High Holiday Sampler Plate Adventure–Part IV: Humbled at Hadar

This series has been crossposted to The Reform Shuckle. Here is the Intro.

To those of you who were worried that I was unhealthily smug, worry not. My day of davening at Hadar was the most humbling prayer experience of my life. Many have complained, mostly in the comments here, that this High Holiday Sampler Plate Adventure series has been rather smug. I’ve often been accused of smugness and I won’t go so far as to deny it.

First, let me apologize to anyone who was actually looking forward to my reflections on watching Kol Nidrei live streaming at Jewish TV Network. I couldn’t get it to work right, so I just went to bed frustrated. I was gonna live-tweet it and everything. But alas.

Uv’chen, I’ve been hearing about Kehilat Hadar since I moved into this part of the world and I’ve been told for a couple years now that I need to check it out. I dunno if Yom Kipur was the best day to make my first trip to Hadar or not, but I had a great time. And by a great time, I mean a deeply reflective time.

In recent years, I’ve had Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist prayer experiences, not to mention post-, non-, anti-, and multi- denominational ones. Hadar is the closest I’ve ever come to Orthodox. Despite the deeply various backgrounds of the people who come to Hadar, the founders and the feel is certainly as close as you can get to Orthodox while remaining egalitarian.

Which is to say that I can’t remember the last time I spent about 50% of Jewish service as confused and lost as I was for most of yesterday. I’m normally someone who prides himself on his facility with the sidur. Even the machzor, which I don’t know as well as the daily or Shabat sidur, has never been hard for me to navigate. So normally, when things in a service don’t got just the way I want them to, I’m frustrated or annoyed or exasperated.

I was certainly frustrated yesterday, but in a good way. I felt challenged yesterday by a lack of knowledge. And when it comes to gaps I discover in my liturgical knowledge, my instinct is always to fill the gaps. Mostly, I was humbled. Yes, you read that right. I said I was humbled. There were tunes I’d never heard before, sung loudly and raucously with clapping, dancing and podium-pounding. It was an attitude I’d never encountered before on Yom Kipur. There was excitement, but the proceedings still managed to remain as somber as I ordinarily think of Yom Kipur as being. These nearly joyous outbursts of song nicely paralleled Rabbi Shai Held‘s sermon, easily the highlight of the day, in which he spoke of a bizarre Talmudic verse which calls Tu B’Av and Yom Kipur the most joyous days of the Jewish year.

Aside from the new (to me) tunes, this was my first encounter with an entire congregation that prostrates itself during the Avodah service! Not to mention the part of the service when everyone at Hadar lays flat on the floor, face down. That one was new to me, so if anyone wants to leave a comment with an explanation, it’s much appreciated.

Yesterday was an endurance test. I arrived at 8:50 a.m. and shacharit has started five minutes earlier. Finally, at 7:30 p.m., about eleven hours later, we wrapped up Ne’ilah. (That’s eleven hours of davening, with only a one-hour break, for those keeping score at home.) Yes, I thought! Now I can go eat. Without skipping a beat, they launched right into Ma’ariv. I briefly entertained the idea of sticking around, but my grumbling stomach and aching head said otherwise. Luckily, Hadar was handing out candy, juice boxes and water bottles on the way out!

I’ve never felt so truly reached by the liturgy of the day, so I’m glad of Hadar’s part in helping the fast and the davening do their intended work on me.

I’ll now move on to a few thoughts about Hadar as a community. Keep in mind that I’ve never been on an ordinary Shabat, so I don’t know what Hadar is normally like.

I’ve heard the charge leveled at Hadar that it is elitist or cliquey. I suppose I can see that from this limited experience, but it is not as if I arrived not knowing anyone in the room. Within the cavernous, packed church multi-purpose room we occupied for the day, I spotted about five bloggers I know (including a few Jewschoolers, including our BZ and Jen Taylor Friedman). I also spotted Tamar Fox, who gave me my first break blogging anywhere other than my own blog, sitting directly in front of me. My boss, a former coworker and about a half-dozen of our volunteers were there too. I ran into a few other friends as well, some of them Yeshivat Hadar alumni and some current Hadar students. So I felt comfortable because of all the familiar, friendly faces, but I can see how others would not have the same experience.

All in all, a good gmar chatimah, I think. Hoping yours was good too.

81 Responses to “High Holiday Sampler Plate Adventure–Part IV: Humbled at Hadar”

  1. I went to YK at Hadar a number of years ago and was similarly impressed by the sheer endurance of the whole thing. I greatly prefer Shabbat at Hadar to YK, though, since it’s more intimate and more manageable time-wise. But I believe you are correct that there are very few prayer experiences you can have where the crowd is as knowledgeable and enthusiastic about praying as the Hadar crowd, which is what makes Hadar so great.

    This was a fun series of posts to follow. At some point I should write up my HHD sampler from a couple years ago, when mrsmicah, babymicah and I hit Storahtelling for Erev Rosh Hashanah, a medium-sized suburban Reform shul for Rosh I, the tiny Stanton Street Shul on the LES for Rosh II, CBST’s massive Javits Center service for Kol Nidre, a suburban Conservative megashul for YK shacharit/musaf and a small Reconstructionist shul in a tent next door for YK mincha and ne’ilah. It was our own little denominational world tour, and was a most excellent (if somewhat exhausting) experience.


    themicah · September 30th, 2009 at 12:09 pm
  2. themicah, I’d love to hear about it!


    David A.M. Wilensky · September 30th, 2009 at 3:03 pm
  3. David, I have a lot of problems with this section of your review:
    Hadar is the closest I’ve ever come to Orthodox. Despite the deeply various backgrounds of the people who come to Hadar, the founders and the feel is certainly as close as you can get to Orthodox while remaining egalitarian.

    I think this really shows your bias in definitions of Orthodox, Conservative, and egalitarian.

    Do you define Orthodox as an all Hebrew complete service? If so, does that make KZ “as close as you can get to Orthodox while using instruments”? And from the other side, there is nothing Hadar does that the Conservative movement doesn’t advocate. Just because most other Conservative shuls fail to live up to the ideal doesn’t make Hadar more Orthodox, it makes most Conservative shuls less Conservative.

