Morethodoxy or Lessodoxy?
One of the things, possibly the main thing, which separates Orthodox Judaism from the various heterodox movements is that we never, ever, raise any -ism above the Torah. That means that if Zionism conflicts with the Torah (which is rarely does, in my opinion), we go with the Torah. If feminism conflicts with the Torah, we go with the Torah. If capitalism conflicts with the Torah, we go with the Torah. If socialism conflicts with the Torah.
More than this. We don't start from an -ism as our baseline and interpret the Torah through it. We don't force the Torah into this -ism or that -ism.
Zev Farber asks, "Why is it that the synagogue automatically assumes that the baseline should be no participation and that women need to put themselves out there?" And the answer is simple. Because there is a difference in obligation. And the Torah makes distinctions. And Orthodox Jews don't blur those, certainly not because of an -ism.
If Zev Farber doesn't daven with a minyan, he's remiss. If I don't daven with a minyan, I'm not. It's that simple.
Judaism isn't egalitarian. Egalitarianism is just another foreign -ism that American culture is so in love with that many ostensibly Orthodox Jews find themselves committed to it ideologically. And so long as they leave it outside of Judaism, that's fine. Once they bring it into Judaism, it's not fine at all.
I belong to a Women's Tefillah Group. Why? I grew up Conservative. I have a personal connection to doing things that are outside of the Torah norm. I make no apologies for it. I think Women's Tefillah Groups are good for BTs and giyorot. They rarely continue into the next generation, because girls who grow up frum don't feel the need for them. Unless their mothers go out of their way to tell them how "oppressed" they are otherwise.
The idea of women's participation in shul came about for a very simple reason. In the heterodox movements, Judaism is all about shul. Judaism is one thing that exists in the framework of their lives. In shul. At life cycle events. To an Orthodox Jew, life is something that happens in the context of the Torah. Not the other way around. It's a matter of what's the ikkar and what's the tafel. And because Judaism is the tafel in the heterodox movements (as well as in the minds of many left-wing modern Orthodox Jews), shul is the focus of Judaism. So being less participatory there stings. Whereas to real Orthodox Jews, who recognize that Judaism isn't just our religion, but rather our life, shul isn't at all the center of Judaism for us.
Zev Farber's entire thesis fails before he even gets started. Because his complaint isn't even with the details. I belong to a Young Israel, so my Women's Tefillah Group can't meet there (it's in the YI bylaws). That's a detail. But for Zev Farber, that's not something to struggle with -- he wants to revamp Judaism entirely, so that the default is that we all participate equally in shul.
Some Jews grow up Orthodox. Or become Orthodox. And some of these Orthodox Jews move away from Judaism, opting for something that suits them more, philosophically. Conservative. Reform. Reconstructionist. Renewal. Humanist. Some of those who move away philosophically also move away in practice. Alice Shalvi, the noted feminist, resisted this for years. Philosophically, she had left Orthodox Judaism behind her. But she felt an emotional tie to it. She didn't want to acknowledge the move that she'd already made inside. Eventually, she "came out" as Conservative, but it was sort of like Ellen Degeneris coming out as gay. It was only a surprise to those who weren't paying attention.
I hope that Zev Farber and other members of this blog will learn from Alice Shalvi. I hope they will stop trying to drag Judaism off the derekh, and if they feel so strongly opposed to it philosophically, just go.