Volume 18 Number 53
                       Produced: Tue Feb 21  0:32:32 1995

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Communication Differences Between Men and Women
         [Seth A Gordon]
For L. Gordon: A shul that does it differently
         [Steve Bailey and Feigie Zilberstein]
Ms. Gordon's Analysis
         [Zvi Weiss]
Women's Motivation
         [Aleeza Esther Berger]


From: Seth A Gordon <sethg@...>
Date: Sun, 19 Feb 1995 20:28:48 EST
Subject: Re: Communication Differences Between Men and Women

/ The thing is it is precisely that men and women are different that their
/ means of reaching/communicating with Hashem is different.  Yes, everyone
/ to some extent is different, but there are more differences between men
/ and women, in the area of communication, than between individual people.

This is a controversial claim.  Some linguists who have studied gender
differences, such as Robin Lakoff, say that the "women's style" in
communication is really a style that all social subordinates (in US
middle-class cultures, at least) use in conversations with their
social superiors.  See _The Mismeasure of Woman_ for more on this.

/ If you will not accept the Sages wisdom on this matter because you feel
/ that they are too influenced by the sexist attitutdes of earlier
/ cultures look at todays best seller lists.

Since when does the presence of a book on the best-seller lists imply
that the claims made in the book are *true*?  I devoutly hope that nobody
on this list, regardless of their opinions on the authority of the Sages,
believes *that*.

(Since titles and credentials have recently been discussed on this list--I
confess that I have a bachelor's degree in political science with a minor
in women's studies.  This statement, of course, may make this message *less*
credible in some reader's eyes... :-)

Seth Gordon <sethg@...> standard disclaimer


From: <RSRH@...> (Steve Bailey and Feigie Zilberstein)
Date: Mon, 20 Feb 1995 14:37:43 -0500
Subject: For L. Gordon: A shul that does it differently

We have been following the thread of women's roles and strongly applaud
the position Leah Gordon and supporters have presented. The theological
politics and historical sociology of women's roles -- as researched by
confrimed scholars not afraid to objectively address the need for
proactive change within halacha -- is too complex for postings in
m-j. But they are certainly supported within halachik methodology. The
articles in the special issue of Tradition (vol.27#4) and the Orthodox
Rountable volume on Personal Autonomy vs. Authority confirm the
non-monolithic nature of the halachik process.

In our opinion, the issues listed by Leah Gordon are not so much a
halchik problem as issues of "Daas Torah" (non-halachik perpectives of
gedolim that define for others what is morally "right" or "wrong", on
issues not subsumed under legal halachik paramenters) and issues of
what, in our time, is under the category of "tzniut" appropriate for
women's behavior.

Many of the examples presented, like kiddush, motzi, synagogue politics,
etc.  are not practiced either because "it's not been done that way" and
therefore disapproved of under "Daas Torah"or it is seen as a violation
of Tzniut where it is not "proper" for a women to speak (not sing)
publically (e.g. recite kiddush or motzi or speak publically in the
presence of men other than her husband). The fact is that these same
women teach Torah or speak professionally to mixed crowds without
condemnation. It makes no sense that my wife could give the keynote
address to 600 orthodox Jewish educators and not make kiddush or motzi
at our Shabbat table because of tzniut!

I would like to sketch the practices in our community/shul (all approved
by our community's centrist orthodox LOR, who researched the issue and
taught it to our shul board) so that people realize what some people are
doing -- not out of 'feminism", rebellion, or arrogance, but of sincere
spiritual motivation and a sense that this is what reflects the true
spirit of what Judaism requires of us as a realistic expression of Torah
in our daily lives.

