[Avodah] partnership minyanim

Kenneth Miller kennethgmiller at juno.com
Tue Feb 26 19:14:36 PST 2013

R"n Lisa Liel wrote:
> It's kind of like driving under the influence.  If you do and
> you hit something, you may have hit it without volition, but
> you got drunk voluntarily.  In this case, a person who accepts
> outside cultural norms as being more important than Jewish
> ones will naturally, without deliberation, think, "I ought to
> be able to do that."  But choosing those norms over Jewish
> ones is a choice. Certainly for those who have any sort of
> Torah upbringing. I'm not speaking of tinokot she'nishb'u, if
> that's what Conservative and Reform Jews are, but of people
> who are raised Orthodox and opt for so-called partnership
> minyanim anyway.

That's exactly the thought I tried to disagree with when I wrote:
> Culture is insidious. It hijacks our attitudes and colors our
> emotions, and we don't even realize it.

I feel that RLL's analogy is flawed. A person got drunk voluntarily, and then drove voluntarily. Those choices are one-shot events. In Rav Dessler's terms, we might say that that average person's bechira-point is such that he is expected to be able to make the right choice. But RLL speaks about "a person who accepts outside cultural norms as being more important than Jewish ones", while I maintain that most such people never made a conscious decision about which norms are more important than the other. It happens slowly, over a long time. Cultural influences pervade one's thoughts and feelings, and a person gravitates towards certain ideas without even realizing it, never deliberately choosing one over the other.

The idea of gender roles in Torah is very fuzzy. The genders have specific obligations and prohibitions, and those are relatively easy to teach and to learn, but attitudes and goals are much more difficult. Thus, even a person who does accept Jewish norms as more important than those of the outside culture, will be at a loss for what to do when these questions arise. So when a person sees something generally done by the other gender, and honestly wonders, "Can I do that?", the question does NOT automatically demonstrate a disregard for Jewish values. It can be a real question, asking to be educated about what Jewish values consider to be proper.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that the question is usually asked at a point in life when this educational void is so large that it cannot be filled easily or quickly. The question may be genuine, but the answer will usually be too little and too late. It took years to learn about the outside society's views on gender roles, and it will take even longer to learn the Torah's views. The result is usually that people will accept whatever halacha insists on, but for the rest they'll go their own way rather than investigate what it is that the Torah would *prefer*. And thus are the partnership minyanim born. Not from rebellion, and not from accepting outside cultural norms. But from lack of knowledge of the Torah's norms.

Akiva Miller
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