Volume 19 Number 14
                       Produced: Mon Apr  3  6:55:24 1995

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Just imagine....
         [Yisroel Rotman]
Women and Judaism
         [Diane Sandoval]
Women in halacha
         [Jeremy Nussbaum]
Women's participation, motives, etc.
         [Freda B. Birnbaum]


From: Yisroel Rotman <SROTMAN@...>
Date: Wed,  29 Mar 95 18:47 0200
Subject: Just imagine....

Just imagine if one day all the Rabonim got together and realized that
they had made a mistake - men were exempt from "time - related mitzvot"
and the like; women had to do all the mitzvot.

Imagine the moving of the bimah and the aron to the women's side.

Imagine women having to be the dedicated learners in the family.

Imagine women having to train themselves to go to minyan in the morning.

Imagine men having to follow "kvod BEN melech Panim" - the honor
of a man is in the home.

Fundamentally, imagine the feeling of trivialization of most men as the
role they were used to as the focus of the services and the religious
community was taken from them.  And imagine the feeling of inadequacy of
women as they realized that their training had not prepared them for that

Yisroel Rotman   <SROTMAN@...>


From: Diane Sandoval <74454.321@...>
Date: 29 Mar 95 13:00:41 EST
Subject: Women and Judaism

Before we get off the general subject of women's roles, I'ld like to
make a few comments:

[Based on the last 5 years of experience, the above is
unlikely. However, as long as it remains a discussion, I have no problem
with it. When it gets to the same people simply repeating their
positions, then it is just taking up bandwidth. Please think before you
post if you have already said this before. Repeating something makes it
no more valid and convinces noone. Mod.]

 Much of the discussion has centered on different roles for men and
women.  There is no question that this is true and this is something
most women who are committed to halacha and who are simultaneously
serious about exploring the maximization of observance for themselves
embrace.  There are many women who find the mandated separateness of
women's activities (davaning and situations where Tzniut is an issue) of
great benefit.

Instead of the sometimes negative discourse on women's topics, how about
exploring the concept of maximization of mitzvot: Which mitzvot are
obligatory for all Jews (men and women) but women have been exempted
from in the recent past (say the last 500 years or so) for societal
reasons that perhaps didn't exist before and don't exist now?  In fact,
some of the perceived exemptions are more probably societal than
halachic.  How do we deal with the greater variability in women's
opportunities (not "needs" or "rights") in performing mitzvot in the
exempt category?  (In the latter case, a woman's situation is often
variable throughout life, not just from one person to another.)  One
practice which takes account of both these issues is that of older women
attending shul on Friday nights in some communities but not others.  In
accord with this, I agree with Susan Hornstein (Vol 88 #99) that we
should explore the options.  Lastly, let's not equate "exempt" with
"forbidden"; these are two different halachic concepts.


From: <jeremy@...> (Jeremy Nussbaum)
Date: Tue, 28 Mar 95 10:13:03 EST
Subject: Women in halacha

> >From: <EDTeitz@...> (Eliyahu Teitz)
> Why do people assume that Chazal did not talk to their wives?  Yes, I
> know about not talking excessively with women, even one's wife, but if
> there is a need it is permissible.

Did they talk to their wives about whether to include that particular
mishna? (1/2 :-) )  There are commentators who significantly limit the
scope of that mishna too, by the way.

> When Chazal approached an issue, I would hope they knew how the women of
> the time were feeling, and that those feelings were taken into
> consideration to the same extent that the feelings of men were taken
> into consideration.  I don't think anyone would accuse the "Men of
> Chazal" of promulgating laws that were unfair to men.  How about those
> men who like to sleep late, and must wake up for z'man kriat sh'ma [ the
> time to read the sh'ma ].  Did Chazal take their feelings into account?

While the issue my have been expressed in terms of "feelings," which
are easy to shoot down, there are other issues involved in the rules,
regulations and attitudes found in traditional halachic and agaddic

I heard an interesting dvar torah/class on women's obligation to lean
at the seder given by Erica Brown at seudah shlishit at the Maimonides
school.  This is clearly not about sexual tension between men and
women.  It got me thinking about the basic issues underneath
regulations specific to women and why I'm very uncomfortable with
some, somewhat uncomfortable with others and wonder why some others
aren't applied more generally.  What I'm saying now has nothing to do
per se with what she said, which dealt directly with basic source
material on leaning at the seder; I take full blame.  I suppose I'll
catch it from at least three sides with this (it's too right wing/too
left wing/out in left field) but I think it will add to the "debate"
going on.  I acknowledge it needs sources and examples.  After my
project at work is complete I will at least use some zimun sources to
illustrate (as well as catch up on other threads of discussion)

There are four not completely separate issues, imho, with regard to
sex specific rules:

1. Reducing sexual tension - we don't want to maintain a (high) state
of sexual arousal, so we restrict what women may do in the presence of
men, e.g. a woman's voice and hair.

2. Intrinsic capability - we don't obligate women in things we don't
think they are capable of.

3. (Relative) societal status - we structure the rules to ensure that
women do not have (temporary) roles higher than their (relative)
status e.g. leaning on pesach, getting an aliya in shul (wrt getting
an aliyah it's arguable, but it makes the most sense to me at this

4. Societal role - women as housewife/mother, especially in times when
that was a long term full time position would not be available for
other demanding roles.

