Volume 51 Number 85
                    Produced: Sun Apr  2  9:43:34 EDT 2006

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Counting for a Minyan
         [Chana Luntz]


From: Chana Luntz <Chana@...>
Date: Wed, 29 Mar 2006 22:24:13 +0100
Subject: Re: Counting for a Minyan

Leah Gordon writes:
> I have read with some distress, posts back and forth about who "counts"
> for a minyan.  Specifically, there seems to be an attitude that it is
> praiseworthy (and/or a halakhically-motivated option) to count any males
> who show up and claim to be Jewish 
> ...
> I cannot express easily how painful it is for religious, involved,
> Jewish women to read about how the tiniest shred of minyan interest is
> enough to count a male Jew.  It seems that poskim over the years have
> tied themselves in knots trying to eliminate all kinds of obstacles to
> "being counted" in the Jewish community, but only for men.

And similarly we have discussed (and may well end up discussing further)
the way that recent poskim have tied themselves up in knots trying to
eliminate obstacles that would prevent a kohen from duchaning, but only
for those unquestionably born a kohen.

Does this distress you as much?  If not, it might be worth considering
why not?

> But what I have a real problem with is that so little (any?) rabbinical
> attention in Orthodoxy has gone to addressing when/how women can count
> for more of a public religious role.  Aside from a handful of articles
> about how women can make up the minyan for e.g. publicizing miracles, we
> have been ignored as public congregants.

Actually I think there has been a certain amount of attention (see for
example Rav Ariyeh Frimer's article "Women's Prayer Services: Theory and
Practice.  Part 1 -- Theory," Aryeh A. Frimer and Dov I. Frimer,
Tradition, 32:2, pp. 5- 118 (Winter 1998). [PDF File available online
at: http://www.jofa.org/pdf/Batch%201/0021.pdf>;HTML file available at:
<http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/english/tfila/frimmer1.htm#start>; Word file
available at: <http://www.mail-jewish.org/Womens Prayer Service.doc>.]
but there is not a lot to say.  Rav Goren was indeed being creative but
there is pretty limited scope.

> I can't understand why Rabbis look for all kinds of excuses to work
> around the halakha and count men who break shabbat, men who may be
> handicapped in ways that would curtail minyan participation, men who
> may commit crimes or serious sins...but never in two thousand years
> have they considered that maybe looking for ways to count women would
> be a good idea.

Maybe because they aren't convinced that it is a good idea.  I'm not
saying that may not be a painful conclusion to come to for a religious,
involved, Jewish woman, but it has to be at least one potential answer.

Of course to articulate any opposing view (ie why it would be a good
idea), one would need to try and understand what it is that a woman
forfits due to not being counted.  It is not like being baal koreh or
shatz, where one may get praise for one's good voice or knowledge.  What
is it that a man gets out of it all? Schar mitzvah?  Is it that which
distresses you?  The kohen also gets schar mitzvah?

That is not to say that socialogically I do not see very direct and
tangible benefits that have nothing to do with mitzvos.  Perhaps to take
a step away, and to take some of the emotional sting out, lets look at
the kohen case.  Because my husband's maternal uncle is a kohen, I can
see very clearly the socialogical benefits he gets.

My husband's maternal uncle never married, and is now a very elderly and
increasingly frail man.  His nephews and nieces are busy with their own
lives and families, and it is hard for him not to be aware that he is
not really needed in their lives, and has little to give to them, and
needs them more than they need him.  But I can tell you who *does* need
him, and that is his shul.  Because while they do not have any
difficultly getting a minyan, kohanim are in short supply, and he is
generally the only one.  That means he gets aliyos three/four times a
week, and because he is Sephardi, duchens seven times a week.  When he
does not show, they in effect end up making what amounts to a public
announcement (they change the whole structure of the repetition of the
amida).  Because of this, they do make a fuss over him, more than over
the other old codgers who come, but who are not kohanim.  And he really
does get missed when he is not there, and people notice and phone and
ask and pick him up in their car for weekday minyan, and the Rabbi makes
a fuss of him because he is a kohen, despite the fact that nobody would
call him desperately learned or wealthy or any of the other things that
mean people make a fuss.

Of course it sometimes works to his detriment.  In the Sephardi
tradition, kohanim duchan at mincha on a fast day if they are fasting,
even outside of Israel.  That means that, while we are not at all
convinced that he ought to be fasting at his age and condition,
especially the minor fasts, there is no way he is not going to do it,
because by not duchaning he is forced to make what amounts to a public
announcement to that effect - whereas none of the other older gentleman
are forced to so publically announce their weakness.

