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Egalitarianism, Halakhah, and the Jewish Family

Sept. 14 2017

In his book Gender Equality and Prayer in Jewish Law, Ethan Tucker argues that halakhah should permit counting women in a minyan (prayer quorum) and allowing them to participate in all synagogue rituals on equal footing with men. He grounds his argument in traditional rabbinic works, claiming that ancient and medieval rabbis made their decisions about these issues based on the role of women in their own societies—not on intrinsic differences between the sexes. Had these sages lived today, they would have ruled differently. Yoav Sorek writes in his rejoinder:

Tucker is so captured by his egalitarian approach that he does not really consider its own biases. . . . I believe that he is right and that many of the halakhic rulings regarding women are a function of their legal and economic status in ancient times; but this is not the full picture. Halakhah thinks that men and women are not identical, and sees them as having different roles in a way that is essential for family and society. God could have created humanity as a single sex. He did not do so.

Where should we draw the line? Which rulings are based on social status and which have to do with the positive differences between men and women? I don’t know. . . . My personal inclination is to count women in a minyan, and I think this will [eventually become the norm]—but I am not sure. . . .

[Ultimately, the question is this]: do we accept automatically the contemporary tendency to treat traditional institutions as oppressive while ignoring their benefits?

Read more at Book of Doctrines and Opinions

More about: Egalitarianism, Family, Halakhah, Synagogue

The Movement to Return Jewish Worship to the Temple Mount Has Gone Mainstream

Sept. 25 2017

During the eruption of violence against Israelis in Jerusalem this summer, and the subsequent struggle over metal detectors, the Islamic authorities briefly boycotted the Temple Mount. As a result, Jewish visitors, normally prohibited from praying there, immediately began to do so. Meir Soloveichik puts the episode in context and describes its meaning:

The Temple Mount is fast becoming a pilgrimage site for religious Jews. In the past, most abstained from visiting out of concern that they might enter a sacred area in a state of ritual impurity, but many now believe that, with a knowledge of the layout, history, and religious laws pertaining to the location, it is permissible to visit certain parts of the Temple Mount plaza. They thus visit the site under religious guidance—immersing first in a ritual bath, or mikveh—and tread only in specific areas. What was once a trickle of pilgrims has become a stream, and this year they numbered in the many thousands. . . .

[Indeed, a] sea change has taken place in the past fifteen years: . . . the segment of Jews visiting the Temple Mount is becoming more and more mainstream, supported by rabbis noted for their liberalism in social or religious affairs. . . .

Visiting Jews were, for a brief and brilliant moment [this summer], able to utter several words of prayer without interference. The Israeli media published photos of a diverse group of Jews standing on the Temple Mount reciting the kaddish, so close to where their ancestors, on Yom Kippur, had once stood listening to the high priest pronounce the Name of God. Soon after this kaddish, the [status quo ante] returned; Jews again were no longer free to pray at the site toward which all Jewish prayer has been directed for thousands of years. But images of that one unimpeded kaddish remain; to study them is to look back on the miraculous and heartbreaking past half-century in Jerusalem, to celebrate what has been achieved, and to mourn what might have been.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Judaism, Palestinian terror, Religion & Holidays, Temple Mount