Volume 18 Number 50
                       Produced: Sun Feb 19 10:48:30 1995

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Feminism definitons
         [Rena Whiteson]
Heresy:  "Not Guilty" Plea--by Leah S. Gordon
         ["Leah S. Gordon"]
Leah Gordon, Feminism and Rabbis
         [Eliyahu Teitz]
More women and men differences
         [Rachel Rosencrantz]


From: <rena@...> (Rena Whiteson)
Date: Fri, 17 Feb 95 11:18:26 MST
Subject: Re: Feminism definitons

> From: Zvi Weiss <weissz@...>
> Leah Gordon states that (in her opinion) the halakhic role frequently
> described as "women's" is in fact chauvinistic and not based in halakha.
> She provides no source material to back up her statement AND at face
> value, this statement is dangerously close to the sort of statement that
> R. Moshe considered heretical.
> As I assume that Ms. Gordon is NOT a heretic, I would appreciate it if
> (a) she could more precisely clarify her statement as to what aspects of
> a women's role are and are not based upon halakha and (b) she could
> provide source material to support her views.

At first glance, Zvi's request seems very reasonable.  However, on
reflection one wonders how one proves a negative.  How does one prove or
support the position that certain views of a woman's role are not
supported by halacha?  You cannot demonstrate the absence of the

Rather it seems to me more reasonable, and more practical to ask a
different kind of question.  When a woman wants to do something, such as
form a women's tefilla group, or dance with the Torah, etc and she is
told that it is not her role, then surely the obligation to provide
source material falls to those who are trying to prevent her. They must
back up their objections with halacha which prohibits her desired course
of action.

And I agree with you on one point. I also do not think that Leah is a heretic.

Rena Whiteson


From: "Leah S. Gordon" <lsgordon@...>
Date: Fri, 17 Feb 1995 16:21:13 -0800
Subject: Heresy:  "Not Guilty" Plea--by Leah S. Gordon

Mr. Zvi Weiss comments that my view that the role frequently described
by religious Jews as "women's" is in fact chauvinistic and not based
in halakha is close to heretical, and requests clarification and sources.
While I do not have a full library here at the terminal, I will do
my best from memory:

Case 1:  Kiddush (specifically Friday night)

Halakha:  Women are obligated in kiddush, equally to men, and are therefore
permitted to exempt them.  Furthermore, if a man has davened in a shul on
Friday night, he has thus partly fulfilled his kiddush obligation, making
it preferable in such a case for his wife to make her own kiddush.
(source-Mishna Brurah)

Status Quo: On campuses around the country, Hillels have a history of
not allowing women to make kiddush for the community (as opposed to
men).  Furthermore, it is almost unheard of in Orthodox households for
women to make kiddush for the family.  (In the last five years,
Princeton, Harvard, and MIT have updated their Hillel kiddush policies
to include women, in various ways.)  Moreover, Judaica shops sell
kiddush cups as gifts for men in numbers far greater than for women (and
this is by no means restricted to Orthodox Jewry), because of the
perceived roles involved.

Case 2:  Mezuman

Halakha: Women are obligated in mezuman if three of them eat bread
together and there are fewer than three men present.  Furthermore, they
have the option of separating themselves and making their own mezuman
even if there are three men present.  
(source-Mishna Brurah)

Status Quo: Girls are rarely if ever taught about this obligation, and
the concept of a "women's mezuman" is often derided by apparently
Orthodox men as being a feminist invention.  There are often cases
(e.g. at large girls schools, camps, etc.) where women should be making
a mezuman, and do not, and in fact would be shocked at the very idea,
because of incorrect perceptions of the halakha.

Case 3:  Motzi

Halakha: Women are obligated equally with men in saying motzi (as indeed
everyone is required to say brachot before eating, and so forth).  This
equal obligation means that women can exempt men from their motzi
obligation (e.g. in a group meal).  
(source-Mishna Brurah)

Status Quo: I have heard of half a dozen cases of Orthodox men telling
Orthodox women that they are not permitted to say motzi for the
community, because of halakhic problems.  However, there is a growing
movement among young Orthodox couples for the husband to say kiddush and
the wife, motzi.

