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August 29, 2015 | 14th Elul 5775
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Brotherhood Services; Male Participation; MRJ



  • Starting a Men's Group
  • Adult Bar Mitzvah

  1. My congregation does not have men in its Rosh Chodesh group, but it does have a separate Men's Spirituality Group which meets monthly, usually under the guidance of one of our rabbis, and examines text, worship, spirituality issues, etc., from a male perspective.
    850 Families

  2. Men on Kibbutz Lotan at one point started a group on the 15th of each month, which is the full moon, but it didn't last. I'm not sure why, but I think it lacked the 2-3 really committed members that we have in the women's Rosh Chodesh group who make sure it happens each month.

  3. Our Rabbi sent out letters to the male members of the congregation inviting those who had never had the opportunity to have a Bar Mitzvah, and even those who had, to join him to study together. We have always had an Adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah class, but it mainly attracted women. This "men only" group is getting unbelievable response. We already have 20+ men signed up to come to an organizational meeting, and the letters just went out on Friday.
    1000+ Families

  4. Feb 2006 Digest 019

                [In our area], as it probably is in other parts of the U.S., there are not many morning minyans in a Reform setting. Perhaps if more U.S. Reform synagogues had morning minyans, that may attract more men, especially young professionals before they start their work days.

                When I want to find a morning minyan, I invariably end up at a Conservative synagogue that has a breakfast immediately following the minyan. Needless to say, most attendees are men, and it is a great social experience…Maybe if the Reform Movement had some sort of spiritual event for men, we may attract more.


    ~600 families
  5. Feb 2006 Digest 019

                … It has been my privilege to serve as the lay member of the Admissions Committee at the New York Campus of HUC-JIR the past nearly three years. And the lack of male applicants is of great concern…While I certainly welcome the "averaging out" of the genders in our rabbinical "corps," it is of great concern to me that men--young and old alike seem to be disengaging…As to gender specific services, my personal view is that they send the wrong signals. They are exclusive in character. While some services or programs might be justified on the basis of the event to be gender specific, others are not and in my view should not be. The value of diversity and inclusiveness should argue for maximum participation in every event/service.


  6. Feb 2006 Digest 020

                As for the men in Reform Judaism issue, it is of concern at many different levels. In my congregation, the majority of board members and the past three presidents have all been women. Most events, worship or non-worship, have a preponderance of women. There is no longer a Men's Club, but a large, active Sisterhood. As a Hebrew school teacher for the past thirty years, I have seen the ranks of male teachers drop to almost nothing. Religious school directors: All around here are female. The teenage members of NFTY-GER are split 70-30% female to male (a great incentive for my sons to join--but a problem for my daughter!). If there are no great male role models for our young boys, how will they see a place for themselves as Jewish adult males? It used to be that the clergy was male, but not even that anymore. It's a conundrum, for sure…

  7. Feb 2006 Digest 021

                My husband told me a long time ago that because men were different from women that in his opinion the old system of male minyans served a purpose far ahead of itself. Men would feel obligated to come if they were counted on but if they weren't counted on they wouldn't feel that same obligation. I know that here, at the Chabad, if they are missing one or two for a minyan, they'll go find some one. I'm not trying to sound prejudiced, but I think my husband hit the nail on the head. The earlier Jewish leaders probably knew that without this commitment and perhaps peer pressure or maybe male bonding, men would not come. I think that is coming true for the Reform Movement. I know my husband used to get up and go to a Reform minyan when he could...women were allowed, but not many if any showed up. There weren't usually ten men there either, if I remember correctly. He felt that obligation because he grew up with that feeling of should I say, brotherhood (?). I, on the other hand, would probably not go to a morning minyan or probably an afternoon one either. I don't feel that same obligation and I have too many other obligations especially at home that I feel I have to take care of. The minyan finally ended because of non participation. With more and more woman taking traditional men’s roles, the less important men feel their presence is needed.

                And so there is a paradox in the Reform (maybe some Conservative) Movement. Growing up in the Reform Movement, my own sons have never felt that obligation to attend minyan or services for that matter. In fact there was no minyan to go to when they were growing up, and even though we went to services often, the feeling of Jewish community commitment is not on their lists.

                This is why the Orthodox and Ultra Orthodox continue to go by the old rules. The division of labor between men and woman serves a valuable purpose. It is important for men to feel they must be involved. Woman are different; they do inherently get involved in activities and don't need that kind of pressure. I know this is a generalization, but in general I see that it often works this way.

                On the other hand, part of the paradox is within me. I don't seem to feel exactly that way for women in the cantorate or as cantorial soloists. Women's talents, I feel should be recognized; I may be mistaken, but this profession is becoming flooded more and more with women, especially in the Reform Movement. Also within the Reform Movement there is less traditional cantorial music, which would attract certain male singers…


    75 families
  8. Feb 2006 Digest 022

                …The phenomenon of women rising to the occasion and showing leadership is not new in our history--Miriam and Jochebed at the riverside, Esther, and, lehavdil, Eve spurring Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. And aside from public leadership, I know that it was my grandmother, not my grandfather, who saw to it that her grandchildren made the Motzi at mealtime, said the Sh’ma at bedtime, etc., etc. Perhaps women today are differently empowered, but Jewish women have always had empowerments. (By the way, when I was in high school more than half a century ago, the educational directors of both of the Reform congregations in my community were women.)

                My congregation, which next year will observe its 140th anniversary, is currently enjoying the presidency of a woman, for only the second time. The first time was six years ago. The fact that it took us so long was not solely the fault of men. While I grant that it couldn't have happened thirty years ago, and probably not twenty years ago, it could have happened ten years earlier than it did--but the women who might have been in line were not willing to step up to the plate. For both of these estimable women, by the way, their presidencies supplement careers as well as motherhood and wifehood.

