Women in a minyan

Do women count in a minyan? (quorum of 10 adult Jews necessary for a public prayer service)

(I) The first is the customary position, which does not count women for the minyan. This position is accepted by all Orthodox Jewish synagogues, and perhaps 10% of North American Conservative synagogues, some in Israel, and some Masorti synagogues in the United Kingdom.

(II) The second position is that women may count in a minyan, and was formally adopted in 1973. In this view, women should always have been allowed to count in a minyan. The Committee on Jewish law and Standards (CJLS) issued a takkanah (legislative enactment) for this view, based on a teshuva prepared by Rabbi Phillip Segal.

Since the 1990s most Conservative rabbis have begun to agree with this view, based on papers by JTS Talmud Processor Judith Hauptman.

(III) The third position is stricter than the view held by Segal and Hauptman, but more liberal than the position within Orthodoxy. 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. While many accepted the Segal paper, some had questions about the propriety of this approach. A new responsum by Rabbi Joel Roth set out to rest these concerns. He showed that women could make a vow which would obligate themselves to follow these mitzvot; their new status is halakhically considered to have the same level of obligation as that of men. This was the position accepted by JTS.

In Rabbi Roth’s view, 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 any such obligations. 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.”

In all cases where the law committee has validated more than one possible position, a congregation must follow 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].

Note that contrary to common belief, Jewish law never formally prevented women from counting in a minyan until R. 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 are legitimate views that women may be able to count in a minyan.

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