1. In many of our congregants homes, the wife makes motzi, even when there
are guests at the Shabbat table. 
2. A woman says kaddish in shul on a yahrzeit. Even if there is no man saying
kaddish, she may say it alone, if she chooses.
3. [Although LOR approval was obtained, the following is still in committee:]
When a woman donates a kiddush on Shabbat day in memory of a parent or in
honor of an anniversary or birthday, she is invited (not compelled) to make
kiddush for the congregation at the kiddush table. 
4. When a man is called to the Torah, he has the option (not compelled) to
add his mother's name to his "call" (e.g. shmuel ben yosef v'miriam) in order
to honor his mother (kibud eym).
5. When the Torah is taken around the congregation before and after the
reading, the chazzan meets a women at the end of the mechiza and hands the
Torah to her so that she and a woman escort (ensuring kavod haTorah) bring it
to all the women to kiss. She hands it back to chazzan who does the same in
the men's section. Many women have said that this is a significant honor for
them and for the Torah.
6. We don't have "Rabbi's sermons", but rather a learned member teaches a
text-based learning before the Torah is read, so that people appreciate the
portion of the week. A learned woman is allowed to teach the congregation (in
such cases the mechiza is moved for the learning so it would not seem as if
she is publically participating in the service, but rather the service is
"interrupted" for learning). 
7. A learned woman is part of our shul's ritual committee that deals with
halachik practice, so that we get her invaluable input and ideas.
8. When all the men are being called up for aliyot on simchat Torah (after
the first four portions have been heard once), the women meet in another room
to share divrei Torah and hashkafa. They re-join the congregation for kol
ha'ne'arim and the maftir and chattanim.

Many of these practices were adopted from other modern orthodox shuls in
New York and Israel. In all of these practices there is either halachik
support or a decision that it is not an halachik issue (e.g. #8). Though
these practices do not reflect what is "done traditionally", we believe
it is our responsibility to search halacha for permission to
thoughtfully and respectfully modify a number of practices which would
eventually allow the women in our community to feel more active
participants in jewish life experienced in shul and at home.

We would appreciate all respectful, open reactions.

Steve Bailey and Feigie Zilberstein
Los Angeles


From: Zvi Weiss <weissz@...>
Date: Mon, 20 Feb 1995 09:41:14 -0500
Subject: Ms. Gordon's Analysis

I am most indebted to Leah Gordon for her list of "non-halachic"
examples.  I beleive that this list is scholarly and will serve to raise
the level of this discourse considerably.  I have a couple of minor

1. I wish that Ms. Gordon had cited the actual reasons given for not
  allowing that which she assumes is permitted.  For example, the
  Tefillah at the Kotel is prohibited by the Rabbanut in terms of women
  with Sifrei Torah.  The level of discussion is greatly enhanced by
  citing the reasoning rather than implying that there is no basis and
  it is purely "chauvinistic".
2. I also believe that it is important for Ms. Gordon to have factored
  in the "Kol Kevudah Bat Melech P'nima" issue.  The fact is that this
  "homiletical" verse has been cited in the past as a "Torah basis" for
  restricting women.  While I strongly suspect that this verse has been
  sometimes applied in an abusive manner, I do not think that is ALWAYS
  the case.  The reason that it is significant is that it may serve to
  limit the "public functions" of women -- e.g., making Kiddush even if
  they are "eligible" to do so.  I do NOT claim that such is the case
  but I do know that it must be addressed if we are going to determine
  the halachic permissibility of an action.
3. There are some very minor inaccuracies.  In the case of Megillah,
  there is some debate about the woman's ACTUAL obligaiton.  There is a
  possibility that the Male obligation is on a higher level (This is a
  MAchloket Rishonim).  That factor should be taken into account when
  discussing whether women should make their own minyan for MEgillah
  reading or stay with the male minyan.  Similarly, in the case of Zimun
  on food, there is a machloket whether women are actually REQUIRED to
  make a zimun or not.  Since there is no question that 3 males are so
  obligated, there may be a question of whether women should separate
  from men if there are 3 men in order to make their "own" zimun.

However, I feel that these are minor quibbles.  I never felt that
Ms. Gordon was a heretic and I only objected to what I felt was a
strident tone in asserting the "chauvinism" as opposed to the halacha.
Her current posting deserves an extended thoughful response.

I will add that I, too, have been concerned about these matters.  The
most noticeable one that struck me is that in "Yeshivot K'tanot" that
have both boy and girl divisions, the boys are expected to go to school
on Sunday to learn Torah -- but not the Girls.  Is this really an
example that we want to convey?  Even if women study Torah "just to know
what to do", why should they regard Sunday as a "Day of Battalah"?



From: Aleeza Esther Berger <aeb21@...>
Date: Mon, 20 Feb 1995 20:46:48 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Women's Motivation

Some on the list have strenuously argued against women doing things such
as carry a sefer Torah and have women's prayer services. I suggest that
they try for a minute to put themselves in the place of women (e.g. me)
who do these things (based on "do not judge your friend until you have
come to his/her place"). (Pirkei Avot?) Women have different reasons for
doing these things, but I would like to explain mine.

