It comes as no surprise, therefore, that both men and women are enjoined by Jewish law to pray daily, though there is some difference of opinion as to the extent of the obligation. Yet, despite this basic requirement to pray, women need not fulfill their obligation within the context of communal services-tefilla be-tsibbur. Moreover, ten women who join together in prayer-as opposed to ten men-cannot constitute the minimum quorum of ten individuals, a minyan, necessary by law to recite certain passages and texts generally reserved for public worship, including, inter alia, the kaddish, kedusha, barekhu or the thirteen attributes of God, the repetition of the amida, and the reading of the Torah and the haftara with their attendant blessings. While there are occasions within Jewish practice where women do count towards a minyan, public prayer is not among them.3 As a result, the synagogue service has historically remained almost exclusively male-oriented.
In the early 1970's, however, the Women's Liberation Movement stimulated within traditional Jewish student circles a re-examination of the role of women in Judaism. This coincided with an accelerating growth of higher-education opportunities for women in all areas of Jewish studies, including Talmud, halakha, Tanakh, and Jewish thought. The combined effects of this religious and educational exploration were eventually felt in the general, more established Jewish community as well. One manifestation of this trend was the development of women's prayer services. Women would join in all-female groups on a particular Shabbat or Rosh Hodesh morning or afternoon in order to recite together the Shaharit or Minha prayers. Similarly, these women would gather on Purim for a women's reading of Megillat Ester or rejoice together on Simhat Torah, separate from the men, often dancing the hakafot with their own Torah scrolls.3*
Two different groups supported these women's services. For some participants, a women's tefilla was an act of rebellion against the traditional male-oriented ritual. Such individuals or groups were not terribly concerned with the halakhic propriety or parameters of their prayer forms. On the other hand, numerous other women, who articulated a commitment to the halakhic process, at the same time expressed their desire for a more active and meaningful involvement in the spiritual moments of public prayer. In addition, they argued, the prayer group could serve for them as a learning experience-an opportunity to study the relevant laws, to act as gabbai, read the Torah and the haftara, lead the services as hazzan, lift and roll the Torah (hagbaha and gelila), etc.-affording them a greater appreciation of the symphony communal prayer is meant to be. These women further explained that their identification with Orthodox Judaism prevented them from joining Conservative shuls or egalitarian minyanim. An all-women's prayer group was consequently an attractive alternative.
This latter group turned to members of the Orthodox rabbinate for rulings and guidance on the halakhic permissibility of such women's services. Some rabbis, while sympathetic to the religious sentiments expressed by these women, objected to the very idea of separate women's prayer services, citing various halakhic and sociological arguments to support their position. Other rabbis, though, advised these women that they could have their service provided they forgo saying all those texts which required a minyan quorum; they were, after all, a women's prayer group, not a women's minyan.
In our extensive discussions with participants in such services, we have found that a significant percentage report the experience enriching, moving, and edifying, despite the halakhic limitations. Many testify to davening (praying) with greater kavvana (religious devotion) or to discovering new meaning in their prayers. Satisfying what is perceived by the members as a real spiritual need, women's prayer groups have continued to meet in various communities on a regular basis for close to 25 years.
The recognition that women's prayer services are not a passing fad has compelled rabbinic scholars to confront and address the issue with increased earnestness. Yet, the years have not brought the halakhic authorities any closer to unanimity; if anything, the opposite is true. Essentially, three fundamental halakhic approaches to the subject have emerged. The first and most lenient position maintains that women may carry out a full service, including all those rituals and texts which normally require a minyan quorum. The second school is more stringent and openly opposes women's prayer groups on a host of halakhic and sociological grounds. The final approach argues that women's prayer services, if properly performed and religiously motivated, can be halakhically sanctioned, although some question their advisability on hashkafic and public-policy grounds.
Our survey and in-depth analysis of the responsa on this subject will be divided into two sections. In the first part of this paper (entitled "Theory") we will explore the basic question of the halakhic permissibility of women's tefilla groups. However, even if one should conclude that women's tefilla groups are fundamentally permissible, a host of practical issues arise that must be faced if such services are to be carried out within the guidelines of Jewish law. We discuss these latter issues in the second section of this paper (entitled "Practice"), which will be published in the future. Needless to say, the views presented in this work are those of the authorities cited by the authors, and not necessarily those of Tradition or the Rabbinical Council of America. Let us turn now to the responsa themselves and the threshold question of whether women's prayer groups can be, in principle, halakhically permitted.4
The crux of R. Goren's argument is that the petura ve-osa me-varekhet principle enunciated by Rabbeinu Tam is a special dispensation, unique to women and granted to them in order to give them spiritual satisfaction ("bi-khdei la-asot nahat ru'ah la-nashim").12 It should be pointed out that this concept actually appears in the halakhic literature as the rationale behind another rabbinic dispensation for women. When one brings a sacrifice, he is obligated in semikha, namely, to place his hands on the animal's head and press down. Although women are freed from this obligation of semikha, because of the above principle they may do so should they desire, though unnecessary contact with a sacrificial animal is usually rabbinically forbidden. R. Goren suggests that similarly, in the case of the recitation of unnecessary benedictions, it was the rationale of "bi-khdei la-asot nahat ru'ah la-nashim" which allowed Rabbeinu Tam to formulate his petura ve-osa me-varekhet principle, thereby setting aside the rabbinic prohibition of taking God's name in vain.13
R. Goren further suggests that Rabbeinu Tam's approach, as just delineated, may be likewise extended to allow women to carry out a complete public prayer service without fear of taking God's name in vain, even when reciting those texts which normally require the presence of a bona fide minyan. The late Chief Rabbi does, however, forbid men from praying in such a service or from responding to the recitation of kaddish, kedusha, barekhu, etc., since men have no such dispensation, and as far as they are concerned, the requisite quorum is lacking.
R. Goren's argument is unquestionably intriguing. It is, however, equally problematic. As noted above, his conclusion rests upon the view of Rabbeinu Tam and the thesis that women have a special dispensation to recite sacred texts normally requiring a minyan even when this quorum is absent. One potential challenge to this thesis is raised by R. Goren himself, and deals with the traditional introduction to the grace after meals, the "birkat ha-zimmun." The birkat ha-zimmun must be recited when three or more adult males eat bread together. When a minyan is present, the text of the birkat ha-zimmun is amended so as to invoke God's name by adding the word "Elokeinu," and is then referred to as "zimmun beShem." Although three women, too, have the option of forming a quorum for birkat ha-zimmun, Maimonides explicitly precludes ten women from zimmun beShem.14 But if R. Goren's thesis were correct, why should ten women be precluded-why could they not say zimmun beShem on a voluntary basis, as peturot ve-osot?
R. Goren is not bothered by this seeming contradiction. He notes that the aforementioned petura ve-osa me-varekhet principle enunciated by Rabbeinu Tam is not universally accepted. Indeed, Maimonides disagrees with Rabbeinu Tam, maintaining instead that women may not pronounce benedictions which they are not halakhically bound to pronounce. Accordingly, Rambam rules-unlike Rabbeinu Tam-that women are forbidden to recite berakhot (benedictions) when performing time-dependent commandments.15 Consequently, when Maimonides proscribes ten women from reciting birkat ha-zimmun beShem, he is simply being consistent.15* Inasmuch as Ashkenazic practice has adopted Rabbeinu Tam's view, however, R. Goren rejects any challenge to his thesis from the ruling of Rambam.
Surprisingly, R. Goren neglects to mention that even among those rishonim and aharonim who agree with Rabbeinu Tam's ruling regarding women's permission to recite blessings over time-dependent commandments, there is almost unanimous endorsement of Rambam's exclusion of women from zimmun beShem.16 Apparently, then, Rabbeinu Tam's ruling is not to be so liberally expanded as to include permission to pronounce God's name "unnecessarily" when the "unnecessary" character results from the absence of a properly constituted minyan.
This brings us to a second problem. As R. Goren himself notes, although Rabbeinu Tam's opinion is indeed the accepted Ashkenazic ruling,17 it is not the only view on the matter. Maimonides, R. Joseph Caro,18 and, in fact, a majority of Sephardic authorities down to the modern period-most notably R. Ovadiah Yosef,19 R. Goren's Sephardic counterpart when the two jointly shared the position of Chief Rabbi of Israel-take strong exception to the Ashkenazic custom. These posekim strictly forbid Sephardic women from reciting berakhot when performing mitsvot from which they are exempted.20 Thus, R. Goren's solution would not apply to Sephardic women.21
One also wonders why R. Goren insists at all on the presence of ten women. If, as R. Goren contends, Rabbeinu Tam's principle can be applied to public prayer rituals so as to obviate the need for a properly constituted minyan, even a lone woman should be able to say any of the prayer texts without being deemed to have taken the Lord's name improperly.21*
More fundamentally, the late Chief Rabbi interprets Rabbeinu Tam's ruling as a special dispensation for women, based on the nahat ru'ah (spiritual satisfaction) rationale. This novel interpretation radically departs from the way in which Rabbeinu Tam's ruling was understood by the earlier authorities. None of the rishonim22 who cite Rabbeinu Tam use the notion of nahat ru'ah as a justification for this leniency; rather, they cite explanations applicable to both genders. For example, Tosafot explain that "the blessing [of a patur ve-ose] is not in vain since he is reciting the (appropriate) benediction for a mitsvah which he is performing, although he is exempt."23 Furthermore, notes R. Nissim Gerondi (Ran), the text, ". . . commanded us," is not improper either; after all, the Talmud's conclusion-"greater is (the reward of) one who is obligated and fulfills the commandment, than (that of) one who is not obligated and yet fulfills the commandment"24-clearly implies that the latter, too, receives at least some reward. If so, then even an eino me-tsuve ve-ose must share in the commandment. Since men are fully obligated and, as just noted, women receive reward for their actions, women may recite the berakha, the phrase "and commanded us" notwithstanding.25
As further clarified by R. Ben-Zion Hai Uziel and R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik,26 the mitsvot were issued to the nation of Israel as a whole, men and women alike. Accordingly, both men and women possess an equal degree of "kedushat Yisrael," Jewish sanctity.27 But despite sharing the general obligations of Kelal Yisrael (corporate Israel), women were granted a particular and individual exemption from the performance of time-determined commandments. This is not to say that time-determined commandments are irrelevant to women; there is a vast difference between one who is fundamentally subject to an obligation but exempt from its performance (e.g., a woman), and one who is not obligated altogether ab initio (e.g., a gentile).28 The former still falls under the umbrella of the general obligation of Kelal Yisrael, despite the exemption.29 A woman, therefore, may-should she so wish-join together with the rest of Kelal Yisrael and perform that ritual from which she is exempt.30 Rabbeinu Tam and the Ashkenazic posekim further maintain that women may also opt to recite the applicable blessing,31 including the word "ve-tsivanu." The phrase, "Who has sanctified us and commanded us," refers not to individual Jews, but to the people of Israel as a singular entity, of which women are an integral part.32
Rabbeinu Tam no doubt intended these guidelines to be applied broadly, so that anyone-man or woman-who is exempt and yet performs a mitsvah may also make the relevant blessing.33 In fact, Rabbeinu Tam supports his ruling, inter alia, from the pleasure expressed by the famous blind amora, R. Joseph,34 at hearing R. Judah's opinion that the blind are freed from the obligation to fulfill positive commandments. R. Joseph erroneously believed that, as one who would be performing such mitsvot on a voluntary basis, he would be worthy of greater spiritual reward than one who is obligated. From R. Joseph's expression of joy, Rabbeinu Tam deduces that when fulfilling a non-obligatory commandment, nothing is altered in its performance-including the recitation of the attendant benedictions. Were this not the case, argues Rabbeinu Tam, why would R. Joseph have been so happy? As a patur ve-ose, he would have been precluded from reciting these benedictions and, hence, from obtaining the concomitant reward! By invoking the blind, male R. Joseph as precedent, Rabbeinu Tam manifestly indicates that his principle is gender-neutral; we are not, as R. Goren assumes, dealing with a special dispensation. Indeed, the halakhic literature is replete with applications of Rabbeinu Tam's patur ve-ose me-vareikh principle to cases not specifically involving women.35
It is apparent, then, that Rabbeinu Tam's principle is equally effective for men and women. Yet, in a case where fewer than ten males are available, R. Goren would acknowledge that Jewish law and tradition prohibit the males assembled from reciting the public prayer texts even on a voluntary basis. Absent the requisite ten men, those praying are not merely exempt from reciting the public prayer texts-no obligation exists, ab initio. Under such circumstances, even R. Goren would agree that the patur ve-ose principle would not apply. Why, then, should it be any different for women?36
Thus, Rabbeinu Tam's heter (permissive ruling) to allow reciting a benediction over the voluntary performance of a commandment is broad in that it applies to both men and women alike. At the same time, however, it is apparently narrow in that it does not apply to those cases where the lack of obligation stems from the absence of a required minyan.
