Ladies and Gentlemen…


Another small step was taken this past Shabbat to strip away some of the superficial and unnecessary discriminatory practices in Jewish ritual that exclude and ignore women. Uri, a good friend and colleague of mine, started Birkat HaMazon at Friday night dinner in a way I’d never heard before: “Gveirotai v’Rabotai Nevarech” (ladies and gentleman, let’s bless).

For too long, the standard language (Rabotai Nevarech) has pretty much ignored the women in the room. If the call is for everyone in the room to start saying grace, why wouldn’t everyone be invited?

I cannot think of any halachik basis for someone to argue against this change, and hopefully it was be tiny little baby step in the right direction.

I want to praise Uri for taking this (somewhat) bold step. We must now work diligently to spread it to Jewish communities around the world.

What other simple changes could be made to current Orthodox Jewish practice that would make it more open and accepting, without shaking the boat too much to be accepted?


16 thoughts on “Ladies and Gentlemen…

  1. SW

    Interesting post, and while I agree with you, I feel as if there was a bit missing.

    I think your point, that we should not be exclusive is an important one. And I like the fact that Uri included women in the opening to zimmun. However, if we are trying to be inclusive, why make the distinction at all? Why not just say “Chaveirai” or something that is gender neutral?

    Additionally- you focus only on the beginning of the zimmun- why not talk about the middle part: “birshut….”

    I always careful to either say “birshut kol ham’subin kan”- which refers to all people present- and if I am eating in someone’s house, to either say, “birshut ba’al habayit, uvirshut ba’alat habayit” (As opposed to what many people say, ONLY birshut ba’al habayit)- or more often than not, I will say, “birshut ba’alei habayit” which includes both heads of the household.

    This I think is now common practice in the Modern Orthodox world. However, something that I rarely see, and often irks me- is that when there is a zimmun led by women- I have never heard any reference to men at the table.

    I either hear: havah n’varekh (feminine form), or “chaveirotai n’varekh” (also feminine), and when I am at my own table, with women making a zimmun, I never hear “birshut ba’alat habayit, uvirshut ba’al habayit” or “birshut ba’alei habayit”

    It seems, that whenever women decide to make zimmun (often the same women who fight for egalitarianism in our religious practice) they exclude men as well!

    Just something to think about.

  2. Aaron


    There are enough things out there that are specific to Men, that I think it’s important to specifically mention both men and women instead of resorting to the “chaverai” or “kol ham’subin kan”.

    I think the women led zimun needs to become more of a common practice (that is taught in schools) for us to start nit-picking about the verbiage. Frankly, I think that many women are hesitant to include the men because they don’t know if the men will be comfortable included in a woman-led zimun. But we’d have to ask the women to find out.

    Women are only allowed to make the zimmun if there are fewer than three men around. The entire practice is discriminatory against women, so don’t start saying it’s the women excluding the men.

    Let’s swing the pendulum the other way a bit before we find a healthy middle ground.

  3. SW

    While I agree that women led zimun should be taught and highlighted in schools- I don’t think that “the entire practice is discriminatory towards women, so dont start saying its the women excluding the men.”

    Thats an unfair statement. Basically, what you are saying is that reverse-discrimination is ok. (Because they are often excluded, it is ok for them to exclude???)

    If we are trying to foster a community where people respect each other- I do not think that we need to wait for the pendulum to swing the other way before we find a middle ground! That is somewhat ridiculous! We should strive to the middle.

    Also- in most cases where women feel comfortable enough to have a zimun in the presence of men- it is because that setting is a comfortable one. Again, I use the example of my own Shabbat table- because I know firsthand that the people I choose to share it with know that I am a tolerant person, who strives to be sensitive in these matters, and as I said, will reflect that in my language. I just am often taken aback when that is not reciprocated (and there the argument of women not knowing if the men at the table would be comfortable being included does not work)

    It’s not an issue of being nit picky about verbiage- its about what we are striving to become as a community. Our language should reflect our ideology- If we are looking to foster inclusiveness- lets not let the pendulum shift- lets strive for the middle ground!

  4. Aaron

    So in order to strive for a middle ground, and to prevent discrimination or reverse discrimination, would you agree to have a woman lead the zimun next time, even if there were three men around? That seems to be what you’re advocating for. (and I’d for sure be in favor!)

  5. SW

    Now you are veering from your original post. You seemed to be concerned about doing things within an halakhic framework. I am all for being as egalitarian and open as we can within the confines of halakha.

    However, what you are advocating is not so. For whatever reason, when there are three men and three women, halakha dictates that a man lead the zimmun. While it might be unfair- it is what it is. I am not a halakhic authority that can discount the decisions accepted by the Talmud and the Shulhan Arukh. If you can go through all of the sources, and find a way- great.

    But if we are committed to working with in the accepted halakha- we as a community should strive to be as inclusive as possible.

    While halakha may seem or be discriminating- we as people can strive to not be. So if one way we can do it, is to do so through language, than so be it.

  6. Sarah

    Although it’s been kind of a while since I learned the halachot about mezuman, I seem to recall that although it is not considered appropriate for women to lead a mezuman if there are at least three men present, it is acceptable (as long as there isn’t a whole minyan of men) for the men and women to split and make two concurrent mezumanim. I don’t know if this is really in the spirit (perhaps it goes against b’rov am hadrat melech?), but if you were looking for a way for women to have an equal chance to lead, that could be a place to start….