    In terms of egalitarianism, KOE, Darkhei Noam, and DC minyan all consider themselves egalitarian according to their own definitions, yet you would call all of them “more Orthodox” than Hadar. Some of those minyanim even call themselves Orthodox. And to critique from the other side again, you can find very liberal people/minyans who would add enough requirements to egalitarian that Hadar doesn’t quality.

    When you’re using terms like this you need to be careful how you define them and remember that not everyone uses the same definition.


    Avi · September 30th, 2009 at 4:29 pm
  4. I daven at the orthodox minyan at Northwestern Hillel where, like Hadar, there is lots of singing, little talking, and serious and joyful davening (High Holies are better than Shabbat). The one question I have for those like David is how important is it to be part of a community in which one davens and not simply showing here one day, there another day. Is it important to know the people with whom you daven? To be fair, I did attend different places in my late teens and twenties, and being considerably older now I need that community. But i wonder if there is something ethically important in sharing prayer with those whom you know their pains and joys of life. Or perhaps, that need is greater when one is older.


    Michael Balinsky · September 30th, 2009 at 4:41 pm
  5. In terms of egalitarianism, KOE, Darkhei Noam, and DC minyan all consider themselves egalitarian according to their own definitions
    You cant be “egalitarian according to your own definitions”. There is a definition, which is that men and women are treated completely equally in all ways. You can “strive towards egalitarianism” within limits of “halakha” (a term that does accept multiple definitions), and then fight about what striving means and what halakha means. But I don’t think a congregation that says “men can do X, women can’t do X” can, by definition, be egalitarian. I don’t think they try.

    When DAMW called it “Orthodox”, what he meant was “traditional”, i.e. similar to what shuls looked like before the advent of denominations. But even that isn’t true, since many features of the Hadar service (including, for example, the shatz moving around)are definitely not what you would find in say the 16th century at that kind of shul.
    Saying “Hadar doesn’t do anything the Conservative movement doesn’t advocate” is also not true. Just read through the (uninspiring and limpid) Avoda/martyrology in the Rabbinical Assembly machzor (devoted to the Holocaust-Zionism narrative, of all things) and compare with Hadar’s traditional liturgy, which is, well, full of Hadar.

    And David, I’m shocked. If a shul where everyone knows tunes and follows along and claps etc. is new to you, then you should be finding/founding a whole slew of different shuls. This is why people join Orthodox communities even when they aren’t and this is why Hadar and the growth of the indy minyan movement with itis so vital.


    Amit · September 30th, 2009 at 5:19 pm
  6. Not to mention the part of the service when everyone at Hadar lays flat on the floor, face down. That one was new to me, so if anyone wants to leave a comment with an explanation, it’s much appreciated.

    Are you talking about the prostration during the “great aleinu”? This is something I first encountered at my (possibly atypical) Reform shul some years ago. Those of us who prostrate are a tiny minority, I suspect — though I’m never sure how tiny, because I’m always on the floor, not paying attention to what everyone else is doing. :-)

    The mix of somberness and joy that you describe reminds me of some of the Yom Kippurim I’ve experienced on retreat at Elat Chayyim.


    Rachel Barenblat · September 30th, 2009 at 6:18 pm
  7. OK, folks. If we never used any adjectives, we’d never be able to say anything. If you’ve read anything I written before, you know that I’m pretty sensitive to labels.

    Traditional is just as absurd a label as Orthodox, by the way. As BZ has argued on occasion, the Reform movement is quite traditional as well.


    David A.M. Wilensky · September 30th, 2009 at 6:55 pm
  8. I used “traditional” with scare quotes and immediately defined the precise meaning in context (to exclude Reform tradition, or Conservative tradition or even Harvard hazing tradition). You didn’t do that with “Orthodox”. Perhaps an even better adjective would be “authentic”. You went to a shul where people knew what they were doing, and it surprised you, and I’m surprised that it did.


    Amit · September 30th, 2009 at 7:24 pm
  9. About prostration – it’s standard practice (among men) in most Orthodox shuls I’ve been to, during the times in the Avoda where “the priests and the people…fall on their faces”. It’s mimicry. Prostration in Aleinu, I think, was borrowed from the Avoda.


    Amit · September 30th, 2009 at 7:28 pm
  10. Avi writes:
    And from the other side, there is nothing Hadar does that the Conservative movement doesn’t advocate.

    I don’t think the Conservative movement advocates being unaffiliated with denominational institutions.
    Also, plenty of individuals at Hadar (like plenty of individuals at Conservative shuls) do plenty of things that the Conservative movement doesn’t advocate; the difference is that Hadar (unlike the Conservative movement) doesn’t tell them what to do.

    In terms of egalitarianism, KOE, Darkhei Noam, and DC minyan all consider themselves egalitarian according to their own definitions

    Neither KOE nor Darkhei Noam identifies as egalitarian. (DC Minyan does identify as egalitarian, even though the Supreme Court ruled otherwise 55 years ago.)


    BZ · September 30th, 2009 at 7:36 pm
  11. Amit, “authentic”? Are you kidding me?

    Show me where in the article I’m surprised that people know what they’re doing. I’m not surprised by their knowledge of what they’re doing, but by what they are doing in the first place. Certainly I have been places where the congregation was educated, but I’ve never seen the tone of services at Hadar on Yom Kipur before. That was my surprise.


    David A.M. Wilensky · September 30th, 2009 at 8:38 pm
  12. David- I’m glad to hear you had a positive experience!

    Amit and others – The idea that Yom Kippur can and should be a happy day (not the same type of happy as Sukkot or Purim, but definitely not like Tisha B’Av either) is unfortunately a major chiddush (innovation) in the American liberal Jewish world, and I think popularizing that idea may be Hadar’s greatest contribution to the high holidays.

