See below for background information and glossary.
Commenter Abbi sent me her response to a discussion about prayer for girls in a
mixed school. Should girls pray in the minyan alongside the boys, or as a separate group? What should be our goals for educating girls about tefilla and minyan, given that most grown Orthodox women will not attend a minyan, especially during the early childbearing years?
Abbi Adest wrote:
The following was in response to a query on the Lookjed Jewish educators list that asked how to help middle school girls who were having trouble with tefilla. The response included the following quote:
“A majority of our girls do not daven in women’s only tefilla groups, nor are most of them likely to do so. Thus, it is important to teach them to have a meaningful tefilla in the context of a minyan.”
[Abbi continues] You say that your quandary is that tefilla is simply harder for girls. Then you make two assumptions: that the majority of your girls don’t daven in women’s tefilla groups nor are they likely to do so in the future. Have you asked the girls why tefilla is hard for them and whether they would be interested in davening in a girls’ tefilla group occasionally? Sometimes a heart-to-heart with students will elucidate many of the issues.
Second, let’s be honest about grown-up Orthodox women and tefilla: If and when they grow up to be such women, b’ezrat Hashem (God willing) and if and when they are married with small children, just making it to shul on Shabbat for kedusha or even the last bits of musaf will be a huge triumph. For many (certainly not all) a few mumbled brachot in the morning is all that can be managed. So, the connection between Orthodox women and minyan is tenuous at best. But why should those future circumstances have any bearing on their tefilla experience now, when they aren’t encumbered by family and/or work responsibilities?
I think the biggest problem is that you are approaching girls’ tefilla as a corollary to boys’ tefilla. Boys are practicing to become active participants in adult tefilla, which makes sense. Girls are practicing to–what? Practicing to get 3 kids out of the house for shul Shabbat morning would be an interesting challenge, but not really appropriate for middle school girls.
I think the goal of tefilla for girls in middle and high schools should be to develop their own personal spirituality and relationship with tefilla and Hashem, and part of that is feeling involved and invested in some kind of group tefilla. If you already have a group leaving to study the deeper meaning of tefilla a few times a week, I’m not sure why it would be a problem to have a girls’ tefilla group leaving once or twice a week. Having it on Rosh Chodesh would make the day and the tefilla experience even more special, in addition to emphasizing the connection between women and Rosh Chodesh.
Finally, it’s essential for girls to have a female spiritual role model, within the context of tefilla, to provide them with a dugma ishit (personal example) of how to balance the challenges and responsibilities of being an Orthodox woman. From my memories of growing up in day school, tefilla was the sole domain of rabbis. You might want to involve female staff, if that’s not already the case.
The idea is help them strengthen and develop their spiritual selves for when they are faced with the responsibilities of the grownup world, and for when they can’t make it to minyan because of child-raising responsibilities.
I’d also like to point out that girls who study in single-sex schools like Bais Yakov never daven with a minyan, (and actually daven (pray) in de facto girls’ tefilla groups, when you think about it) and they seem to have no problem davening with a minyan when appropriate. [MiI: i.e. they are able to follow the expanded service.]
Background and Glossary:
According to Jewish law, men are required to pray three times a day with a minyan (quorum) of ten men. Women are obligated in prayer, but exempt from the public requirement.
Minyan: Quorum of ten men, required for certain public prayers.
Kedusha, Musaf, Brachot: Examples of Jewish prayers.
Rosh Chodesh: The first day of the Jewish, lunar month.
Daven (Yiddish): Pray
Women’s tefilla group: A group of ten women praying together that may add some, but not all, additional prayers that are recited when men gather for a minyan. In the discussion above, it is presented as a compromise between having girls or women pray individually, or having a secondary role in a minyan of men. However, there are a limited number of such groups around the world. My town has 300 Orthodox synagogues and no women’s prayer group, except on some Jewish holidays.
Please let me know if you found this glossary/background information helpful.
For women who grew up in an Orthodox background, what was most helpful (or not) in shaping a positive attitude toward prayer?
Photo Credit: Brett Wagner