Culture, Religion

Trifecta

Wow, this is the third time in less than a week that the JTA is reporting on the independent minyan/havurah scene!
This time around, as a sidebar to the independent minyan article featuring the Mission Minyan, they cover the “trichitza” phenomenon and its historical origins, and they even have a shout-out to Mah Rabu’s Hilchot Pluralism series.
To clarify what I meant in my quote:
Trichitzas are groovy, but they’re not the be-all and end-all solution that will make it possible for all Jews to daven together. They don’t address the egal/non-egal question at all. But if you can decouple the issue of where people are sitting from the issues of who’s leading what / who counts in the minyan / etc., and come up with solutions to the latter issues that work for your community, then trichitzas are groovy. The “mix and match” part refers to the fact that there are minyanim with mixed seating that are entirely non-egal, minyanim with mechitzas and egalitarian Torah services, and minyanim with trichitzas and various configurations of who can lead what, etc.

20 thoughts on “Trifecta

  1. In theory I believe East Midwood Jewish Center in Brooklyn had this setup for decades. Not with a mechitzah, just the idea that there is a small section on the left, a big middle section and a small section on the right. In that way you had the option to have single sex seating on the sides and mixed seating in the middle.

  2. It’s funny… I remember a few years ago attending sat. services and looking forward to turning towards the back together. That was the moment when all the ‘young ‘uns’ could ‘check out’ members of the opposite sex and get a nice look at thier ass.
    I don’t know if it’s a sign of increased religious fervor or declining libido that I no longer think about asses during services.
    As a liberal Jew, I’d rather have the option of choosing between asses and God.
    Say it after me: Thank you oh lord who created such sublime feelings and emotions that derive from the beauty of your creatures, and allow me to enjoy both the form and the essence of my fellow davveners….

  3. Turns out that after hailing Mission Minyan’s revolutionary use of the trichitza, I heard from a member of an Atlanta congregation affiliated with the UTJ (Union for Traditional Judaism, about 10 shuls that broke away from the Conservative movement when it went egal). Some, but not all, of the UTJ shuls use a trichitza, indicative of their inbetween status. Wonder if there are more…

  4. The shul where I grew up has had for a number of years precisely the arrangement described by Kishkeman: smaller section for women on the left, larger middle section for mixed seating, and smaller section on the right for men. This was the product of a compromise that resulted from a division between the Orthodox and Conservative factions of the congregation. I believe the result of a similar compromise was that women are not given aliyot, but are called upon by the Rabbi during the course of the service to stand and read portions of the service from their seats. The shul is Temple Israel is Long Beach, New York; I believe the congreagtion is nominally “traditional Conservative,” but has obviously embraced elements of Orthodoxy.
    Indcidentally, I think the overriding factor that made this synagogue function was the fact that its membership truly wanted to compromise; the importance of maintaining the unity of their congregation overrode the desire to demonstrate the rightness of their denominational afiliation to the world at large.

  5. david smith writes:
    This was the product of a compromise that resulted from a division between the Orthodox and Conservative factions of the congregation.
    A trichitza isn’t a compromise, because no one has to give anything up. Everyone gets to sit in the type of section that s/he wants to sit in.
    (The only thing that anyone gives up is the right to compel others to go against their own preferences.)

  6. BZ,
    Quite true. Alas, there are many who do, indeed, regard the imposition of their beliefs as a “right.” Typically, that view takes the form of the claim that a demand for tolerance is equivalent to calling for the “tacit consent” of those wishing to impose their beliefs on others. Indeed, the moment a group justifies its rejection of someone’s rights on the basis of “tacit consent,” it means their real problem is with the following: “minding their own goddamn business.”

  7. “Indeed, the moment a group justifies its rejection of someone’s rights on the basis of “tacit consent,” it means their real problem is with the following: “minding their own goddamn business.” ”
    Maybe we should test that proposition with the following: have joint services with a roughly equal number of Jews for Jesus, in the same room. The Jews-not-for-Jesus would of course be welcome to tune out any references to Jesus and would not be obligated to follow along with any readings from the New Testament. Everyone happy?
    (Note: I am in no way comparing the mechitza issue with the rejection of Jesus issue. Obviously the latter is far more essential to Judaism. I’m simply illustrating why the “mind your own business” concept, so useful in the context of a secular government, doesn’t necessarily work in a religious context, especially when the religion in question believes that all its members are partners with each other.)

  8. No, not at all happy. But then again, I honestly can’t figure out what the illustration is trying to convey. Nor do I understand what is meant by the assertion that “the religion in question believes that all its members are partners with each other.” In the J4J example, the messianic Jews could attend their own “synagogue,” while the traditional Jews could attend theirs. Which is precisely the same for adherents to the various denominations of Judaism; where the denominations have conflicting beliefs, their members are perfectly capable of building synagogues, having weddings, ordaining Rabbis, and the like, according to the respective standards and doctrinal requirements of each denomination.
    Where I’ve heard the “tacit consent” argument most frequently invoked is in the context of explaining why certain Orthodox Jews don’t merely reject the beliefs and practices of Conservative (and Reform) Jews, but claim they are “deviant, “heretical,” and the rest of the adjectives indicating they have access to an excellent thesaurus. For example, it’s not enough for said Orthodox Jews to exclude homosexuals from the rabbinate in Orthodox congregations; they also claim that unless they condemn Conservative Judaism as illegitimate and heretical, they’d be giving their “tacit consent” to the ordination of gay rabbis in Conservative congregations. Bullshit; I say they’ll be “minding their own goddamn business.” That is the essence of tolerance; not approval, just minding your own business.
    It is also vital to note that the objection to this kind of intolerance has absolutely nothing to do with what anyone believes. As a Conservative Jew, I believe that Reform Judaism is wrong with respect to a substantial number of different areas of Jewish practice and belief. Nonetheless, it has never crossed my mind to claim that Reform Judaism is illegitimate, and that its adherents are heretics. They are welcome to practice Judaism according to their principles, while I practice according to mine. I defy anyone to point out an illustration where applying the principle of “minding their own business” forces the Orthodox or anyone else to violate their religious beliefs. It simply prevents them from imposing their beliefs on others.

