I will start by stating that I am in favor of women leading Kabbalat Shabbat. I came to this decision after having read and listened to the various rabbinic authorities who helped me to understand that there is no halachic prohibition to WLKS. For me, this issue was very different from the discussion some 8 years ago concerning mixed Torah reading which is a very different halachic issue and which I was not in favor of.
When we first began discussing the issue of WLKS, I realized that I was very uncomfortable with the idea but willing to be open. I joined Kehillat Yedidya over 30 years ago, in part because of its strong commitment to working within Halacha to find ways to expand women’s communal ritual involvement. I don’t want us to be a congregation that has stopped growing. Growth is too important a part of our DNA.
I am getting comfortable with women leading KS since it is not actually part of the Maariv service, which can only be led by a man.
In many Orthodox congregations, the man leading KS and Ma’ariv will stand in one place to lead KS and another to lead Ma’ariv. I now understand that the physical separation of the two parts of the davening helps to emphasize that KS is not actually part of the Ma’ariv service.
I would like to suggest that In an Orthodox congregation I think it is very important not to give the impression that a woman is being the ba’al tfillah, as she is not halachically allowed to lead tfillot with men. I would recommend that we adopt the minhag of separating KS and Ma’ariv and that it not be led from the reader’s table. If a woman leads KS from the reader’s table, she gives the impression that she is being the Ba’alat Tfillah, a role she cannot take on. I think by moving KS to a shtender either on the men’s or women’s side, we are stating very explicitly that KS is not part of the maariv serice and therefore it is possible for a woman to lead it. I will emphasize here that I believe KS should NOT BE LED BY ANYONE from the reader’s table. When Maariv actually begins, a man moves to the reader’s table to begin the tfillot of Maariv. The physical placement of the person leading KS allows the congregation to understand that the person leading is not the Ba’al/at Tfillah, since KS is not part of the actual Tfillot.
I would extend this minhag to where ever KS/Ma’ariv services are held in the building. In addition, I would recommend that two special shtenders on wheels be commissioned and built specifically for KS. Upstairs, it should be placed just behind the reader’s table, in the center of the room so that whoever is lead KS can be heard. If a woman is leading, the shtender is on the women’s side. If a man leads, it is on the men’s side. Downstairs, I think experimentation with acoustics will dictate the best placement.
For those who consciously decide to daven with an Orthodox minyan and accept Orthodox Halacha, it is clear that there are communal ritual practices that are not available to women. As an Orthodox congregation that, from its founding, has committed itself to opening communal ritual to women to the extent that Halacha will allow it, we also need to recognize that this is not about parity or equality. Opening up more communal ritual to women is about providing opportunities within a halachic framework. Orthodox practice does dictate different ritual roles for men and women. And while Yedidya should continue to strive to provide as many communal ritual roles for women as Halacha will allow, we should not be striving to eliminate the halachic distinctions that are critical to Orthodox practice.