    Re David’s last paragraph, about the Hadar community: Because Hadar’s YK services are so unique (or, conversely, because Yom Kippur sucks in most other places), it has become a major destination for out-of-town visitors like you and me, so we weren’t out of the ordinary. When I lived in New York, I used to provide crash space on my couch and floor and host a pre-fast meal for lots of out-of-towners (break-fasts are a dime a dozen; pre-fast was my niche); this year for the first time I was on the other side.


    BZ · September 30th, 2009 at 9:20 pm
  13. You cant be “egalitarian according to your own definitions”. There is a definition, which is that men and women are treated completely equally in all ways.

    Actually, Amit, that’s not the definition of egalitarianism. That’s the definition of gender egalitarianism. Some argue, for example, that congregation preserving the Cohen/Levi/Israelite designations have no business calling themselves egalitarian.


    dlevy · September 30th, 2009 at 10:46 pm
  14. And, strictly speaking, those designations aren’t even gender-egalitarian (though it’s a small enough thing that I can look the other way, no pun intended).


    BZ · September 30th, 2009 at 11:24 pm
  15. The idea that Yom Kippur can and should be a happy day (not the same type of happy as Sukkot or Purim, but definitely not like Tisha B’Av either) is unfortunately a major chiddush (innovation) in the American liberal Jewish world, and I think popularizing that idea may be Hadar’s greatest contribution to the high holidays.

    I don’t know how Yom Kippur and Tisha b’Av are performed in other communities, but I can tell you that in the Chassidic community, these two are taken as joyous holidays, in the full sense of “joyous” and “holy days”. I don’t think this is such a recent “innovation” either, as the Mishnah in the end of the tractate of Taanit tells us: “Israel had no greater holidays than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur. On these days the daughters of Jerusalem would go out to the vineyards and dance.”

    Is it healthy for discourse that some are attempting to adopt a rigid, fundamentalist definition of “egalitarian”, to the exclusion of other interpretations? There are women in my shul who consider liberal “egalitarian” shuls oppressive. The last thing they want to do is be treated like men, obligated to wrap tefillin and daven with a minyan. No one is stopping any woman from doing so, of course, at least in my shul. Still, it’s interesting that “egalitarian” has come to equal women doing what men are obligated, and not the reverse.

    I was driving several hours with a few friends about a month ago. One of the girls davened shacharis (morning blessings) over the course of 2 hours, in between chatting on her cell phone, telling us all about this and that, screaming at me for something or other. I lost count how many times she interrupted her own Shemone Esrei. That’s something a man could never get away with and still pretend they are praying.


    Avigdor · October 1st, 2009 at 1:04 am
  16. Avigdor – don’t confuse Tu BiAv (the 15th of Av, aka the lovers’ holiday) with Tisha BiAv (the 9th of Av, the day of mourning for the destruction of the Temples).


    dlevy · October 1st, 2009 at 1:18 am
  17. I confused them. I always do. Thanks dlevy.


    Avigdor · October 1st, 2009 at 1:21 am
  18. dlevy – point taken. Avigdor – I don’t understand. I didn’t say “oppressive”, I said “egalitarian”. If you think that a lesser burden of mitzvot is a good thing, by all means, start a movement for the abolition of tefillin and tzitzit.


    Amit · October 1st, 2009 at 6:01 am
  19. BZ – I had no idea; that’s just sad.


    Amit · October 1st, 2009 at 6:03 am
  20. Avigdor writes:
    Is it healthy for discourse that some are attempting to adopt a rigid, fundamentalist definition of “egalitarian”, to the exclusion of other interpretations? There are women in my shul who consider liberal “egalitarian” shuls oppressive. The last thing they want to do is be treated like men, obligated to wrap tefillin and daven with a minyan.

    “Egalitarian” means what it means. We can argue about whether or not egalitarianism is a good thing, but then we’re not really arguing about definitions. (I feel like this is the “apartheid” debate in reverse, but I’m pleased to see that “egalitarian” has come to mean “good” in the same way that “apartheid” means “bad”.)

    Still, it’s interesting that “egalitarian” has come to equal women doing what men are obligated, and not the reverse.

    I’m a man, and I baked 4 round challot for Sukkot last night, and I’ll probably bake 4 more tonight, all from a recipe I got from my grandfather.


    BZ · October 1st, 2009 at 7:49 am
  21. Still, it’s interesting that “egalitarian” has come to equal women doing what men are obligated, and not the reverse.
    BZ – Avigdor is right in the (very narrow)sense of shul and tefillin etc. in “egalitarian shuls” we don’t see bylaws forcing men to bake at home or such. But Avigdor, if someone were to attempt to make the obligations of men in those narrow areas equal to those of women, they wouldn’t be “egalitarian” in your (Orthodox?) parlance, they would just be “Reformim”.


    Amit · October 1st, 2009 at 8:41 am
  22. In non-egalitarian shuls, are there any obligations that women have (davka at shul, not at home) and men don’t? If not, there’s no way to obligate men in obligations that don’t exist.


    BZ · October 1st, 2009 at 9:04 am
  23. That’s what I was trying to claim.


    Amit · October 1st, 2009 at 9:18 am
  24. in the Chassidic community, these two are taken as joyous holidays
    You find me one Chassidic community that celebrates tu beav, and I’ll loan your daughter my white dress!


    Amit · October 1st, 2009 at 9:19 am
  25. Is a minyan that only refers to God as “avinu malkeinu” egalitarian or does it need to include female adjectives to describe God?

    And BZ, if you want to criticize DC Minyan on “separate but equal” grounds then Darkhei Noam also qualifies as “separate but equal” egalitarianism.


    Avi · October 1st, 2009 at 11:44 am
  26. And BZ, if you want to criticize DC Minyan on “separate but equal” grounds then Darkhei Noam also qualifies as “separate but equal” egalitarianism.

    No it doesn’t, because Darkhei Noam does not claim to be egalitarian.


