Daughters of the King: Women and the Synagogue

Daughters of The King: Women and The Synagogue
Edited by Susan Grossman and Rivka Haut (Jewish Publication Society. 1992, $19.95)

In sixteen articulate essays. Grossman, a Conservative rabbi, and Haut. an Orthodox activist, explore the role of women in the synagogue through three frames: the historical, the halakhic [pertaining to Jewish law], and the contemporary. Each essay in this scholarly yet reader-friendly anthology is complemented by extensive bibliographical notes.

The historical essays trace women’s participation in synagogue life from the time of the Jerusalem Temple through medieval Cairo and Europe of the Middle Ages, highlighting the importance of firzogerin (women prayer leaders) and women’s original compositions of Yiddish tkhines (personal supplications).

The second group of essays examines halaklia in relation to the participation of women in the synagogue, challenging “conventional wisdoms” such as the belief that women are not obligated to pray, or that menstruating women cannot enter a synagogue or touch a Torah scroll. Haut explains the origins of Orthodox women’s prayer groups, their format, and the sense of community fostered as women learn cantorial skills and girls have the opportunity to receive the honor of an aliyah to the Torah.

In the final section there are contemporary personal vignettes and oral histories: elderly Yemenite women in Jerusalem. Persian women in New York, and modern American feminists.