Ramat Gan chief rabbi slams 'radical feminist' egalitarian minyanim

Rabbi Ya'acov Ariel: "Men who come to the synagogue to pray do not want to be distracted by the prominent appearance of women."

women read torah 88 (photo credit: )
women read torah 88
(photo credit: )
Ramat Gan Chief Rabbi Ya'acov Ariel said Tuesday that it is prohibited according to Jewish law to take part in an "egalitarian" or "partnership" minyan that permits women to read from the Torah or lead the congregation in prayer. Ariel was reacting to the publication of The Guide for the Halachic Minyan by Michal and Elitzur Bar-Asher. The guide is a compilation of halachic sources on how to integrate women into prayer while at the same time purportedly adhering to all Orthodox strictures. This is not the first time Ariel has proscribed attending partnership or egalitarian minyanim. Last summer, in a series of articles, Ariel publicized his opinion, specifically mentioning the Shira Hadasha minyan in Jerusalem, one of several "halachic egalitarian" minyanim in Israel. "These minyanim are the product of radical feminist agendas," said Ariel. "And they are a departure from normative Judaism." Jewish law prohibits giving women the opportunity to read publicly from the Torah out of respect for the community [kvod hatzibur]. Ariel interprets kvod hatzibur to mean "distraction," including sexual distraction. "Men who come to the synagogue to pray do not want to be distracted by the prominent appearance of women," said Ariel. "I do not necessarily mean only sexual distraction, although that is a real possibility since too many women dress provocatively these days. "Rather I mean that women attract a lot of attention from men, both intentionally and unintentionally, on many different levels. And this hurts the quality of the prayers because men are not able to concentrate as well." However, not all Orthodox rabbis interpret kvod hatzibur in the same way. For instance, Rabbi Yehuda Henkin, in his recently published book Understanding Tzniut: Modern Controversies in the Jewish Community, rejected the sexual distraction explanation for kvod hatzibur, stating "one of the offshoots of the contemporary preoccupation with sex is the tendency to read sexual considerations into halacha where they don't belong." Henkin rejected another interpretation presented by Rabbi Mendel Shapiro in an article entitled "Kriyat Hatorah by Women: A Halachic Analysis" that appeared in the modern Orthodox journal Edah. In his article, Shapiro stated that women's participation in prayer was considered by the rabbis intrinsically degrading and denigrating to the Torah. Rather, Henkin says that kvod hatzibur refers to the damage to the community's good name caused by relying on the services of women readers because it gives the impression that there are not enough men competent to read for themselves. Nevertheless, Henkin, who strongly supports allowing women to learn Talmud, opposes both partnership and egalitarian minyanim. "Women's aliyot remain outside the consensus, and a congregation that institutes them is not Orthodox in name and will not long remain Orthodox in practice," wrote Henkin.