Volume 18 Number 70
                       Produced: Sun Mar  5  0:50:44 1995

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Heresy:  "Not Guilty" Plea--by Leah S. Gordon
         [David Charlap]
Women - Wives of Leaders' Opinions
         [Aleeza Esther Berger]
Women's Motivation (2)
         [Constance Stillinger, Janice Gelb]
Women's motivation
         [Zvi Weiss]


From: <david@...> (David Charlap)
Date: Mon, 27 Feb 95 11:32:59 EST
Subject: Re: Heresy:  "Not Guilty" Plea--by Leah S. Gordon

"Leah S. Gordon" <lsgordon@...> writes:
>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:

I've some comments on a few of these examples

>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.

But there may be a difference between a woman saying motzi for a table
of people at home and saying it for the community.  In other words,
the reason might not be related to the woman's obligation in motzi.
We really need more information here.

>Case 6:  Synagogue Politics
>Case 7:  Summer Camp Policy

I agree with you.  But don't go blaming all of orthodoxy for what may
be some isolated incidents.  And there may be valid concerns you
haven't mentioned.

>Status Quo:  At Camp Moshava (in Wisconsin), women are not permitted
>to learn in the Kollel Program (which centers on gemara)

This varies from place to place.  There are poskim that prohibit women
from learnign Gemara, just as there are those that permit it.  This
issue was a big debat at my high school (Orthodox, women permitted in
kollel, although it was discouraged.)

>nor are qualified women hired to teach in that program.

This doesn't surprise me.  If the camp has a problem with women learning
gemara, then I'd be shocked if they didn't have the same problem with
them teaching it.

>Furthermore, (at least in the late 1980's), girls were discouraged
>from taking certain other classes like "computers,"

I agree that this is odd.  Unless the camp was trying to teach women
that their place is at home.  Until about 1988, it could be argued that
computers are mostly business tools and not things for home use.  Today,
however, it's clearly not true, with home computers being almost as
popular as televisions (which many object to, anyway).

>and they were not allowed to play floor hockey.

Are the gym classes co-ed?  At my high school, the women played sports
(like floor hockey), but there were separate gym classes for the men and
the women.  (The rest of the school was co-ed.)

This might be more of a tsniut issue - every rabbi I knew in school
was very strict on this.  The gym classes were segregated so that the
men wouldn't see women wearing gym clothes (like shorts and sleeveless

As before, we really need more information before jumping to
conclusions about who is right or wrong here.  And we should be more
careful about who is being accused of wrongdoing - is it a problem
with halacha, with widespread extra-halachic practices, with poskim
having different opinions about what the halacha is, or with
individuals acting independantly of halacha?

I think one or more of your examples fall into each of these


From: Aleeza Esther Berger <aeb21@...>
Date: Mon, 27 Feb 1995 09:49:08 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Women - Wives of Leaders' Opinions 

It's my recollection that the wife of the Netziv (as reported in the book 
"My Uncle the Netziv") had some comments about inequity between learning 
opportunites for men and women. Notice that this book was banned by part 
of the observant community. Guess "1984" is not over yet.

aliza berger


From: Constance Stillinger <cas@...>
Date: Fri, 24 Feb 1995 01:10:13 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Women's Motivation

<kedar@...> (Smadar Kedar) writes:

> Aliza Berger presents an eloquent argument on her motivation for greater
> participation...I am trying to put myself in her shoes (which are pretty
> similar): I am a woman who is a professional in a male-dominated field
> (a Ph.D. in computer science), and I've enjoyed greater participation in
> secular life.
> ...  This motivation [for participation] carries over mistaken
> notions from secular public life (that your self-esteem and
> importance is measured by your public influence).
> ...  We have our own satisfying role as private and family people.
> We are not looking enviously over the Mechitza at how men get
> aliyot, leyn, and we don't.  We see it as a male need for public
> recognition that we don't need, and that is freeing. ...
> My question to the women is: why put your effort to this, when there are
> so many other important things you can do as an orthodox woman?  Why do
> you measure your religious importance by the level of public influence?

I share the above writer's lack of envy of men's role.  However, I also
see that although she believes herself to be free of some hypothetical
masculine "need for public recognition," she *is* a degreed professional
woman working in a secular, male-dominated context.  Such a situation
has a considerable impact on one's self-esteem, and goes a long way to
fill, and indeed overflow, any need or desire one might have for public
participation.  Thus her example is actually consistent with the
contention that in order for Jewish women to overcome their envy of
men's roles they must turn to the secular public world to fill a void
that traditional Judaism fails to fill.  This example does not address
the question of how Jewish women can be satisfied with their halachic

The above writer's question at the end gets to the core of the matter,
though.  There are several reasons why many women put so much energy
into questioning the Halachic bounds of their role.  First, as in any
context, we want to know that Halachah is not being misrepresented.  We
all know that misconceptions are occasionally perpetuated regarding
kashrus, or Shabbos, and must be corrected.  It's okay to ask if
procedure X is permissible in the kitchen, or on Shabbos, and it's even
okay to argue the question back and forth with great energy.  It ought
to be just as routine to discuss the nature of sex roles in
Halachah---but unfortunately some folks have an allergy to the issue.

Second, it is regrettably the case that in many communities, the role of
Jewish woman, mother and homemaker is *not* valued, despite all the
breath expended in arguments to the contrary.  Where do the money and
effort go?  I have to drive an hour to get to the nearest mikva, and
many other women have to drive even further, despite the fact that our
community is respectably-sized and affluent enough to set fundraising
goals for its own shul building and a rabbi.  In general, resources and
support for raising Orthodox Jewish children are surprisingly scant in
light of the overwhelming importance of this duty.  There are few books
on the issue, and those that exist are generally mediocre.  Likewise,
there are too few Jewish books *for* little children, and again many of
those are poor in quality.  There is virtually *no* discussion of the
problems of raising Jewish children on this list.  Why shouldn't some of
us be dissatisfied?  It should hardly come as a surprise that some women
begin to search beyond their immediate role for "religious importance."

