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Monday, February 01, 2016 

New Efrat synagogue has equal opportunities for women

This is a good idea at a time when religious women are finding more roles in managing religious prayers and synagogues:
In this congregation, women hold the Torah scroll and place it in the Holy Ark, read the weekly haftarah (a selection from the Prophets read in synagogue on Shabbat, holidays and fast days) and give a sermon, and girls sing Anim Zemirot, the hymn at the end of the service. You could be forgiven for thinking this is the Women of the Wall or a Reform congregation in the U.S., but the truth is that this congregation is Orthodox and is in the national-religious community of Efrat, in Gush Etzion.

Over the past several years, egalitarian congregations have become more common in Israel. In these congregations, women assume more prominent roles during prayers and hold official duties. The Zemer Hazayit Congregation has gone a step further, some would say a step too far.

Although the synagogue has a traditional partition between the men's and women's sections, the two sections are next to each other, rather than the women's section being behind the men's or on the second floor, as is common in Orthodox synagogues. The partition runs across the sanctuary space, creating equally sized sections all the way to the Holy Ark, allowing the women to place the Torah scroll back in its place at the end of the service.

"It all started 10 years ago," says the leader of the congregation, Rabbi Dr. David Bollag. "A group of women wanted to let women say a Dvar Torah [sermon] but the community's main synagogue refused, so they created a new congregation."

Bollag is convinced there is no contradiction between the modern practices and Halachah (Jewish law): "There is a partition; the Holy Ark is in the center; a man always takes the Torah scroll out; when it is time to place it back inside the Ark, a man goes to the end of the mechitzah [partition] and hands it to a woman, who then takes it through the women's section all the way back to the Holy Ark."
I think they've got a workable and good idea at hand, and could help encourage more women to try out religion.

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