Volume 18 Number 99
                       Produced: Wed Mar 22 21:55:57 1995

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Blinders on?
         [Janice Gelb]
         [Heather Luntz]
Goals in Halacha - Re women
         [Susan Hornstein]
         [Ari Shapiro]


From: <janiceg@...> (Janice Gelb)
Date: Wed, 22 Mar 1995 17:47:27 -0800
Subject: Re: Blinders on?

In Vol. 18 #96, Rachel Rosencrantz (after a truly impressive list of the
study and prayer she does as a rule), says:

> Albeit, at the moment I have no children to care for, so I can fit these
> things in.  The halacha does say that if a woman has to care for children
> she is allowed to reduce her prayers to a small prayer which includes
> praise, a request, and thanks.  (The Baruch ha shachar or the Brachot for 
> the torah can cover that.)  However, it is encouraged that a women, even
> who is busy raising children, should try to at least do the Shemona Esrey 
> at mincha.   Women are in no way banned from study, not required to daven,
> prohibited from participating in ritual, or expected to take the back 
> seat.  Their responsibilities are different, but a good portion of
> this is biologically or psychologically based.  Making the house a holy
> place is no small task, nor an unimportant task.  

I don't think there are many (if any) posters who have tried to say here
that home and family are not important. However, if the restrictions on
women *are* due to the important task of raising children and creating a
Jewish home, it seems odd that they still apply to single women with no
children, or married women whose children are grown and no longer at
home. And that they *don't* apply to men who may unfortunately be in a
situation where they are the sole parent in a household.

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


From: Heather Luntz <luntz@...>
Date: Mon, 20 Mar 1995 22:40:36 +1100 (EST)
Subject: Feminism

In Vol 18 #74 Moishe Kimelman writes responding to a post of mine:

> Let's assume the "worst", that the wives of the Vilna Gaon and the
> Chofets Chaim were upset at their roles as behind-the-scenes housewives
> who were constantly overshadowed by their husbands.  Let's also assume
> that they argued vehemently with their husbands for the right to change
> their "designated" roles.  What happened?  Obviously nothing at all.

But even this is not so obvious. Sorry to use examples from my 
extended family (but these are the only stories that I know). But another 
relative of mine had an extremely public role, evidenced by the fact 
that there were over 25,000 people at her funeral, and all the shops in 
the shtot (including the goyishe shops) closed for it. She also happened 
to be married to a famous Rov of the time (although he was nifta long 
before she was). He (presumably) was fully supportive of her role, and 
yet with the passage of time very few people know she and her work existed.

Another example, the family tells with great pride that my 
great-great-great grandmother was instrumental in the "outing" of one of 
the prominent maskilim in Vilkomir - something that would have been 
difficult if she had not had not had a public role.

I guess what i am saying is are you even so sure that you know what 
really went on in the Lita of the nineteenth and early twentieth century?
The stories i hear, there were all these amazing prominant public women 
out there doing things that nobody today knows anything about. 
Unfortunately all that in most cases has survived of that period are 
books, and yes these women didn't write sfarim  -so they haven't been 
remembered -just as the prominant men who didn't write sfarim haven't been 
remembered (for example can you name the name of one of the first Jewish 
magistrates in Lita - I can, but only because I am interested in the 
family Luntz). But that doesn't mean there weren't all sorts of public
men of the time besides the Vilna Gaon and the Chofetz Chaim, but very 
few people know their names or what they did, and the same goes for the 

> The fact remains that we know that the Vilna Gaon and the Chofets Chaim
> had wives who supported their husbands, but we know next to nothing of
> their personal achievements and aspirations.  Now taking the two
> extremes, either these nashim tzidkaniyot (righteous women)

BTW why don't we at least have some names here - the Vilna Gaon's second 
wife was born Gittel Luntz (unfortunately she is too early for me to 
have any oral history, - it is not even clear to me if her tree and 
mine interlink, even though she came from the same town my grandfather 
came from). - Anybody out there know the names of the other women being 

> were
> satisfied with their roles, or their husbands - both of whom were
> innovators par excellence, and who could not be accused of bowing to the
> expectations of a myopic society - "overruled" their wives aspirations
> and ruled that they were out of place, and that they should be happy
> with their lot.

