2 Boiling Points of View: Birkot Hashachar: Tradition should be stable

By Mati Hurwitz, Torah Editor

People have their turf, places where they feel they belong. You may or may not be rivals with people on other turfs, but everyone has their ground. But what if someone trespassed on your turf and captured it? Would you feel a little degraded?

This is the ongoing issue of the uprising of women in a shul environment. Many women, especially in Modern Orthodox communities, believe they should literally have their voices heard in the community. This year, Shalhevet permits the girls to lead the morning blessings, birchot hashachar, in davening at the Main Minyan. This is problematic for a number of reasons, but mainly since it breaks tradition in a way that upsets many members of the community. It has to go.

Just as background, Gemara Barachot specifies that everyone is individually obligated to say the birkot hashachar to him or herself, ideally during their morning routine. It follows that the leader of these blessings is not a leader in the same sense as one who leads other prayers; they aren’t tasked with fulfilling the obligation for the listener and thus this is not a legal, but a social, innovation. And it’s one that creates social problems.

And the social problem is serious. In Orthodox Judaism, men and women have specific roles, evenoutside of halacha. Even though halacha may permit women to perform some of the male duties and vice-versa, such permission is not an invitation to let women invade. Women are on a higher spiritual level and therefore have their own role. Our tradition goes beyond the simple letter of the law. We can’t just break from our culture and interfere with the established roles of each gender.

It’s incorrect to say that a Modern Orthodox identity requires adaptation or innovation. Modern Orthodoxy means involving ourselves in the modern world without changing who we are or what we do. Learning General Studies, wearing modern dress, competing with non-Jewish sports teams — these are all components of Shalhevet’s Modern Orthodoxy. We don’t also need to change our core traditions.

Girls leading birkot hashachar also portrays our school negatively. Shalhevet will once again be looked down upon for going too far to the left. Whether or not the majority of authorities agree this decision is halachic, a vast majority of spectators will think it is wrong, which hurts our community.

Finally, others say that denying the the young women of Shalhevet the opportunity to say the brachot would waste the Jewish education we’ve given them. But since everyone is obligated to say Birkot HaShakhar individually, what young women at our school learn benefits them in any case, whether they say the brachot privately or in front of a minyan.

There is a lot of opposition to my traditional viewpoint. Many will argue that as times change and as women gain recognition and credibility in Modern Orthodoxy, they should have a voice in davening from the other side of the mechitzah, the divider between men and women.

But just because times are changing, that doesn’t mean we need to change. History has shown that our religious community falls apart as we become innovative and break from tradition. We are spread around the world with nasty debates over religious questions. These may strengthen our personal beliefs, but overall it creates sects and branches within Judaism. By constant innovation we create more controversy. By maintaining tradition as much as we can, we can at least attempt to save our unity. This particular tradition may or may not be fair to certain people by modern standards, but it is effective and necessary for the Jewish people to stay together.

In Modern Orthodoxy it’s necessary to be involved in the modern world while preserving traditional values. Reversing the standing decision to have the girls lead Birkot Hashakhar would bring us back to that identity. Speaking from the right, it is easy to become a victim of your own beliefs. Too often others dismiss your position as intransigent or sexist. But only those who really believe they are doing a service to their community would take on such an unpopular stance, and that is where I am coming from.

Related: Two Boiling Points of View: Tradition should be stable

Related: Girls are leading morning blessings in the Main Minyan