James Edward Johnson

my thoughts from right to left

This Shabbat in Iowa City … The importance of egalitarianism in the Jewish hinterland (3 of 3)

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Devra the Davener?

This is part one of a three part series. – Read Part 1 – The Torah portion – Va-ethannan Part 2 – Getting a minyan and Part 3 – The importance of egalitarianism in the Jewish hinterland.

Judaism cleaves largely between liberal Judaism and orthodox Judaism.  Within each there are many subcategories, but these are the two most significant groupings.  The principal difference is the role of Jewish law, known as halacha.  Orthodox Judaism accepts very few modifications to halacha and those modifications are grounded heavily in major historical realities, like the destruction of the Temples.  Liberal Judaism revises halacha to better suit Judaism to modern life.  Even orthodox halacha  allows adaptations to modern life, but those adaptations tend to be oriented towards practical solutions that allow adherents to both obey halacha and live a modern life without any direct modification of halacha.

Iowa City’s synagogue is affiliated with two liberal streams of Judaism.  There is also a Chabad House in Iowa City  that observes orthodox halacha.

A few innovations implemented by most streams of liberal Judaism have helped Iowa City have minyanim far more regularly:

First, driving (which is generally forbidden on Shabbat) is permitted for the purpose of attending religious services.  Driving involves creating a spark or fire, which is prohibited in orthodox Judaism, but liberal Judaism creates an exception for the purpose of attending services.

Second, conversion to Judaism under liberal Jewish auspices is recognized in liberal congregations, but not orthodox congregations.  In a place like Iowa City, where there are many mixed marriages that lead to conversion for the originally non-Jewish spouse.  The broader rule is helpful here because many of those conversions are not orthodox conversions.

Third, and most importantly, liberal Jewish congregations, with very few exceptions, count women for the minyan.  Traditionally, only men counted.  There were many reasons for this, some of which were more legitimate than others, but all of which had the practical effect of excluding women from minyanim.   Obviously, counting women doubles the number of potential people who are available for a minyan.

On this past Shabbat, counting women was critical.  Without the women, there would have been no minyan.  We would not have read from the Torah.

If you need a male-only orthodox minyan, it can be obtained in Iowa City, but it is much more difficult.  Chabad will be of tremendous help in such a case, but it is wise to seek such a minyan well in advance.  Certainly, expecting an orthodox minyan to appear on a weekly basis (let alone at weekday times for mourners’ and others’ needs), is foolish in Iowa City … particularly in the summer.


Written by JamesEJ

Monday, July 26, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Posted in judaism, other

Tagged with , , , ,

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