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Notes from New North London Learning, Autumn 2004

Who Counts? Counting Women in the Minyan—A Halachic Investigation

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

[Note: regarding the participation of women in the service, there are different halachos [rulings in Jewish law] regarding their counting towards a minyan [quorum of ten] for prayer, counting towards a minyan for zimmun [invitation to recite Grace After Meals], martyrdom, calling up for reading the Torah, and segregation in the synagogue. This talk concerns only the first two of these.]

Statements About Counting Women in the Minyan

All of these are projections from the halachic sources.

Position One

We believe that both women and men are created in the image of G-d and are special in His eyes. However, they are different, and this difference manifests itself in different but equal roles that halacha has given them in Jewish religious life. We recognise that this difference has been abused in the past, and that it is possible to significantly increase a woman's role in the synagogue beyond what it is in Orthodox circles. However, this difference does exist, and is an intrinsic part of the way Judaism understand's peoplekind's role in the world.

A minyan is a gathering of ten people equally and fully obligated by Jewish law. Since women are exempt from the observance of some of the commandments, they are not counted in the minyan. This does not imply that women are inferior, just that they do not come under the category of those who are fully obgligated. [Don't forget the men are extempt from some commandments too!] If the queen or Rabbi Akiva were to come to a shul management meeting, they would not be counted in the quorum, and this obviously would not suggest that they were considered inferior.

Position 2

We believe that both women and men are created in the image of G-d and are special in His eyes. In the past, women were relegated to a secondary role in public life, as it was felt that their role was in the home. However, in modern society this perception of women's role has changed, and it is accepted that both women and men are equally capable of any task. We live in a totally integrated society, where discrimination on the basis of sex is unacceptable.

In the past, as a result of the perception of society, women were exempted (and sometimes excluded) from some public roles in Jewish life, most notably roles in the synagogue. This exclusion is not inherent in Judaism, but a reflection of society. Within the modern context it is inconceivable that such discrimination be maintained. A committed and observant community, living in the modern world, will assign women the same obligations and rights as men. Therefore women are equal members of the community, equally obligated to perform all mitzvot, and obviously equally counted in the minyan.

Position 3

We believe that both women and men are created in the image of G-d and are special in His eyes. However, they are different, and this difference manifests itself in different but equal roles that halacha has given them in Jewish religious life. We recognise that this difference has been abused in the past, and that it is possible to significantly increase a woman's role in the synagogue beyond what it is in Orthodox circles. However, this difference does exist, and is an intrinsic part of the way Judaism understand's peoplekind's role in the world.

A minyan is a gathering of ten people who are equally obligated in observance of halacha. Although a woman is not obligated to keep all the mitzvot, she is obligated to keep the vast majority of them, and observers many mitzvot that men do not. This is not the same as the case of minors or slaves or other categories whose obligation is clearly different than other Jews. The difference between men and women is more like the difference between a Cohen and an Israelite—both who are counted in the minyan. Therefore, we feel that although women are not fully obligated to keep all of the mitzvot, the degree to which they are obligated is such that they should be included in the minyan.

The first position is found in left-leaning Orthodox congregations, the second in minyanim such as Assif; the third in minyanim such as the main service in the New North London Synagogue, where they call women up but do not count them for the minyan. All three positions, however, can be found in the Masorti momvement.

What the sources have to say

Rambam, Mishne Torah, Laws of Prayer Chapter 8

(Twelfth century)

4. How is public prayer conducted? One stands and prays aloud, and the others listen. This is not done with less than ten free adults1, and the leader is counted with them. Even if some of them have already prayed, and have fulfilled their obligation, they may make up the ten, as long as the majority of the ten have not prayed. Also we do not say the kedusha or read from the Torah and say the blessings before and after or say the Haftarah from the Prophets without ten.

