Volume 29 Number 82
                 Produced: Fri Sep 10  6:57:10 US/Eastern 1999

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Kol Isha
         [Gitelle Rapoport]
On being counted for a non-Orthodox "minyan" (3)
         [Wendy Baker, Dr. A.J. Gilboa, Moshe Feldman]
Previous Generations
         [Moshe Feldman]


From: Gitelle Rapoport <giteller@...>
Date: Wed, 1 Sep 1999 15:46:31 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Kol Isha

I don't want to start a big debate going, but I would like to offer at
least some response to several earlier inquiries (in the context of the
long discussion about Glatt Yacht and "rabbinic organizations mandated
to control") re opinions permitting women to sing in front of men. It's
a complex question and I am by no means the scholar who could give the
detailed answer that it deserves.

However -- anyone seriously interested in the issue should read the
article by Rabbi Saul Berman, "Kol Isha," in the Joseph H. Lookstein
Memorial Volume (Ktav, 1980), which traces the historical development of
this law.

Some of the rabbis who have specific knowledge of this issue have been
rather inaccessible during the summer, but I was told that B'nei Akiva
relies on a teshuvah by a Rav Neriyah, who was a student of Rav Kook
(zt"l), to permit a mixed group of men and women singers. The principle
is that "two voices [together] are not heard" as one - see, for example,
Otzar HaPoskim, Even Ha'Ezer, vol. 9,p. 50 (on Hilchot Ishut 21:1), re
the prophet Devorah and Barak singing together.

Some sources can be interpreted to exclude unmarried women from a ban on
listening to women sing at times other than while saying Sh'ma. See,
e.g., Rambam, Hilchot Issurei Biah, 21:2; Perisha on the Tur, Even
HaEzer 21:2; Bet Shmuel, Even Ha'ezer 21:4; Magen Avraham. O.H. 75:6.

According to my understanding, the more "lenient" opinion espoused by
some contemporary rabbis is based on application of certain existing
principles and qualifications. For example --
Whatever prohibition exists is on men listening to women singing, not
on women singing in front of men (the rationale being that men may be
sexually aroused and therefore end up engaging in prohibited sexual
activity.) But this is not an absolutely predictable result. For
instance, according to some sources, a woman singing in a liturgical
context (e.g., zemirot or prayer) is not presumed to arouse hirhur
(sexually improper thoughts). See e.g., Seridei Aish Vol. 2, no. 8;
Yechaveh Da'at, Part 4, no. 16, notes at the bottom; and Rav Yehuda
Herzl Henkin's B'nai Banim, vol. 3, Siman 25, no. 2.

In addition, there may be a subjective element involved in the whole
issue of restrictions on activities that may be sexually arousing. A
particular man may be able to ignore a woman singing to the extent that
it does not distract him and/or may not be aroused by it because of
"regilut" -"accustomedness" - i.e., a man, or perhaps a whole community,
is used to hearing women sing in a variety of settings. This principle
is mentioned in a general way by Raviyah on Berakhot, sec.  76; Ritva at
the end of his commentary on Kiddushin; Rema on O.H. 75:3; and
Maharshal, Yam Shel Shelomo, introduction to Kiddushin 4:25.

On the general question of the relativity of hirhur in certain contexts,
see chapter 9, "Hirhur and Community Norms," by R. Yehuda H.  Henkin, in
the book "Equality Lost" (Urim Press, 1999). These are just sample

Furthermore, just because written p'sak (halachic ruling) explicitly
permitting listening to women sing in certain circumstances is hard to
find, it does not necessarily follow that no responsible rabbis are
giving such a p'sak. Examples: Rabbi Saul Berman, author of the
aforementioned article, said publicly at the most recent Conference on
Feminism and Orthodoxy (in response to a question at a workshop on Kol
Isha) that he interprets the sources to allow a woman to sing in front
of men, even solo, in certain circumstances. Although in the minority,
several Orthodox shuls in New York City have allowed women to perform
with men in front of mixed audiences - Lincoln Square Synagogue, all of
whose last three rabbis allowed (and encouraged) a mixed choir that
performs in the shul on "recent" holidays such as Yom Ha'Atzmaut; Ohab
Zedek, where the mixed Bilubi choir performs regularly; the
Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue, where Sephardic women performers have
occasionally sung (even solo, occasionally, if my memory serves
correctly) and the Carlebach Shul, which sponsors Neshama Carlebach
singing but is careful to publicize in advance the time she is scheduled
to perform so that men who wish to leave may do so. Rabbi Mordechai
Tendler has ruled (as he confirmed to me in a recent conversation) that
this is required, as well as making sure that men also perform at the
same concert, so that men who have paid the admission price will be able
to get entertainment that is not problematic for them. Rabbi Chaim
Wasserman (an occasional contributor to this list) also contends, (as I
understand him) that the prohibition is listening to distinctly erotic
singing -- not any singing -- by women. Those interested in the detailed
halachic reasoning of these rabbis and the rabbis of the shuls mentioned
are entitled to ask them.

