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Sperber to explore the role of women in worship during Teaneck talk

 
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While women’s participation in the synagogue service remains a controversial issue within the Orthodox movement, Rabbi Daniel Sperber says his writings on the subject have generally been greeted “respectfully.”

Sperber — professor of Talmud at Bar Ilan University in Israel as well as prolific author, pulpit rabbi, and 1992 winner of the Israel Prize for Jewish Studies — will speak in Teaneck later this month, advocating for greater involvement by women in communal worship.

An Orthodox rabbi, Sperber said he is trying to counter the “mistaken” idea that such participation is not halachic. That idea “is based on a lack of understanding, on a sociological situation that is no longer relevant,” he said.

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Rabbi Daniel Sperber

The rabbi’s views are expanded in “Women and Men in Communal Prayer: Halakhic Perspectives,” published recently by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. According to a JOFA spokesperson, the book includes not only Sperber’s position but also two essays opposing that view by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Prof. Eliav Shochetman, thus demonstrating “the dynamic nature of the halachic process.”

Longtime JOFA board member Pam Scheininger, a Teaneck resident and president of Netivot Shalom, said she had read Sperber’s article before receiving the JOFA publication. While “he makes a great deal of sense,” she said, “both arguments have merit and are laid out very well.”

Scheininger said she applauded JOFA for “striving to give an honest analysis” of the issue, “presenting both arguments to empower the readers to come to their own decisions. It tries to be intellectually honest,” she said, “and to get members to think through and learn through these issues and try to participate in a meaningful way.”

“Many congregations are struggling with these questions in their own community and are not sure whether to make a certain move in a certain direction,” said Sperber, adding that they are “very grateful” when he presents his position. Still, he said, he ensures that they make their own decisions, asking “whether they’re willing to take on themselves all the possible sociological implications,” such as criticism from local rabbis.

Scheininger agrees that the role of women is high on the agenda of Orthodox synagogues. Independent of the specific issue of women reading Torah, she said, “Most Modern Orthodox congregations are struggling with the issue of women’s participation, trying to find a level of partnership they’re comfortable with.”

“In each Modern Orthodox congregation, discussion is happening as to how best to meet the needs of the whole community as well as those of individual members,” she said.

“Rabbi Sperber is a tremendous Torah mind and I’m sure many people will come out to hear him.”

“I go where I am invited to speak,” said Sperber, noting that even those who do not accept his views tend to be “respectful of them.” He said he began publishing his views on this subject several years ago. “Since then, I have been ‘on the circuit,’” he joked.

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He noted that several Orthodox synagogues in Israel, following the example of Jerusalem congregation Shira Hadasha, are already “semi-egalitarian,” adding that he believes such synagogues will become more numerous and more acceptable. His own congregation, Menachem Zion Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem, is not likely to be one of them, he said.

Sperber said that not only was he aware of the recent controversy involving Rabbi Avi Weiss — who came under fire for dubbing a female rabbinic staff member “rabba,” replacing her previous title, “maharat” — but he had tried to discourage Weiss from taking that step.

“I was one of the signatories to her smicha, I tested her,” he said. Nevertheless, when discussions arose about changing her title, “I advised against it, suggesting that they take some time to let [the title] ‘maharat’ sink in.” He said the resulting flap reached Israel, “but not with the same degree of acrimony.”

“Here we hardly have women functioning in this position,” he said. “Certainly there is no official recognition.”

Sperber will speak about the JOFA book Friday evening, June 25, at the Davar Institute and on Shabbat morning, June 26, at Netivot Shalom. On late Shabbat afternoon, he will deliver a talk at Rinat Yisrael on not eating meat or drinking wine during the three weeks before Tisha b’Av.

For additional information, call (212) 679-8500 or visit .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 
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Walling off, reaching out

Teaneck shul offers discussion of Women of the Wall

It is not an understatement to say that the saga of Women of the Wall is a metaphor for much of the struggle between tradition and change in Israel.

Founded 25 years ago by a group of Israeli and non-Israeli women whose religious affiliations ran from Orthodox to Reform, it has been a flashpoint for the fight for pluralism in Israel, as one side would define it, or the obligation to hold onto God-given mandates on the other.

As its members and supporters fought for the right to hold services in the women’s section, raising their voices in prayer, and later to wear tallitot and read from sifrei Torah, and as their opponents grew increasingly violent in response, it came to define questions of synagogue versus state and showcase both the strengths and the flaws of Israel’s extraordinary parliamentary system. It also highlighted rifts between American and Israeli Jews.

 

Shabbat in the White City

Fair Lawn man aims for Guinness-record dinner in Tel Aviv

Jay Shultz is determined to set a new world record while promoting Tel Aviv — usually cited for its nightlife and startup culture — as a great place to spend Shabbat.

The 37-year-old Fair Lawn native, who has lived in Israel since 2006, has earned a reputation as the “International Mayor of Tel Aviv” after a series of grand-scale initiatives geared at positioning his adopted city as welcoming haven for young professional immigrants.

His latest exploit: Through his popular White City Shabbat program, which offers communal meals for young Israelis and immigrants at local synagogues, Mr. Shultz launched an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign to sponsor the world’s largest Shabbat dinner.

 

Testing for genetic diseases

JScreen provides easy, low-cost screening for people of Jewish lineage

Looking for a novel engagement or bridal shower gift? “Forget a blender or another place setting. Give a JGift and help them ensure the best future for their family,” advises the website JScreen.org.

For $99 you can “give the gift of screening,” said Hillary Kener, JScreen’s outreach coordinator. Ms. Kener was referring to the online genetic screening program that is coordinated through the department of human genetics at Atlanta’s Emory University. With this unique program it is possible to be screened for up to 80 genetic mutations. Along with screening, the site provides education and access to genetic counseling related to the screening tests. And all of this can take place in the comfort of your own home or dormitory room.

 

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