These may not quite include every issue, and they are certainly not
unrelated.  The details of the rule regarding sexual tension are quite
asymmetric; we worry about women arousing men, but not men arousing
women.  I am not aware of any notion of a woman seducing a man as
opposed to a man seducing a woman.  One of the curses of Chava has
been interpreted as she will have sexual desire, but be
unable/unwilling to do anything directly about it, but will have to
wait for the man.  It may be in a society in which women did not
have/take such liberties, only the arousal of men was an issue.  In
more symmetric societies such as contemporary America, I wonder.

> One might argue that women did not feel about their lot in life as they
> do now.  One might also argue that they felt much worse, having no
> avenue to express themselves as individuals.  If their entire life was
> as house-servant and child-rearer, it would seem that they would want
> more opportunity to perform mitzvot.  In that way they could have a
> sense of accomplishment in actions they did in service to G-D, since
> those actions were being done by themselves, for themselves( or for
> whatever other purpose mitzvot serve ).

Women as a class could find fulfilment in their prescribed role
just like any other class.  IMHO, chazal did not in any way shape
or form mistreat women; they treated them in accord with the societal
norms of their day.  Some of those norms have changed
significantly in the last 50 - 100 years; woman vote, get elected,
rise to positions of leadership in industry, go to coed schools and
receive nobel prizes.  For most of human history, women were not
considered capable or worthy of e.g. voting.  Certain classes of men
too were down on the totem pole at times, but not men as a class.
Almost no matter what role a person is born into, there are means
to personal fulfilment simply through the attitute one takes.

>  In a modern society where a woman can gain prominence in many areas,
> the need for finding fulfillment in mitzvot might be reduced.

Prominence is not fulfilment.  Some highly prominent and successful
people are not fulfilled in the least.

> And yet, Chazal did not see that need being expressed by the women of
> their time, or if they saw it, did not consider it weighty enough to
> counterbalance their other concerns, whatever they were.
> My point is that Chazal were sensitive people: sensitive to nuances in
> Biblical texts, sensitive to the halachic system, and sensitive to human
> emotions. Let us give them the credit they deserve for the system they
> have handed down to us.

I wholeheartedly agree that Chazal were sensitive people and deserve
whatever credit we can give them for passing on to us the living Torah
through thousands of years.  With regard to women's issues, imho they
were both compassionate and far seeing, and successful in maintaining
a vibrant communal life to our generation.  Change occurs slowly in a
system with such a long track record of success, and it should be that
way, imho.  That being said, I think it is also important to
understand things to the best of one's ability and to acknowledge the
past as accurately as possible, even if parts of it are uncomfortable
relative to attitudes and principles accepted today.

Jeremy Nussbaum (<jeremy@...>)


From: Freda B. Birnbaum <FBBIRNBAUM@...>
Date: Mon, 6 Mar 1995 23:20:15 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Women's participation, motives, etc.

In m-j V18N57, we have:

--- further speculation and evaluation from Zvi Weiss re women's motivations
for doing certain ritual acts

-- excellent suggestions from Ben Yudkin to avoid statements re presumed

-- support from several men for the women's intentions if not all of their
citations  (Eli Passow, Eliezer Diamond -- thanks, guys!)

-- a strong statement from Smadar Kedar that this stuff is not for her and
her friends:

>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

>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.

Has it occurred to anyone that the need here may be for PARTICIPATION, not

>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 believe this is a misunderstanding of the drive for more participation.
As a friend of mine said years ago, on being asked, why did she want to do
X, Y, Z things which usually only men do, she replied, "Because these things 
ARE the holy things of this religion!"

We then have from Moishe Kimelman:

>I've been holding back on this topic all along, but now that I've been
>"coerced" into commenting....  The point of "motive" has been dissected
>and discussed at length, but what about the "motive" behind the
>"motive"?  When someone wrongs us and we retaliate, our "outer" motive
>is clearly revenge.  But the reason we feel the need to take revenge -
>the "inner" motive behind the "outer" motive - may be pride, a sense of
>justice, or some other hidden emotion.

May I suggest that it is a serious question and not a flame, to ask, what is
the motive behind the motive when men get SO upset and SO critical of women
doing things which are clearly permissible, such as mezuman or dancing with a
sefer Torah?  (Public aliyot in a regular shul are a separate issue, much more
fraught with emotion and with the weight of custom.)  What is it about women
doing these activities which sends so many men rushing off to the seforim to
find a reason to prohibit it?

>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?  Could it be that the
>"inner" motive behind the struggle for equality of the sexes is the non-
>(or even anti-) Jewish outlook that if I am not as visible as a man and
>able to do as he does I am considered worthless in secular society, and
>therefore probably from a Torah perspective as well?

May I suggest that, whether we like it or not, most of the women on this
list cannot return to the consciousness of the women mentioned in the
above paragraph.  Life for most people today is quite different.
Clearly these issues did not bother these admirable women.  But they
bother many of us.  We would appreciate it if some of you would try to
look at this from our perspective and look for the positive as well as
the perceived negative in what we are doing.

And as to our level of seriousness.... I can think of at least two
halachic women's davenings where many of the participants are also
members of the women's chevra kadisha.  You do NOT get asked to be on
the chevra kadisha if you are not regarded as a serious frum person.  I
know of several of these people who have done three taharas in one week,
with not one word or hint that this was an imposition.  I think that
says enough about their motivation to close the subject for me.

>If someone were today to refuse me a job on the grounds that a Kohen had also
>applied he would no doubt contravene some equality law, yet that is possibly
>precisely what the Torah mandates.  

I would be extremely interested to find out if this were the case.  I
have a hunch it isn't.  Can anybody give sources for this?

Freda Birnbaum


End of Volume 19 Issue 14