The Men’s Section
Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: Brandeis University Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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In traditional Orthodox synagogues, worshippers are partitioned into male and female spaces. “Th e women’s section,” as it is oft en called, seats girls and women, who do not take vocal leadership roles in the Hebrew service, despite the fact that today many Orthodox women have excellent Judaic educations and liturgical knowledge. Th e women’s section is a clearly defined area—a balcony, or a ...
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Th is book is a product of four years of research, writing, and conversations
around the world with people who are sincerely dedicated to bringing about
I would like to thank the men who agreed to be interviewed for this book— men who eagerly took me into their lives and communities, opened up their hearts and minds and shared with me their ideas, their doubts, their ambivalence,...
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One cold Saturday morning, I walked into a synagogue in Jerusalem and did something I had never done before: I led the prayer service. It was January 2002, and my friend Haviva Ner David had called me to let me know that a new prayer group was forming and needed a woman cantor, a hazzanit. Th is was not a Conservative community, where this is normal, but rather...
Part I: Introducing Orthodox Men
1 Jewish Men on the Borders
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Seven fifty-five am, the sky is clear and there is a warm breeze. It is early enough to hear birds still chirping, but late enough to detect the first sensations of Middle Eastern heat. Unlike most mornings at this hour when the streets are filled with car-pool traffic and commuters, when honking minivans mix with the smell of bus exhaust, this morning is calm and quiet, and the...
2 The “BOMB”: The “Be an Orthodox Man” Box
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When my husband and I visited New Zealand in December 2002, we spent Shabbat in Auckland when it happened to be the weekend of the bar mitzvah of the son of David Nathan: not the original David Nathan—who was one of the first Jews in New Zealand in the 1840s, a pioneering real estate and department store tycoon, and eventually the mayor of Auckland—but his direct...
3 On Hippies, Heretics, and Hafifniks
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Solomon E. Asch, a Polish-born social psychologist at Columbia University in the first half of the twentieth century, wanted to know what makes human beings conform to group behavior. He discovered that people are more likely to go with the group, even when the group is obviously wrong, rather than stand against the group and tell the obvious truth.1 His experiments...
Part II: Changing Men, Changing Society
4 Orthodox Men Creating Partnership
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In the winter of 2005, a group in Modi’in decided to create a new synagogue. Motivated by a seeming dearth of inspiring local synagogues in a city that was eight years young, moved by the innovation of Shira Hadasha, and intrigued by the variety of accumulated experiences among group members, these people set on a path to build a new, alternative place of worship....
5 Jocks, Dads, and Homebodies
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On the first night of Rosh Hashana 2006, the first year that Darchei Noam in Modi’in held High Holiday services, Judah led the prayers as his toddler slept on his shoulder. Th e image was striking, and indicative of shifting trends. In my nearly four decades of participating in synagogue life around the world, I had never seen a cantor hold a child as he sang, and certainly not during...
6 Men Encountering Feminism
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Men wrestling with their identities may mistakenly think that they are alone. A man challenging his socialization may make changes in his personal or professional life, in his relationships, or in his persona. Th ese informants are all in a process of one kind or another, challenging bits and pieces while internalizing others, changing and moving while staying within expected boundaries and norms. Each man has his own story and his own journey, and each is unique....
Part III: Orthodox Men Creating New Boundaries
7 “Just Not Reform”
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In the summer of 2007, the Darchei Noam community began a process of writing a vision and mission statement. Over the course of several months, the community conducted a series of brainstorming and writing meetings, at the end of which approximately forty-five people created a “vision document” outlining the general philosophy of the community.1 Five value pillars...
8 The New Patriarchy
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One Saturday night in December 2006, Kehillat Darchei Noam held its first-ever annual general meeting. On the agenda were burning issues such as should the kiddush after services be monthly or weekly, and should herring be on the menu. The atmosphere was jovial and warm, as members were happily getting to know one another and the year-old congregation was forming its character. Before the meeting broke up, Yuval, a member of the founding...
Part IV: Reflections and Conclusions
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9 Reflections on Orthodox Masculinities
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The men of the partnership synagogues are on the cusp. They are functioning within a shifting identity, in a new place on an ancient backdrop, negotiating past and present, masculinity and femininity, self and community. Th e men described are in and they are out; they are stable but they are moving; they are dwelling on a border but still living in the box; they are changing but trying desperately to maintain their presence in the world that they...
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In nineteenth-century Europe, the Jewish world experienced a bizarre gender twist when girls were systematically sent to get well-rounded educations in order to prepare for a life of supporting their future yeshiva-student husbands, but they were forbidden from learning Torah. By contrast, the boys were forbidden to learn secular subjects but were exceedingly knowledgeable about Talmud. What resulted, according to feminist scholar Dr. Debbie Weissman...
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Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 9 figs.
Publication Year: 2011