    BZ · October 1st, 2009 at 11:50 am
  27. Egalitarianism only means equal obligations if you have obligations in the first place. So in a community that doesn’t obligate members to do certain things, egalitarianism just means providing everyone with that same freedom.


    renaissanceboy · October 1st, 2009 at 11:53 am
  28. @Avi Some would argue yes, a truly egalitarian community would rethink its use of language. Havurat Shalom in Somerville, MA has taken this approach quite successfully, I think. Others would argue that “avinu” and “malkeinu” are nouns, but that’s somewhat perpendicular to your argument.


    dlevy · October 1st, 2009 at 1:30 pm
  29. to be fair, one can have a fully egalitarian practice and think that God is male, female or has no gender. One can also be egalitarian and while they think that God has no gender, may refer to God as exclusively male, exclusively female, or alternate pronouns. One can also be egalitarian whether or not their liturgy mentions mainly male heroes, or if it includes female heroes.

    the questions to ask about gendered language in prayer is what effect does this have on our practice of egalitarianism? If I exalt God as male, does that mean that I will continue to see male as superior and/or more normative in my practice? And dont forget the many thinkers who reject the band aid approach of just changing pronouns and adding in foremothers and other female heroes to the liturgy.

    so yes- there are good reasons to take language very seriously, and it is important to be aware of how language perpetuates certain ideas about gender even if not your goal. but the pronouns dont make a service non egalitarian- the way you treat people can make it non egalitarian.

    ps. feel free to make arguments about places being constructively non egal due to language…


    MS · October 1st, 2009 at 6:42 pm
  30. I grew up Orthodox and have been attending either Orthodox or the Drisha minyan for Yom Kippur ever since, and women prostrate themselves fully on the ground just like men. Maybe fewer of them do it? I don’t know. But I’ve always done it in a row of women also doing it. Just a data point.

    Glad to hear that you had such a positive Yom Kippur experience!


    Abacaxi Mamao · October 2nd, 2009 at 10:30 am
  31. Why do we have to have this same argument all the time? There’s no benefit to saying “Minyan A says they’re egal, but they’re REALLY NOT” or “Shul B is MORE EGAL than your shul”.

    Just describe what they do.

    I’ve heard Egalitarian defined as ‘equal access to ritual roles’ by many many informed folks in my life. That describes DC Minyan, despite their separate seating. If you don’t like separate seating, that’s totally cool, but it seems kind of petty to play this ridiculous game.

    DC Minyan: gender-egal participation, separate seating no partition, 10+10 minyan count.
    TLS: gender-egal participation, mixed seating, 10 any-gender minyan count.
    Rosh Pina DC: men and women lead different services, separate seating with partition, gender-egal torah service, 10 men minyan count.

    These are lengthy, but they’re only a sentence long and much better desscriptions of what someone can expect at a service than by saying “Such-and-such says they’re Egal, but they’re lying/dumb.”


    chillul Who? · October 2nd, 2009 at 10:41 am
  32. 10+10 is NOT equal access to ritual roles. If there are 9 women and 10 men already present, then a woman can make the minyan and I can’t, and vice versa.


    BZ · October 2nd, 2009 at 12:39 pm
  33. Avigdor, no one is saying it’s an innovation in itself to be joyful on YK. But within liberal American Jewry it is an unheard of approach and would be seen as an innovation, which is how I saw it.

    Renaissanceboy, fantastic point. Though, BZ and I might have bones to pick with the notion that Reform has no language for obligation.

    Also, I wanna take back my definition of Hadar as egal in the first place. There was a special moment for Kohanim in the service, which, regardless of gender, is not egalitarian because not anyone could join in that part of the service.


    David A.M. Wilensky · October 2nd, 2009 at 12:58 pm
  34. renaissanceboy writes:
    Egalitarianism only means equal obligations if you have obligations in the first place. So in a community that doesn’t obligate members to do certain things, egalitarianism just means providing everyone with that same freedom.

    To refine this a little bit:
    There exists a significant set of communities in which many individuals believe themselves to be obligated, but in which the community is not the source of those obligations. The obligations come from God, or wherever else. (And it is often up to each individual to determine for him/herself what those obligations are. This is true in some places (e.g. the Reform movement) as a matter of religious ideology, and many many more places in practice.) Therefore, in such communities, determining which obligations are incumbent on which individuals is simply not in the community’s jurisdiction, whereas determining who may lead services is in the community’s jurisdiction. Therefore, in characterizing the practices of a community (as opposed to the practices of the individuals who make up the community), we look at the latter.


    BZ · October 2nd, 2009 at 1:06 pm
  35. Well put, BZ. I agree with you and David that the source of the obligation is essential to this discussion.
    Chillul Who?, the reason Brown v. Board of Education is important is that it is an admission of human fallibility, and a legal obligation for others to make that same admission. Is it theoretically possible to treat two separate groups the same way? Yes. But the plaintiffs said (and the court agreed) that the policy of separate but equal created a situation inherently advantageous to whichever group was making the rules. It allowed for de facto segregation. As long as it’s socially acceptable to divide people (whether by race in a school or sex in a shul), it will be possible to discriminate against one of those groups on the same basis as the division.


    renaissanceboy · October 2nd, 2009 at 1:55 pm
  36. With regard to egalitarianism, I say ‘perhaps there will be no end to the thing’ (see Mishnah Pesachim re: hulda). Should men and women have the same bathrooms and men not allowed to use urinals? Should we have more bathrooms for non heterosexuals?

    I’m a Levi and proud of it. I would sooner see my wife get a Levi aliyah and my cohen friend’s wife duchan than lose the tribal traditions entirely. I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

    Regarding the imahot in prayers and avinu malkenu, I think it is a fool’s errand. It’s hard enough to be gender neutral in English, try Hebrew! I’d rather reinterpret the meaning of the words than ruin the poetry with clarifications. Avinu Malkenu means ‘my parent, my soverign’. The fact that it’s male language is only useful insofar as there may an understood stereotype that a ‘King’ is different from a ‘Queen’, and ‘Father’ from ‘Mother’, but that can also be explained. I have no problem using androcentric language because I think it is more practical and I can understand any underlying stereotypes without feeling compelled to agree with them.

