Just prior to a shiva minyan (after a funeral) service at the mourner’s home, I was approached by a congregant who asked me “Rabbi, are women included in the minyan?” This veteran Or Ami congregant, an active Jewish woman, surely knew that our congregation, and this rabbi, recognize the uncompromising egalitarianism intrinsic to Judaism. Unlike our orthodox brethren (of Jewish, Catholic, Muslim and other faiths too) who graft a foreign patriarchal stream into a once egalitarian tradition and thus do not count or fully include women, we count women as full partners in the minyan (the 10 adult Jews needed for a communal prayer service).
Knowing that she must have been teasing me, I said with a straight face, “sure, as long as you don’t sing the prayers out loud…” She, a few other longtime congregants and I all chuckled at that, and I turned back to my preparations for the service.
My wife contends that sometimes my sarcastic humor is not evident to people who do not know me. Case in point: a few moments later, another congregant approached, saying that some of the other non-Or Ami guests were shocked to learn that the mourners were part of a synagogue which, apparently orthodox, did not include women in the minyan! Unfortunately, their shock turned initially to embarrassment as I explained to them the underlying joke. After the service, we finally laughed about the whole situation.
It did give me pause. I would have hoped that most of the Jewish world, by now, would have embraced our God-given egalitarianism so that anachronisms – like not counting women as part of a minyan – would be a thing of the past. Alas, this is not so.
In many places around the world, women are still considered secondary or second class citizens. Sure, there is an attempt at apologetics to explain away the differentiation. But in truth, they remain of secondary status. And in Israel, these attitudes lead to other, more drastic situations:
- In ultra-orthodox areas of Israel, some buses are segregated and women are expected to sit in the back.
- At the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem, women are confined to a small area on the side (the men’s area is huge). Women cannot pray with tallit or chant from Torah, as is traditional in progressive Jewish movements around the world.
- Women cannot be divorced in orthodox Judaism without a “get” (Jewish divorce document) from the husband. Thousands of women in Israel cannot remarry because their husbands will not give them a “get.”
The Reform Movement has worked for full equality of women – ordaining them as rabbis and cantors, having them serve as Temple presidents, inviting them back into the center of Judaism as was intended. May the attitude, that there is anything okay with the segregation of women – on buses, in prayer, in a minyan – soon be an artifact of the past.