Further investigation, however, demonstrates that the matter is not so simple. While the above analysis indeed reflects the view of the vast majority of scholars, argumentation similar to that of R. Goren has been posited by isolated halakhic authorities in permitting to the individual certain religious practices which are normally communal. The first instance is the custom of reading Hallel on Rosh Hodesh with its attendant blessings. According to many geonim and rishonim, since the recitation of this particular Hallel is a custom, its benedictions can be said only together with a minyan.37 Rabbeinu Tam dissents, however, allowing individuals to recite the Rosh Hodesh Hallel with its berakhot, even in the absence of a minyan-its minhag character notwithstanding.38 Yet a third position is held by the 13th century French Tosafist, R. Samson ben Samson of Coucy (called "HaSar miCoucy"). Invoking the patur ve-ose me-vareikh principle, he argues39 that even if a minyan is required to recite the Rosh Hodesh Hallel with its berakhot, an individual can do so voluntarily, "similar to lulav and tefillin,"40 where women make blessings even though they are not obligated.41
The second case concerns the reading of the Book (or Megilla) of Esther. While the Megilla is generally read on the fourteenth of Adar and on the fifteenth in walled cities, there are circumstances where the Megilla is read as early as the eleventh day of the month.42 Although some difference of opinion exists on the matter, the general halakhic consensus is that the presence of a minyan is only preferable-but not an absolute requirement-when the Megilla is read on its designated date, i.e., on the fourteenth of Adar generally, and on the fifteenth in walled cities.43 But when the Megilla is read at any other time (she-lo bi-zmano), the presence of a minyan becomes a prerequisite for the reading and its attendant blessings (three before and one after).44 Whenever a minyan is required but unavailable, one is perforce freed from the obligation of reading Megillat Ester. Nevertheless, applying Rabbeinu Tam's patur ve-ose me-vareikh principle, R. David Ibn Zimra (Radbaz)45 and R. Israel Jacob Algazi46 argue that an individual should still have the option to read the Megilla with its attendant berakhot, despite the absence of a minyan.
These two examples seem to indicate that a few authorities maintain that Rabbeinu Tam's principle can be used to allow the recitation even of texts carrying a minyan prerequisite. If so, why, according to these authorities, can't the patur ve-ose me-vareikh principle be extended still further-to permit the recitation of public prayer texts in the absence of ten men, as R. Goren contends?
The answer47 lies in a careful review of the Mishna in the tractate of Megilla48 which lists those rituals requiring a quorum of ten participants:
When fewer than ten are present, one may not recite the shema (including kaddish and barekhu) and its attendant blessings in an abbreviated form; nor appoint a hazzan (to repeat the amida with kedusha); nor do the priests bless the congregation; nor do we read the Torah or the haftara (in public with benedictions);48* nor practice the funeral halts; nor pronounce the mourner's benediction, the mourner's consolation (after burial), or the nuptial blessings; nor introduce the blessing after meals using the name of God (zimmun beShem).As Nahmanides notes, not all practices requiring a minyan are included in the Mishna's list. The rituals mentioned are only those communal obligations (hovot ha-tsibbur) for which the halakha49 requires a minyan because of their special sanctity or public character.50 For example, the Mishna includes those prayer rituals designated as "devarim she-bi-kdusha"51-public acts or declarations of the sanctification of the Holy One, such as kaddish, kedusha, barekhu, the priestly blessing, the repetition of the amida, and the reading of the Torah or the haftara with their attendant berakhot. Not included, however, are those rituals which are inherently personal obligations (hovot ha-yahid) but which are performed-for reasons of pirsumei nisa (publicizing the miracle) or the like-within a community setting (e.g., reading the Megilla).
From the unequivocal and forceful language of the Mishna: "Ein . . . [osin] pahot mei-asara"-"One may not . . . [perform these] when fewer than ten are present," it is eminently clear that under no circumstances may the texts enumerated in the Mishna be recited when a properly constituted minyan is absent.52 The Talmud53 underscores this point even further when it states,
How do we know that an individual may not recite kedusha? Because it is written, "And I shall be sanctified amongst the children of Israel"-no act of sanctification (davar she-bi-kdusha) may take place when fewer than ten are present.In such cases, the presence of a minyan is both the trigger and an integral ingredient of these communal obligations. This requirement has little to do with unnecessary benedictions. Thus, without a minyan it is forbidden for anyone-man or woman-to say kaddish even though God's name is nowhere mentioned!
The reading of Hallel or Megillat Esther, by contrast, are not mentioned in the Mishna in Megilla, since they are essentially personal obligations. One may therefore argue, as did the Sar miCoucy and Radbaz, that perhaps in these cases the presence of a minyan is not, in fact, a prerequisite.54 But when dealing with those practices and prayers mentioned in the Mishna, all authorities concur that a minyan must be there; without one, the ritual simply cannot be performed.55 Rabbeinu Tam's patur ve-ose me-vareikh principle may allow the recitation of hovot ha-yahid, personal berakhot, but it cannot allow the recitation of devarim she-bi-kdusha nor any other hovot ha-tsibbur, communal berakhot, such as those listed in the Mishna in Megilla.
In summary, then, R. Goren's position allowing women to perform-on a voluntary basis-a complete public prayer service, leaves much room for serious challenge. While his fundamental logic and analysis are creative and insightful, his conclusions-at least as to the extent that they apply to those public rituals and texts which constitute devarim she-bi-kdusha-appear untenable. When it comes to the latter, the Sages of the Talmud have ruled unambiguously: no act of sanctification (davar she-bi-kdusha) may take place absent of a properly constituted minyan, and, as already noted at the beginning of this paper, in the specific case of public prayer rituals, this must be a minyan of males.56
We close this section by noting that in 1989, R. Goren wrote a clarification of his 1974 responsum.57 In a lengthy letter to former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, R. Goren reiterates that his 1974 correspondence was a personal one, which was publicized against his specific instructions. The original letter contained some purely speculative material, which he certainly never intended to serve as the basis of action (halakha le-ma'ase). On the contrary, it is clear that women cannot form a minyan for public prayer and, hence, cannot alone perform those rituals requiring such a quorum. In light of this retraction, there is apparently no acknowledged more hora'a-recognized halakhic authority-who condones the recitation of devarim she-bi-kdusha at women's services.58 It is noteworthy, however, that at issue in R. Goren's retraction is the recitation of devarim she-bi-kdusha; the late Chief Rabbi does not withdraw his fundamental support from those women's prayer groups which refrain from reciting devarim she-bi-kdusha. We will return to this point in Section C below.
R. Menashe Klein,64 R. David Cohen,65 R. David Feinstein,66 Jerusalem Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shalom Messas,67 R. Leib Baron,68 and the Va'ad HaRabonim of Queens69 have also expressed their objection to women's prayer services, and their responsa echo many of the same issues and arguments put forward by R. Schachter. R. Judah haLevi Amihai (responding at the request of Israeli Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau)70 and R. Efraim Greenblatt71 have challenged women's hakafot. Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu72 and Rabbi Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg73 have penned related prohibitive opinions in reaction to "The Women of the Wall" (Neshot haKotel) controversy.74
Briefly summarizing, the stringent school's opposition to women's services is predicated on six major grounds: 1) in such services, mitsvah actions cannot be fulfilled in their most complete form; 2) the very existence of such services is a misrepresentation of Torah; 3) they contribute to divisiveness within a prayer community; 4) women's prayer groups are a serious, intentional departure from Jewish tradition; 5) these services are foreign to Judaism and violate the biblical prohibition against following non-Jewish religious practices and immodest mores (be-hukoteihem lo te-leikhu); and finally 6) women's prayer services (as well as women's Megilla readings and Simhat Torah hakafot) run counter to the traditionally more private and modest role of the Jewish woman. Let us now turn to each of these points respectively, examining their soundness and cogency.
1. INCOMPLETE FULFILLMENT OF MITSVOT: The RIETS Rashei Yeshiva and R. Messas begin their responsa by noting that even women who participate in truly halakhic women's prayer groups have missed out on the opportunity to take part in the various rabbinic mitsvot connected with a bona fide public prayer service. In particular, by praying in the absence of a minyan, they have forfeited the opportunity of tefilla be-tsibbur (reciting the amida together with a halakhically defined community) and of answering to kaddish, barekhu and the repetition of the amida (hazarat ha-shats) with kedusha or reciting the thirteen attributes. Without these important segments of the service, the prayers of the women's groups are lacking and incomplete.75 What is more, argues R. Schachter, women are actually rabbinically obligated, in the opinion of Magen Avraham,76 to hear the weekly reading of the Torah (keriat haTorah). The latter can be properly performed only with the recitation of barekhu and the berakhot, which, in turn, require a male minyan.77
Similarly, contends R. Schachter, the reading of Ester on Purim, which is incumbent upon both men and women, cannot be properly fulfilled in a service composed solely of women. In support of this contention, R. Schachter cites the ruling that Megillat Ester should preferably be read with a minyan;78 furthermore, for the recitation of the concluding benediction, "Ha-rav et riveinu," such a quorum, according to many views, is indispensable.79 Rama expresses doubt as to whether women can be counted towards a minyan for these purposes.80 Consequently, concludes R. Schachter, a woman can properly fulfill her obligation of hearing the Megilla only in the presence of a male minyan.81
Lastly, R. Schachter points to the mandatory Torah reading of Parshat Zakhor (Deuteronomy 25:17-19), traditionally read on the Shabbat before Purim. He argues that "in the opinion of some of the great latter-day authorities," women, like men, are obligated to hear the reading of this portion of the Torah. In addition, according to some views, this reading carries a biblical requirement for a minyan.82 Furthermore, other halakhic authorities maintain that the attendant blessings are an integral part of the mitsvah.83 Since the reading of Parshat Zakhor with a minyan and its attendant blessings requires the presence of ten adult males, women cannot fulfill their obligation of keriat Parshat Zakhor in its fullest sense in an all-women service.84
The Rashei Yeshiva are indubitably correct that by not praying with men, women forgo reciting those sections of the tefilla reserved for a minyan. It must be emphasized, however, that women, though obligated in private prayer, are freed from any requirement of public worship, tefilla be-tsibbur.85 Furthermore, there is even a minority opinion of several leading posekim who maintain that women sitting in the Ezrat Nashim (a separate women's section or balcony) never fulfill tefilla be-tsibbur.86 Hence, women are equally freed from any need to answer to barekhu, kaddish, kedusha, etc. Similarly, the vast majority of posekim, both rishonim and aharonim,87 totally reject the opinion of Magen Avraham and exempt women from any requirement to hear the Torah reading.
