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March 06, 1987 - Image 7

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-03-06

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Erica Lippitz, left, and Marla Rosenfeld Barugel are expected to
be the first women to receive the diploma of "Chazzan," Cantor,
from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Ordination of Women Cantors
Marks Break With. Halachah

RABBI RONALD D. PRICE

hen the Jewish Theological Sem-
inary announced that it would
certify women as cantors, it came
as no surprise to most people. If women are
already being ordained as rabbis, isn't it
logical that they should be cantors as well?
In secular terms it is a logical progression,
but in religious terms it is a leap into the
void. Certifying women as cantors is a far
more radical step halachically than was
the ordination of women as rabbis. Yet this
step was taken almost casually, with no
discussion even within the faculty of the
seminary, let alone among our great rab-
binic scholars or in the Jewish community
at large.
When women were ordained as rab-
bis, they had a choice whether or not to
breach Jewish law. Those who chose to
sign divorce or wedding documents as offi-
cial witnesses or serve as a sheliah tzibur
prayer leader, would indeed be breaking
Halachah. But those who chose to preach
and teach without breaking Halachah
could certainly do so. Women cantors,
however, have no choice but to violate
Jewish law, and this is why:
Men have an obligation to worship
three times a day in minyan. They may not
always do so, but the obligation is there

W

Rabbi Price is executive director of the Union
for Traditional Conservative Judaism.

from bar mitzvah onward. A woman is
exempt from most time-bound mitzvot and
does not have the obligation to pray in a
minyan. In Jewish law, certain mitzvot
can be fulfilled "vicariously," that is,
through the actions of another. A woman
could light the Chanukah candles for a
man, for instance, because both have the
obligation to do so. She could even say kid-
dush for him, though that is not tradi-
tionally done, since both have the obliga-
tion to sanctify the Sabbath. However,
since women are exempt from prayer in a
minyan, they cannot fulfill that obligation
for men, which is part of a cantor's job. In a
very real sense, unlike female rabbis,
women cantors are being directed to viol-
ate Jewish law and tradition.

The worst part of this decision is that
halachic jargon is being used to mislead
the Jewish public into believing that this
is permissible according to Jewish law.
Just because one rabbi states his opinion
that if a woman takes on the obligations of
a man she can be allowed to lead the
prayer service for men, does not make it
Halachah. In fact, Dr. Israel Francus of the
Jewish Theological Seminary Talmud fa-
culty has ruled that should a woman take
an oath to keep all of the mitzvot incum-
bent on men, she nonetheless does not
have the same obligation, for, even from
biblical times, she may have her oath and
obligation annulled, a privilege available

Continued on Page 20

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