  7. Are you series?

    The presumptuousness again:

    “I cannot think of any halachik basis for someone to argue against this change”

    I highly doubt that you are a halachik authority, so much so that your lack of ability to think of a basis for changing this practice is an indication that of anything. Far more plausible is the possibility that you just don’t know of one.

    This is another example of just wanting to change for the sake of change. Judaism is not here for us to mold it to whatever we want, we should be molding ourselves to align our outlook with the precepts of Judaism. Because something doesn’t sit well with you, rather than just change Judaism, perhaps you should find a way to accept it.

    Don’t you think it’s a bit rude that we don’t count woman as part of a minyan? Maybe we should?

  8. Aaron

    Dear Are you serious?:

    You’re right about me not being a halachik authority, but I think you need to keep in mind that Judaism is a personal thing. Some people choose to have an Orthodox approach to Judaism, some people prefer Conservative and many more go with Reform.

    I think that Judaism should be congruent with my personal values (one of those being equality of all humans). Judaism is a beautiful and just religion. Judaism has been strong enough to adapt to changing realities over the years, and I don’t see why our generation should be any different.

    I think that the halachik authorities that are out there need to work to find the basis to make some of these simple changes.

    And why do you think it’s so absurd for women to eventually help make a minyan? What about women do you think should exclude them forever?

  9. Sarah

    Not actually arguing, Aaron, about whether people should be able to choose a Judaism that works for them; but it seems that at the basis of your position, you believe that there is something superior about being able to make a minyan. As an Orthodox Jewish female, I certainly don’t consider myself inferior because I’ve never been counted in a minyan…and in fact, I’m almost offended that some people might consider me so. Some explanations of minyan even imply that it is the other way round (i.e. that men are required to make a minyan due to some trait or other of theirs that is inferior to women).

  10. Aaron

    I don’t think we need to hem or haw about this. Halacha is discriminatory against women having equal involvement in ritual. It doesn’t matter if individual women don’t feel excluded – if there is no choice, there is no equality.

    Rabbis know that they have to react to the flock. It is our responsibility to push the envelope, and demand halachik innovation from our religious leaders.

  11. Sarah

    “if there is no choice, there is no equality.” What am I missing? Do men have a choice any more than women do? Yes, a man can technically choose not to show up for minyan, but we would consider it inappropriate behavior (barring individual extenuating circumstances, of course), and I don’t think that’s much of a choice.
    Perhaps I simply don’t understand where you are coming from, since I don’t live in a community where the “flock” (male and female members alike) have any interest in this sort of change.

  12. Aaron

    You wrote it yourself: the man has a choice not to attend minyan. How many orthodox synagogues would tolerate a woman walking up to the bima to lead davening or start reading the Torah?

    You can be OK with not having a choice, but that doesn’t mean you have a choice.

    I don’t know to what extent the rest of the Orthodox community agrees with me. I could be the only person who thinks this way! My goal is to raise these issues, and get people thinking about them.

    I personally don’t think radical immediate change would be effective, but we have strong and educated Jewish women who deserve to be involved in the decision making process when it comes to the religious rituals that are available to them. I don’t want to make the decision for them – I want to create an environment that allows women to help decide how they do Jewish.

  13. Sarah

    Well, it seems to me that minyan is a responsibility for men, not a choice. I mean, technically you CAN choose to shirk a responsibility, but it’s not okay to do so.
    But it seems that I may just not be your target audience.

  14. Are You Serious

    You seem to be lacking in your fundamental understanding of Judaism.

    Just as G-d is true and unchanging, so is his word. There is an undeniable truth in Halacha that we cannot simple “push the envelop” to change.
    Why don’t you feel that Judaism is discriminating again Lulavs shorter than 4 tefachim? Or maybe Judaism discriminates against dogs because they cannot be brought as a sacrifice – or better yet, maybe its sheep that are discriminated against simply because they CAN be sacrificed?

    You see, my point is, while your arguments seem rational to you – ultimately we do not practice a religion because it is rational, because if that were the case, we’d simply be worshipping our own intellect. Instead, we practice and follow truths.

    As such, a Lulav has to be four tefachim because anything else isn’t Judaism. Similarly, the Reform and Conservative movements cannot be considered Judaism. Yes, those individuals part of those movements are Jewish – but they are not practicing Judaism.

    As for the minyan issue – as Sara mentioned – why is one way more discriminatory than the other. It is what it is. There are certain mitzvot that men cannot take part in and certain ones that women cannot. There is nothing discriminatory about it. Its just the truth.

    Can you handle the truth?

  15. reuctcluple

    Hey there everyone i was just introduceing myself here im a first time visitor who hopes to become a daily reader!

  16. Rebecca M

    well, I’m coming late to this conversation… BUT, I wanted to point out:

    Men are *not* obligated to daven with a minyan (though it’s considered the better way to daven, but in the sense of hiddur mitzva, not chiyuv). The community is obligated to have a minyan, and any individual man is obligated to step up and be the 10th if need be.

    So yes, men do have a choice, at least most of the time.

    And technically, short lulavim and dogs are discriminated against, they just don’t mind, as far as we can tell :)

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