  9. “Nor do I understand what is meant by the assertion that “the religion in question believes that all its members are partners with each other.” ”
    Kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh. All Jews are partners. While it’s an open question as to exactly how much interference with others is mandated by this principle, at a minimum it gives us the right (and obligation) to at least state openly why we don’t agree with the practices of others, and to refuse to participate, even passively, in those practices.
    Further, it’s plain common sense that when anyone presents a set of beliefs or activities as “Judaism”, it’s incumbent on all of us to evaluate those beliefs or activities and, if necessary, denounce them. “Judaism” is our brand name, owned (if not in a legal sense, certainly in a moral sense) by all of us, as well as our forbears and descendants, and brand names must be protected. We don’t “mind our own business” when it’s our business that’s being misrepresented, distorted or worse. See, for example, what happens when the Kabbalah Centre is mentioned here. Near unanimous negativity. Which is proper – when a family of con-artists takes what belongs to all of us, misrepresents it, and uses it to start a cult for profit, we denounce them.
    “In the J4J example, the messianic Jews could attend their own “synagogue,” while the traditional Jews could attend theirs.”
    Well, of course. But see your comment 9.
    ” As a Conservative Jew, I believe that Reform Judaism is wrong with respect to a substantial number of different areas of Jewish practice and belief. Nonetheless, it has never crossed my mind to claim that Reform Judaism is illegitimate, and that its adherents are heretics. ”
    That’s nice, but it’s beside the point. So you accept Reform, at least such that you don’t think it’s illegitimate. But would you accept ANYTHING as a legitimate branch of Judaism? If I took Christianity and slapped the title “Judaism” on it, would that be legitimate? (Hmm, that’s not just a hypothetical, is it?) What about an atheistic worldview containing no trace of traditional Judaism? What about the Kabbalah Centre? Greek paganism? At some point, you’re going to draw the line and say “that’s not Judaism”.
    “I defy anyone to point out an illustration where applying the principle of “minding their own business” forces the Orthodox or anyone else to violate their religious beliefs.”
    As I said above, protecting the good name of Judaism includes protesting illegitimate practices claiming that name.
    I’d like to note here that I haven’t set out my own views on what is or is not legitimately Judaism; I’m also most emphatically not saying that any and all differences mean that one side is not legitimate; I’m simply arguing that 1) there is such a thing as illegitimate Judaism and 2) Judaism not only permits but requires that that we point this out and refuse to participate in it.

  10. J-
    The trichitza (and other non-compromise pluralistic solutions) is an answer to the question “How can we daven together?”, and provides no insight into the question “Should we daven together?”.
    Before one can ask the former question, one must first answer yes to the latter question. If I were asked the latter question in regard to J4J, I would answer no. The communities that use trichitzas have answered yes (in regard to their diverse constituents), and the trichitza is an elegant way to work out the details after that.

  11. BZ-
    I don’t disagree with that point. It’s your earlier comment (“The only thing that anyone gives up is the right to compel others to go against their own preferences.”) and David Smith’s expansion of it that I took issue with. Compelling others to go against their own preferences is sometimes part of Judaism, even liberal versions thereof.

  12. If the community has agreed to daven together, then they have implicitly agreed to respect each other’s diverse practices. If they can’t do that (perhaps for the principled reasons that you suggest), they shouldn’t be davening together.

  13. In a place like New York, probably. But in places with fewer Jews, you’d have to start balancing the importance of standing up for your view of Judaism with the good chance that you won’t be part of any congregation at all (and might be helping to cause the nonexistence of a congregation for others). For some people, the costs of staying home might be outweighed by the benefits of attending what they see as a seriously flawed minyan. For such people, something like the “trichizta” is indeed a compromise.

  14. J,
    Hate to break it to ya, but there is no essential “judaism”. There are an interlocking set of practices and beliefs that have changed substantially over time. Things are “jewish” when those making the claim on jewishness can create a plausible link to other beliefs/practices that have come under that label. You are correct that the plausibility is determined by the process of communal norm production, through which people make the claim, just as you are, that this or that is not Jews. However, in order to make that claim they engage in a similarly selective process of reading historical precedent as those making the initial claim. There is no objective standard, only competing claims.
    Of course, if we break it down to a finer level of specificity we can always draw some boundaries (after all everything is not jewish, though over time it could be). I think we will find out, however that the boundaries are wider than we have thought.
    Messianic Jews are a good example. Is it outside the bounds of Judaism to believe that the messiah has come? Early Christians, follows of shabbatai tzvi, and those in chabad who believe shneerson is the messiah make plausible claims within a set of discursive norms we usually call jewish. Likewise, we can see that the early history of the christian/jewish schism indicates that it was not the teachings of jesus that we most objectionable, but rather, paul’s inclusion of gentiles into the church without requiring them to convert (in particular to get a circumcision).
    so, clearly, if over 75% of the Jewish world prays without a mechitzah, the people have spoken and that form of judaism counts. You may think it is contrary to halacha (though you would have a tough time, the simchat bet ha’shoeva stuff in the gemara is not really conclusive), but you would be hard pressed at this point to claim that mixed seating during prayer is not Jewish.

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