So there is no question in my mind that the shul works as a kind of
social network that picks up and provides meaning and social connection
for some of the more socially inept and vulnerable amongst us, and
provides a reason for many elderly gentlemen to keep on going.  And
there is no question that is it terribly important for them to be needed
and wanted.

But I am not sure that that is what it is that distresses you.  That the
same kind of social network is not provided by shul for the little old
ladies amongst us?

Getting back to minyan, the mishna in Megilla 5a defines a large city as
a place where there are at least ten "batlanin" which the gemora further
explains as ten batlanin in the shul, and Rashi defines further as being
10 who who do not do any work but are available in the shul for for
tephila b'tzibbur., ie they sit around and do nothing but wait to make
up a minyan.  And my mother in law used to describe exactly how that
used to work in Egypt.  The most socially down and out in Jewish society
used to sit around near the shul, playing sheshbesh or whatever, until
somebody would call out "minyan" and then they would come and make up
the minyan for whatever purpose required, whether it be davening or
going to the cemetery or (topically, since it is rosh chodesh nissan)
birchas hailanos [the blessing over fruit trees] or whatever.  And
whoever had requested them would then pay them each something, and they
would then go back to playing sheshbesh or whatever until there was a
need again. It was a form of social welfare system that preserved their
dignity - rather than having them live on charity.

But it is certainly true that no woman could historically support
herself in this manner - but is it this that distresses you?

And there is no question that the minyan system operates as an extremely
effective news and gossip transmitter.  I suspect that the present frum
Jewish society is one of the very few throughout history where the male
news and gossip network is more efficient than the female equivalent
(who hears hatched, matched and dispatched news first?)

Of course that partly has to do with the breakdown of traditional female
networks in modern western society (if you want to see that starkly in
action, try a modern labour ward in a modern hospital.  I remember when
I was in right before having my first - there were some complications so
they were keeping me in under observation while I was just starting to
have contractions.  And in the bed opposite me there was a woman also
having contractions from Korea.  Her husband was in England studying at
one of the universities, and she was clearly very educated, but was very
miserable.  And she was saying that in Korea, everybody would be making
a fuss of her, and preparing her amazing things to eat, and she wouldn't
be expected to do anything for a month after the birth except eat and
feed the baby, while a whole female community ran around after her, and
here she was, with just her husband, who while he seemed a very nice
chap was just that, a chap, and a clueless as she was, in this sterile
isolating western hospital on the other side of the world).  But I don't
think it is exactly reasonable to expect the rabbis to somehow fix the
breakdown of the traditional female network in the western world.

> And I'm not even really saying that the rabbis have to find that the
> answer is "yes," but just that they should be *looking* for a way to
> make the answer "yes" for us - at least as hard as they look to help
> the men who drive to shul.

So, it seems to me, you first need to provide slightly more cogent
reasons why indeed they should be *looking* for a way to make the answer
"yes".  If we can't even be sure that indeed there is some deep benefit
from "yes" there is not really a lot of point in the looking.

One of the issues that indeed does come up in the mechallel shabbas
b'farhesia case is the issue of judgementalism, which to my mind is one
of the real plagues of frum society today, the tendency for people to
look down their nose at other people's frumkeit (and it is so easy to
slip into that mindset), and make more and more judgements on tinier and
tinier aspects. It is to my mind a bad and very destructive mida that is
completely out of control - which leads to people being over on
countless d'orisas ben adam l'chavero.

One of the strengths of the minyan system is that it rarely makes these
judgements.  It is just appreciative of men, any men, or in the case of
the cohanic blessing, a cohen, any cohen.  That is why I believe that so
many of the poskim have tried so hard.  Because it is one thing to write
off the odd genuinely rebellious man and discount him from your minyan.
It is another to completely write off the majority (unfortunately) of
the Jewish people based on their actions.  Even going down that road
leads you almost inexorably into this kind of judgementalism of what
this one does and what that one does that is so rife today.

But to make a factual distinction between birth conditions, whether of a
man and a woman, or a kohen and a non kohen does not, to my mind, imply
the same level of judgmentalism, because what we are is Hashem's "fault"
as it were.  He arranged that we are male or female, kohen or non kohen.
So we are not really grappling with the same issue.  And if the issue is
that you feel that men "look down on" women, then is "counting" them for
a minyan going to fix that?  It is not as though men do not need women
in other contexts (marriage and children is the obvious case).  If
anything sometimes the frustrating and difficult thing for men is that
in fact they do need women.  So is having them potentially need women
the way they need other men for a minyan going to fix your issues if
indeed these are your issues?  Or might it just destroy, even on a
socialogical level (note I am not here discussing on a halachic one)
what a minyan psychologically achieves.

Chana Luntz


End of Volume 51 Issue 85