    Re: the topic in the post, I agree that part of what is special about Hadar and others like it is that there is a higher percentage of people there who are engaged, involved, and excited to be there than at other places.


    OJ · October 2nd, 2009 at 5:08 pm
  37. Being gender-sensitive (or gender-equal) and gender-neutral aren’t the same thing. The introduction to JPS’s Contemporary Torah translation discusses the distinction nicely, if anyone’s interested in exploring.

    OJ, in your scenario, are unmarried women barred from duchening and having the first two aliyot? Most congregations attempting gender-correcting measures for these rituals count women’s tribes the same way one counts men’s – through their fathers.

    As a gay Levite, I wonder about my (potential) children’s future with regards to these traditions. If my (potential future) partner (may he come speedily and in our day) is not also a Levi, what gets passed on to children? (I assume, although I don’t know, that adopted children of heterosexual couples inherit their fathers’ tribes the same way biological children do. I may be wrong on this assumption.)


    dlevy · October 2nd, 2009 at 5:37 pm
  38. OJ writes:
    Should men and women have the same bathrooms and men not allowed to use urinals? Should we have more bathrooms for non heterosexuals?

    Bathrooms aren’t on any slippery slope. Public bathrooms are so sui generis in American society that they are unambiguously referred to as the “men’s room” and the “women’s room”.


    BZ · October 2nd, 2009 at 5:37 pm
  39. dlevy writes:
    Most congregations attempting gender-correcting measures for these rituals count women’s tribes the same way one counts men’s – through their fathers.

    But all that does is shift the gender-nonegalitarianism by one generation. My wife and my grandmother are both benot Levi, but my children won’t be.


    BZ · October 2nd, 2009 at 5:40 pm
  40. [...] Plate Adventure–Part IV: Humbled at Hadar Jump to Comments This series has been crossposted to Jewschool. Here is the [...]


    High Holiday Sampler Plate Adventure–Part IV: Humbled at Hadar « · October 3rd, 2009 at 2:32 pm
  41. dlevy:
    (1) Adopted children are not members of any tribe, in traditional reckoning. Were they to convert, they would be not your “sons”, but “sons of Abraham and Sarah” (although I know many adopted children who were not born Jewish and adopted the patronymic of their parents).
    (2) The members of the “household” of the Kohen and Levi were allowed to partake in some privileges of those tribe. A slave and wife of a Kohen/Levi could eat their teruma/maaser; a daughter of either married “out” of the tribe could not.
    (3) You can say “I like the tribal customs enough for them to override egalitarianism”. That is OK. Just make sure that’s what you say you’re doing.


    Amit · October 3rd, 2009 at 6:41 pm
  42. Re: renaissanceboy: “But the (Brown v. Board of Education) plaintiffs said (and the court agreed) that the policy of separate but equal created a situation inherently advantageous to whichever group was making the rules.”

    Women and men run/make the rules for the DC Minyan community. While they may be applying/interpreting practices created by those for whom separate was not equal, DCM’s separate seating during davening and minyan counts (which are the only “separate” they practice that I’m aware of) are as fair and balanced as can be. Same amount of space, same view of the torah, same acoustics.

    While I’m not so keen on comparing separate seating to the Jim Crow South (it smacks of the overuse of Holocaust and Nazi comparisons), I have been in shuls and prayer communities where I’ve been unable to hear or see the action and I am not sure how not to feel marginalized when directed to sit in a balcony behind a curtain.

    But I love, love, love separate seating. I love being able to sing with voices in my octave. I love not feeling self-conscious about my Israeli husband hearing my Hebrew. And when I was single and looking to mingle I appreciated having a breather from the distraction of the meat market.


    Siviyo · October 4th, 2009 at 3:27 am
  43. Siviyo writes:
    While I’m not so keen on comparing separate seating to the Jim Crow South (it smacks of the overuse of Holocaust and Nazi comparisons),

    This comparison was first advanced by those in support of separate seating (who called it “separate but egal”), which I find highly disturbing.

    But I love, love, love separate seating.

    And there are people (men and women) who love, love, love Orthodox communities that are not egalitarian by any definition. The question of whether these communities are good, or whether they meet the needs of their constituents, is orthogonal to whether these communities are egalitarian. (See my comment above about not conflating “egal” with “good”.)


    BZ · October 4th, 2009 at 9:22 am
  44. DCM’s separate seating during davening and minyan counts (which are the only “separate” they practice that I’m aware of) are as fair and balanced as can be.

    BTW, “fair and balanced” has become almost as loaded a term as “separate but equal”…


    BZ · October 4th, 2009 at 9:24 am
  45. My mother’s generation fought hard and well so that women could do everything men could, in the Jewish world and in the rest of American life. But that whole process served to further valorize what goes on on the bima (further than the Reform-driven professionalization of Jewish Clergy), by de-valorizing everything else that goes on in a shul. We’re not seeing men rushing to join the kiddush committee, and even synagogues which have gone in for the “greeter” thing have a heck of a time filling the volunteer list. Rick Warren (and Ron Wolfson, the Jewish teacher of much of Warren’s applicable material) says that the “greeter” is doing as important a job at the door as the Rabbi on the pulpit, if not more so. As, I would add, do the kiddush ladies. (Maybe at Hadar they have a mixed kiddush committee, but everywhere else I’ve ever been, it’s the ladies.)

    I think the danger of the over-egalitarianizing of the last couple of generations is the loss of roles that men alone can fill. Most men I know, without clearly defined roles they can fill AS MEN, would rather go fishing (watch tv, etc.). In a shul where men feel the community needs them to step up and fulfil an obligation, they are more committed.


    Simcha Daniel · October 4th, 2009 at 3:35 pm
  46. Simcha Daniel, that sounds like hogwash. How come we haven’t seen such a trend anywhere else women stepped into? Do we see doctors demanding to do things AS MEN? or lawyers? It doesn’t make sense. Something else is at play here, and I suspect it has to do with whiny traditionalism.