By contrast, a woman who lives in a community that backs its rhetoric
with money and effort is bound to be much more satisfied with her role
as an Orthodox Jewish woman.  Men (and women, for that matter) who are
distressed or puzzled by Jewish feminism could at least investigate the
possibility that something needs fixing and consider what concrete
actions they could take to support Orthodox women's role in the


Dr. Constance A. (Chana) Stillinger        <cas@...>
Research Coordinator, Education Program for Gifted Youth
Stanford University      http://kanpai.stanford.edu/epgy/pamph/pamph.html

From: <janiceg@...> (Janice Gelb)
Date: Wed, 22 Feb 1995 18:14:40 -0800
Subject: Women's Motivation

I've been trying to sit on the sidelines for this one, but several 
comments in Vol. 18 #57 inspired me to join the fray.

Moishe Kimelman says:
> So too in today's Jewish women's fight for religious equality.  While
> the "outer" motive may be a sense of justice and fair play, is it merely
> co-incidental that this sense came to the forefront during the same
> period that the secular world started their search for equality?  Why is
> it that the wives of all our Gedolim of earlier generations didn't feel
> discriminated against?  Why didn't the Chafets Chaim's Rebbetzin
> complain that she was denied scholarly recognition?  Why don't we hear
> of the Vilna Gaon's Rebbetzin fighting for the right to dance with the
> sefer Torah in her husband's shul?  Are there more than a handful of
> readers who know the names of these two aforementioned great women?  Yet
> are there even a handful who doubt that the Chafets Chaim and Vilna Gaon
> - and all the other Gedolim over thousands of years - have considered
> their wives equal partners in their achievements? 

I would like to know how Mr. Kimelman knows that the rebbetzins he 
mentions *didn't* feel discriminated against? They would not have 
spoken out about their feelings regarding their role even if they 
did not feel fulfilled by them -- any more than the non-Jewish women 
who were discriminated against in the secular world spoke out at 
that time about the discrimination and their lack of fulfillment. 

And there are probably *not* more than a handful of readers who know
the names of these rebbetzins -- even Mr. Kimelman in his own post only
refers to them in relation to the men they married.  And that may have
*been* their only role; I must (shamefully) admit that I am not one of
those readers who could identify them by their given names. I gather
that Mr. Kimelman's point is that their achievement was to support
their husbands and it is to their credit that we do not readily know
their names. But possibly they could have made contributions up to or
equalling their husbands and in the same realm had they been permitted
to, and be more widely known in their own right.

I would also be curious as to what documentation Mr. Kimelman has that
the many gedolim mentioned in his message considered their wives equal
partners in their achievements. In contributing to their health and
well-being, perhaps. In their Torah achievements? I doubt it.

In the same digest, Smadar Kedar says:
> However, unlike Aliza, neither I, nor many other professional women in
> my orthodox community, believe effort should be placed on finding
> halachic permission for having greater participation in jewish communal
> life.  This motivation carries over mistaken notions from secular public
> life (that your self-esteem and importance is measured by your public
> influence).
> Simply put, we as women do not want to have the same role as men.  We
> have our own satisfying role as private and family people.  We are not
> looking enviously over the Mechitza at how men get aliyot, leyn, and we
> don't.  We see it as a male need for public recognition that we don't
> need, and that is freeing.  Our energy and effort is therefore directed
> towards charity, hospitality, teaching and learning, and so on.
> My question to the women is: why put your effort to this, when there are
> so many other important things you can do as an orthodox woman?  Why do
> you measure your religious importance by the level of public influence?

This post by Smadar and the post to which she was responding from Aliza
Berger make extremely clear the difficulty that results when trying to
apply a general rule to a class of people that have nothing more in
common than their gender. Halacha assumes that all women attain
spiritual fulfillment in the same way because of some gender-specific
quality it assumes is present in all women. However, not all women are
the same either in the ways in which they attain spiritual fulfillment
or in the fulfillment they get from the only role and tasks that
halacha provides for them. (Nor, I suspect, do men, but since the
spectrum of activities available to them is so much wider we don't hear
as much about it.)

Janice Gelb                  | The only connection Sun has with this      
<janiceg@...>   | message is the return address. 

From: Zvi Weiss <weissz@...>
Date: Wed, 22 Feb 1995 08:57:10 -0500
Subject: Women's motivation

Recently, Aliza Berger stated "In order to put yourself in my place, the
only assumtion is that men and women do *not* [emphasis mine] have
different "roles" ordained".  I would be most interested in Ms. Berger
citing a source to back up that assumtion as according to the Teshuva
that I have referred to in R. Moshe ZT"L, that assumption does *not*
appear to be supported by him and -- in fact -- is CONDEMNED by R. Moshe
in the strongest terms.  This has nothing to do with Pirkei Avot.  This
has to do with some basic conceptual ideas of Yahadut.

In general, I find this assumption difficult to support as the Torah has
given men and women different obligations.  The very fact that Min
Hatorah, a woman cannot function in the role of an "Eid" ("Formal
Witness") whereas a man not only CAN function in such a role but
violates the prohibition of "Im Lo Yageed" should he NOT testify when
called upon to do so seems a direct contradiction to Ms. Berger's
assumtion (to name but one example).



End of Volume 18 Issue 70