Washington, DC’s cross-community Rosh Hodesh Elul service, held on August 11, was an experiment in creating a prayer service that allows DC-area women and men from different streams of Judaism to pray together. In showing solidarity with Women of the Wall, the service exceeded expectations. Many participants found the service a great opportunity to welcome the new month and begin preparations for the new year. Especially given the short planning period and complete lack of official organizational support — many congregations pitched in, but on an ad hoc basis at the very last minute — I believe the event was a successful first endeavor into inter-denominational prayer.

However, it was only a first endeavor.

Following WoW Practice? or Supporting Wow?

Andrea Kline, who participated in our August 11 service, posted a comment on this blog asking that any future endeavors allow women to recite kaddish and conduct other parts of the prayer service assuming a minyan is present if there are ten women present: “I think that by praying as a minyan- having that right- we stand in strong solidarity with WOW.”

Andrea’s comment focused in part on her own prayer needs but also articulated publicly what others expressed privately. Many other participants in the service and a few non-participants who are accustomed to egalitarian prayer objected to “not counting” women and to the separation of men and women for philosophical or personal-spirituality-based reasons. Women and men who ordinarily pray in a partnership or halachic egalitarian minyan had similar concerns. Prior to the service, I heard from Orthodox women who said they could not participate unless the service was halachic according to women’s tefillah practices. I have not heard, following the service, whether the service as conducted generated concerns for past or future Orthodox participants.

WoW was founded by Orthodox women, and the board continues to follow Orthodox practice for women’s tefillah. While Jews from other denominations participate, the practice remains Orthodox women’s tefillah — supported by many, challenged by some. Elaine Reuben, who also participated on August 11 in Washington, DC, shared this story from the Jerusalem Post which discusses the tensions.

Beginning, not a Conclusion

If any cross-community prayer is to go forward, this has to be the beginning of a dialogue.

How can the community best move forward in support of WoW?

How can the community best move forward in cross-community prayer, given our differences in practice for roles women and men can/should take in leading prayer?

How can we best move forward in inter-denominational understanding?

Is the answer to these questions the same?

Should future WoW-solidarity events — at least for the nonce — be more general prayer services which do not result in a clash of halachic understandings?

Should we, in an endeavor to help create real solidarity with all Jewish women and men, find a way to pray a standard service and read from the Torah on Rosh Hodesh Cheshvan, even if it’s not exactly a “perfect” harmony?

Please share comments on this blog and/or on Facebook, “Rosh Hodesh Elul DC.” If you prefer, contact me off-line at songeveryday at gmail.com.

With hopes for an awakened new year
and with apologies for this rush post (who was it who wrote, “If I’d had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter”?)

Shana Tova/A good year!

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Community, Elul, Ethics, Gender, Rosh Hodesh

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