Since the middle of the last century, various communities of Jews, initially in the United States and subsequently elsewhere in Israel and throughout the Jewish world, have questioned, advocate for, argued over, and implemented adoption of equal roles for men and women in Jewish communal prayer services. Different communities have taken on varying degrees of egalitarian practice, some removing gender as a consideration in any aspect of communal ritual, others continuing to count only men for the minyan, even as women equally read from the Torah, others have adopted versions of partial egalitarian practice. Some have incrementally moved toward egalitarian practices over time. Some communities have instituted these practices in consultation with organized movements and rabbinic bodies and others have acted independently and with reference to their own grassroots views, sometimes articulated in halakhic language and sometimes not. Though the halakhic questions regarding egalitarian minyanim have earned a fair amount of literature, there is still a need for a comprehensive treatment of the issue that seeks to understand the underlying concerns and issues of the different positions taken. This problem is most acutely felt by members of independent prayer communities who care about observing halakhah properly and who are not affiliated with an organized denomination whose standards they can adopt or whose central rabbinic body they can trust without understanding the halakhic issues themselves. Further, many Jews seek a thorough personal understanding of their Jewish lives in their halakhic expression and will be served by an accessible, thorough treatment of this topic, which, though minor in its legal prominence is quite significant in its contemporary personal experience.
It is our intention here to submit the major questions of gender and public prayer to an analysis that is simultaneously thorough, transparent, and accessible. Readers interested in shorter synopses can find them here on the site. In this paper we will address two major questions: 1) the appointment of women as Shelihot Tizbur (prayer leaders) for public prayer; 2) counting women in the minyan of ten for public prayer and the like. We will not independently address the question of Torah reading although we will summarize the topic where relevant in the question of women as Shelihot Tzibur. There the interested reader will find reference to very thorough articles devoted exclusively to that topic.2
I. Serving as Shelihat Tzibbur — Communal Prayer Leader
The prayer leader (Sheliah Tzibur, or Sha”tz) performs two functions — 1) reading the ‘Amidah out loud (not relevant at ‘Arvit); 2) saying those parts of the service known as devarim she-bikedushah — Kaddish, Barekhu, (at Shaharit and ‘Arvit), and Kedushah (at Shaharit, Minhah, and Musaf).
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