Minyan Equality Hailed As Reflection of Changing Times

The Conservative Judaism Movement’s decision to count women in a minyan was hailed today by Mrs. Henry Rappaport, president of the National Women’s League of the United Synagogue of America. She noted that the move reflected the current thinking of the Women’s League. She cited an opinion poll taken at its 1972 convention in which 54 percent favored counting women with 34 percent opposed and 12 percent undecided.

“The thinking which impelled the Rabbinical Assembly’s committee (on Jewish Law and Standards) to take this action is based, I believe, in part on the experience of some of our deeply committed and devoted women congregants,” Mrs. Rappaport said. “Many have told us of the shattering feelings they have experienced when, as mourners for a beloved departed relative, they have come into the synagogue to say the Kaddish, the traditional prayer of mourning which may be recited only when there are ten present for a public service.” Many times she noted, they have found on a weekday that there were only nine males present.

“The woman, though she might be learned and was certainly of deep commitment, became to all purposes a ‘non-person’ who could not be counted in the minyan of ten,” Mrs. Rappaport said. “The congregation awaited the arrival of a male minor or even a totally unlearned and non-committed male passerby to ‘make the minyan’–or, many times, the mourner could not recite a public kaddish because no tenth male could be reached.”

Mrs. Rappaport noted that the term minyan (numbers) was derived from the Biblical “edah” (congregation) and the term congregation was understood to mean 10 men. This interpretation was, she added, solidified by Rabbi Joseph Karo in the 16th century. “When a great scholar interpreted for his time in history four centuries ago, would it not be acceptable for great scholars of our own time and place to interpret for the needs of our time?” she asked.

Many of today’s women are seeking equality of opportunity, Mrs. Rappaport said, “and we are encouraging them to pursue the fullest possible secular and religious education. It is particularly appropriate to examine our procedures which have been ‘time-hallowed’ only since the 16th century, not for the entirety of Jewish history.”

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