Finally, FWIW, in the anecdotal department: A few years ago, a good
friend of mine asked several respected rabbis in Israel their opinions
on this matter; several of them told her they believe there are many
qualifications to the "kol isha" restriction but that they will not
publicize this because they are afraid of being attacked by rabbinic
colleagues. Which may say more about contemporary Orthodox politics than
about halacha.

Kol tuv,
Gitelle Rapoport


From: Wendy Baker <wbaker@...>
Date: Fri, 3 Sep 1999 15:45:05 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: On being counted for a non-Orthodox "minyan"

It was nice to hear of this non-Orthodox Shivah which not only was
concerned about Davvening a service, but was also interested in a
Minyan.  I think staying was the proper thing to do as without you these
people would not have davvened at all.  Surely it is better for them to
do this, even imperfectly, rather than not at all.  You are not in a
position to make them more observant or more Orthodox, but leaving and
making them unable to have any service might easily drive them further
away from tradition and observance.  There is a lot to be said for
taking people from where they are.

There certainly are questions regarding the nature of any Barchu's,
Kiddushas and Kaddishes said at that service, but you certainly helped
to comfort the mourner, which is the main reason for attending the

Wendy Baker

From: Dr. A.J. Gilboa <bfgilboa@...>
Date: Sun, 05 Sep 1999 01:00:19 +0200
Subject: On being counted for a non-Orthodox "minyan"

You did the right thing. I stress your next-to-last sentence "out of
respect.....". Yishar koach on having good instincts. No second thoughts
or apologies are necessary.

From: Moshe Feldman <MFeldman@...>
Date: Tue, 7 Sep 1999 10:15:14 -0400 
Subject: RE: On being counted for a non-Orthodox "minyan" 

Bernard Horowitz wrote:

> The avel (mourner) announced that it was time for mincha.  A quick
> glance around the room revealed that there were exactly ten adults
> present, not all of them men.  Thiw was perfectly acceptable to the
> avel and, apparently, to the others present.  I suppose theat I should
> have anticipated the problem and left earlier but I didn't.  What
> should I have done?

1.  I would think that participating in the minyan would constitute
"lifnei iver" (putting a stumbling block before the blind), since you
cause the chazan to say a bracha l'vatala.  This would be true lifnei
iver (Torah prohibition) rather than merely the Rabbinic form
("misa'ye'a") since the "minyan" would not have 10 without you.

As you may recall, in recent MJ issues there has been discussion of
lifnei iver, and when kiddush hashem and other concepts may override.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach in (Minchat Shlomo 35) permitted the issue of
causing hatred of Judaism to override lifnei iver, since lifnei iver
looks at the total result (the person "aided" will be doing something
worse by hating Judaism than by doing the sin of let's say, eating
without a bracha--which was Rav Auerbach's example).  However, I doubt
that Rav S.Z. would permit joining in forming a non-Orthodox minyan; in
his tshuvah Rav SZ was worried that not offering food to a secular
Jewish visitor would cause enmity towards religious Jews.  (Thus there
would be a greater stumbling block in not offering the food than in
offering the food.)  In contrast, if an Orthodox person refuses to join
in a non-Orthodox mixed minyan, stating that he could not in good
conscience join, I doubt that others would hate Orthodoxy as a result;
they already know that Orthodox Jews do not pray in a mixed setting
(this is one of the few facts about Orthodoxy that everyone seems to
know).  Yes, they would be disappointed and slightly upset, but would
they think much less of Orthodoxy?