    Amit · October 4th, 2009 at 4:23 pm
  47. as fair and balanced as can be.
    No, they are as fair and balanced as the community would like them to be.


    Amit · October 4th, 2009 at 4:24 pm
  48. 10+10 is NOT equal access to ritual roles. If there are 9 women and 10 men already present, then a woman can make the minyan and I can’t, and vice versa.

    That’s not a ‘ritual role’ like leading services or duchenning, that’s a question of ‘how to define a quorum’. For the obvious reasons, the people starting DCM wanted to have 10 representitives of the male constiuency and 10 of the female before considering the prayers ‘public’.

    Chillul Who?, the reason Brown v. Board of Education is important is that it is an admission of human fallibility, and a legal obligation for others to make that same admission. Is it theoretically possible to treat two separate groups the same way? Yes. But the plaintiffs said (and the court agreed) that the policy of separate but equal created a situation inherently advantageous to whichever group was making the rules. It allowed for de facto segregation. As long as it’s socially acceptable to divide people (whether by race in a school or sex in a shul), it will be possible to discriminate against one of those groups on the same basis as the division.

    That’s an invalid slippery slope argument. A comunity that says “we are going to treat men and women equally by having a list of identical rights, responsibilities, and honors for each group” is not Jim Crow. A better comparison would be diversity quotas — they divide of a group into categories, but for the purpose of making sure everyone is represented.


    chillul Who? · October 4th, 2009 at 8:59 pm
  49. “For the obvious reasons, the people starting DCM wanted to have 10 representitives of the male constiuency and 10 of the female before considering the prayers ‘public’.”

    For the obvious reasons? I don’t think you can get away with argumentation like that in this discussion.


    David A.M. Wilensky · October 4th, 2009 at 9:05 pm
  50. @chillul Who?, the issue here is not diversity. There’s no danger that if women and men are counted in the same category there will end up being less of one than the other. There’s no philosophical need to enforce an equal ratio, just to treat them equally. Dividing people up into categories along those lines in this situation is not at all comparable to diversity quotas.


    renaissanceboy · October 4th, 2009 at 11:48 pm
  51. CW – it’s not like there are things at DCM (or similarly constituted shuls) than women can do and men can’t. Women are not a “constituency”- either they’re a marginalized group or they are people. There’s no middle ground.
    Now, if you said something like “only women can daven mincha” or “only women can read Torah” then you would have a model like the one you’re describing. But I don’t see that happening.


    Amit · October 5th, 2009 at 5:54 am
  52. @DAMW… the obvious reasons are obvious. Where 10+10 minyan counts are found, they pretty much all exist for the same reasons. It’s a way to accomodate both the value of maintaining the classical 10-men definition, and the value of having the presence of women be as essential to the service/community as men. For some communities, this is because they want to show loyalty to both values, and for other communities, this is because the people who founded them were heterogeneous in their definitions of ‘minyan’.

    @renaissanceboy… I still don’t see the difference between saying “We value men and women, so we define a minyan as 10 of either gender” and saying “We value men and women, so we define a minyan as 10 of each gender”.

    @amit… I think you’re misconstruing what they do at DCM, as well as my argument. They’re not making two categories “women” and “people”. They’re making two categories, “women” and “men”. They wait for 10 of each to show up before considering prayers public. During prayers at DCM, both women and men are equally able to fulfill ritual roles. It’s not a ‘partnership’ or ‘shira chadasha-style’ minyan, it’s a minyan with completely egalitarian participation in the service, that waits for 10 women and 10 men to show up before saying things like Barchu/Kaddish.

    You know, for folks who (correctly, imho) jump down the throat of anyone who uses the word “halachic” or “traditional” to only mean “Orthodox”, some of you are being pretty stingy/triumphalist when it comes to what you’ll permit be called “egalitarian”.


    chillul Who? · October 5th, 2009 at 9:28 am
  53. CW – just to make my point: women and men are not different once the minyan is made, so to say each group is needed to make a minyan is a sort of farce, because why are they different and why are they needed then?
    I’m not attacking the claim to be “egalitarian” (couldn’t care), but the 10+10 practice itself.


    Amit · October 5th, 2009 at 9:41 am
  54. @Amit
    the ‘people compromise answer’: Some of the minyan founders believed in a male-count minyan and others believed in a genderless minyan count. They found the Least Common Multiple to make everyone equally validated and inconvenienced.
    the ‘values intersect answer’: All the minyan founders believed in a male-count minyan, and also in feminism. The way they found to unite these things was to accept the stringency that they would not begin public services without a classic 10-man minyan PLUS an additional 10-women minyan.

    In the case of DCM, the ‘people compromise answer’ is the historical one as I understand it. Just like why they have separate seating (w/o a barrier) and why they have egalitarian participation in ritual roles. The founders apparently decided that those choices would be best for them and their various Jewish practices.


    chillul Who? · October 5th, 2009 at 10:45 am
  55. chillul Who? writes:
    @renaissanceboy… I still don’t see the difference between saying “We value men and women, so we define a minyan as 10 of either gender” and saying “We value men and women, so we define a minyan as 10 of each gender”.

    It’s the difference between valuing all people as people (regardless of gender), on the one hand, and valuing men as men and valuing women as women (and doing so equally), on the other.


    BZ · October 5th, 2009 at 11:19 am
  56. chillul Who? writes:
    @Amit

    I think Amit was asking why are men and women different, not why are the two reasons for 10+10 different.

    the ‘people compromise answer’: Some of the minyan founders believed in a male-count minyan and others believed in a genderless minyan count. They found the Least Common Multiple to make everyone equally validated and inconvenienced.

    But this isn’t actually the Least Common Multiple, because there isn’t a genderless minyan count. I mean, yes, it’s the LCM in that all agree there is a minyan, but that would be true even if a minyan were defined exclusively as 10 men. But this doesn’t accommodate people who actually want the minyan count to be genderless.


    BZ · October 5th, 2009 at 11:23 am
  57. It’s the difference between valuing all people as people (regardless of gender), on the one hand, and valuing men as men and valuing women as women (and doing so equally), on the other.

