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MigdalOr (Hebrew for "Lighthouse") is an Orthodox Jewish partnership minyan located in Washington Heights, Manhattan. ."[1] MigdalOr was founded in March 2007 by three women from the Washington Heights community. The subsequently formed Leadership Team is a group of active men and women in the minyan. MigdalOr regulars have included several semikhah students and graduates of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshiva University, as well as students and alumni of the Graduate Program in Advanced Talmudic Studies at Stern College for Women and Drisha Institute most of whom attend Mount Sinai Jewish Center as well. According to its web site, MigdalOr was conceived as an alternative for "creat[ing] a warm, participatory environment dedicated to enhancing kavanah...while working within the context of Halakha." [2] MigdalOr currently meets on alternating Friday nights and alternating Saturday afternoons part of the year, and hence does not address the issue of women's Torah reading, currently a thorny debate in Modern orthodox circles.

On the one occasion when Migdal Or met for a morning service including Torah reading, namely Purim (March 21, 2008), they had a man do the reading. (The leaders of MigdalOr had had some discussion about this before Purim, but ultimately decided that this was the best solution, at least for the time being.) However, women read part of the Megilla of Esther on Purim 2008. Additionally, Migdal Or had a reading of the Megilla of Ruth on Shavuot 2008, from a kosher scroll; this reading was performed entirely by a woman.

While MigdalOr is modeled on Shira Hadasha and other JOFA affiliated partnership minyanim, according to[specify] its small size and intimate atmosphere also give it some of the characteristics of a Chavurah as well as affinities with "independent minyanim" like Kehillat Hadar.

Friday Night Minyan

MigdalOr currently hosts a biweekly Friday night service at the Hebrew Tabernacle, a reform synagogue on Ft. Washington Avenue. A man leads Mincha, a woman leads Kabbalat Shabbat and a man again leads Maariv. The Dvar Torah separating Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv can be given by members of either sex. The men and women are separated by a Mechitza which is meant to meet Halakhic standards while being aesthetically pleasing and unobtrusive. The singing is mostly in the style of Shlomo Carlebach.

"Ten and Ten" policy

MigdalOr struggles to define its policy on "Ten and Ten"- the practice of having a minyan of ten men and ten women, as is done in Jerusalem's Shira Hadasha synagogue. Individuals within the community have expressed a wide range of opinions on the matter. Discussion continues, including through an online survey. In the meantime, the determination is that "Ten and Ten" is currently impractical for the minyan. They wait for ten women and ten men, but when pressed by time constraints, they will begin praying communally with only ten men. However, when ten of each gender have arrived, the minyan breaks out in ecstatic song celebrating this preferable state of affairs. The song is taken from Song of Songs which is traditionally recited on Friday nights.

MigdalTorah and other activities

MigdalOr hosts a series of lectures on relevant topics on Friday nights in the winter and Saturday afternoons in the summer. Previous topics have included "God's Search for Man: Some Themes from Abraham Joshua Heschel" and "Breaking a Leg for God." Allowing even people within the Washington Heights community who are uncomfortable with egalitarian prayer services to be involved with MigdalOr, this lecture series has drawn consistently large turnouts. In addition, MigdalOr is beginning to host other activities, including festive holiday meals and Friday Night Potluck dinners. Finally, MigdalOr is beginning to host a series of social justice initiatives, partnering with Uri L'Tzedek and Alianza Dominicana as well as the YM/YWHA of Washington Heights.


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