Shira Hadasha was founded in Jerusalem in 2001 by a group of Jerusalem residents who wanted to increase women's participation and leadership within traditional Jewish prayer and law.
Tova Hartman, one of the founders of Shira Hadasha, is a Professor of Education at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, specializing in gender studies, and author of books on the role of women in Judaism.
Shira Hadasha defines itself as a religious community that embraces a commitment to Jewish law, prayer and feminism in response to the growing need of many religious women and men to readdress the role of women in the synagogue.
Shira Hadasha's prayer service format has been copied by a small number of congregations in Israel, the United States, Canada, and Australia.
The congregation combines a traditional liturgy with certain prayer leadership opportunities for women.
These opportunities include:
- Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday nights
- Pesukei DeZimra
- removing and replacing the Torah in the Ark
- Torah reading on Saturday mornings.
Parts of the service requiring a minyan (quorum of 10 needed for communal prayer service) do not begin until both 10 men and 10 women are present.
In addition to the increasing role of women, Shira Hadashas prayer service is unique in its emphasis on singing prayers.
Music is a mode of expression which engages us in additional affective and cognitive realms of meaning. Music is a mode of expression which engages our minds and souls on a deeper level. The balance between articulating the words that contain meaning and communal singing comprises our dance of intimacy with God. (Shira Hadasha Jerusalem Web Site)
Jewish Law and Shira Hadasha
Shira Hadasha embraces as a religious value the inclusion of both men and women in leadership and ritual participation within the framework of Jewish law.
We have sought out the opportunities afforded by traditional Jewish sources (the Talmud, the Shulhan Arukh, reponsa) for increasing the inclusion of women in our liturgical practices. (Shira Hadasha Jerusalem Web Site)
According to Rabbi Mendel Shapiro, Professor Rabbi Daniel Sperber, and others, Jewish law permits women to be called to and read from the Torah on Shabbat in services with men under certain conditions.
- Rabbi Mendel Shapiro, Torah Reading by Women: A Halakhic Analysis
- Professor Rabbi Daniel Sperber, “Congregational Dignity and Human Dignity: Women and Public Torah Reading.
The main reason women have not been allowed in the past to say the blessing over the Torah relates to the concept of kavod hatzibur, public dignity. The question is whether or not the definition of what offends public dignity should be adjusted to suit new societal norms and better reflect changed gender roles. While many orthodox synagogues are not open to this change, Shira Hadasha is adjusting the role of women in synagogue life according to a modern concept of public dignity.
A New Song
In Shira Hadasha, young girls can lead the singing of Shir Hakavod (The Song of Glory), a song that many orthodox girls associate with their first feelings of discrimination in synagogue life. In Shira Hadasha, girls can celebrate their Bat Mitzvah by reading the Torah just like their brothers. And in Shira Hadasha, women can lead parts of the prayer service just like their husbands.
Above all, Shira Hadasha whole-heartedly welcomes orthodox women into the synagogue. Women are not viewed as second class citizens in the synagogue community. They aren't told it would be better if they had stayed at home caring for the children so services would be quieter for their husbands or preparing the Sabbath meal so lunch would be tastier for their husbands. In Shira Hadasha, women are told they are also entitled to a spiritually fulfilling prayer service.
Consequently, thanks to the Shira Hadasha movement, more and more orthodox Jewish women today are discovering the joy of prayer and synagogue life.