Monday, September 27, 2010

An Opening for Frum Women

'Tis the season for the High Holidays. We've just gotten through Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. Those of you who have attended services during these holy days are probably aware of the custom in many synagogues to sell portions of the high holiday services to the highest bidder.

(Side Note: Yes, we hold auctions in our holiest sanctuaries on the holiest days of the year. If that sounds strange to you... Well, join the club. If it doesn't, can you explain it to me?)

The parts of the service that are up for auction are all parts that the men perform. Opening the ark, getting to say a blessing on the Torah when it is brought out, having the honor of lifting the Torah up in the air for everyone to see and make their own blessings on, etc.

I wasn't aware of it when I was a child, but apparently there are some serious politics that take place in the men's section of the shul over these bids. There are certain parts of the service that are favored more than others and the guy who gets them is considered pretty important.

One these parts in the Yom Kippur service is the act of opening the ark for the last prayer of the day - neilah. Even without being aware of men's-section politics, I always knew that this part of the service was considered important because it always sold for a lot more than other parts of the service. Getting "psicha d'neilah" is a big honor for whatever man wins it.

You can't imagine my delight when I was told by a friend last night that she, along with 19 other young women, got together in a shul in Brooklyn and outbid all the men for this part of the service. And not just any women. Single women, who weren't just out bidding for their husbands. They bought it for themselves.

It's an historical event. Unheard of, as far as I know. No, they weren't able to perform the actual service: they had to have a man stand in and open the ark for them. But he did it on their behalf, acting as a stand-in, and all the credit for this age-old honor went to them.

To those young women: I salute you. You are an inspiration to frum women everywhere. I thank you for creating an opening for the rest of us.


  1. You should come to our shul. We only do an auction on simchas torah and almost every year the some women join together to buy something.

  2. an opening for women? wow, what an opportunity. Don't tell me you're surprised that shuls will accept women donating money. Don't tell me you call that an opportunity.

    Now if you actually got to participate in the thing you "bought" that would be something.

  3. You're right, of course, Kisarita. I'm not surprised at the shul accepting money from women.

    What I'm excited about is that a group of young Orthodox women took the initiative to bid for something that traditionally has always been for the men. I call that a great start. An "opening" for future endeavors.

  4. Hiya Frum Feminist,

    A note about the "auctioning" - it began in middle eastern Batei Knesset as a way for the community to support their ongoing functioning.

    The communities did not have a regular income for their Batei Knisiyot, and so they offered congregants the opportunity to donate (often using their ma'aser money anyways) through these "auctions." It has been around for quite some time.

    More recently, Ashkenazi shuls noticed that it is an additional opportunity to supplement income -or support most of the shul's needs for the entire year -and reduce fighting over specific honors as well as who gets them and why. So many shuls began adopting as a system for Simchat Torah and the High Holidays as well.

    It definitely has drawbacks. For one, it makes these "honors" a matter of socioeconomic status and class divisions, placing an inordinate value on finances as a measure of status in the community so that a poor but pious man has little chance of meriting such an honor for himself through his deeds.

    But it does reduce much of the politics and fighting by using an external, specific, measurable symbol -money -to make that determination. Plus, most Batei Knisiyot make a ton of money on it, so they won't complain either.

    Since it was a system designed by men for men (to reduce the objections and arguments), it makes sense, in its own way.