Indeed, actual practice as sanctioned by leading halakhic authorities runs counter to the "incomplete fulfillment" argument as applied to women in these cases. Thus, Magen Avraham88 himself records that, contrary to his aforementioned view, the prevalent custom of the women in his very own community was actually to walk out during the Torah reading. The permissibility of this practice has been reaffirmed in the contemporary period by the noted posek, R. Bezalel Stern.89 In addition, it is well known that the famed R. Elijah of Vilna advised the women of his family not to attend the synagogue altogether.90 Finally, tefilla is part of the regular school day at yeshiva day schools and high schools for women, yet rarely are arrangements made for a male minyan to be present at these times to enable tefilla be-tsibbur and keriat haTorah.
Clearly, women cannot be censured for their non-fulfillment of optional mitsvot. Indeed, it is precisely for this reason that most authorities maintain that women who purposely perform time-determined commandments in an incorrect manner do not violate the biblical injunction, "Every matter which I command you, observe to do it; thou shalt not add thereto nor diminish from it."91 This requires some elaboration.
As noted earlier, women are exempt from the performance of time-determined commandments.92 Should a woman wish to perform such a mitsvah, she is free to do so and will receive the appropriate heavenly reward.93 But what if a woman deliberately decides to perform a time-determined commandment in an incorrect fashion? Certainly, she will accrue no divine credit for her actions, but will she thereby violate any biblical injunction? Let us imagine, for example, a woman who, on Sukkot, takes in her hand only three of the requisite four species with the intention of thereby performing the prescribed religious ritual. A man doing the very same act at the very same time would be viewed as transgressing the above injunction of ". . . nor diminish from it,"94 but most scholars rule that a woman does not violate any injunction and cannot be charged with an "incomplete" fulfillment of the mitsvah. As a general rule, no one-male or female-can be criticized for having performed the mitsvah incorrectly when he or she was under no obligation to perform the ritual in the first place.95
Consequently, a woman who fails to say one of the requisite additions (me-ein ha-me'ora, e.g., ya'ale ve-yavo on festivals) to the amida service, which (according to various opinions) she had no obligation to pray, need not repeat the amida correctly; had a man omitted the very same section, he would certainly be required to recite the amida properly.96 Having had no obligation to pray the amida altogether, the woman's omission of the addition is arguably not a critical flaw-it is not an incomplete fulfillment of the mitsvah.97
The same would hold true, therefore, for women who prefer praying in a women's prayer group rather than with a male minyan. Since women are not obligated in tefilla be-tsibbur to begin with, their prayer-even absent those sections of the service reserved for a minyan-can in no way be deemed flawed.
It should also be noted that inasmuch as tefilla be-tsibbur is not mandatory for women, it is at best a hiddur mitsvah, i.e., a more preferable manner of fulfilling their prayer obligation.98 But praying with greater concentration, understanding and personal meaning-"kavvana"-is also an enhanced and elevated mode of prayer.99 For those women who find that women's prayer groups enable them to pray with increased kavvana, the question then arises: which form of hiddur mitsvah takes priority, tefilla be-tsibbur or kavvana? This question is not unique to women and has been debated with regard to properly constituted male minyanim as well. Many authorities have squarely ruled that praying with increased kavvana takes precedence over tefilla be-tsibbur even for men. Thus, these scholars permit one to pray alone in the privacy of his home,100 or individually, at his own pace, in the synagogue,101 rather than with the community at large, if such allows for greater concentration. In addition, among those posekim who maintain otherwise, namely that tefilla be-tsibbur is to be preferred, some do so on the assumption that communal prayer for men is an obligation, while increased kavvana is merely a hiddur mitsvah.102 Were communal prayer not a bona fide obligation, but simply a meritorious performance of the commandment, then they too might well agree that enhanced kavvana would take priority. It follows that those women who find that their "service of the heart" is of a superior quality when "davening" with an all-women's prayer group can muster significant halakhic authority in support of their forgoing a normative public prayer service in favor of a women's service.103
Turning now to the reading of Megillat Ester: many noted halakhists104 rule that women, unlike men, are not required to hear a public reading of the Megilla.105 Moreover, contrary to the conclusion drawn by R. Schachter, the consensus of leading aharonim106 is that ten women alone do indeed constitute a proper minyan107 for both the reading of the Megilla and reciting of "Ha-rav et riveinu" benediction which follows it.108 As a result of the above two halakhic rulings, it is a prevalent custom worldwide109 to have a second Megilla reading for women, where no provisions are made to have present a minyan of ten men. It would appear, therefore, that the majority of posekim would find no strictly halakhic imperfection in an exclusively women's Megilla reading.
R. Schachter's final argument, concerning Parshat Zakhor, while clearly rooted in the sources, appears to be constructed from minority opinions. First, most authorities rule that only men were commanded to remember the wanton attack on the Israelites by the Amalekite armies; women have no obligation whatsoever to participate in the yearly reading of Parshat Zakhor.110 Moreover, even if women are required to recall the battle with Amalek, it does not necessarily follow that they must fulfill their obligation through a Torah scroll reading, with the usual benedictions, and in the presence of a minyan. Most latter-day scholars reject the idea that a minyan for Parshat Zakhor is biblically mandated,111 and, consequently, that the attendant blessings are an integral part of the fulfillment of the mitsvah.112 Accordingly, many leading posekim allow women to read Parshat Zakhor from a printed Humash or even to recite it by heart in the privacy of their own home.113 The common rationale behind these leniencies is that the requirements of a Torah scroll, minyan and benedictions are all part of the general Torah reading obligation, which is rabbinic in origin and from which women are exempted, as noted above. Consistent with this view is the prevalent custom of a second reading of Parshat Zakhor for women without the appropriate benedictions or the presence of a minyan of men.114 While the precentor for these second readings is commonly male, R. Moses Shternbuch, Vice President of the Rabbinical Court of the Eida haHareidit, states explicitly that women may read this portion themselves from the sefer Torah.115
Interestingly, one of R. Shternbuch's colleagues on the Rabbinical Court of the Eida haHareidit, R. Abraham David Horowitz, forcefully contends that if women are indeed obligated to hear Parshat Zakhor, they too, can constitute a minyan for the reading, certainly by themselves and perhaps even with men.116 Although not cited by R. Horowitz, this position already finds expression in the works of R. Moses Sofer.117
In summary, the stringent school's first criticism of women's services would seem, upon analysis, to boil down essentially to "a call to saintliness." Women are summoned to fulfill all those observances from which Jewish law has specifically exempted them and/or to fulfill the requirements imposed by even minor opinions. Such a halakhic prescription may suit the self-selected spiritual elite, but it is certainly not binding-nor perhaps even advisable-for Jewish women as a group.118
The arguments of the RIETS Rashei Yeshiva lead them to conclude that women may not pray in their own groups; in order for women to fulfill their prayer obligation in a complete fashion, they must pray together with men in a minyan. This line of reasoning, however, equally leads to the conclusion that women should not pray alone at home, but only with men at shul. Nonetheless, we have seen no similarly argued responsum requiring-or even encouraging-women to participate regularly in communal synagogue services, and criticizing women's preference for private prayer. Even on Purim, when there is a special mitsvah of pirsumei nisa (publicizing the miracle), the common custom was for women not to come to the synagogue for Megilla reading, but rather to hear the Megilla in the privacy of their homes.119 In light of the traditions of the past, it is difficult to take issue with the newer women's prayer groups on the grounds of incompleteness.
One final remark before concluding this section of our paper. In his addendum to the responsum by the RIETS Rashei Yeshiva, R. Abba Bronspigel asserts that absent a minyan, "there is no fulfillment of communal prayer (tefilla be-tsibbur) whatsoever."120 With all due respect, this claim is inaccurate. As a number of halakhic authorities have noted,121 there are two basic forms of public worship: 1) individuals collectively praying individually, i.e., in one place at the same time; 2) individuals praying together as a community. While the latter form is by far the more preferred (and therefore required for reciting all devarim she-bi-kdusha), the former, too, has some value over private individual prayer. In addition, while "a community" for purposes of the second form requires a minyan, "in community" for the first form does not. Consequently, while a women's prayer group may not constitute tefilla be-tsibbur of the higher order, that does not mean that "there is no fulfillment of public prayer whatsoever." Women's prayer groups would certainly qualify as public worship in line with the first form.122 Halakhic logic would thus compel one to conclude that for a woman, praying in a women's prayer group is superior to praying alone in the privacy of her own home.
2. MISREPRESENTATION OF THE TORAH (ZIYYUF HATORAH): The second claim of the RIETS Rashei Yeshiva is that women's services misrepresent Jewish law and tradition. They note that some prayer groups aim to demonstrate that women, like men, are capable of carrying out a full public prayer service. They thereby mislead the general public into believing that women may halakhically constitute a minyan and fulfill the obligations normally limited to bona fide tefilla be-tsibbur. Based upon the writings of R. Solomon Luria (Maharshal),123 R. Schachter and his colleagues argue that such misrepresentation (ziyyuf haTorah) is biblically forbidden. Clearly, lying is generally prohibited.124 What is unique about ziyyuf haTorah is the severity of the violation, which, according to Maharshal, is grounds for martyrdom.
R. David Bleich125 concurs, though his target is the innovation of a pseudo-keriat haTorah at the women's service. According to R. Bleich, "the use of a Torah scroll by women who candidly acknowledge that they do not thereby fulfill the rabbinic requirements [for a bona fide keriat haTorah] borders on the farcical." Moreover, "in instituting keriat haTorah, complete with aliyyot (although without recitation of blessings), there is manifest a clear desire to establish a formal, innovative, liturgical ritual." R. Bleich bases his objection on Maimonides' ruling126 forbidding non-Jews to develop religious practices of their own. As R. Bleich explains, the reason for this prohibition is that such an innovative "practice acquires the characteristics and overtones of a divinely mandated ritual and as such itself becomes ziyyuf haTorah-a falsification of the mesora (divine tradition)." This prohibition binds Jews as well, and in his view, the women's service Torah reading, as presently practiced, comes "dangerously close" to violating it.
Before commenting on these charges, it should be noted that contrary to R. Schachter's basic assumption that women never count for a minyan,127 many rishonim and aharonim indicate that women may constitute a minyan-alone or with men-in a variety of instances, although public prayer is not one of them. As we have demonstrated in a previous article,128 practically speaking (halakha le-ma'ase), these rituals include: 1) Megilla reading and the "Ha-rav et riveinu" benediction which follows it; 2) public martyrdom (kiddush Hashem be-rabim); 3) recitation of the Ha-gomel blessing; 4) circumcision; 5) Hanukka candle lighting in the synagogue. Hence, referring to ten women as a minyan in certain cases is not as strange or as misrepresentative as it might seem.
