Volume 48 Number 09
                    Produced: Wed May 25  5:11:49 EDT 2005

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Anti-female bias?
         [David and Toby Curwin]
         [Leah Sarah Reingold Gordon]
Kaddish and women (4)
         [Carl Singer, Janice Gelb, Ben Katz, Rochelle L. Millen]
Women Saying Kadish
         [Russell J Hendel]
Womens Zimun/Mail Jewish in Jewish Action


From: David and Toby Curwin <tobyndave@...>
Date: Tue, 24 May 2005 18:45:16 +0300
Subject: Anti-female bias?

Dov Teichman wrote:

> The feminist movement, in most of its forms, strives for complete
> equality between the sexes. To transfer those feelings of sexism and
> patriarchy to Judaism, is to have the gall to say that our greatest
> leaders and poskim had an anti-female bias. The undercurrent is that
> Judaism as has been practiced for thousands of years is flawed. That
> is absurd to say, and I think at the least, borders on heresy.

The Sifrei in Parshat Pinchas, attributes to Bnot Tzlofchad: "Human
favor is not like divine favor. Humans favor males over females, but God
favors all...".  And of course, in the end, God said that Bnot Tzlofchad
spoke correctly.


From: <leah@...> (Leah Sarah Reingold Gordon)
Date: Tue, 24 May 2005 05:21:24 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Gender

> The feminist movement, in most of its forms, strives for complete
> equality between the sexes. To transfer those feelings of sexism and
> patriarchy to Judaism, is to have the gall to say that our greatest
> leaders and poskim had an anti-female bias. The undercurrent is that
> Judaism as has been practiced for thousands of years is flawed. That is
> absurd to say, and I think at the least, borders on heresy. This idea is
> Dov Teichman

Usually, when I am accused of heresy on M.J, it is based on something
that I have said and not on a straw-person "undercurrent".  ;)

Nonetheless, I do believe that Judaism, in all times and in all places,
has been influenced by the prevailing outside culture.  (How else would
you explain that "Jewish" cuisine is always the local cuisine of these
Jews' ancestors?)

The sad truth is that many world cultures have treated women shamefully
for long stretches of history.  Our Torah protects us from some of the
worst degradations, but some individual humans (including some rabbis),
have allowed misogynist stereotypes to be influential.

However, my belief in outside influence not only upsets me [in terms of
sexist/patriarchal beliefs of rabbis], but it also comforts me.  Future
rabbis will eventually be influenced by the status of women as full
human beings.

Let me also comment on the "third category" (issues neither permitted
nor prohibited).  It is exactly this category of issues that is up for
discussion.  When a strong moral imperative (e.g. women's religious
expression) is at stake, it is no longer sufficient to ignore/discourage
things that are not actually forbidden.  To do so is to imply that
women's religious expression is a non-issue.  And to do this is deeply
offensive and hurtful to Jewish women.

--Leah Sarah Reingold Gordon


From: Carl Singer <casinger@...>
Date: Tue, 24 May 2005 06:28:40 -0400
Subject: Kaddish and women

> I think that any statement like "The only reason that X is doing
> something is because of [Y]ism" is a very dangerous and hard to defend
> statement. In my view, it shows a lack of willingness to examine
> situations with intellectual honesty.

To expand on Avi's statement (above.)    

There's a grave danger in ascribing (by assumption) a reason for
someone's doing something.

It is especially true that when a vocal / visible group does something
for a given purpose that there may be others who are doing it for
different purposes (isms?) or without much thought.

Specific to women in shul and saying kaddish -- no doubt there are some
women who may do so as a reflection of some feminist stance -- and / or
to make a statement.  And there are women who come to shul (just?)
because they take comfort in being in shul and davening there.
Similarly, some women learn because they wish to make a statement that
they are capable of learning.  And some women learn because they love
learning.  Don't confuse the two motivations or start handing out

In general if the former are vocal, etc., the latter have a problem in
trying to disassociate themselves.