5. Furthermore, one shall not recite the blessing of the Shema and everyone answer amen, without ten2, and this is what is called "reciting the Shema." The kaddish is not said without ten. The cohanim do not raise up their hands without ten, and the kohanim are counted.3 For every group of ten is called a congregation, as it says: "How long shall I bear this evil congregation"—and they [the spies send to spy out the land of Israel] were ten for Joshua and Caleb had left them.4

6. Furthermore, any matter of holiness is not conducted outside of a congregation, as it says: "I shall be sanctified among the children of Israel." All these things, if they were started with ten, and some people left in the middle, even though they are not permitted to leave, they may be completed.

1. "Adults" (גדולים), not "men"—Maimonides is usually very clear about his wording. Normally slaves, children and women come together in halacha, but here he seems to be trying to tell us something by this specification.

2. In those days the Shema was read differently—הרס את־שמע, literally "slicing the Shema": the reader would read a verse and everyone else would repeat it. For this public reading a minyan was required.

3. Even ten cohanim duchaning and no one else in the congregation.

4. This is the only place in the Torah where the word עדה "congregation" occurs with a number.

Rambam, Laws of Personal Status, Chapter 10

5. The blessing of the Bridegrooms is not received without ten free adults, and the groom is counted among them.

Again we have "adults", here, not "men"... but on the other hand, he doesn't say the bride and the groom are counted.

Tur, Orech Chaim 55

A little less known than other halachic codes, but actually the most important after the Rambam, the Tur was written by Rabbeinu Asher, a very important possek [maker of halachic rulings] from Maintz, who moved to Toledo as a result of pogroms. The Tur was probably written there too—a merging of Sephardi and Ashkenazi customs. It frequently copies the Rambam. (The Rambam, by contrast, is original.)

The Kaddish is recited, and it is not recited with fewer than ten, for all things of holiness, i.e. kaddish, ברכו and the kedusha are not recited without ten... these ten must be free adults. There are those who permit to include a minor holding a חומש [volume of the Pentateuch]. My father, of blessed memory, wrote that a minor may not be included until he has reached maturity, not for prayer and not for ברכת המזון [Grace After Meals].

Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 55:1

The Shulchan Aruch, written in the sixteenth century, is a summary by Joseph Karo of his commentary, the Beit Yosef, on the Tur. Karo wanted to unify the Jeiwsh people—for every situation to see what everyone from before his time had said, and then to follow the majority.

But whenever there was a difference between the Sephardim and Ashkenazim the majority he counted were Sephardim: that is why the Ashkenazim rejected the Shulchan Aruch [instead going by the commentary on it, the Mappa, the "Tablecloth" to the Shulchan Aruch's "Set Table" written by R. Moses Isserles, an Ashkenazi].

This is what Karo copied from the Tur:

The Kaddish is recited, and it is not recited with fewer than ten, free male adults, and this is the law regarding kedusha and ברכו which are not recited with fewer than ten.

This is the first instance in the halachic literature that there is a requirement that the people to be included in a minyan are men. He does not address this in the Beit Yosef, where he quotes his sources, though.

Talmud Bavli, Megillah 23a

Mishna

The introduction to the Shema is not repeated, nor does one pass before the Ark1, nor do [the priests] lift their hands, nor is the Torah read publicly nor the haftarah read from the prophet, nor are halts made at funerals2, nor is the blessing for mourners said, nor the comfort of mounrners, nor the blessing of the bridegroom, nor is the name of G-d mentioned in the invitation to say Grace [After Meals], save in the presence of ten. For redeeming sanctified properties3 nine and a priest are sufficient, and similarly with human beings.

1. I.e. lead a service.

2. A sign of hesitancy. More formal then than today. There is a whole ceremony associated with them.

3. Selling off offerings given to the Temple that were superfluous to the Temple requirements.

Gemara

Where do these rules come from?

R. Hiyya b. Abba said in the name of R. Yochanan: Because the Torah said, ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל I will be hallowed among the children of Israel (Leviticus 23:32)1: every act of sanctification requires not less than ten.

How does the verse denote this?

R. Hiyya taught2: We explain the word בתוך "among" here by reference to its use in another place. It is written here, "But I will be hallowed among the children of Israel", and it is written elsewhere, הבדלו מתוך העדה הרעה הזאת Separate yourselves from among this evil congregation (Numbers 16:22); and we further explain the word "congregation" here by reference to what is written in another place, עד מתי לעדה הרעה הזאת How long shall I bear with this evil congregation (Numbers 14:27)׃ Just as there ten are indicated, so here.