Let us return to the charge of ziyyuf haTorah. R. Yehuda Herzl Henkin129 argues that the comments of Maharshal refer only to a misrepresentation of the Torah, i.e., of biblical commandments, but not of rabbinic injunctions like public prayer or Torah reading. Hence, even if women's prayer groups were misleading, they would not violate Maharshal's prohibition of ziyyuf haTorah. The late Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog130 indicates that the prohibition applies specifically to cases where someone (a non-Jew) questions a point of Jewish law, but not when the information is volunteered.
A more fundamental issue, however, is raised by R. Moses Feinstein,131 who explains that ziyyuf haTorah is prohibited according to Maharshal because it is comparable to denying the validity and immutability of the Torah (ke-kofer beTorat Moshe). As such, this prohibition is limited to those cases in which one explicitly misstates Jewish law, e.g., one states that a particular forbidden action is halakhically permitted, or that non-Jews have the same status in torts as Jews. But where one does not misstate the halakha, this would not constitute ziyyuf haTorah, even if someone could draw an incorrect halakhic conclusion from his behavior.132 Hence, if women's services do not violate any specific halakha and are cautious not to declare-even implicitly-that ten women make a minyan, they cannot possibly be guilty of ziyyuf haTorah. Indeed, such groups refrain from saying kaddish, kedusha, barekhu or other devarim she-bi-kdusha and repeatedly reaffirm their commitment and subservience to halakha. They call themselves "women's prayer (or tefilla) groups" or "women's services," and not "women's minyanim." Forbidding such services because some non-halakhic prayer groups act improperly would be comparable to forbidding public prayer in every synagogue because some errant congregations have mixed pews.
In closing, it should be noted that R. Moses Feinstein,133 R. Isaac Herzog,134 and R. Yehuda Herzl Henkin135 have all indicated that normative halakha clearly does not follow Maharshal. R. Feinstein points to the fact that for hundreds of years, editions of the Talmud, codes, responsa, and other assorted religious texts opened with a disclaimer distinguishing between the halakhic status of the idolaters mentioned in the Talmud and the status of present-day gentiles. The purpose of this disclaimer was to appease the censor, but it was, nevertheless, patently false. Similarly, R. Yehuda Herzl Henkin cites several examples where halakhot were distorted to appease the censor, yet no rabbinic authority objected.136
We turn now to R. Bleich's characterization137 of the keriat haTorah at women's prayer groups as "farcical." Such an analysis assumes that the women's reading of the Torah is devoid of religious value. Proponents have argued, on the other hand, that such readings serve as a vehicle for limud haTorah (Torah study).137* The vast majority of posekim concur that even in the absence of a minyan, there is no prohibition for anyone to learn from a Torah scroll, provided that the keriat haTorah benedictions are not recited.138,139 What is more, R. David Ibn Zimra (Radbaz) and a host of other posekim who cite him140 maintain that because of its greater sanctity, private Torah study from a Torah scroll is actually preferred, provided one reads the words properly accompanied by the ta'amei ha-mikra [intonations].
R. Bleich's citation from Maimonides141 forbidding all religious innovations should not serve as an obstacle for this practice. Rambam certainly could not have intended to forbid religious innovations such as minhagim (customs) or rabbinic ritual. Indeed, it is obvious from a reading of this entire passage that Rambam's intention was to forbid only those religious innovations about which it is falsely claimed that they are divinely binding.142
Thus, this selection from Maimonides' Code is inapplicable for several reasons. First, this practice could not "acquire the characteristics and overtones of a divinely mandated ritual," to use R. Bleich's own words, since keriat haTorah itself is a rabbinic, not biblical, enactment. Second, there is no false claim or misrepresentation if the women "candidly acknowledge that they do not thereby fulfill the rabbinic requirement," as R. Bleich accurately observes. Certainly, halakhic women's services, in which the Torah is read without the introductory barekhu or the usual keriat haTorah benedictions before and after each aliyya, are making a clear statement that this reading is most definitely not a fulfillment of the rabbinic obligation of keriat haTorah. Such a Torah reading may be unnecessary, but it is not misrepresentation.
3. SPLITTING A PRAYER COMMUNITY AND BE-ROV AM HADRAT MELEKH: R. Schachter's third major criticism of women's services is based on the verse, "Be-rov am hadrat Melekh"-"In the multitude of people is the King's glory."143 From this passage, the rabbis derived that it is preferable to perform commandments and rituals together with or in the presence of large numbers of people.144 This principle has been invoked by several posekim to prevent existing minyanim from splitting into smaller groups over petty differences;145 because of be-rov am, the larger, undivided prayer community is clearly preferred. The posekim were willing to entertain approving a split only when the dispute was insoluble (such as differing customs or nusah) or when the rift had already become so deep that the factions were irreconcilable. Since the desire to pray with other women is not of fundamental halakhic importance, it is not a valid reason, argues R. Schachter, for condoning a break-away women's service.146
We note, however, that be-rov am is only one of many possible forms of hiddur mitsvah, of which some forms may be preferred over others. For example, doing a mitsvah at the earliest possible opportunity (zerizin ma-kdimin le-mitsvot) takes precedence over be-rov am.147 For this reason, davening at sunrise (ke-vatikin) even in a small minyan is deemed much preferable to davening later in the day with a much larger congregation.148
Other, more relevant considerations also set aside be-rov am. The responsa literature points out repeatedly that one may daven where he has greater kavvana149 or where there is greater decorum.150 Posekim151 argue very poignantly that the decision of where one has greater kavvana is very personal and highly subjective. In the words of R. Judah Greenwald:152
"If they know in their soul that somewhere else they will daven with greater kavvana, no matter what the reason should be, it is obvious that they can gather elsewhere . . . ."Many generations earlier, R. Samuel de Modina153 likewise stated:
Therefore, it is obvious . . . that one may leave his community to pray with kavvana and . . . the community has no power to force individuals to pray except where they prefer."Hence, the fact that participants in the women's prayer groups testify that their greater involvement heightens their concentration and kavvana has important halakhic ramifications regarding setting aside be-rov am.
Regarding decorum, posekim have repeatedly lamented about the noise in the women's section of many synagogues. In particular, they note that it is so noisy during Megilla reading that they seriously doubt whether women fulfill their obligation.154 The women's services, on the other hand, are generally very quiet, with little unnecessary talking.
More importantly, since women are exempted from the obligations of public prayer and from even coming to the synagogue, they ought not be faulted should they decide not to contribute to the synagogue's be-rov am.155 With respect to the be-rov am of the male participants, there should be no difference whether the women stay home altogether or gather in someone else's home to pray together. Of relevance is Magen Avraham's comment, cited above,156 that the women of his community actually used to exit during the reading of the Torah. Why did Magen Avraham and the other distinguished rabbis of his community condone such behavior? After all, these were not women who stayed home, but those who came to shul and then walked out. Why wasn't the rabbinic leadership of Magen Avraham's community concerned with be-rov am? The answer is simple: if you are not obligated in keriat haTorah and do not have to be present in the first place, there is nothing wrong with deciding not to contribute to the be-rov am of that ritual. Moreover, there is even room to contend that only those who are obligated in a ritual can contribute to the be-rov am quality of that ritual.157 If so, the presence of women has no effect on the be-rov am quality of tefilla be-tsibbur or its associated rituals because Hazal exempted women from public prayer.
Finally, there is substantial evidence in the posekim that women as a rule are not at all obligated in be-rov am. For example, R. Abraham Hayyim Na'eh158 forbids six men who have dined together from splitting into two zimmun units of three each, because of be-rov am; nevertheless, he and Mishna Berura allow three women to break off from three men in order to make their own zimmun.159 Megilla reading for women is another case in point. As noted above,160 be-rov am dictates that Megilla should be read in the largest community possible. Nevertheless, it was common practice for women to absent themselves from the public synagogue reading and hear it instead in the privacy of their homes. This suggests to many leading aharonim that women are not obligated in be-rov am.161
4. DEPARTURE FROM NORMATIVE JUDAISM: The fourth argument raised by nearly all those opposed to women's services is that they are an innovation, unknown prior to the last half of the twentieth century. They are a striking departure from what has been normative practice in the halakhic Jewish community for millennia. Jewish law clearly recognizes the binding force of minhag, accepted custom and usage. Furthermore, admonishes the stringent school, one must be extremely careful about introducing new rituals, lest they weaken the fabric of traditional Jewish observance.162 This danger is compounded when the innovations are not purely personal in nature, but affect synagogue ritual and/or a large segment of the prayer community.163 In addition, vigilance is required where the innovations are not instituted by the righteous and scholarly of the generation, as with women's services.
R. Yehuda Herzl Henkin sidesteps R. Schachter's argument in part by noting that most tefilla groups meet in halls, side rooms of synagogues, or private homes, and not in the main shul sanctuary.164 Thus, one cannot argue that the customs of the shuls have been changed.
R. Eliezer Berkovits165 and Justice Menahem Elon166 question the very premise, namely, that the absence of women's tefilla groups, hakafot or Megilla readings in previous generations establishes a minhag that they are prohibited. The lack of such practices over the past centuries was not the result of any deliberate determination; rather, it merely demonstrates that there was no social need for them.167 The situation would be analogous to the institution of Bat Mitsvah celebrations, which were unheard of in Orthodox Jewish circles several decades ago, yet now enjoy the approval of leading posekim.168,169
This argument requires further explanation. There is a major debate among aharonim regarding a situation in which a community regularly and consistently (ragil u-matsui) refrains from acting in a certain manner-although the action is essentially halakhically permissible. Does such passive behavior, in and of itself, in the absence of a pre-existing pesak halakha le-issur (a restrictive halakhic ruling), constitute a communally binding prohibitive custom (lo ra'inu ra'aya be-minhag),170 or perhaps not (lo ra'inu eino ra'aya)?171 Even according to those who answer in the affirmative, the community's passive behavior creates a minhag only when such inaction resulted from a deliberate and conscious decision. It is not sufficient that the community simply did not act; it had to have decided not to act.172 Moreover, the reason for the decision to refrain from a particular activity must be rooted in the desire for greater halakhic scrupulousness.173
In light of these principles, the lack of women's prayer groups in previous generations cannot serve as the basis for a binding minhag. While the non-appearance of women's tefilla groups in previous generations is obviously passive behavior, there is no evidence-or even a claim-that it resulted from any form of halakhic ruling. Similarly, it was not the consequence of any deliberate or conscious decision to refrain from establishing women-only tefillot-it was simply not done. And finally, the absence of women's services in the past had little to do with halakhic stringency, especially in light of the reality that most women rarely attended shul at all!174
The fact is, however, that women's prayer groups, in which one woman leads many others in prayer, have been around in one form or another ever since the Jews crossed the Red Sea. On the verse,175 ". . . And Miriam sang unto them . . .", the Mekhilta states that just as Moses led the men in song and praise of God, Miriam, his sister, led the women. Midrash Or haAfeila176 posits that with the words recited first by Miriam and then her female entourage, "Sing ye to the Lord, for He is highly exalted,"177 Jewish women accepted upon themselves the obligation of daily prayer.178 Finally, a commentary attributed to R. Sa'adya Gaon notes179 that Miriam sang the 18 verses of the Red Sea song and the women repeated them, just as the hazzan recites the 18 benedictions of the shemone esrei to which the community answers amen. All the above texts suggest that women's praying together-even with a female precentor-has clear roots in Jewish tradition.