A simple example: If I wear a bow tie because I just so happen to like
bow ties and a group of people choose to wear bow ties as some sign of
protest or a political statement -- I'm potentially in a bind.

Carl Singer

From: Janice Gelb <j_gelb@...>
Date: Tue, 24 May 2005 10:34:01 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re: Kaddish and women

<DTnLA@...> (Dov Teichman) wrote:
> Have there been no pious women until our generation? In my opinion, the
> only reason their piety is expressing itself by taking on more
> traditionally male roles is Feminism. Period. (Granted there have been
> individual women in history that wore tefilin, tsitsis, etc. but they
> were one in a million, and I'm sure it was without all the hoopla that
> is created today by Jewish feminists.)
> The feminist movement, in most of its forms, strives for complete
> equality between the sexes. To transfer those feelings of sexism and
> patriarchy to Judaism, is to have the gall to say that our greatest
> leaders and poskim had an anti-female bias. The undercurrent is that
> Judaism as has been practiced for thousands of years is flawed. That is
> absurd to say, and I think at the least, borders on heresy. This idea is
> expressed by Reb Moshe Feinstein in his famous teshuva on women wearing
> tefilin and tsitsis. Furthermore, there are certain things that halacha
> allows, yet there is a principle known as "Ain ruach chachamim noche
> heimenu." Meaning, not everything falls under two categories of muttar
> and assur (permitted and prohibited). There is a third category of
> things that, while technically permitted, our rabbis are not happy with
> their practice. Women's increased role in the synagogue, saying kaddish,
> and performing traditionally male mitzvos fall into that third category.
> There is no shortage of avenues of expression for women trying to be
> "strong jews," within the framework of orthodox judaism, without having
> to resort to shaking up our customs the way they have been practiced for
> generations.

I find this reasoning difficult at the best of times, and certainly in
this particular case almost offensive. To impute the desire to say
kaddish for one's parent to a feminist attempt to take on men's roles
seems to me to be ignoring a completely obvious and human response to
the death of a parent whose kaddish would otherwise either be said by
strangers or not at all. And expanding this opinion to the motivations
of all women everywhere who are attempting to express their spirituality
in a way meaningful to them while still halachically permissible is
presumptuous and judgmental in the extreme.

Have you ever actually spoken to any women regarding this topic that you
can state so positively that feminist desires to ape men are their sole

Moreover, "shaking up our customs the way they have been practiced for
generations" can cover a multitude of practice that often rest, when one
examines them, on a combination of superstition and ignorance rather
than actual halacha. For example, I recently had a discussion with a
male friend in another community where he said that his rabbi had
categorically stated that women are not allowed to dance with a Torah on
Simchat Torah because of niddah issues. When pressed for details, he
said that his rabbi had not provided any sources for this statement. I
researched the issue and provided him with sources that refute the
allegation and asked him to query his rabbi again. He didn't do so but
instead asked another rabbi in the neighborhood, who said that while the
research was accurate, his congregation would never stand for the
practice to be changed.

Even more than the narrow point of this particular issue is the fact
that my friend had accepted the rabbi's statement without any authority
to back it up, and without checking on it himself. How many communities
and generations of men have accepted such statements and practices
without ever examining whether they are based on halacha and
source-related rabbinic opinion? To say that these are forbidden because
"our rabbis are not happy with their practice" without such a basis
seems to place them in a category of practice based on social norms
rather than halacha, the very rationale that you scorn when it applies
to what you perceive as women's motivation.

-- Janice

From: Ben Katz <bkatz@...>
Date: Tue, 24 May 2005 15:13:20 -0500
Subject: Re: Kaddish and women

         I disagree strongly with Mr. Teichman's statements above (see
quoted material above in Janice's posting. Mod.).  What he does not
realize is that times change and society's norms change.  Just to give a
few examples:

1. When photography first came out many gedolim refused to have their
pictures taken.  Now there is not a haredi rav in the world who won't
pose for a picture.

