Egalitarian Orthodoxy, from Jerusalem to New York


Two egalitarian-style Orthodox minyans — one in Jerusalem’s German Colony, the other on Manhattan’s Upper West Side — talk to Ha’aretz’s Lisa Schwartz about the effort to be Orthodox, pluralistic, egalitarian and community-oriented, all at the same time.

On any given Shabbat in Jerusalem, minyans around the city wait for ten men to begin praying. Only Shira Hadasha has to wait longer. Not because no one shows up, but because they require both ten men and ten women.

"We take upon ourselves an extra requirement," said Elie Holzer, a founder of the minyan, noting that it’s not a halachic statement but a social one. Halacha does guide the minyan’s decision to let women lead certain parts of services while still using a mechitza.

Outsiders, particularly those from North America, see the minyan’s feminist face and categorize it with the pluralistic communities they know from home – some of which have been inspired by Shira Hadasha. But for Shira Hadasha members, these revised gender rules are only the most visible manifestation of a philosophy that transcends feminism

Cities around the world are home to minyans that Shira Hadasha has inspired or advised. But arguably, only one of those cities shares with Jerusalem both a high concentration of religiously-educated Jews and the kind of fluid environment that allows lay-led minyans to flourish block after block.

According to Joe Septimus of Darkhei Noam that place is New York -particularly the Upper West Side, where his minyan is located. Darkhei Noam was founded about six months after Shira Hadasha.

"The concept arose in two places at the same time," Septimus said, explaining that Shira Hadasha’s success inspired the New Yorkers who had been independently considering the same kind of minyan. Over the years the two groups have continued to share ideas about davening and community.

For more on Jerusalem’s Shia Hadasha and New York’s Darkhei Noam, read full story here.

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