Case 4:  Women at the Kotel Ha'Ma'aravi [Western Wall]

Halakha:  Women are allowed to hold sifrei Torah, and they are allowed
to daven together in groups, and they are allowed to read directly from
the Torah, with differing opinions on what blessings they may say (if
(Sources to follow as soon as I get to my books.)

Status Quo:  The religious authorities of Jerusalem have prohibited women
from having Torah-readings at the Wall, allegedly for halakhic reasons.

Case 5:  Women Exempting Each Other

Halakha:  Women can exempt each other from certain mitzvot, including
reading megillah.
(I cannot find my source this second, but I wanted to include this
example.  Perhaps someone can help me find it, and I will keep looking.)

Status Quo:  Women are discouraged (or forbidden) from having separate
megillah readings.  I realize that there is an issue of "dividing the
community," but that is not usually the reason cited for the prohibition,
especially in more right-wing circles.

Case 6:  Synagogue Politics

Halakha:  There is no source that anyone has been able to quote to me
forbidding women to be "voting members" on synagogue Boards.

Status Quo:  There exist Orthodox shuls that only allow men to be full
members of the congregation, and they defend the practice by saying that
it is required by Orthodoxy.

Case 7:  Summer Camp Policy
Halakha:  There is a current consensus (at least among the non-right-wing)
in Orthodoxy that women are permitted to learn Gemara.  There is [apparently]
no mention in halakhic sources about whether or not women should learn
computer science or floor hockey.

Status Quo:  At Camp Moshava (in Wisconsin), women are not permitted to learn
in the Kollel Program (which centers on gemara), nor are qualified women
(the qualification for men is some number of years of yeshiva in Israel;
no question of any rabbinical requirement in this case) hired to teach
in that program.  In all other shiurim, the camp has a co-ed
policy, so it is not an issue of men and women learning together.  Furthermore,
(at least in the late 1980's), girls were discouraged from taking certain
other classes like "computers," and they were not allowed to play floor
hockey.  The generic defense for all of these policies is that Moshava
is a "machane dati" [religious camp].


 Leah S. Gordon


From: <EDTeitz@...> (Eliyahu Teitz)
Date: Tue, 14 Feb 1995 03:15:47 -0500
Subject: re: Leah Gordon, Feminism and Rabbis

leah gordon writes:

>Mr. Eliyahu Teitz quotes from my post:
>>"The only universally agreed-upon meaning of 'feminism' is 'belief
>>that women should not be discriminated against based on their
>>sex.'  This stance can include those who do not see a different 
>>role as discrimination, though that is not my personal opinion."
>He responds:
>"contrary to what leah [sic] writes, most other rabbis...fully agree 
>with her definition...the problem they, as well as i, have with it is 
>exactly her last point - a different role for women is _not_
>I fear that Mr. Teitz may have missed my point; my statement was 
>meant to imply that people who believe, as he does, that a different 
>role is not discriminatory, could easily be deemed feminists, and 
>therefore the term is used sloppily when it is used by people like 
>him to refer to people like me.

first, i did not call leah a feminist.  

unfortunately, leah did a bit of unjustified editing of my post.  my
comment that most rabbis agree with her definition was a response to her
attack of rabbis that they feel most feminists are lesbians, etc...( see
her original post, i do not remember the rest of her list ).

to this i respond again, most rabbis agree that feminists are caring and
concerned women...( as she wrote in her original post ).

likewise, i remain firm in my statement that the problem people have
with feminism is her type of feminism, where different is equated with
discrimination, and the only way to be non-discriminatory is to have
identical rules for men and women.  her comment that the "only
universally agreed upon..." is by her last statement not universally
agreed upon, because she disagrees with the definition she sets forth.