                I do not believe that the rise of women in the Reform Movement is what is driving away the men, but rather that the absence of (qualified) men is creating the opportunities, and that (qualified) women are rising to the occasion. Nonetheless, I am not the first to point out that the URJ/UAHC has yet to be headed by a woman, either as (professional) president or as (volunteer) chair.

                To put all my remarks in context--there is a Yiddish saying that can be translated: As it goes in the Christian world, so it goes in the Jewish world. While we can look at, and be concerned about, the gender power shift in the Reform Movement, take a look at the secular world. Who could have imagined a generation ago that the U.S. would have its second woman secretary of state, or that there would be speculation about a serious female presidential candidacy? Who could have imagined women as presidents of major universities?  For that matter, we might express surprise when we hear about fathers staying home as the children's primary caregivers while their wives are the breadwinners--but is that so very different from the shtetl wife who ran a business while her husband studied Talmud? In my parents' day, when two couples went out together, the men sat in the front seat of the car, and the women in back; when Barbara and I go out tonight, we will sit together in the front seat and Jean and Steve will sit in the back. I could come up with a lot more examples of changes in social behaviour in society as a whole. So--the point is that, yes, the Reform Movement may have to ask itself, Where are the boys/men?--but it's not a problem we have created, it's an outcome of living in the secular world. And as it balances itself out in the Christian/secular world, so it will balance itself out in the Jewish/Reform world.


    1100 members
  9. Feb 2006 Digest 023

                …another link is the difference between Moses' and Miriam's songs at the sea…


                Reading the NYT article, I thought "finally!"--at last there is some engagement of this issue. I would love to see more discussion/activity in this area--I can imagine some sort of 'fishbowl' style activities, perhaps on the regional level or at a kallah of some sort--men sitting in the middle talking about gender issues and worship with the women looking in, then the other way around. Another possibility is, over a four service sequence, to have—


    1) a mehitza with the men as onlookers

    2) a mehitza with women as onlookers

    3) separate services, then

    4) 'regular', mixed services, with discussion the whole way through


                [It] would take a couple of days! I don't know if there are enough people out there who would want to put themselves through such a program; perhaps on the Kesher level; or in NFTY.

                Then there's the tie-in with the next generation--the thread [in previous postings] earlier this month about childcare is a serious gender/worship issue, too.

                I would urge congregations to engage this issue, maybe through the men's clubs/brotherhoods (for those who still have them)--if we (the men of RJ) don't take charge of the issue (at least our end of it), we shouldn't be surprised to find ourselves in the minority in the pews.

  10. Feb 2006 Digest 024

                Brotherhoods across the continent are wrestling with this problem. Our approach at [our congregation] is to go back to the beginning and attempt to engage the men of our congregation as fathers. The idea is that if children see their fathers as participating in synagogue life they will view this is something important.

                To that end, we are planning a father/children Friday night service, which will intersperse the Gates of Prayer for Young People with appropriate readings done by fathers and children. We are inviting men to either use one of our selected readings or to propose their own.

  11. Feb 2006 Digest 024

                When I hear people express great concern about, for example, the gender ratio in recent classes at HUC, I wonder what message we're sending to women. That they're only welcome in certain quantities? That a woman who sought out opportunities is only welcome until we can scare up some men to take over? I don't think that's what anyone means to say, but it can be a little off-putting to, say, a woman considering rabbinic school (who wants to believe there'll be a job for her when she graduates).

                I thought one of the principles of Reform Judaism is that we value individuals and don't try to assign gender roles. Egalitarianism is so important to us that we were willing to make the divisive, but necessary, decision about patrilineal descent--and yet we encourage sisterhoods and brotherhoods, which seems a step backwards. Is there anything wrong with having a gender imbalance in our congregations or in our leadership? When the imbalance was in the other direction, did we worry that our community would fail if we didn't attract more women? If so, the worry was apparently misplaced--and so too this time, I think. I think we're more resilient than that.


    ~860 households
  12. Feb 2006 Digest 025

                [The question was raised]: "When the imbalance was in the other direction, did we worry that our community would fail if we didn't attract more women?"

                The answer from the Movement, since Sally Priesand was admitted to HUC, has been a resounding "YES"!

                To which I would add, Thank G!d for the contribution of feminism to our understanding of ourselves, of our communities, of our spirituality and of G!d and how we address and worship G!d.

                So, following on that understanding, I ask to apply it equally to both men and women. Just because there is concern about the lack of men, doesn't automatically mean that concern is focused negatively on women.

                In past years, it has been clear that in order for women to grow and gain leadership, "women's space" is needed. In the same equation, "Men's space" is often considered an "old boy's network", a power center.

                This thread is asking to give the same recognition to the need for "Men's space" as is given to "women's space".

                Which is really hard in our world, since we have worked very hard in the past thirty years to point out that men aren't to be trusted not to use that space for anything other than a power grab.

                If we limit women and men to activities in which we are always together, since we can't trust each other about power, what else are we limiting? Is this any way to get closer to G!d?

                I want to believe that there is more to gender relationships than power. I want to believe that just as girls need empowerment, so do boys--perhaps not in the same issues. Sisterhoods and Brotherhoods are only a step back if they never engage these issues. They can be a step forward if they do.

                So, to bring this back to worship, I want to see the differences between the prayers of men and the prayers of women, to see men trying on women's prayers as we have seen women trying on men's prayers (egalitarian worship with the same old siddur forces women to try on men's prayers). I think that by doing this, we can only enrich our services and our worship.


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