Where is my "place"? In order to put yourself in my place, the only
assumption is that men and women do not have different "roles" ordained.
The rest follows simply.

Perhaps when you are in the men's section in the synagogue, you view the
people on the other side of the partition as "others" (a la Simone de
Beauvior), different, and therefore you feel it makes sense to apply
different rules to the people on the other side.  I however, don't feel
any different.  Julius Lester, a black Jew in the US, once described the
same feeling.  He was in shul, feeling the same as everyone else, then
he realized that to others, he must look very different! Why should I
feel any different? I pray 3 times a day, I am well-educated in Jewish
subjects (more so than many of the men), I know how to read Torah

Because I feel the same, it is not that I particularly am interested in
carrying the sefer Torah or in having a separate women's service.  If
you will permit me to widen the perspective beyond what halakha permits,
I would in theory be interested in leading the service or reading the
Torah.  Carrying the sefer Torah and having a separate service are mere
crumbs in contrast to what I personally feel I could be doing.

Example: What "higher" purpose is served by having the congregation,
including women who know how to "layn" (read Torah) perfectly well, sit
and suffer through an atrocious Torah or (especially) haftarah reading?
If I could volunteer once in a while, that would be one week less for
the congregation to suffer.  The desire to help the community in this
way is one motivation for women's fuller participation.

On a personal level, I am dissatisfied when my talents are (literally)
muffled by archaic definitions of the "honor of the congregation" which
I have little power to change, women having been exluded for the past x
centuries from the process which has claimed this definition
unchangeable. This is even after women learned to read, and even in a
society where a man feels perfectly honored when being treated by a
female physician, lawyer or scientist. I believe the congregation, and
G-d, would be honored better by drawing on the entire pool of talent in
order to assure a proper reading.  In all other areas in life, I have
been encouraged and I encourage myself to use my abilities -- not to
confine my ambitions to some role that someone has said is mine.
Personal satisfaction need not be separated from a desire to help the

When women don't "do", both we and men can begin to believe we are not
capable of doing.  I caught myself doing this: I attend shul every day,
and have given shiurim on 2 occasions in that shul. So why did I catch
myself feeling that I somehow did not "deserve" to be in shul, that I
was taking up room?  Conversely, once one of the men decided (jokingly)
I should count for the minyan because I gave the class. Another said I
should be given an aliyah (it was the shammas [sexton]-- he has real

Having studied Talmud in an academic setting, I know that what one
learns there is different than the study that is done to acquire
halakhic expertise.  I find ironic Zvi Weiss' suggestion that women cite
our academic Talmud title in halakhic context, because if Talmud
scholars used their expertise to decide halakha, the halakha would look
very different (e.g. this source was definitely misunderstood by the
later rabbis, this one has a better manuscript variant, etc.)

I personally think women's study and permission to decide halakha is an
absolute right of ours, for the simple positive reason that we are
equally capable.  However, if someone does not accept that reasoning,
here is another -- relative -- reason, analogous to the Hafetz Haim's
reason for permitting Torah study for women. He allowed it because
Jewish women's secular education was excellent and the women were coming
in much contact with the outside world.  It is likely dangerous to know
academic Talmud study at a very high level without an equal high level
of traditional study. I have felt the problem in my own studies -
disdain for the traditional way due to lack of familiarity with it.

Some women are studying halakhic material traditionally. Those women who
are studying the material equivalent to that for Orthodox semikha will
unfortunately only be accepted as authorities by a very small segment of
the population.  (BTW, I would be interested in hearing the opinions of
those on the list who have argued that women's roles differ than men,
and so on, about whether they would accept the authority of such a

For many of us who attend halakhic women's services and the like, the
alternative is even greater resentment of a system in which the cards
are stacked against us, or abandonment of the system altogether.  There
is no prize given -- except perhaps in Olam Haba (the World to Come),
where G-d will comfort the oppressed in this world -- for the person who
suffers the most due to the halakha. I would not win this prize anyway -
some agunah would.  But I am sure she would rather not win it; neither
would I.

aliza berger


End of Volume 18 Issue 53