And even if someone would think less of Orthodoxy, what about the fact
that by staying, you cause people to think that Orthodoxy might be wishy
washy about this issue, and so they'll be upset at the next Orthodox
person who isn't willing to bend?  Ultimately, the lack of "equal
rights" for women in Orthodoxy turns many people off, but they're going
to be turned off whether or not you are permissive in this one case.

2.  A second line of reasoning as to why participation in the "minyan"
may be prohibited is that minyan may constitute ziyuf hatorah (forgery
of the Torah--applying non-halachic concepts/practices to the Torah).
This is not an issue of lifnei iver (where there may be more wiggle room
as per R.  Auerbach) but actual participation in an averah.  *Even* if
it were argued that the sin in such participation is less than the sin
that the others would have in thinking less of Judaism, one is not
permitted to do a lesser sin in order to save his friend from a greater
sin (we do not say "chatei k'dei she'yizkeh chavercha").

Kol tuv,


From: Moshe Feldman <MFeldman@...>
Date: Tue, 7 Sep 1999 20:24:21 -0400 
Subject: RE: Previous Generations

Deborah Wenger writes:
> (2) My high school years coincided with the height of the "miniskirt"
> craze. Although, of course, the school did have a dress code, we were
> allowed to wear skirts up to 2 inches above our knees; again, there
> were NO objections to this dress code. The same school now, of course,
> does not allow above-the-knee skirts.

Technically, one might justify the 60's position by arguing that less
than a tefach (3 inches) of ervah [nakedness] is permissible (assuming
like the Mishnah Brurah that the knee = "shok"; see Rav Mordechai Willig
in "Am Mordechai" who disagrees with this position).  However, I can see
reason to disagree; after all, when women sit down, more than 3 inches
would show.  What halakhic justification could you provide to allow more
than 3 inches to show?

> (3) As Meir pointed out, mixed dancing was also much more commonplace
> in those days. Shul dinners had mixed dancing, and my parents tell me
> that Young Israel and Mizrachi dances were among the preferred venues
> for meeting members of the opposite sex.

This is even more difficult to justify.  If a women is a niddah, then
all touching which gives pleasure to the man is forbidden (Rambam,
Issurei Bi'a 21:1) based on the pasuk of "lo tikrivu l'galot erva" [you
shall not come *close* to sexual intercourse].  Perhaps not all mixed
dancing comes within that category, but it sometimes does.  The only
argument I can see to permit this is to argue that the pleasure which
would accrue to a man in such an instance is not the forbidden pleasure
described in the Rambam (who describes hugging, kissing, and "kiruv
basar," which I presume, based on the context, is lying together), but I
find it difficult to believe that this would not be frowned upon by the

On the other hand, there is no halakhic problem for a man to dance with
his wife who is not a niddah, and if Meir Shinnar presents videographic
evidence that the Rav did so, I presume that it is fully permissible.

> My point is, were all these people "wrong" 30 years ago? Was the
> halacha "wrong" 30 years ago? Or - IMHO - are these issues just all
> part of the general movement toward the "right wing"?

How about a third possibility: There are many opinions within halakha
regarding these matters.  The lenient opinions are halakhically
legitimate, but nevertheless in the minority.  In the 50's and 60's,
when it shmirat shabbat and attending yeshivot were not necessarily a
given in modern Orthodox households, the rabbinate decided not press the
"grey" areas, where there was room to be lenient, so that it could
concentrate on the main issues.

In order for Meir Shinnar's & Deborah Wenger's argument to hold, they
must present halakhic arguments to buttress their positions.  It is not
sufficient to present evidence that certain gedolim countenanced these
practices.  If in fact they can present such halakhic arguments (even if
such arguments are debatable), then certainly the practices described
cannot be rejected out of hand.  But, if at the end of the day, the
halakhic arguments against such practices are stronger than those for
those practices, I feel comfortable in describing the current situation
in the Jewish community as one where people are doing their utmost to
ensure compliance with ikar hadin [the requirements of the law].

Instead of labeling this a move to the right, I would label this as part
of the ascendancy of textualism over the mimetic tradition.  (See
Dr. Hayim Soloveitchik's article in Tradition regarding this issue.)

Kol tuv,


End of Volume 29 Issue 82