1. This verse is also used in the halacha of קדוש ה׳ (Sanctification of the Divine Name, often used to refer to martyrdom): This מצוה [commandment] applies to both men and women, and this verse is cited as the reason for this.

2. Using the Talmudic logic of גזרה שוה, relating two unconnected verses that use the same word.

This is an example of אסמכתא [sp?] asmakhta—"fuzzy" logic to find a verse supporting the tradition you already have.

Now, in the proof text, the congregation cited was ten men! But maybe this only applies to ten evil men? Which is important? How much attention do you pay to the details?

A second piece of evidence: the text refers to בני ישראל, translatable as either the Children of Israel, or the Sons of Israel: the same language ambiguity as in גדולים "adults" above.

Now, looking at the halachos derived from בני ישראל and the midrashim supporting these, you find both sets of logic.

Talmud Bavli, Berachot 47b

Mishna

Three people who eat as one must recite the zimmun [invitation to recite Grace After Meals] ... women, slaves and minors are not included in the zimmun...

[The remainder of the notes concentrate almost wholly on whether minors can be included; the relevance to the subject in hand is presumably that because women, slaves and minors are classed together above, what goes for minors can be interpreted as applying to women as well.]

Gemara

Women, slaves and minors are not included in the zimmun.

R. Yossi said: A baby in its cradle is included in the zimmun. Have we not been taught, "Women, slaves and minors are not included in the zimmun?" We must understand the above as explained by Y. Yehoshua ben Levi. R. Yehoshua ben Levi said: Even though we have been taught that a minor is not included in the zimmun, he is made an extension to the ten.

I.e. you can't have a whole minyan of babies, but you can have a single one making the numbers up.

R. Yehoshua ben Levi also said: Nine and a slave are counted.

They asked against him: It occurred once that R. Eliezer entered the synagogue and did not find ten, and he set his slave free to complete the minyan. He released him—yes [they did have a minyan]; if he didn't release him, no [they did not have a minyan].

Two were missing, he released one, and they counted one.

...

R. Yehudah ben Levi also taught: A person should always come early to the synagogue to be counted among the first ten, for even if another hundred come after, he will receive the reward of all of them. Could it possibly mean "the reward of all of them?" Understand it as "a reward as great as all of them together."

R. Huna said: Nine and the Ark are counted [i.e. if you are struggling to make up the minyan]. R. Nachman said to him: Is an Ark a person!? Rather, R. Huna said: Nine that look like ten are counted. Some understand it as meaning crowded together, and some understand it as spread out.

R. Ami said: Two and Shabbat are counted. R. Nachman said to him: Is Shabbat a person!? Rather, R. Ami said: Two scholars who are battling each other in halacha are counted. R. Hisda said: Like myself and R. Sheshet. R. Sheshet said: Like myself and R. Hisda.

R. Yochanan said: A [physically] developed minor is thus included in the zimmun. We have also been taught thus: "A minor who has brought two hairs is counted, and who has not brought two hairs is not counted, and we are not exacting concerning a minor."

[Omitted section in which the inclusion of slaves is also justified.]

The halacha is not according to these sayings, But rather: According to that which was taught by R. Nachman: A minor who knows to Whom he is blessing is included in the zimmun.

Abbaye and Rava [children during the life of Rabba] were sitting in front of Rabba. He asked them: Who are we blessing? They answered: The Merciful One. He asked them: Where does the Merciful One reside? Rava pointed to the ceiling. Abbaye went outside and pointed to the sky. He said to them: Both of you will grow up to be rabbis. As the saying goes: A marrow can be recognised in its youth.

The Rif

"R. Nachman stated: A minor who knows to Whom he is blessing is included in the zimmun."

