By Rabbi Dov Linzer for The Jewish Forward
The realities of quarantine and sheltering-in-place during these last few months have created challenges for the halakhically-observant community. Halakhic decisors have issued their rulings, responding appropriately and sympathetically to these unprecedented realities.
What has largely been absent, however, is a serious engagement with the person asking the question; sympathetic psak is not the same as collaborative or empowering psak.
I can remember the exact moment when this realization hit me. It was the early years of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the rabbinical school of which I am now the president. We had just moved into a new space. A woman came to be part of our morning prayers, and we had yet had time to erect a mechitza — the partition between men and women mandated by Orthodox Jewish law.
For the first few days, she stood off to a side without a mechitza. But once her attendance became regular, a mechitza was needed. I came up with what I thought was a perfect solution: Let her, for the time being, pray in my office with a door open to the prayer space, until a mechitza could be installed.
Weeks later, she reached out to me and told me that she was deeply bothered by what had happened.
“Why?” I asked. “Wasn’t my office a dignified space?”
“It might have been,” she replied, “but my problem is not with the quality of the spot that you designated for me. The problem is that you made the decision without me. Why not involve me in the decision? Tell me what parameters you are working with, and let us figure this out together.”
I don’t need your sympathy and I don’t need your paternalism, she was telling me. Treat me like an adult, make me part of the process.
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