    So this is a philosophical argument you can pursue with somebody advocating that 10+10 is the ideal form of minyan count.

    My only point is that it’s petty and inconsistent to run around talking smack about egalitarian minyanim who may find a different route to treating men and women equally than you do.


    chillul Who? · October 5th, 2009 at 11:38 am
  58. To be clear, I’m just responding to what you wrote, not writing based on any specific knowledge of the founders of DC Minyan. I don’t know the founders of DCM, but they evidently found a solution that they were happy with and I don’t mean to suggest otherwise.

    Also, if something is a compromise (i.e. everyone gives something up), it’s not a true Least Common Multiple, and vice versa.


    BZ · October 5th, 2009 at 11:38 am
  59. What exactly is the argument here? Are we just splitting hairs on an exact definition of “egalitarian” rather than acknowledging that “egalitarian” (as a working concept as opposed to a theory) might mean different things to different people?

    I feel like this discussion is getting very close to “men and women are exactly the same in all ways!” which is just as foolish an orthodoxy as “men and women are totally different.” Whether the differences among people of different genders should figure into particular communal religious practices (and if so, why) might be a more interesting and productive direction for this conversation to take.

    Personally, while I have no interest (and not a little discomfort) in davening in a separate-seating atmosphere, I am thankful that there is a range of options for those who do desire such a setting but still want to struggle with questions of gender equality.


    dlevy · October 5th, 2009 at 11:41 am
  60. But this isn’t actually the Least Common Multiple, because there isn’t a genderless minyan count. I mean, yes, it’s the LCM in that all agree there is a minyan, but that would be true even if a minyan were defined exclusively as 10 men. But this doesn’t accommodate people who actually want the minyan count to be genderless.

    Okay. I’m glad you can agree that it’s the Least Common Multiple.

    But I think you’re missing one detail. It’s true that a minyan of 10 men also meets the definitions of a 10-person genderless minyan. However, DCM decided on this 10+10 thing as a *compromise* between two groups.

    The “10-men” folks agree to not start Public services until as many women arrive as men they need for their man-quorum.

    Conversely, the “10-of-anyone” folks agree to wait until the first group has theirs as well.

    Each group cedes to the other without creating a situation where the Minyan would start without their criteria being fulfilled.


    chillul Who? · October 5th, 2009 at 11:49 am
  61. Thanks dlevy. That’s what I was trying to say. I got bogged down in the technicalities.


    chillul Who? · October 5th, 2009 at 11:52 am
  62. Abacaxi Mamao wrote:
    “I grew up Orthodox and have been attending either Orthodox or the Drisha minyan for Yom Kippur ever since, and women prostrate themselves fully on the ground just like men.”

    I got to a Lubavitch shul and 1/2 to 3/4 of the women do this there, too. The rest do it most of the way – They tend to be women who are older or disabled or are holding babies.


    T · October 5th, 2009 at 1:28 pm
  63. Also, this is a bit of an aside but – Do non-Orthodox Jews do duchening? Or is this only done at Orthodox shuls? I’m curious what the Conservative and Reform movements’ stances are on this, or trad-egal indie minyans for that matter – It certainly wasn’t done in the Reconstructionist shul I grew up in.


    T · October 5th, 2009 at 1:30 pm
  64. A few data points: The independent but similar-in-form-and-liturgy-to-a-Conservative-Shul minyan I was at on Saturday did duchening (with both men and women Cohanim taking part). The Conservative shul where I grew up used to do duchening (also co-ed), but the Cohen who organized it moved away and no one else seems to have taken up the torch. When I was involved in the Student Conservative Minyan at Harvard, there was duchening. (I can’t recall if women took part… my instinct says yes.)


    dlevy · October 5th, 2009 at 2:01 pm
  65. It’s done in some Conservative shuls I’ve been to, but not in others. I don’t there’s a single Reform synagogue out there doing it though.

    And as for an “indie minyan stance,” I’m not even sure what it would mean for such stance to exist.


    David A.M. Wilensky · October 5th, 2009 at 2:03 pm
  66. My C shul did duchening on all non-Yizkor chagim (the theory being, I think, that it would freak out the people who only come for Yizkor). They stopped for logistical reasons, when I was the only cohen present, and I wouldn’t do it, and now I think they just don’t, period.

    I’ve been to indie minyanim that both do and don’t duchen…


    Desh · October 5th, 2009 at 3:29 pm
  67. At Kedem in Jerusalem there was a debate about this several years ago, and the woman who wanted to duchen, did. Also, in Israel it is the custom to duchen every day, so it’s no big deal to shulgoers.


    Amit · October 5th, 2009 at 4:36 pm
  68. @CW – like I said, I don’t care what you call it, so long as you avoid BZ’s “pluralist=good” trap. But I do care about 10+10. Look what happens:
    The “10-men” folks agree to not start Public services until as many women arrive as men they need for their man-quorum.

    Conversely, the “10-of-anyone” folks agree to wait until the first group has theirs as well.

    Each group cedes to the other without creating a situation where the Minyan would start without their criteria being fulfilled.

    Assume 10 men are present in the room. Everyone agrees there is a minyan. Nobody starts.
    Assume five men and five women are in the room. The “10-of-anyone” people think the public is there, but the “10 men” don’t. Nobody starts.
    Assume 10 women are in the room, and they are all women, so the “10 men” people should be out of the discussion. Still, nobody starts.
    It’s fine if it works, but I don’t like it as a solution, I think its fake.


    Amit · October 5th, 2009 at 5:31 pm
  69. It’s a faulty assumption that a room of 10 Jewish women at a 10+10 minyan would all agree that women count in a minyan.


    dlevy · October 5th, 2009 at 8:05 pm
  70. Yeah, I thought so too, but I needed a parallel. Hm.


