Women's Tefillah Movement

How Orthodox women found a halakhic way to be involved in services.

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The advent of Orthodox minyanim that permit a greater participation for women (based on the widely circulated article by Rabbi Mendel Shapiro, originally published in The Edah Journal, 2001) is having a significant impact on the direction of women's tefillah groups, and so it is unclear what the future role of the groups will be within the Orthodox community.

Structure

Women's prayer groups meet monthly to pray, read Torah, and study together. Most groups meet on Shabbat mornings, while others meet on Shabbat afternoons or Rosh Hodesh weekdays. Generally, full Torah and haftarah portions are read. The women conduct a full service based on guidelines set by their local rabbis. For the most part, women's tefillah groups do not function as a minyan. This means that they omit specific prayers for which a minyan is required. Thus the status of these groups remains different from that of their male counterparts.

Bat Mitzvah GirlWomen's tefillah groups have become a new arena for women's life cycle events within the Orthodox community. Celebrations held include simhat bat ceremonies celebrating the birth of a baby girl, bat mitzvah ceremonies, and "aufrufs" (lit. "calling up," an honorary aliyah on the Shabbat before one's wedding) for women about to be married. Among the unique practices that have resulted from these groups is the inclusion of a prayer for agunot, women denied religious divorce.

The tefillah groups are attended by women of every age and religious background. Young mothers with babies, older women, preadolescents, teenagers, and college students all participate. This forum allows each of them unique entry into the world of prayer. For some women it affords the opportunity to learn and practice new synagogue skills; for some it provides an opportunity to serve as role models for their children; for some it is a doorway back to the Orthodox community; for some it is a natural extension of leadership that they experience in other areas of their lives.

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Ronnie Becher is educational director of the Gananu Early Learning Center in Manhattan. Chair of the Women's Tefillah of Riverdale, she also serves as executive vice president of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. She is a former Wexner Heritage Fellow.

Bat Sheva Marcus

Bat Sheva Marcus is executive director of the Union for Traditional Judaism and chair of the International Women's Tefillah Network. She served as the New York metropolitan campaign director for the UJA-Federation. She holds a master?s degree in social work from Columbia University and a master's degree in Jewish studies from the Jewish Theological Seminary.