Or alternatively, there was more scope for women to do things within 
Jewish parameters, and they did them. Classic example - again from 
my family. While there was this whole debate raging a generation later 
about beis yaakov schools and should we be teaching women - it seems to 
have been pretty standard practice for the Rebbaim of my family to hire 
tutors for their daughters (I don't know whether they did teach them 
gemorra, but they certainly taught them tanach  - although I only know 
this because one of the women from my extended family was known for knowing
the whole of the tanach with m'forshim by heart - but she never wrote a 
book see, so it is not generally known, any more than it would be known 
about the men who never wrote sforim). And certainly as evidienced by 
my Uncle the Netziv, certain women in rabbinical circles did know 
gemorra. So in many ways all we have done 
in the modern world is give all girls the kind of access that only girls 
in rabbinic families traditionally had. But this is true of men today 
too. We now give men the chance to sit years in yeshiva, as adults yet, 
whereas it was really only the very few that had this opportunity in Lita.

(And a pointed out by many, a similar thing applied with regard to dancing 
with the Torah on simchas torah, it used to be only talmidei chachamim, 
now it is all men. So for all you know, the Rebbitsen Gittel didn't want 
to dance with the Torah because she didn't think she knew enough yet).

Another true story, this time from a friend's mother. Back in Poland, the 
women tended to daven in a totally separate room from the men, and very 
few of the women could read Hebrew, so one of the women used to lead the 
prayers and translate into Yiddish (does this sound like something vaguely 
familiar from another thread - I have always thought that the largest 
women's tephilla groups go on in the beis yaakov schools, most of which 
have some sort of davening as part of their curricula).

> Do we now accuse the Vilna Gaon and Chofets Chaim of possible sexism?
> It seems to me that if we consider these "super-gedolim" as tzaddikim
> gemurim (absolutely righteous) whose piety and personal refinement were
> beyond question , then we must conclude that they favored the lifestyle
> where women took an active but hidden-from-view exclusively-feminine
> role in the frum Jewish community.

Or that we don't know a lot about the general lifestyle of the period.
How much can you tell me about the lifestyle of the men who sat next to 
the Vilna Gaon or the Chofetz Chaim in shul? Are we to conclude therefore 
that these men were excessively tsniusdik and did not have a public role?

> I think the reference may be to "My Uncle the Netziv" (the book can be
> bought at Gold's), where the author of Torah Temimah writes about a
> female relative of his who was well-versed in gemara and other sources.
> Once again, however, she remained the housewife, and her husband was the
> Rabbi.

What i found particularly valuable about the article I read (I haven't 
read the book) is its analysis of the tension she felt (I guess the 
psychic pain that Aleeza refers to), ie it was just an illustration that 
that too is not something invented by modern feminism or American 
society. I guess that is partly why I reacted so negatively to your
comment about seeking "reform" (in the part I deleted). A recognition and 
acceptance of the reality of pain (whether psychic or physiological) does 
not necessarily mean that a) there is something that can be done or b) 
that what might seem the most obvious thing to be done is necessarily 
right thing to be done, otherwise we would all be doctors without any 
training. But that doesn't make the right response therefore "oh you 
are malingering, pull yourself together". Or, "your pain doesn't exist".

> I assume you mean that she argued with her father when she was unmarried
> and living at home, but what happened when she was older?  Did she in
> fact achieve her aim of learning gemara together with (or even
> separately from) the boy of the family?  Perhaps she merited having a
> Talmid Chacham for a son precisely because she eventually accepted her
> role as a "bat melech pnima" (princess hidden from view) and subjugated
> her desire to be like her brother.

Well maybe, I never met her. But on the other hand, the story had to have 
come from her, and that wasn't the maskana of the story (not that there 
was one particularly, just that that was the way she had been, and it was 
a side of her that was important enough to her to transmit to her 

>  (See Yoma 47a where Kimchis was the
> mother of seven sons who served as Kohanim Gedolim - head priests - due
> to her exceprtional tzniut - modesty.  Rashi quotes the Yerushalmi which
> attributes to her the passuk "... bat melech pnimah", albeit in a
> different context to the one I used above.)