This is the halacha. It has further been explained that this only applies when he has entered his thirteenth year even if he is not yet developed. However a minor who has not yet reached the age of thirteen, even if he is physically developed, is not included in the zimmun. We do not accept this interpretation, for he has been referred to as a minor, therefore even if he is only ten or nine years old, as long as he knows Whom he is blessing, he is to be included in the zimmun. It has also been interpreted thus by the Gaon.

HaMaor HaKatan

Regarding that which R. Yehoshua ben Levi said, "Even though we have been taught that a minor is not included in the zimmun, he is made an extension to the ten", this opinion is the accepted halacha, even though the Rif did not quote it. Also in the case of prayer a minor is made extension to the ten. It does not matter whether there is one minor, two minors, three or four—as long as the majority are adults, together they make up a minyan of ten.

If R. Yehoshua ben Levi had said, "nine and a minor are counted," I would take this as meaning that it applies only when there are nine adults, just as he stated: "Nine and a slave are counted." However, since it states here only, "he is made an extension to the ten," it does not matter if there is one minor or more than one minor. The Rif did not include the sayings of R. Yehoshua ben Levi concerning a minor and a slave although they are brought in the Talmud, but both of them are established halacha. In the siddur of Rav Amram Gaon I found a basis for not including these sayings, but even so, I consider their interpretation to be unacceptable.

Tosafos

"The halacha is not according to all of these sayings"—one would infer that this also applies to the saying of R. Yochanan, but this could not be so, for it is not the way of the Talmud to contradict a saying of the Amoraim [the sages of the Gemara]. Furthermore, a ברייתא [Mishnaic-era text which was not incorporated into the Mishna] was brought to support the opinion of R. Yochanan, and no reason has been given [to reject the saying of R. Yochanan]. Therefore we must say that this statement only applies to the case of a developed minor [and comes to add that] a developed minor is to be included only if he knows whom he is blessing. Therefore we need both conditions to be met [i.e. the minor has to be both developed, and he must know to whom he is saying the blessing]. According to this interpretation we must say that the story about Abbaye and Rava was only told to explain what is meant by a minor who knows to whom he is saying the blessing. However, it does not imply that they were included in the zimmun. We must assume that they were not developed, for otherwise, if they were already developed, why was such a big deal made of the fact that they knew whom they were blessing. Also, Rabba, who asked them the question, did so only to demonstrate that they had understanding, even though they were minors, but even so he did not include them in the zimmun.

Rabbeinu Tam explains: Even though the Talmud states that the halacha is not according to all these sayings, the halacha is according to R. Yehoshua ben Levi, who said that (a definite minor) is made an extension to the ten. The end of the suggia [a mishna and the gemara on it], which says that a minor needs to be developed and know whom he is blessing, only is in regard to the three [for saying the zimmun]. The saying "The halacha is not according to all of these sayings" does not apply to the sayings of R. Yehoshua ben Levi.

He also brings a proof.

The Talmud breaks between the two [sets of sayings] with the story of R. Eliezer and the additional saying that a person should always get up early to go to synagogue. It is taught according to this undetstanding, that the Talmud is only referring to the sayings that were brought after the saying "one should get up early"—i.e. nine and the Ark, Shabbos and two, nine that look like ten or two debating each other, or a developed minor. Even though a ברייתא is brought to in support of the opinion that the halacha that a developed minor is included, R. Nachman understands it as one who doesn't know whom he is blessing. This opinion is also according to R. Yehoshua ben Levi, who stated above, "a minor isn't included" means—if he is in the cradle and doesn't know whom he is blessing—however, he may be made an extension to the ten [for ברכת המזון (Grace After Meals)]—and this is also the law regarding prayer—for on this point R. Nachman does not disagree with him. When he requires that he knows whom he is blessing, and that he is developed, it is referring to a zimmun with three.

Regarding the extension to ten, he agrees with R. Yehoshua ben Levi, that [a minor] can become an extension to the ten. This is the law also regarding prayer—i.e. that a minor may be counted. This may alo be inferred from the fact that the Talmud questions the law (of R. Yehoshua ben Levi regarding ברכת המזון) with the story about R. Eliezer that concerned prayer.

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