    Amit · October 6th, 2009 at 5:53 am
  71. as a logistical matter 10+10 is only feasible in a larger group where you can easily get more than 20. For smaller groups, its far less feasible.

    and while I agree that being in the same room, listening to and being able to participate in the same service is a far cry than being in separate facilities that are claiming to be equal- I do think there are issues of equal access even in the same room. Some I’ve observed:

    (1) at DCM, its very clear how to enter the men’s section because you see the men’s section through the main door. there are no signs directing you to the women’s section and it is not visible from the main door. I am a woman. My first time at DCM, I spent about 10 minutes walking around the facility trying to figure out how to get into the shul. I am sure that no men have had this problem. Yes- it could be mainly fixed with a sign but you wonder why they havent so far.

    (2) few facilities are equal. at DCM, for example, the only windows are on the women’s side. Some people like windows for the natural light and views of the outdoors the provide- some dont, some are indifferent. Thats fine- but restricting these choices based on gender is unfair.

    (3) your seat mate in shul can be a huge part of your jewish educational experience. In my mixed seating egal indie minyan, I like sitting next to people who know how to correct the person leining torah (the gabbais are good- but inevitably miss things, which is only human). Due to a lot of the inequalities in our Jewish education systems, it seems that most people who really know their leining are men. Segregating people during davening just further prevents women from accessing this education.

    (4) friendships and networks are formed between people who sit near each other in shul. To be utilitarian- I wonder to what extent people from gender A are likely to get leadership roles in the minyan if the key organizers are from gender B. These sorts of informal but tangible gender barriers effect assignments, networking and promotion in the workplace, and I am skeptical of the idea that minyanim are above these flaws.


    MS · October 6th, 2009 at 11:16 am
  72. Is walking in through the men’s section really so frowned upon at a minyan that has MIXED DANCING?


    BZ · October 6th, 2009 at 11:45 am
  73. I have no idea- I was a newcomer- but if you’re already insist on separate seating its not unreasonable to assume that “men’s section” means “only men allowed in this section.” All in all, it was an alienating experience, and the alienation was rooted in the gender segregation.

    And there was no dancing at the time for me to know that they do have mixed dancing. but really- mixed dancing is OK, but heaven forbid we all sit side-by-side?


    MS · October 6th, 2009 at 12:50 pm
  74. MS-
    Yeah, i wasn’t saying you were making unreasonable assumptions, just pointing out the absurdity of the whole thing.


    BZ · October 6th, 2009 at 12:51 pm
  75. Why are we talking about the gender egalitarianism of tribe distinctions, which have little significance to most of us, but not about Jewishness itself? I know many congregations (many minyanim, and the whole Conservative Movement) that consider themselves fully gender-egalitarian but have a very gendered model of Jewish descent (either implicit or explicit). I’ve never understood how men and women can be considered truly equal if they have unequal ability to pass on their Jewish status to their children.

    I don’t think you have to believe that “men and women are exactly the same in all ways!” to believe that “men and women, as groups, should be treated exactly the same in all ways”. There are men and there are women, and there are also a small number of people who consider themselves neither-—all should be treated equally in the public sphere. I feel that having separate seating, or counting a minyan as 10 + 10, is equivalent to a declaration that genderqueer people are not welcome. I’m sure there are many communities that are happy to make that statement, but I’m sure there are others that aren’t.


    Em · October 6th, 2009 at 1:17 pm
  76. MS- You may be remembering DC Minyan from there first year or two before I was a member? The men’s side and women’s side at DC Minyan changes depending on what space there in. Upstairs the entrance is exactly in the middle. Downstairs, the main entrance is on what is usually the women’s side. Everyone crosses all the time, especially as our baby population increases and the moms and dads hand the little ones off to each other. In the upstairs space we were in a couple of weeks ago the entrance was on the side the men were sitting on, but I don’t remember having used that space before.

    Windows are also split in the downstairs space. In the upstairs space they’re on the side that women usually are on, but the rooms isn’t so big that the men don’t get the same effect.

    I’m curious which space you are thinking of or if it was maybe a different minyan?


    Siviyo · October 6th, 2009 at 6:45 pm
  77. @MS–we have had such different experiences. In every community that I have ever been a part of, the overwhelming majority of leyners were women. One would absolutely turn to the women in search of leyning expertise. It’s something I’ve wondered about but never come up with a good theory about.


    leah · October 6th, 2009 at 7:23 pm
  78. @MS – Yes, as BZ said, there is some irony that DC Minyan has separate seating but mixed dancing (at aufrufs, etc., often circling the bimah in the middle of the room). Washington Square in Boston has the same, though they count 10 people for a minyan, so their only non-egal rule is the seating.

    @Leah+MS – I was also surprised and disturbed by MS’s comment about men knowing the leining better. Not the case where I’ve been, either. Also, why do you need the person next to you to correct the Torah readers? If it’s audible, it’s very disruptive to the reader, and the person should gabbai or hold his/her tongue. And if it’s not audible, well, it doesn’t help halachically if the reader doesn’t hear the correction and fix it. And don’t you have a book in front of you?


    SF · October 6th, 2009 at 8:50 pm
  79. SF – I’m with you: if the Gabbai doesn’t correct it, shut up.


    Amit · October 7th, 2009 at 6:49 pm
  80. News from DC Minyan:

    14. WELCOME TO JONATHAN GILAD, LGBTQ LIAISON DC Minyan would like to welcome Jonathan Gilad, who has volunteered to serve as the DC Minyan LBGTQ liaison! As LGBTQ liaison, Jonathan will help DC Minyan communicate our message of inclusiveness toward members of the LBGTQ community. Jonathan will work closely with DC Minyan leaders to draft welcoming language for all communications including the website and other marketing materials, and will assist DC Minyan in quickly and effectively responding to issues of LGBTQ concern as they arise. Welcome, Jonathan!

    A nice move. But seating and minyan-counting will, it seems, remain as is.


    SF · October 8th, 2009 at 5:29 pm
  81. Amit writes:
    Also, in Israel it is the custom to duchen every day, so it’s no big deal to shulgoers.

    Where is the line between the every-day and the every-musaf minhagim? I thought it was Jerusalem vs. the rest of Israel, but you would know better.


    BZ · October 8th, 2009 at 5:56 pm

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