Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Single Malt Scotch for Feminists: A Book Review

The Masculine Dilemmas of the Partnership Minyan

Published in the Forward, 30 December 2011, this is my review of:
The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World
By Elana Maryles Sztokman

A few years ago, a friend announced that he intended to start a “Kiddush club” at our synagogue. “Our shul needs more of a social scene,” he declared, “and some high-quality single malt whisky!” he added jokingly. I was vehemently opposed. Our synagogue is a “partnership minyan,” which seeks to maximize women’s participation in the prayer service within the bounds of Halacha and the Orthodox community. A Kiddush club smacked to me of a classic patriarchal construction, a complete contradiction of our attempt at re-aligning the gender dynamic of Orthodox synagogue life.
I was thinking of this exchange as I was reading Elana Sztokman’s new book, “The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World,” an ethnography of men in partnership minyanim. Sztokman asks a fascinating question: What do the men get from it?
As Sztokman describes at the beginning of the book, the partnership minyan phenomenon started in 2001 with two small minyanim in Jerusalem (Shira Chadasha) and New York (Darkhei Noam). Those two are now regularly attended by hundreds every Shabbat and have prompted 25 other such minyanim in places as far flung as Melbourne and Beersheva and as traditional as Skokie, Ill., and Englewood, N.J. At these minyanim, women and men share equally in Torah reading and speaking before the community, and women lead some parts of the service — but men and women are separated by a mechitzah, the barrier between the genders that is the hallmark of an Orthodox synagogue. While still considered anomalous in the eyes of most of the Orthodox community, partnership minyanim are no longer beyond the pale.

Read the rest of the review at: http://www.forward.com/articles/148302

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