Egalitarian Kiddush and “Shalom Aleychem”

The following post provides information about egalitarian approaches to Kiddush, as well as a video of Cantor Elana Rozenfeld teaching the words and melody of “Shalom Aleychem” and the Friday night Kiddush. Rozenfeld is the Cantor of Congregation Shirat Hayim, a Conservative synagogue in Swampscott, Massachusetts, and has a very active YouTube channel that is mostly dedicated to the performance and instruction of music from the Jewish liturgy.

Egalitarian Approach to Kiddush

This video begins with Cantor Rozenfeld’s rendition of the song “Shalom Aleichem”, a song traditionally sung on Friday night before the recitation of the Kiddush as an initial welcoming of the Sabbath.  When Rozenfeld transitions from “Shalom Aleichem” to the Kiddush, she explains that many people begin the Kiddush by saying: “savri chaverie” to which the rest of the table can respond with an enthusiastic: “le’chaim!” (“to life!”). “Savri chaverie” is translated as: “With the knowledge/permission of my friends/associates” as a way of gracefully accepting the responsibility of leading the Kiddush for all those present.  In other words, the person reciting the Kiddush is pausing to acknowledge that the rest are allowing him/her the honor of leading the blessing.

“Savri chaverie” is an interesting and telling variation of the more traditional version: “Savri maranan v’rabanan v’raboti” which is translated as: “With the knowledge/permission of distinguished gentleman, masters and teachers”. The significance of this change in the wording lies in the less hierarchical inclusivity of the term “chaverei”.  It not only includes and honors the “laymen” that are present, but expands to incorporate laywomen as well.  It is this inclusivity that has led many modern congregations, and especially egalitarian ones, to adopt this phrasing.

The idea of more inclusive, egalitarian approaches to Jewish ritual aren’t new, but they only began to become mainstream in certain communities within the last half-century.  The concept of women sharing identical participation and obligation in Jewish worship was introduced and condoned in the middle of the 19th century within the Reform Movement.  In practice, however, the changes took much longer to be realized – the first female Rabbi was ordained in the 1930s. Reflecting the development of the feminist movement in the world at large, as time went on, more liberal congregations allowed varying degrees of egalitarian participation to become the norm.

This egalitarian idea expressed through the choice of the words “savri chaverie” is, of course, also implied through the fact that the person reciting the Kiddush in this video, Rozenfeld, is a woman.  The question of a woman’s obligation to hear and recite the Kiddush – and whether or not she can be the one leading the Kiddush when there is a man available to do it – is discussed by the Jewish Sages through all of history, reaching back to discussions in the Talmud recorded as early as 400 CE.  There is a general consensus that women are, in fact, obligated to hear and recite the Kiddush in order to fulfill the commandment of “sanctifying the day”.  Their obligation, in fact, is identical to that of males, which implies that just as a man can recite Kiddush for a woman, a woman should be able to recite Kiddush for a man.  The sages confirm this implication but add that unless there is a specific reason that the man is unable to fulfill the obligation, it is “more appropriate” that a woman wouldn’t recite for him.  This approach prevented most women from reciting the Kiddush themselves for most of Jewish history, and today in many traditional communities, this is still the case.