if i am to be called a feminist because i feel that women should not be
discriminated against based on their sex, then i am proud to be a
feminist ( and i am sure other rabbis would be proud too ).  but if
being a feminist is using leah's definition, then i have nothing
whatsoever to do with feminism.  the reason rabbis do not associate with
the movement is precisely because there is no "universally agreed upon
definition", and many feel that the definition most commonly used is
leah's.  therefore leah is being "sloppy" by using the term to mean the
type with which i would associate.

one last point, and i do this not for my honor, nor for the honor of my
family, but for the honor of the rabbinate.

i generally do not use my title when posting to this list.  i feel that
content is more important than title.  however, when i posted my
original response to leah, i did use my title.  i felt that it was
necessary for people to read my comments as a defense of rabbis being
smeared, in that they assume feminists are lesbians, etc, as leah
originally wrote ).

leah made a clear choice to call me mister ( in the past, when i did not
use my title and she responded to a post of mine, she simply wrote
eliyahu teitz ).

again, i personally do not care how i am called, but to intentionally
use a wrong title just because one disagrees with the content of a
posting is to show disrespect for the honor ( however minimal one may
deem it ) of the office that the title represents.

rabbi eliyahu teitz


From: <rachelr@...> (Rachel Rosencrantz)
Date: Fri, 17 Feb 95 12:48:56 EST
Subject: More women and men differences

From: Andrea Penkower Rosen <apr@...>
> In v18n42, >From: <rachelr@...> (Rachel Rosencrantz)
> the poster calls our attention to contemporary writings which indicate
> that men and women communicate differently leading to frequent
> misunderstandings between the sexes.
> It is my understanding, however, that G-d has no trouble understanding
> the prayers of supplicants, no matter the language or style.
> So why is it necessary to limit the prayers of women to a form
> which they find more constricting or less expressive or less joyful?
> As long as they are acting in accordance with their LOR, what can be
> accomplished by questioning their motivation?  I have been taught that it
> is only G-d who can see into the heart and mind of any individual.

Ahh... yes, G-d can understand the prayers of the supplicants.  For that
matter G-d can understand our desires without us voicing them. So why
pray?  I would argue that at least in part the prayer is to help
the supplicant him/herself to realize his/her connection with G-d.
(And to develop that connection in a halachically acceptable way.
Incense might be a groovy way to feel G-d but making the incense
that was prepared for the Temple and burning it for your own use
is a BIG nono.)   If the LOR says its ok, then it does fall within
what is halachically acceptable.

My problem with separate prayer groups is the effect it (potentially)
has on the community, but community dynamics can be different.  If the
LOR poskins I'm not going to second guess his knowlege of a community or

(I actually didn't catch the begining of the thread, but had issues
with the particular article I replied to.)

So should men and women be allowed to daven identically but separately?
Allowed, well if it is Halachically ok, then yes.  Promoted, well call
me a stick in the mud, but it seems pretty silly to me for women
to go and emulate men's means of communication because it's "better".
Says who?  Maybe men should learn from how women pray for a change.

> If we can adapt to changes wrought by modern technology (e.g.
> refrigerator, stove, hot plate on Shabbat or Yom Tov) in accord with
> halachic decisions by contemporary poskim, why is it so difficult to
> accept changes based on modern concepts (e.g. equality of women - which
> does not mean that men and women are exactly alike) also in accord with
> halachic decisions by contemporary poskim?

But is equality of women really not present in the traditional way?  If
men (or women) see the way women do things as lesser, than we have a
problem, but I would argue the problem is more in the values than in the

> And if you do not accept the validity of the latter, then, of course, you
> will continue to daven as you have in the past. But why is it necessary
> to denigrate others, to question their sincerity? What has happened to
> Ahavat Yisrael?  If we cannot circumvent the angry divisiveness amongst
> fellow Jews, how will we ever survive in the world at large?

Ahh, but the question is... are those who are questioning the motives
for changing the davening denegrating others, or are they concerned that
if you go off and do your own thing you will be harming (or perhaps
better said hindering) yourself (and possibly others) by making the road
to closness to G-d that much longer?  I suspect the intention is Ahavat
Yisrael, but the words may not be conveying it. (Good old

Different people express love differently.



End of Volume 18 Issue 50