Records show that throughout the Middle Ages, certain women were noted because they led groups of women in prayer.180 This institution continued in Europe, and the female precentor later became known as the firzogerin (foresayer), foreleiner (forereader) or zogerke (female sayer). The latter were generally educated and highly literate women who chanted or sang aloud prayers, Psalms and tehinot (supplications), some of which were original compositions. Among Sephardic Jews, on the other hand, there are traditions of a regular women's service with a hazzanit and keriat haTorah. Thus, the late Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Haifa, R. Joseph Messas, writes:
The wont of righteous women is to rise earlier than their husbands and prepare them coffee, then wake them up to worship their Creator and hand them the coffee to restitute their minds, to have kavvana in their prayer. . . . And I saw in a book that in some places in Spain, the "kosher" and learned women used to rise very early to [go to] their synagogue (beit ha-kenesset she-la-hen), and pray together (mit-pallelot be-tsibbur), and appoint one of them as shelihat tsibbur, and take out a sefer Torah; and some of them used to don tefillin, and everyone was wrapped in a tallit, and they used to do so on the Sabbath and Holidays, too. And afterwards they used to return to their homes and wake up their husbands and their sons to get up and pray. And this they used to do as a stringency which they undertook, since women are exempt from time-bound mitsvot, so they will have time to prepare their husbands' needs. And that is why they used to rise early for prayer while their husbands were still asleep. And this settles the correct meaning of the verse, "A nation that rises as a lioness and as a lion" (Numbers 23:24); the female is mentioned first, before the male, for as we have said, both the man and the woman used to rise to worship their Creator, but the woman before the man.180*In the modern period, with the establishment of yeshiva day schools and summer camps for girls, we find-even in the hareidi school system-the natural development of hazzaniyyot who lead their classmates and friends in prayer.181 Hence, women praying together in prayer groups cannot be deemed a departure from normative Judaism.
With regard to a women's Megilla reading as well, the element of innovation is minimal. We have already noted above182 that it is a prevalent custom worldwide to have a second Megilla reading for women. In these special readings, the only man present is the ba'al korei; hence, it is not the presence of exclusively women that is the innovation. The new element in contemporary women's Megilla readings is that now women read for other women. This, however, should present no halakhic problem, since women are also obligated in the mitsvah of Megilla. Until recently, it was rare for women to know how to cantillate the Megilla, but the obstacle was not halakhic. Women were often illiterate and rarely attended services at all.182* Furthermore, since they could not serve as ba'alot keria for a normative Torah reading, they simply had little practical use or reason to learn trop (the traditional cantillations). Finally, in light of the long list of posekim who permit a women's Megilla reading,183 whatever innovative elements there may be in such a practice come with substantial rabbinic approval.
The lightning rod for the charge of innovation focuses, to a large extent, on the pseudo-keriat haTorah at the women's services.183* Nevertheless, the earlier quote from R. Messas would seem to indicate that such Torah readings are not completely without precedent. Furthermore, as noted in section B.2 above, the private reading from a Torah scroll with trop by a woman is not prohibited per se. As in the case of the reading of the Megilla, the fact that women rarely, if ever, did so stemmed from lack of education and related sociological issues rather than halakhic ones. In such a case, too, one can well argue lo ra'inu eino ra'aya.
5. FOLLOWING IN THE WAYS OF THE GENTILES: The fifth argument of the stringent school184 is that women's services violate the biblical injunction, "U-be-hukoteihem lo te-leikhu"-"After the doings of the land of Egypt . . . and the land of Cana'an . . . shall you not do; nor shall you walk in their statutes."185 As understood by the codifiers, this verse admonishes Jews against emulating not only the religious ways of non-Jews, but also their immodest mores.186 Women's prayer services, argues the stringent school, are prohibited on both grounds. First, women's prayer services run counter to normative Jewish religious practice, since women do not lead public ritual. Unfortunately, lament these scholars, non-Jewish influence has had its effect on the Reform and Conservative movements, and from there it has passed to these Orthodox women's groups. What is worse, however, is that the clamor for such women's services is a direct result of the influence of "Women's Lib," a movement based on non-Jewish values and priorities foreign to halakhic Judaism. The primary goals of the Women's Liberation movement are immodest, for it attempts to obfuscate, if not obliterate, male-female sex roles.
On the other hand, as R. Y. Henkin has noted,187 the prohibition of "U-be-hukoteihem lo te-leikhu" is directed towards actions and modes of behavior which imitate established non-Jewish patterns,188 not merely ideas which have parallels in gentile circles.189 In R. Henkin's words: "The Torah does not forbid movements, but actions" (pun intended). Significantly, we would note, the very language of the biblical verse refers explicitly to gentile doings ("ma'ase") and statutes ("hukot").190 The tana'im of Torat Kohanim underscore this very point when they write, "'And in their statutes you shall not walk'-I refer only to statutes which were legislated for them and for their fathers and for their fathers' fathers."191 Only once it has been clearly determined that the practice under scrutiny is a well-established and long-standing gentile custom could it be prohibited for Jews as a violation of "U-be-hukoteihem."
Not surprisingly, therefore, all of the sources mustered by R. Schachter discuss immodest behavior or religious modes with direct parallels in non-Jewish custom or practice. However, non-Jews have no long-standing custom of women's prayer groups. Gentile female laity rarely, if ever, prays as a group without the presence of males. Consequently, Jewish women's services cannot be considered imitation of gentile ways. Absent a clear non-Jewish parallel, women's prayer groups do not-by definition-constitute a transgression of "U-be-hukoteihem lo te-leikhu." Furthermore, even were we to admit for argument's sake that the women's dissatisfaction with the usual services resulted from gentile influences, their response is inherently Jewish. Thus, the practice of women's prayer groups is particularly Jewish.
Moreover, even when dealing with accepted gentile custom, most halakhic authorities hold that such practice is not prohibited for Jews unless its adoption results from an intention to imitate gentile ways. If, however, Jews intend to derive direct benefit from the custom, independent of the fact that gentiles also behave in a similar manner, the practice would not fall within the ambit of the prohibition of "U-be-hukoteihem."192
It was this latter principle that served as the critical basis upon which the noted Torah personalities, R. Yehiel Jacob Weinberg193 and R. Ovadiah Yosef,194 permitted the celebration of a bat-mitsvah. There, too, the new practice was challenged and criticized as a violation of "U-be-hukoteihem."195 However, after a lengthy and scholarly analysis of the nature and limits of "U-be-hukoteihem," R. Weinberg rejects the charge:
For even the Reform of our people do not do so in order to imitate them [i.e., the gentiles], but rather as a family celebration and rejoicing that their children have reached majority. And those of our brethren [i.e., Orthodox Jews] who have newly instituted the custom of bat mitsvah celebration claim that they are doing so to strengthen within the daughter, who has attained an age where the commandments are now incumbent upon her, a feeling of love for Judaism and her mitsvot, and to awaken within her a feeling of pride regarding her Jewishness and regarding her status as a daughter of a great and holy nation (am gadol ve-kadosh). It makes no difference to us that the gentiles as well celebrate confirmation both for boys and girls; they are with their ways and we are with ours. They pray and kneel in their churches and we kneel, bow and give thanksgiving to the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.196Concurring with R. Weinberg's analysis and conclusion, R. Ovadiah Yosef adds strikingly:
And in truth, the prevention of bat-mitsvah celebrations enables criminals to denounce the sages of Israel, as if they deprive the daughters of Israel and discriminate between sons and daughters.197Those Orthodox women who participate in women's prayer groups similarly maintain that their desire to join such groups has nothing to do with gentile practice; on the contrary, it stems from a wish to strengthen their active involvement in Judaism and its mitsvot. These women report that the experience of praying together in an all-women's service truly enhances their Jewish pride; rather than sow dissatisfaction with Jewish tradition, it heightens their awareness that they are indeed members of an am gadol ve-kadosh.197* Assuming these claims are true-and we have no reason to doubt their veracity-the remarks of Rabbis Weinberg and Yosef regarding bat-mitsvah should be equally valid when applied to women's services, mutatis mutandis. Here, too, women's prayer groups would not constitute a violation of "U-be-hukoteihem," for the intention of the participants is not to imitate or resemble comparable groups or practices among the gentiles, but rather to obtain an experience that is wholly Jewish.
6. VIOLATION OF "KOL KEVUDA BAT MELEKH PENIMA": The final issue raised by both Rabbis Schachter198 and Klein199 relates to the traditional role of the Jewish woman. As suggested by the verse,200 "Kol kevuda bat melekh penima"-"All glorious is the king's daughter within [the palace]," and as widely reflected in Jewish law and lore,201 this role is private and home-oriented. For example, based upon kol kevuda, the Talmud and codes indicate that women should not make a habit of going frequently to the marketplace.202 They also record special dispensations made for women in instances where they had to be interviewed by a court.203 Rabbis Schachter and Klein argue that women's prayer groups and hakafot, which build religious ritual around women and place them at the center of attention, run counter to the traditional private role of the Jewish woman.
This criticism, like the previous ones, is not unequivocal. Thus, R. Yehuda Henkin204 argues that kol kevuda, even according to the stringent formulation of Maimonides,205 bars only unnecessary exposure to public life. However, the fulfillment of mitsvot (e.g., visiting parents, aiding the sick and needy, comforting mourners, rejoicing with the bride, etc.) is a perfectly legitimate reason for venturing into the marketplace. If so, going out to pray, be it in shul or at a prayer service, should be no different than fulfilling any other mitsvah.206 Other posekim make it clear that kol kevuda does not apply to an activity which is carried out away from the public thoroughfare and which is all-female or where the sexes are separated.207 Clearly, women's tefilla groups conform to these criteria.
Finally, many posekim maintain that kol kevuda is a relative concept, depending on local habits.208 In this regard, the noted halakhist, R. Sha'ul Yisraeli, states:
It would also seem that the boundaries of kol kevuda bat Melekh penima depend on local custom, and only in communities where women never leave their homes is behavior to the contrary to be considered improper. However, in our generation, religious women work in various offices, hospitals, kindergartens, and schools, and yet no one objects. 209Certainly, from the perspective of kol kevuda, a woman's participation in a prayer group should be no different than her involvement or even leadership role in any other women's organization. In light of twentieth century realities and the unchallenged integration of religious women-hareidi,210 modern Orthodox or otherwise-into all walks of life, the charge of kol kevuda simply does not ring true.
The above analysis leads one to the conclusion that, with all due respect, the halakhic arguments put forward by the stringent school are less than compelling. This school's claim-that women's tefilla groups per se violate Jewish law-seems neither firmly based nor absolutely convincing. This says nothing, of course, about whether such prayer groups are advisable or "a good idea" in the long run. Indeed, many of the issues raised by the stringent school could well be reformulated as Torah-value concerns. We will have more to say later in this paper about such public-policy and hashkafic considerations.
