Sunday, January 10, 2010


Two articles that appeared in the Times this week that were particularly interesting, considering the recent discussions that have been taking place at the yeshiva regarding egalitarianism. The first of our official sichot was a discussion about the different types of egalitarianism, and the discussion was framed around Yehuda Kurtzer’s three categories of egalitarianism:

1. Sociological Egalitarianism-Men and women participate equally (i.e there is equal participation, but not necessarily mixed seating)

2. Anthropological Egalitarianism-Men and women are considered identical (i.e there is mixed seating, but not necessarily equal participation)

3. Theological Egalitarianism-the language used (liturgically and otherwise) to express egalitarian principles.

The discussion was thought-provoking, with issues being raised from the issues surrounding gender roles, to God language, to dealing with non-egalitarian sociological baggage in an egalitarian space. It was the beginning of a conversation, and no conclusions were drawn, except that there are far more than three categories that can be drawn up.

One of the most interesting elements of the sicha for me was that these categories, and much of the discussion, revolved around davening. I’m trying to figure out why davening in particular makes people anxious when traditional gender boundaries are broken. I have never had a discussion in any educational setting—religious or secular—about the issues surrounding men and women sitting in class and learning together. There’s no fear that we will be so overcome by sexual desire that we won’t be able to focus*, and there’s also no angst that if we give everyone equal access to the learning, as well as to all the spaces within the room, there will be some erasing of sex differences.

I’d love to hear thoughts on why davening, specifically, seems to be the focus point for many of these discussions, and what categories of egalitarianism you find most relevant.

*Which is not to say this concern isn’t ever articulated. But the assumption seems to be that while it happens, at the end of the day students need to get over themselves and study. I should also note that in general, when all of the above issues are discussed, the assumption is that there is no one in the space who is attracted to members of the same sex.

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