By Sarah Fortinsky
For years, Schechter Westchester students have learned that the daily prayers they recite in school are timeless and unchanging—until last week, when the administration introduced a change.
Each minyan at Schechter will now give students the opportunity to recognize the imahot, or matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah), alongside the avot, or patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), in the daily Amidah.
The decision to introduce the change—which was made by Rabbi Harry Pell, the school’smarah de’atrah (halachic decider), after consultation with the school’s administration and members of the community—was announced earlier this month in each of the grade-wideminyanim by each minyan’s faculty leader.
In the first paragraph of the Amidah, Jews traditionally recite “… elohei Avraham, elohei Yitzchak, vey-lo-hei Ya’akov …” (…God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob…). As of last week, the Schechter minyanim will pause after those words so that students, if they wish, can add “…elohei Sarah, elohei Rivkah, vei-lo-hei Rachel v’ Leah…” (… God of Sarah, God of Rebecca, and God of Rachel and Leah). Similarly, at the end of the first paragraph, Jews traditionally bless “… Adonai, Ma-gein Avraham…” (God, shield of Abraham). Now,minyanim will pause after those words to allow students to add “… u’fo-keid Sarah…” (… and provider of Sarah…).
“I’ve been in the school [for] ten years, and I’ve had a sense for a long time that there was a hesitation to move toward creating an opportunity for the [inclusion of the] imahot mostly because it was perceived as an ‘all or nothing’ kind of thing,” Pell said.
But according to Pell, the pause implemented in the Amidah serves as a solution to that problem “by providing everyone with the opportunity to observe as they would want to with the education to back it up.”
This change in Schechter’s practice coincides with the steps that the Conservative movement has taken in recent years toward limiting religious distinctions between men and women. In 1973, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards voted to allow synagogues to count women in a minyan. In 1983, the Jewish Theological Seminary voted to allow women to be ordained as Conservative rabbis. And in the last twenty-five years, a small, but increasing, number of women who identify as Conservative Jews have begun wearing talitot and tefilin.
Many members of the Schechter community claim not to have not been surprised when told of this change.
“I think we all saw this coming. A lot of synagogues have started to include [the imahot] during the past ten years, but I think it’s definitely a change for our school,” junior Jacob Richman said. “I’ve been here twelve years and we’ve been doing it without the imahot since kindergarten.”
“In my synagogue, we started including the imahot in 1985, so when I daven to myself, and occasionally when I’ve led a service here, I actually include the imahot because that’s what Idaven every day,” Marita Poline said. “I’m not sure why it took Schechter so long to add theimahot when that has, in fact, been widely adopted by the Conservative movement.”
Though there seem to be varying personal practices within the Schechter community, the vast majority of the students interviewed say they appreciate the option of including theimahot.
“I think it’s great that the school is allowing more pluralism in that the way that different people observe Judaism is being accepted by the school. Whether or not you choose to take the opportunity to say the imahot is inconsequential; it’s just the idea that you’ll be able to and the school is allowing that,” junior Cara Kupferman said.
“I think it’s really inspiring how Schechter’s taking these steps. I wear tefilin so I’m personally very connected to this whole idea of egalitarianism and what that means for Jewish women nowadays,” freshman Mikayla Golub said.
The students who have objected to the inclusion of the imahot, however, claim not to view this is an issue of religious gender equality but as an issue of preservation of tradition.
“I just think that [the imahot] shouldn’t be added because, one, it’s tradition, and, two, I’m pretty sure it’s a pasuk from the Torah that [the Amidah is] quoting. It’s not like the rabbis wrote that,” junior David Shasha said.
According to Pell, this hesitation was anticipated and played a significant role in the decision to pause for the inclusion of the imahot: “I think for many years we made kids and families who wanted to include the imahot uncomfortable because they couldn’t. I wouldn’t want to now switch that and make families who don’t want to include them uncomfortable because they’re forced to, and I don’t think we have to.”