R. Feinstein's position finds expression in a series of responsa and letters spanning a decade. The first of these was a responsum written on 18 Elul 5736 (August 25, 1975) to R. Yehuda Kelemer, then rabbi of the Young Israel of Brookline, Massachusetts. R. Kelemer has shared with us214 that his question, as posed to R. Feinstein dealt, in reality, with women's hakafot. R. Kelemer had initially turned to R. Soloveitchik, but after expressing his own negative opinion on the subject,215 R. Soloveitchik encouraged R. Kelemer to discuss the matter with R. Feinstein as well. In their conversation, R. Feinstein related specifically to women's hakafot, clearly discouraging R. Kelemer from allowing the practice in his synagogue.215* In his written-and later published216-responsum, however, R. Feinstein chose to address the broader issue of the Women's Liberation movement. Inter alia, R. Feinstein writes:
Indeed, all women are permitted to perform even those commandments which the Torah did not obligate them [to do], and they have fulfilled a mitsvah and [receive] reward for the performance of these commandments. . . . Nevertheless, it is obvious that this is so only if her soul desires to fulfill mitsvot even though she is not commanded [to do so]. However, since her intention is not such, but rather, she is motivated by her grievance with God and His Torah, her deed is not to be considered a mitsvah-action at all, but on the contrary, a forbidden action. For she is violating the prohibition of heresy-since she thinks that the laws of the Torah are subject to change-[not only in thought, but] also in deed, which is [all the more] serious.Although this responsum was written in 1975, as noted above, it appeared in print only in 1982. It did not take long thereafter for various rabbis to request that R. Feinstein further clarify his position. The first such clarification was, unfortunately, not written by R. Feinstein himself, but by his secretary and grandson, R. Mordechai Tendler, on R. Moshe Feinstein's stationery. The May 1983 teshuva, though, is based upon R. Tendler's discussions with his grandfather.217 A full translation of this unpublished-although by now famous-responsum follows:
14 Sivan 5743In a recent conversation, R. Tendler explained that his grandfather regularly utilized the term "ba'alei hora'a" to designate those rabbis who were of a stature to serve as posekim in the more intricate areas of Jewish law, such as the laws of nidda (family purity) and Hoshen Mishpat (monetary matters). Only such rabbis were of the caliber necessary to rule on halakhic issues with far-reaching communal ramifications.217* A few months after the above responsum appeared, a subsequent, undated, English218 clarification was issued, again penned by R. Mordechai Tendler on R. Feinstein's stationery. It reads as follows:
To my friend, Rabbi Meir Fund Shlita,
My grandfather's position, as published in Iggerot Moshe O.H., IV, sec. 49, is well known, and I cite it here for emphasis only: "However, since her intention is not such, but rather, she is motivated by her grievance with God and His Torah, her deed is not to be considered a mitsvah-action at all, but on the contrary, a forbidden action. For she is violating the prohibition of heresy-since she thinks that the laws of the Torah are subject to change-also in deed, which is serious."
De facto, it is hard to find an instance where this fault will not be present, and, hence, it is difficult to say about any "women's minyan" that there is no problem with them. Only theoretically speaking can one say that if there exists a group of pious women whose considerations are solely for the sake of Heaven and are without questioning of God's Torah and Jewish custom-why should we prevent them from praying together?
They may also read from the Torah, though they should be careful not to do so in such a manner as to create the erroneous impression that this constitutes keriat haTorah. Thus, for example, they should not recite the Torah benedictions aloud, but should either rely on the benedictions recited earlier [in birkhot ha-shahar] or, in a case where they have not yet made these blessings, should recite them privately.
And, of course, there are other details about which one has to be wary, and all those responsible for halakhic decisions (ba'al hora'a) should act in this matter in accordance with this viewpoint.
Allow me to conclude with wishes that your rabbinate will be for the sake of Heaven and shed glory on God and his Torah.
P.S. Nor is there any real prohibition for a menstruant to look at or touch the Torah, even though it is proper to be stringent; nevertheless, it has become widespread that women are lenient in this regard.
In the last few months, there have been numerous requests of rabbanim [rabbis], rashei kehillot [community leaders], and members of women's organizations for clarification of the letter written in my Grandfather's shlita"h name to Rabbi Fund. Upon consultation with my Grandfather shlita"h the following clarification is being offered. As stated in my letter, the detailed discussion was purely in a theoretical sense. My grandfather pragmatically feels that the possibility of a group of women, or for that matter men, existing in any one community which will fulfill the lengthy philosophical criteria mentioned in his printed teshuvah is extremely remote. Therefore, realistically speaking, he doesn't commend or actually condone the establishment of women's prayer groups.R. Feinstein's final teshuva was given orally in October 1985 and was quite unequivocal. R. Chaim Spring requested that R. Mordechai Tendler discuss with his grandfather the propriety of a women's Megilla reading held yearly in Rehovot, Israel. R. Tendler answered that R. Feinstein had no objections to such a reading.219 It must be acknowledged, though, that inasmuch as women are fundamentally halakhically obligated in hearing the Megilla, the notion of a women's Megilla reading poses less of a problem for rabbinic authorities than does the idea of a women's prayer group. As a result, many posekim220-including some who oppose women's prayer groups221-concur that there is no halakhic problem with women reading Megilla for themselves, individually or in a large group.
Rav Mordechai Tendler
Segan le-Mori Savi ha-Gaon Rav Moshe Feinstein Shlit"a
As already noted, a similar approach to women's services has been adopted across the Atlantic as the official policy of the office of the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain in consultation with the London Beit Din. The text of their ruling reads as follows:
In principle, there is no objection to women organizing a prayer group along the lines described in your letter [i.e., the service would be held in the city's synagogue and the kaddish, kedusha and blessing on the Torah would be omitted]. Nevertheless, women ought not exclude themselves from attendance at services at which they can hear and respond to those parts for which a minyan of men is required, i.e., borchu, kaddish, kedusha, and reading of the Torah with berachot. In practice, therefore women's prayer group should preferably be limited to the recitation of such prayers as are not compromised by the absence of a minyan, such as the kabbalat shabbat service before borchu on Friday nights, or hallel when applicable.The practical aspects of the approach of this middle school will be discussed at length in the second part of this paper.223 However, there is a proviso, stipulated by these scholars, which deserves special attention. Namely, they require that such services must be spiritually and sincerely motivated; they cannot be sanctioned if they are inspired by a desire to rebel against halakha. Although R. Jakobovits clearly assumes that this condition can realistically be fulfilled, R. Feinstein is quite skeptical and, hence, never endorsed women's prayer groups in practice. Nevertheless, R. Feinstein, as cited by R. Tendler in his May 1983 responsum, leaves the door open for acknowledged halakhic decisors (ba'alei hora'a) to make the final determination as to whether this motivational condition can and will be met.224 Indeed, R. Nachum Rabinovitch, while sharing R. Feinstein's hesitations, nonetheless maintains that there are women's groups which meet R. Feinstein's criterion of le-shem shamayyim (for the sake of Heaven). Each case, emphasizes R. Rabinovitch, must be examined on its own merits.
The most important consideration, however is the motive underlying the request. If this is genuinely put forward by observant students seeking, as you write, "a religiously fulfilling experience," it is one thing and the above guidelines could be applied. But if the true intention is to challenge the accepted by symbolic reforms, then clearly greater caution is called for. As a protest action, what begins with relatively minor modifications may well end with far more serious violations of accepted practices. . . .
On the question of women using a sefer Torah, the consideration you mention [the halakhot of nidda] can be disregarded. But since the usual Torah blessings cannot be recited, they might as well use a Humash for Torah readings.222
Former Deputy President of the Israeli Supreme Court, Justice Menachem Elon, in his noted "The Women of the Wall" decision, underscores the significance of this motivational element:
A well-established principle in the world of Halakha-when enacting legislation, establishing custom, or introducing changes in them-is that the observance of a ritual must be performed with the intent and purpose of fulfilling the mitsvah and not out of a motivation to disregard a halakhic rule (din) because of "extraneous considerations." [Such "extraneous considerations"] include the fundamental objection to, and offense taken from, women's essential exemption [from certain commandments and rituals]. . . . This requirement is counted among the value-based precepts of the halakhic system, which serves as a major factor in determining the judicial policy of the Halakha in general, and in sensitive and unique issues, such as the one before us, in particular.225R. Rabinovitch suggests an additional proviso for the institution of women's tefilla groups. One must acknowledge that these prayer groups are novel, emanating from the fundamental societal change that has occurred in the role of contemporary women. However, circumstances and needs may vary from community to community. As such, women's tefillot and hakafot should be held only if and when the women of a particular community themselves express a need for them and initiate the matter. The community rabbi, in this regard, should be responsive-not innovative.225*
For R. Avraham Shapiro, the above-mentioned proper motivation is a necessary, though insufficient, precondition; the mara de-atra (community rabbinical authority) must also be certain that the innovation poses no danger to the integrity of halakha and mesoret Yisrael (Jewish tradition). Should there exist any real concern that such a change might perhaps serve as a springboard for greater, non-halakhic reform, then even inherently permissible modifications are prohibited.225** Like R. Feinstein, R. Shapiro maintains that these determinations, by their very nature, should be made only by those rabbinic authorities to whom one entrusts serious halakhic issues, such as nidda and igun. All relevant factors need to be considered, including, inter alia: the reasons for and circumstances of the request; the petitioners; the character and constitution of the particular community; and the atmosphere of the times. Only one who knows all of the pertinent facts and is sensitive to all the impacting elements can issue the necessary pesak.
R. Shapiro's remarks raise a number of critical topics which will be explored more fully in the remaining chapters of this paper. At this juncture, however, we can simply summarize the position of the middle school as follows: a women's prayer service can be performed within the guidelines of halakha. Nevertheless, the issues of motivation and halakhic integrity must be of primary and paramount concern to the rabbinic authorities in considering, on a case by case basis, whether to allow such services in practice.
We do not mean to imply that tefilla groups are unaware of or insensitive to these public policy issues. Indeed, for fear of splitting the community, many groups have agreed to meet only at times when women do not normally come to shul-on a Sunday morning, Erev Rosh Hodesh, or Shabbat afternoon. Other groups have consciously attempted to play down the innovative element of their meetings, placing greater emphasis on communal learning. Nearly all have a local Orthodox rabbi or some other rabbinic personality to guide and advise them. Nevertheless, most of the aforementioned queries have no easy or "right" answers. It may require decades before the long-term effects of this innovation can be accurately measured.
Jewish law clearly empowers rabbinic decisors to forbid otherwise permissible actions or innovations because of public policy considerations.226 Such prohibitions commonly appear in the halakhic literature under the general rubric of le-mi-gdar milta (protective ordinances). Thus, a posek may have some concern that a lenient ruling will harm the unity of his community or weaken his congregants' commitment to tradition. Alternatively, the rabbi may fear that his balabatim (community members) will misunderstand, misuse, or abuse a theoretical leniency and as a consequence will ultimately come to violate actual prohibitions. Regarding the issue at hand, our conversations with community rabbis confirm that the furor surrounding the institution of novel practices within the women's services, and the fear that more radical changes are in the offing, have prevented many from supporting or even cooperating with these groups.
