What Am I… Chopped Liver?

Photographer: Underwood & Underwood; Institution: U.S. Library of Congress

Last evening, I lead a shivah minyan for a wonderful family of mixed Jewish identities. Because there was an Orthodox branch among the immediate mourners, our Rabbi had checked with the family to make sure that it was okay for a female cantor to lead them in worship. Apparently, they were very liberal Orthodox and were okay with it.

I lead a Reform service because some of the family members are congregants at our Reform synagogue, but at the same time I wanted to respect the traditions of the Orthodox element of their family. Before we began, therefore, I asked them if they were counting women in their minyan (quorum of 10 people – men in Orthodox Judaism – required for prayer). The answer, of course, was no. Fortunately, there were enough men present to continue.

As the service went on, I thought about how strange it was to be the shaliach tzibbur, the prayer leader, for a congregation that did not count me in its minyan. They were wonderfully respectful of me and prayed with me as their leader, but their tradition mandated that I did not count. Since I did not number in the minyan, I could not fulfill the obligation of prayer for any of those Orthodox (or maybe Conservadox would be a better description) men present, but they fulfilled their own obligation and so it was okay.

I lead the Barechu, the call to worship, and they responded together to that call – Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. We sang together, we prayed together, the tempos of our prayers ebbed and flowed with ease. I slowed down the group as we recited the Mourner’s Kaddish to allow those mourners less comfortable with the words to pronounce each one. I was so glad that in this time of grief everyone was able to come together in this way.

It was a lovely service that really embodied for me an ideal of what Judaism should be. We will all have our different beliefs, but that we can pray together despite them was so beautiful. Let this be the way of our future. Kein Y’hi Ratzon!


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Joanne Neff on May 8, 2010 at 9:44 am

    I applaud your open-mindedness and your conclusion, but just for the record, I probably would have been too disgruntled to want to participate at all! That’s why we need peace-makers. – Mom


  2. Posted by Larry Kaufman on May 10, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    Your post juxtaposes with two items currently on the Reform Judaism blog (www.rj.org) — Rabbi Paul Kipnes’s piece also on counting women at shiva minyanim, and my post on chopped liver http://blogs.rj.org/reform/2010/05/meditation-on-chopped-liver.html.

    I don’t know exactly what to make of the mindset (or the mindlessness) of a group too Orthodox to count you but not too Orthodox to listen to the forbidden kol isha (a woman’s voice). One wonders what their response would have been had they needed you as the tenth.


  3. Posted by jane kanowitz on May 22, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    ah– so who ‘counts’ and for what – I don’t believe we are equal in the sense we all bring a different ‘skill set’ to the equation but the question is – should our gender be the abiter of ‘counting’??? I find this posting very disturbing. I believe responsibility should be based upon meritocricy – yet this isn’t the rule even in the secular
    world – I suppose reform Judaism helps us bring a rich and meaningful ritual into modern times in which not only are you NOT chopped liver but as the woman you are NOT required to make it.


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