Orthodox women leading Kab Shab, for and against

A couple weeks ago or so, Rabbi Avi Weiss, the man responsible for the far left Orthodox enclave in Riverdale called Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (as well as for the ordination of Rabba Sara Hurwitz and the left-wing seminary Yeshivat Chovevei Torah that the OU won’t recognize), announced that he would be permitting a woman to lead Kabbalat Shabbat.

To be clear about what he means by this, he does not mean Friday night services as this term occasionally means in more liberal streams. Weiss was saying that he would be allowing a woman to lead the collection of psalms, songs and piyutim that may make up the not strictly obligatory preliminary service for erev Shabbat.

Very interestingly, a commenter identified only as Josh left the following comment, which I found very enlightening:

First off, Weiss is not going from the Tanach on this- this is pure rabbinic Judaism going on here. Also, this conversation is uniquely Orthodox, which I find interesting.

The issue is as follows, from the Orthodox perspective, and very superficially: Women do not have an obligation for public (e.g. minyan) prayer. Therefore, they cannot lead public prayer. Those prayers that typify public prayer are called divrei shebikdushah. They include barchu, kaddish (not mourners), and the repetition of the amida. Kabbalat shabbat is not obligatory prayer in a loose sense- it was adopted from a kabbalistic tradition of saying prayers to welcome Shabbos. In fact, in some congregations, boys under the age of 13 lead this service.

So why can’t women lead this service? The answer seems to be along a couple of different lines:

1) This is a break from mesorah (tradition) and therefore is in and of itself a bad thing to do.

2) Probably the most compelling reason (to the extent that any of them are) is kavod hatsibur, which is “honor of the congregation”. This reason is also generally the one that disallows women from getting aliyot/reading torah.

3) We’ll be like the conservative and reform movements.

For more on this, see http://text.rcarabbis.org/?p=909.

Don’t shoot the messenger on this: I’m perfectly fine with a woman leading kabbalat shabbat, just trying to explain what’s at play. The fact is that Orthodox Judaism is at its weakest explaining why women can’t lead KS (as opposed to, say, Shacharit).

My only quibble with Josh is that there is anything even remotely compelling to the notion that a congregation the minimizes the participation of women has any more honor than any other congregation. But other than that, very well put.

13 Responses to Orthodox women leading Kab Shab, for and against

  1. jon August 9, 2010 at 4:59 pm #

    Translation of #3: if we do this then people might start giving their money, time, and etc. to a Conservative shul.

    • David A.M. Wilensky August 9, 2010 at 7:31 pm #

      That’s certainly a part of it, but I think there’s an even more basic aversion to being seen as similar to the liberal movements at all. The other stuff–time and money as you say–is just a side effect of something that is bad in and of itself.

  2. Sam August 10, 2010 at 3:43 am #

    My university has two Friday evening minyans: an Orthodox one and an egalitarian one (it’s a bit of a Conservative Reform mash up). Occasionally we get Orthodox Jews coming to the egalitarian minyan for Kabbalat Shabbat because the singing is nicer and then going to the Orthodox minyan for the Maariv.

    • David A.M. Wilensky August 10, 2010 at 9:53 am #

      That’s very interesting.

    • Josh August 11, 2010 at 5:19 pm #

      I would really love to know what school that is- you must have a laid back Orthodox community, and I mean that in a good way. At mine, the Ortho minyan was nice and the conservative minyan was terrible, so for a year or so they tended to come to us for services.

    • Josh August 11, 2010 at 5:20 pm #

      Oh, I see you’re in England. I wonder if that matters. I’ve never heard of something like this (Ortho going to a conservative minyan for KS) in the US at a college.

  3. larrykaufman August 10, 2010 at 11:12 am #

    Lots of interesting distinctions here:
    1. Women vs. tradition
    2. Kab shab vs. real prayer
    3. Faux Orthodox vs. real Orthodox
    4. Change vs. status quo (aka slippery slope vs. flat ground

    The headline on this post seems to ask for a vote. But of course the only votes that “count” are from those who identify as Orthodox. The rest of us have voted with our feet.

    • David A.M. Wilensky August 10, 2010 at 2:30 pm #

      The votes that will be really interesting over the next generation will be those of people who find these changes make left-wing Modern Orthodoxy more attractive.

    • Josh August 11, 2010 at 5:24 pm #

      larry, I hardly meant to say that KS wasn’t real prayer- not at all. More that halachah (from the Ortho perspective) seems to have more to say about other services, which makes sense since KS is an innovation, albeit and old one.

      Also, the headline might ask for a vote, but what you mention is even more complicated: I think the right wing ortho world would love to have your vote- if only to point out how LWMO has slipped into becoming Conservative or “worse”… Welcome to my world :(

      • David A.M. Wilensky August 11, 2010 at 7:32 pm #

        Certainly it’s real prayer. Spontaneous prayer is also real prayer. Yet the law sees a distinction between spontaneous prayer, formal prayer such as The Amidah etc, and Kab Shab.

  4. Isak BK Aasvestad August 17, 2010 at 7:34 pm #

    What about Kol Isha? Would that be an issue with women leading KS in Orthodox minyanim?

    • David A.M. Wilensky August 17, 2010 at 8:06 pm #

      I don’t know enough about Kol Isha to answer that.

  5. Laura January 24, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    Ah, this post makes me mad so I’m posting even though it’s six months later.

    So, it has nothing to do with Kol Isha, which started with the kriat shema and has nothing to do with leyning, if I’m not mistaken. In fact zemirot by women is permitted, and that’s way more like singing than reading the Torah is.

    As for kevod ha-tzibbur, it just dawned on me the other day that it’s not really more honorable to let a 13-year-old boy lead services than it would a learned woman, if that’s the argument. I’m growing to hate the idea of kevod ha-tzibbur though, because no one really knows what it is, apparently.

    Oh, and nobody has an “obligation” to public prayer—it’s just plain old preferable to individual prayer. Whether someone has an obligation to say things that are divrei shebikdushah, and therefore *needs* a minyan, is beyond me. But I’m leaning towards “no”.