Two caveats regarding public-policy-based prohibitions are in order. First, it is imperative to note that the consensus of codifiers maintain that public policy considerations, no matter how justified, do not entitle the rabbinic authority to misrepresent halakha. A posek need not give a rationale for his ruling, but if he feels it necessary to outline some or all of the reasons behind a non-permissive ruling, he must be halakhically accurate in his presentation. For example, a posek has to be careful not to 'upgrade' a public-policy consideration by claiming that it is rabbinically or biblically forbidden; nor should a rabbinic authority even suggest one source for the prohibition when he is fully aware that it is not applicable, and is in fact another. Depending on the case, misrepresenting halakha and/or giving an erroneous reason for a prohibition may well involve violation of one or more of the following injunctions: adding to the Torah (bal tosif);227 lying;228 and ziyyuf haTorah.229 In addition, misrepresentation often results in unlawful leniencies in other areas,230 needless gossip and hate, as well as hillul Hashem (desecration of God's name) and a total loss of trust in rabbinic authority should the truth become known.231
Our second caveat relates to the ease with which such public-policy prohibitions may be invoked. While there do not seem to be strict guidelines, it is clear that this authority to be stringent must be used sparingly. Halakha clearly warns against unnecessary and unwarranted prohibitions, suggesting that posekim must be lenient wherever Jewish law allows.232 And, as has been so insightfully noted by R. Abraham Isaac haKohen Kook, this is all the more required in the modern period:
The wont of our saintly rabbinic scholars . . . was not to lean towards stringency in all matters where there was room to be lenient. . . . For it should suffice us if we are meticulous in following those traditions already enacted by our teachers and posekim.233 But regarding issues for which there are arguments on either side, certainly [the posek] who is inclined to be lenient, to be wise and beneficent, is to be praised-this provided that his decision is based firmly on halakha and sound logic. . . .And I have already written you, honorable Torah scholars, that I know well the nature of our generation. For only if they see that all that which is permissible by law we [rabbis] permit, will they come to learn that that which we prohibit is indeed not permissible by true Torah law. . . .234
The take-home message would seem to be that a contemporary posek who feels that an action which is halakhically permissible would nevertheless be ill-advised, might be wise to convince his congregants of the wisdom of his position or use the weight of his person and his office to dissuade them from the proposed action. Prohibition should not be used loosely.
R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, like R. Feinstein, was of the view that a women's prayer service, if properly structured, could be conducted in accordance with halakha. Nonetheless, the Rav was most hesitant about women's tefilla groups as a general practice and felt that they should not be encouraged. Consistently, he would recommend to his students not to hold such services. R. Soloveitchik's negative attitude towards women's services emanated not only from his doubts as to whether the halakhic guidelines would be scrupulously followed. He also expressed concern regarding numerous other hashkafic and public-policy issues which relate to the fundamental nature of religious practice and community.
As a rule, R. Soloveitchik gave great credence to established Jewish custom and tradition, especially in the area of prayer and the synagogue. Consequently, the Rav was quite conservative when it came to changing minhagim.237 Minhag beit ha-kenesset (synagogue custom) constituted proper Jewish shul etiquette, and its modification was to be allowed only with the utmost caution.238 Women's prayer groups with Torah reading, hakafot, etc. was, for the Rav, a clear deviation from Jewish prayer forms. That alone was sufficient reason for the Rav to withhold his support for the emerging practice.239
On a pragmatic level, the Rav feared for what he termed "brinkmanship." He was worried that if the rabbis gave in on those matters of synagogue practice where there was admittedly some room for flexibility, it might well lay the ground for a call for change in other areas of halakha as well-areas where there was little or perhaps no room for maneuvering. How would the rabbis respond then? And, should the rabbis indeed resist further attempts for change, how would the women cope with the heightened sense of frustration they would most likely experience?240
But more importantly, the Rav was uncertain as to what precisely the women participating in these services were seeking: greater spirituality resulting from increased kiyyum ha-mitsvot (fulfillment of the commandments), or-consciously or not-something else, perhaps public peer approbation, conspicuous religious performance, or a sense of equality with men. If the real motivating factor was any of the latter, it was likely that a women's tefilla group would not truly satisfy their religious needs; on the contrary, the women's services would merely foster increasingly unfulfillable expectations, resulting in greater frustration and perhaps even a break with halakha.
R. Soloveitchik believed he had good reason to doubt that greater fulfillment of mitsvot motivated many of these women, as illustrated in the following story, related to us by R. Yehuda Kelemer, former Rabbi of the Young Israel of Brookline, Massachusetts. During the mid 1970's, one of R. Kelemer's woman congregants at the Young Israel of Brookline was interested in wearing a tallit and tsitsit during the prayer services. After R. Kelemer had expressed to her his hesitations about the matter,241 she approached R. Soloveitchik-who lived in Brookline-on the matter. The Rav explained that in light of the novelty of the action, it needed to be adopted gradually. Accordingly, he suggested that she first try wearing a tallit without tsitsit (which is, of course, allowed for women.) The Rav asked the woman to return to him after three months, at which time they would discuss the matter further. When the two met once again, she described to R. Soloveitchik the magnificent nature of her religious experience in wearing the tallit. The Rav pointed out to the woman that wearing a tallit without tsitsit lacked any halakhically authentic element of mitsvah. It was obvious, therefore, that what generated her sense of "religious high" was not an enhanced kiyyum ha-mitsvah, but something else. Under such circumstances, the Rav maintained, wearing a tallit was an inappropriate use of the mitsvah. Consequently, the Rav forbade the woman from wearing a tallit with tsitsit.
The Rav's motivational concern extended to the entire phenomenon of women's prayer groups. After all, the women engaged in a women's service were missing out on tefilla be-tsibbur, the recitation of various devarim she-bi-kdusha, and a proper, halakhic Torah reading-available to them only if they attended a regular minyan. Granted, women are exempt from the obligations of public prayer, but the Rav was deeply disturbed that women who had consciously chosen not to stay and pray at home, but rather to participate in a women's tefilla group, were actively and deliberately opting for the inauthentic in place of the authentic.242 Under such circumstances, the Rav found it difficult to accept the assertion that it was the desire for enhanced kiyyum ha-mitsvot which was propelling these women.243,244
At the same time, the Rav was equally perturbed by the attitude of the many women who viewed women's prayer groups as an authentic, alternative form of tefilla be-tsibbur (public prayer), or at least an authentic, valid alternative to tefilla be-tsibbur. Thus, the hashkama minyan, the main shul minyan, the beginners' minyan, the teenage minyan and the women's service were all being perceived as equally halakhically valid choices in the spectrum of tefilla be-tsibbur. This was clearly not the case, and the Rav charged that those rabbis who gave the women's prayer groups the "go ahead" were misleading them.
In later years, the Rav grew increasingly distraught with the direction the women's prayer groups were taking and their possible impact on Jewish life. While recognizing that many of the women involved in the groups were sincerely motivated by their desire for greater spirituality and kavvana, he expressed regrets that other women were co-opting the services for their own non-halakhic social agendas. He further articulated his concern as to the confusion women's services might generate in light of the general egalitarian movement within Conservative and Reform Jewry. He was also wary that allowing maximal diversity in religious experience might weaken the fabric and cohesiveness of the community. And in practice, he instructed his students to avoid any formal affiliation between synagogues and the women's prayer groups.
Yet, the Rav repeatedly emphasized to those who discussed with him the subject of women's prayer groups that his objections were predicated primarily on hashkafa and public policy, not strict halakha. It is for this reason that R. Soloveitchik declined to sign his name to the aforementioned responsum of the five RIETS Rashei Yeshiva245 opposing women's tefilla groups-despite numerous attempts to get the Rav to do so.246 What is more, R. Soloveitchik instructed his shamash at the time, R. Kenneth Brander, that if anyone should ever assert that he did, in fact, sign the responsum, then R. Brander should publicize the falsity of the claim. The explanation the Rav gave for this refusal was that the RIETS Rashei Yeshiva had based their objections on supposedly halakhic grounds, while his overriding concerns were of a hashkafic and public-policy nature.247,248 The Rav felt strongly that the line between strict halakha and public policy must not be blurred. This does mean that the Rav's opposition to women's prayer groups was in any way weaker; any practice which runs counter to a Torah-based hashkafa or public policy is, in the Rav's view, wrong.248* Nonetheless, the character of R. Soloveitchik's objection to these groups was substantively different from that of the objections raised by the RIETS Rashei Yeshiva.
As just noted, the focus of the various considerations cited above is on the community level and the public-policy wisdom of allowing a women's tefilla group as an alternative to regular communal prayer. However, many of the issues enunciated above are less applicable when the prayer group in question is to take place in an educational setting, such as a school. Consequently, in 1972, the Rav initially supported the establishment of a women's tefilla at the Maimonides School in Brookline, Massachusetts, provided that the devarim she-bi-kdusha were omitted.249 R. Soloveitchik even suggested that, following the amida, in lieu of these devarim she-bi-kdusha, the women should recite the traditional replacements said by those who have prayed in the absence of a minyan.250 He had no hesitation about women reading from the sefer Torah, but insisted that they not recite any form of birkhot haTorah (limud or keria) in any pseudo-keriat haTorah.251 (On a separate occasion in a related matter, the Rav emphasized252 that no men at all should be present at a women's service at any time, lest it turn into a spectator event.)253
Upon further reflection, though, the Rav withdrew his support for a women's tefilla group, even in an educational framework, for fear that his halakhic ruling would be misunderstood, misused and misapplied-that people would fail to distinguish between educational settings and communal ones. Interestingly, the issue arose at Maimonides a second time in 1974. The Rav again informed the teachers and administration that the services were permitted on strictly halakhic grounds-he even gave them the aforementioned guidelines-but indicated that he was not happy with the entire idea. Thus, the move never gained momentum and died.254
R. Soloveitchik's view on women's hakafot was in keeping with his general position on women's prayer groups. Here, too, the Rav did not, as a rule, find clear halakhic objections to the practice. He did forbid taking the Torah scrolls outside the synagogue because of the prohibition of tiltul sefer Torah-the halakhically unnecessary transfer of a Torah scroll outside the synagogue or to another building.255 This is a sign of disrespect to the Torah, for people should come to the Torah, not vice versa.256 However, as R. Aharon Lichtenstein has noted, if the women's hakafot were in the synagogue, but in the women's section, tiltul sefer Torah per se would not be of issue.257 The Rav also stated that there was no problem with women's holding a sefer Torah, even when they were niddot (menstruants).258 Yet, for all the hashkafic and public- policy reasons indicated above, the Rav was clearly not in favor of the practice-whether the hakafot took place in the synagogue or some other venue.259 To a certain extent, R. Soloveitchik was more opposed to women's hakafot than he was to women's services. After all, women were obligated in prayer-and, according to R. Soloveitchik, they were obligated thrice daily.260 Therefore, the Rav was more understanding of the desire to enhance the experience of tefilla. There is, however, no such parallel obligation or mitsvah of hakafot for women; consequently, the Rav saw little reason to be accommodating in this area.261
It appears that during the early 1970's, R. Soloveitchik was less emphatic about his objection to women's hakafot, despite his displeasure with them. Nonetheless, as the years passed and the Rav's discomfort with the direction things were taking grew, he would unequivocally express his opposition to women's hakafot, even in an educational setting, to anyone who came to ask his opinion on the subject.262 In fact, in one instance, the Rav even volunteered to appear before a shul board to personally convey his objections to such hakafot.262* R. Soloveitchik often expressed his extreme annoyance at being cited as the authority who had supposedly sanctioned women's hakafot.263 The Rav would acknowledge that women's hakafot violate no strictly halakhic prohibition; nonetheless, he consistently recommended against them. That, for the Rav, was not a heter. On the contrary, in the mid 1970's R. Soloveitchik indicated to his nephew, R. Moshe Meiselman, that he viewed women's hakafot as a breach of proper synagogue etiquette.264
R. Soloveitchik also ruled on numerous occasions against having a women's Megilla reading. Here, however, the Rav's considerations were rooted in halakha. As noted above, the reading of Megillat Ester should preferably be carried out in the presence of a minyan; also, many posekim hold that a minyan is indispensable for reciting the concluding benediction, Ha-rav et riveinu.265 While most authorities agree that ten women constitute a minyan for both mikra Megilla and for the recitation of Ha-rav et riveinu, a significant minority dissent.266 Because the Rav preferred that women fulfill their Megilla obligation according to all views (la-tseit kol ha-de'ot le-kha-tehila), he strongly advised women to be stringent to hear mikra Megilla in the presence of an all-male minyan.267
For the Rav, neither life nor halakha was simplistic; not every "shaila" could be answered with a superficial response of "mutar" (it is allowed) or "assur" (it is forbidden). The "ish ha-halakha" (halakhic man) does not live in a theoretical vacuum; he must also be sensitive to the need for a public policy. The possible impact of a pesak upon the Jewish community is a critical factor which the posek has to take into account before he renders his decision. Yet, at the same time, intellectual and analytical integrity has to be preserved. The Rav's approach to women's prayer groups is a delicate balance between these various halakhic considerations, recognizing their distinct character and, consequently, their relative weight. Thus, the Rav could forthrightly state that a particular action violated no halakhic prohibition, while at the same time counsel against its performance on hashkafic and public-policy grounds. Unfortunately, many of his talmidim apparently failed to appreciate this fine balance-some pulling too far le-heter (towards permissibility), others pulling too far le-humra (towards stringency). But the Rav himself adamantly refused to be drawn to extremes.