Although Rashi does indeed refer to tzniut it is not clear to me a) that 
this is an issue of tzniut at all - hair covering in particular seems to 
be its own mitzva (isn't this another thread?) b) the fact that even if this 
is a tznius issue, how one dresses/behaves in private (or even in public) 
is linked on the other side of the coin to ervah (certainly with 
dress and possibly with hair covering  - if it is not linked to 
dignity/disgrace issues) which is not the case for any of these more far 
reaching role arguments; and c) the chachamim don't seem terribly 
impressed by Kimchi's explanation (although it is not clear in what way).

In fact if anything, the case of Kimchi is probably exactly what many 
of these "reform" women are calling for. After all, it was considered 
appropriate by the chachamim to a) single her out by name; b) list her 
deeds, ie clearly making a public figure of her; and c) let her speak in 
her own words. - The whole things sounds a bit too much like a radical 
feminist statement to me.


From: Susan Hornstein <susanh@...>
Date: Wed, 22 Mar 95 10:34:37 EDT
Subject: Re: Goals in Halacha - Re women

Zvi Weiss writes that many people are in error in treating halacha as
having an obligation to deal with our dissatisfaction.  He relates this
to issues of women (and, I presume, others) looking for "new" or
"different" forms of observance, to feel more fulfilled.

He claims that some women who are dissatisfied have behaved inappropriately 
> if we can find NO such option, that does not mean we are to go and re-write 
>the halacha.

Rather, he offers:

>My impression of halacha is that it tells us what to do to be "Ovdei
>Hashem" -- servants of G-d.  ...if we are not comfortable with our
>options, it seems to me that we have the following choices:

>1. Accept the unhappiness and simply note to one's self that one is
>  fulfilling the will of G-d and find "satisfaction" in that.
>2. Re-analyze the options and see whether one can find an option that is
>  more fulfilling.
>3. Review WHY one is so unhappy with the options as presented.  Maybe
>  OUR value system has to be re-thought.

I would like to suggest that many of the behaviors that Zvi
characterizes as "going and re-writing the halacha" are actually cases
of Option 2 in his list of valid choices, "Re-analyze the options and
see whether one can find an option that is more fulfilling."  As Zvi
himself points out, is is often our attitude that is at fault, rather
than the halacha itself.  This is true historically as well, where valid
halachic options for women were precluded or not generally accepted,
perhaps for era-bound sociological reasons.  In re-analyzing options for
women within valid halachic parameters, it is important that we not rule
out options that are halachically valid, but not accepted at certain
times in history, or for reasons related to our own biased attitudes.
These may include options for studying Torah She-Bichtav and Torah
She-B'Al Peh (Written and Oral Torah), options for davening in groups
(which, incidentally have been an integral part of Jewish tradition at
many points throughout history, very notably in the Beis Yaakov
schools), options for providing opinions and advice on halachic matters,
and many others.

I am not saying that every person who finds a different or new role for
him/herself has done so based on halachic analysis, but *many* have.
When judging (if we are so empowered) others' motivations or reasoning
processes, I suggest that we take Zvi's advice to heart and not allow
our own incorrect attitudes to convince us that someone is "rewriting
halacha" rather than engaging in valid halachic analysis and discovering
valid pathways to fulfillment.

Susan Hornstein


From: <m-as4153@...> (Ari Shapiro)
Date: Wed, 22 Mar 95 21:10:09 EST
Subject: Women

<It is interesting, though, that Shapiro picks up on the section that
<deals with the part that dealt with the mitzva of Shabbat and hair
<covering.  And in response, more male makorot were cited.  What he wrote
<was absolutely accurate, but I kind of got the feeling that the forest
<was missed for the trees.  I know how the system has worked.  That's
<what I'm RESPONDING to.  My questions are not so much who says what on
<which mitzva, or the essentiality of the Rabbanan through the years.  My
<public pondering is: given the male role to date, and given the emerging
<female role, What Up for the future folks?

I picked up on that section because the poster made a halachik claim
based upon traditional sources which was erroneous.  But as I stated in
my posting that was not my real issue and I quote from my posting
"HOWEVER THIS IS NOT REALLY THE POINT."  I think I clearly stated that
my real objection was to the whole idea of classifying mitzvos as gender
based and the overall anti-rabbinic tone of the post.  Calling the
mekorot (sources) I quoted 'male mekorot' is ridiculous, these are the
sources we have which we believe go back to Har Sinai.  The halacha is
ever-lasting, the fads of Western scociety are not.

Ari Shapiro


End of Volume 18 Issue 99