Torah readings.
A second reason that some rabbis and scholars see restricting female participation in aliyot is the talmudic ban against hearing a woman's voice, called qol ishah. Shapiro and Sperber point out that Orthodox men hear women making blessings frequently, sometimes daily, without this qol ishah concern.
A third rationale for exclusion of women from aliyot is a principle in Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 3:8 that a person who is exempt from a mitzvah, meaning a woman, a child, or a non-Jew, cannot fulfill the mitzvah on behalf of a Jew who has the obligation.
Is the Torah the "defining Jewish experience and as such it is the spiritual property of all Jews: men, women, and children" as Rabbi Shapiro contends? Also, as he states, if women cannot discharge a man's obligation to hear the reading of the Torah, why doesn't Jewish law say this? By saying that females should not be given aliyot because of "congregational dignity," the rabbis clearly imply that if this hurdle is overcome, women may have aliyot and they will discharge the entire congregation's obligation. Rabbi Professor Sperber offers his view why and how the "congregational dignity" rule can be overcome.
The view of Professor Sperber
Professor Sperber argues, and presents a host of examples to support his view, that the concept of "congregational dignity" depends upon the concerns of a particular congregation at a particular time. If the congregation is not affronted by women having aliyot, another principle, kevod ha-beri'ot, "human dignity," overturns it. The concept of "human dignity" recognizes the humanity and dignity of women. In saying this, Sperber is not suggesting that Jewish traditions do not apply. He is arguing that the concept of "human dignity" is also part of halakhah and trumps the concept of "congregational dignity" in this case.
Followers of Shapiro and Sperber
Dr. Ross comments that a growing number of Orthodox congregations in the United States, Israel, and Australia have accepted the views of Rabbi Shapiro and Rabbi Professor Sperber and have established Orthodox egalitarian-style prayer groups where women are given aliyot and function as shelichot tsibur, prayer leaders, leading those parts of the synagogue service that do not halakhically require ten adult males, such as the repetition of the amidah, and which halakhah is understood to mandate that these portions be led by men. These groups, writes Dr. Ross, feel that they are taking the first step to address and solve the issue of female aliyot. --Dr. Israel Drazin, The Jewish Eye.com
The rise today of women to fuller, more equal participation in Jewish religious life is of historic significance and is, indeed, the eschatological dream of Judaism. Thankfully, it is being achieved by evolutionary means. Yet, every evolutionary path has its transformative moments and watershed experiences along the way, and this book is one of them. With his learning, his courage, his total grounding in the sea and language of halakhah, Rabbi Daniel Sperber connects the enterprise of partnership minyanim almost seamlessly to the tradition. Sperber presumes women s intelligence, their faithfulness, their spiritual longing. In doing so, he honors the struggle of Orthodox women as one that enhances community a machloket le shem shamayim. But there s more here. From the extraordinary and elegant opening by Tamar Ross, to the creative foundation document by Mendel Shapiro founding father and ideologue of the partnership minyanim, to the cogent and thoughtful dissenting views of Rabbis Shochetman and Riskin, every word in this treasured volume has value and meaning. Would that all halakhic and communal issues that arise in our time be engaged in so profound an analysis and so civil a discourse! --Blu Greenberg, author and founding president of JOFA, New York, NY