As already mentioned above, R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik was not the only gadol baTorah who objected to women's prayer groups on the grounds of hashkafa and public policy. Although the two never discussed the matter, this view is also shared by the Rav's younger brother, R. Ahron Soloveichik.268 In short, he too maintains that, in principle ("mei-ikar ha-din"), women's tefilla groups are, in and of themselves, permissible ("mutarot mi-tsad atsman"), provided that devarim she-bi-kdusha and berakhot for a public Torah reading are not recited. Nonetheless, R. Ahron Soloveichik, as well, strongly recommends against such groups based on hashkafic and public-policy considerations.
Not surprisingly, almost all of the specific concerns expressed by R. Ahron Soloveichik overlap with those articulated by the Rav, although at times their precise formulations vary. Thus, like the Rav, R. Ahron Soloveichik is especially concerned lest the women who participate in such groups are motivated not by a greater desire for the service of God, but by the social values and agenda of the Women's Liberation movement. In R. Ahron Soloveichik's opinion, the woman's role as reflected in feminist values runs counter to that of Jewish law and tradition. Consequently, new religious forms which result from these values are not likely to be beneficial to Judaism. In light of the communal ramifications of women's prayer groups, and in contradistinction to the rabbis of the "middle school" described above, R. Ahron Soloveichik contends that the posek cannot simply review the motivation of each particular tefilla group on an individual basis. Rather, he must be concerned with a generational perspective-examining the motivation of the majority of Orthodox women who desire to participate in these prayer groups. R. Ahron Soloveichik openly acknowledges that, were he convinced that the motivation of this majority was le-shem shamayyim (for the sake of heaven), he would find no fault with women's prayer groups. However, in R. Ahron Soloveichik's estimation, the facts today are otherwise, and he therefore strongly advises against their establishment.269
R. A. Soloveichik further expressed his fear that the feminist overtones of the tefilla groups might lead to two additional halakhically undesirable results. The first is the mistaken impression that ten women can indeed constitute a proper minyan for tefilla be-tsibbur or devarim she-bi-kdusha. R. Soloveichik is well aware that the members of most of the prayer groups are careful not to call themselves a minyan, nor do they recite devarim she-bi-kdusha. Yet, notes R. Soloveichik, there is a deliberate attempt to construct and conduct the women's tefilla so that it approximates and conforms as closely as possible to the structure and content of a regular minyan, including a pseudo-hazarat ha-shats, reading from a sefer Torah, birkhot haTorah, aliyyot, maftir, etc. While these practices may technically be halakhically permissible, their designed mimicry of a regular minyan service is potentially deceptive and misleading (geneivat da'at ha-beriyyot270).271
Moreover, R. Soloveichik is troubled by the prospect that rabbinic approval for women's tefilla groups might be interpreted as an implicit validation of the claims and principles of feminism, thus leading to hillul Hashem (a desecration of God's name).272 This hillul Hashem would be aggravated were the rabbinic approval for women's prayer groups viewed incorrectly as an acknowledgment that women can constitute a proper minyan, contrary to the halakhic rulings and practice of the past.
These same considerations have prevented R. Ahron Soloveichik from allowing women's hakafot with a sefer Torah or Megilla readings.273 In practice, however, he has counseled his students to refrain from either encouraging or discouraging these latter practices, especially where the local rabbi's active opposition would cause controversy in the community and possibly lead to a split in the congregation.
The Av Beit haDin of the Rabbinical Council of America, R. Gedalia Schwartz, has also adopted a position very similar to that of the Rav and R. Ahron Soloveichik.274 R. Schwartz expresses some hesitation regarding various specific practices of the women's prayer groups, particularly the removal of a sefer Torah from the Ark for a non-obligatory function, which may entail zilzul (disrespect) for the Torah Scroll.275 Nevertheless, he candidly acknowledges that most of the issues involved do not constitute clear violations of halakha (issur gamur), provided devarim she-bi-kdusha and berakhot for a public Torah reading are omitted.
Still, like many of the other halakhic authorities cited above, R. Schwartz has serious concerns regarding the motivation of those women who prefer a women's tefilla group to a regular minyan. Equally disturbing to R. Schwartz is his fear, based on more than three and a half decades of experience in the American pulpit rabbinate, that the development of women's prayer groups will generate fragmentation and bitter dispute within the Jewish community. The Av Beit haDin also emphasizes that the issues of motivation and divisiveness are critical considerations within the parameters of Jewish Law.276 The responsible ba'al hora'a cannot ignore their significance, and they remain integral elements of any halakhic decision-all the more when dealing with synagogue custom. Moreover, he notes, these factors must be examined not merely as they pertain to any specific group of women; the posek must take into account their possible impact upon the Jewish world as a whole. At the same time, the weight given to any one element may vary from generation to generation and situation to situation. On balance, R. Schwartz believes that today's communal conditions suggest firm restraint on the creation of women's prayer groups.
A careful reading of the positions of the Rav, R. Ahron Soloveitchik, and R. Gedalia Dov Schwartz reveals that they, too, are sensitive to many of the same aspects raised by the "stringent school": motivation, misrepresentation, the continuity of established Jewish custom and tradition, and the maintenance of Torah values. But they do not perceive these issues as matters of strict halakha per se, but rather of hashkafa and public policy. Moreover, it must be emphasized that they all were careful and deliberate in refraining from formally invoking the category of le-mi-gdar milta, despite ample opportunity to do so. They preferred instead to use the force of their personalities and standing with their talmidim and colleagues to "strongly recommend" against women's prayer groups, without explicitly declaring them assur.277 Within the broad framework of the halakhic system, the classification of the rationale is not merely technical; it has significant ramifications and implications as to their mutability and flexibility in reaction to time and place, as will be further expounded in our concluding chapter.
In the clash of opinions and approaches regarding this important, complex and sensitive topic, arguments have not been limited solely to clarifying the law. Attention has also been focused on the values of the world of Halakha-which are also part of the law in its broader sense-and the manner in which these values should be applied to the issue at hand. There has been particular concern with both the "is" and the "ought," with the formulation of proper judicial-halakhic policy based on the foundations of the past, in light of the reality of the present, and in view of the aspirations of the future. These are accepted and legitimate considerations in the world of Halakha in general, and they hold an especially critical position in a sensitive issue such as that before us. . . ." 278While the purely legal component-based upon objective and reasoned halakhic analysis-will remain more or less constant, the public-policy element calls for continuous review and reexamination by the Torah giants of each generation. After all, needs, sensitivities and public-policy concerns change with time and location.279 What may have been a valid concern in 1970 may no longer be substantive as we approach the year 2000; and what may not have been of concern three decades ago, may today be critical.
Perhaps there is no better example of the fluxional nature of hashkafa and public policy than the question of women mourners saying kaddish. While the general tendency of scholars for many centuries has been to dissuade women from saying kaddish, the modern period has heard a substantially different tone.280 Thus, in his discussion of this topic, R. Ahron Soloveichik argues:
Nowadays, when there are Jews fighting for equality for men and women in matters such as aliyyot, if Orthodox rabbis prevent women from saying kaddish when there is a possibility for allowing it, it will strengthen the influence of Reform and Conservative rabbis. It is therefore forbidden to prevent women from saying kaddish.281In a similar spirit, R. Yehuda Herzl Henkin writes in connection with the lenient ruling of his grandfather, the outstanding American posek, R. Joseph Elijah Henkin:282
We are left where we started; at issue is essentially a question of policy and not issur ve-heter. In this context, my grandfather's words are worth repeating: "It is known that were it not for kaddish, many would refrain from teaching prayer to their sons and would not come to synagogue. When they come because of kaddish, they also come a bit closer to Judaism the rest of the year; and for that reason itself, one should not rebuff the na'arot either, since it fosters closeness to Judaism." On questions of policy, others may legitimately disagree. We should support any rabbi who declares, "While such a practice may be technically according to Halakha, in my opinion it would have dangerous consequences in my community and so I will not permit it"-although I would urge careful consideration of my grandfather's approach even in the white heat of current controversy; also see Benei Vanim, I, no. 37, sec. 12. What must be avoided is the confusion of Halakha with polemics.283In the same vein, the door always remains open for a public-policy reevaluation of women's prayer groups by Torah authorities.284 The significance of the reality that the majority of prominent Torah personalities have to date opposed women's prayer groups for one reason or another cannot be overlooked. Nonetheless, a significant number of community rabbis-those who have ongoing direct contact with the members of women's tefilla groups-contend that greater rabbinic involvement and direction can serve to allay the legitimate motivational, hashkafic, Torah-value and public policy concerns articulated by the gedolei Yisrael cited above.
How our generation, or any of the generations of the future, may ultimately decide in this important issue is uncertain.285 Indeed, a half a century ago, the great halakhic authority, R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg, wisely observed that in questions regarding the role of women in society, time is often the final arbiter.286 Yet, until that time when a clear consensus is reached, and in light of the growth and apparent vitality of women's prayer groups, the Torah community as a whole must openly and honestly address the real issues-both halakhic and public policy-raised in this article. We pray that our Torah leadership will be blessed with divine guidance, inspiration and Solomonic wisdom to find the appropriate answers for our generation. And we pray as well that the community will allow itself to be led.