Women in a minyan

Photo by Patrick Dove/Standard-Times, gosanangelo.com

Do women count in a minyan? (quorum of 10 adult Jews necessary for a public prayer service) There are several positions within Judaism.

(I) The traditional position

Halakhah is normative, including the idea that women are not obligated to engage in tefila to the same extent that men are. Only men may count towards a minyan.

This has historically been the Jewish position, and today it still is accepted by all Orthodox and Sephardic synagogues. Some 10% of Conservative/Masorti synagogues also still hold this way.

(II) The Conservative/Masorti /Hadar positions

Halakhah is normative, yet for a variety of reasons, held to be justified within the halakhic process, women may indeed count towards a minyan.

There are several substantially different routes by which this conclusion has been reached:

(A) In 1973 the Committee on Jewish law and Standards (CJLS) issued a minority opinion takkanah (legislative enactment) allowing women to count in a minyan. This was based on a teshuvah written Rabbi Phillip Segal. Details TBA.

(B) In the early 1980s many rabbis within the Conservative movement studied the issue, and wrote several responsa. In 1983 the faculty of the Jewish Theological Seminary voted to accept women into the rabbinical school. One of the conditions for this was for women to be able to count in a minyan, and have the same halakhic obligations as those of men.  This was made possible by the view of Rabbi Joel Roth (see details below.)

(C) In the 1990s Talmud professor, now rabbi, Judith Hauptman wrote a series of papers about the historic role of women in prayer, showing that even before modern times, mainstream rabbis increased the obligations of women in tefila to effectively be the same as those of men. Based on her reasoning, see Women and prayer: an attempt to dispel some fallacies, many Conservative rabbis were convinced that all Jewish women over the age of majority should be able to count in a minayn.

III. The Reform/Reconstructionist view

Halakha is no longer normative; women have no halakhic obligation to engage in tefila, and neither do men. Since men and women both have the same lack of obligations, and since halakhah in general no longer is binding, then Reform/Reconstructionist communities are free to count women as well as men in a minyan.

This view is rejected by normative Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, Sephardic, etc.) as the result has no meaning if none of the laws matter in the first place.

The Roth responsa

While some Conservative rabbis accepted the 1973 Segal responsa, many more had questions about the propriety of this approach. years later, a different responsum by Rabbi Joel Roth addressed these concerns.

He showed that women could make a vow which would obligate themselves to follow these mitzvot; their new status halakhically gives them the same level of obligation in tefila as that of men. This was the position accepted by the rabbinical school at JTS.

In Rabbi Roth’s view, Jewish women generally may not count in a minyan unless they have specifically taken a vow to obligate themselves in regards to these particular mitzvot. Any women who wants to count in a minyan thus can; those that do not want to be counted are free not to undertake such obligation. In his teshuva (published in The Ordination of Women as Rabbis) he states:

“To be sure, it must be made absolutely clear to all women who adopt the observance of mitzvot that there is often more involved than observance alone. This is particularly true either where a minyan is needed of where the issue of agency is involved. They must understand that only obligated individuals constitute a quorum and only one who is obligated can serve as an agent for others.”

“Just because a woman comes to services, or dons tallit and tefillin, or receives an aliyah does not mean she has the right to be counted toward a minyan or to act as an agent in behalf of one who is obligated to perform a mitzvah….”

“women may be counted in a minyan or serve as a shatz (shaliach tzibur, cantor) only when they have accepted upon themselves the voluntary obligation to pray as required by the law, and at the times required by the law, and only when they recognize and affirm that failure to comply with the obligation is sin. Then they may be counted in the quorum and serve as the agents for others.”

View of Conservative Judaism

In all cases where the law committee has validated more than one possible position, a congregation follows the ruling of its rabbi, who as mara d’atra [halakhic authority] has the sole responsibility and authority in making such a p’sak [decision].

Halakhah never clearly excluded women

Contrary to common belief, Jewish law never formally prevented women from counting in a minyan until R. Yosef Karo stated this in the Shulkhan Arukh (1600s).

In his larger work, the Beit Yosef (of which the Shulkhan Arukh is only a student’s abridgement) he notes that there is a view that women may be able to count in a minyan.



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