2. In 8th century Israel it was permissible for a sheliach tzibur to not
cover his head (because that was not the norm in Israel, as oppossed to

3. We never hear of bar mitzvah celebrations until early medieval
ashkenaz.  At the time, a boy's change in personal status change began
to be celebrated in a formal way.  This wasn't done for girls for the
next several hundred years for societal reasons, and is now to be
encouraged, at least according to Rav OvadiaYosef.

4. Girls were never given a formal Jewish education until the Bais
Yaakov movement (a haredi innovation), which had the haskamah of the
Chafetz Chayim.

5. Kadish yatom in and of itself is post-gaonic.

6.  There were medieval responsa that encouraged women to wear tzitzit.
Surely not the norm, but not beyond the pale.  We have medieval paytanim
who praise their wives as "great weavers of tzitzit".  They couldn't
have woven them if they weren't wearing them.

I could go on and on ...

There is no mitzvah to asser that which is permissible.  Clearly, pious
women today express themselves in different ways, perhaps due in some
degree to societal norms, than they did hundreds of years ago.  The same
is true for men.

Ben Z. Katz, M.D.
Children's Memorial Hospital, Division of Infectious Diseases
2300 Children's Plaza, Box # 20, Chicago, IL 60614
e-mail: <bkatz@...>

From: Rochelle L. Millen <rmillen@...>
Date: Tue, 24 May 2005 13:19:48 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: Re: Kaddish and women

The anti-woman bias in some of the recent postings about kaddish is
quite palpable. It is reminiscent of the comment a few years back, by a
well-known rav, that women are "guests" in shul.

I am one of many Orthodox women who recite kaddish when the situation
requires that I do so--for elelven months after the death of each of my
parents, a"h, and for thirty days after the loss of my sister, a"h.  It
was the hostility and bias of some which caused me, originally, to do
the research that became the essay mentioned by Eli Finkelman here last
week, "The Female Voice of Kaddish." As a woman, I am an integral part
of the congregation, one function of which is to provide a venue for the
tefillot and spiritual concerns of all.

 One can only hope, as Aliza Berger recently wrote, that more men will
curtail the feelings of power and privilege which can make of other
Jews--who happen to be female--"guests" in the house of Hashem.

Rochel Millen
Rochelle L. Millen, Ph.D.
Professor of Religion, Wittenberg University
Springfield, OH 45501


From: Russell J Hendel <rjhendel@...>
Date: Mon, 23 May 2005 23:30:40 -0400
Subject: RE: Women Saying Kadish

I am not a posayk(decider of Jewish law). With that disclaimer I review
the following lecture I heard from Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchick on the

The Rav pointed out that the contrary to popular belief the "mourning
customs" during the omer (e.g. no haircuts) are not ONLY because of
Rabbi Akiva's students who died during this period but rather because of
the crusades which traditionally happened at the beginning of the summer
(and exterminated Jewish communities on a quantitative and qualitative
level similar to Germany)

The Rav, based on prayer book manuscripts, detailed 3 effects the
crusades had on Jewry: (1) Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur used to be
"holidays" like Pesach etc...but after the crusades there was more of an
emphasis on "Judgement day". It is hard for us to think of Rosh Hashanah
without Judgement but that is the way it was before the crusades (The
Rav cited the verse in Ezra Nehemia...'Go eat cakes and drink sweet
drinks for this is a holiday'. (2) The sefirah mourning increased. (3)
The institution of Kaddish Yathom (Kaddish recited by mourners) was
introduced.  (or given greater emphasis)

According to the Rav the purpose of Kaddish Yathom was to strengthen
people who lost their families in the crusades....(They were filled with
doubts and tempted to leave Judaism).

If we accept this position then the primary purpose of saying Kaddish is
not a technical recital of 'May his great name be blessed...' but rather
the goal of preserving people who might otherwise leave Judaism.

It would seem to me that this goal applies equally to children, adults,
males and females. Consequently, it would appear justified to EQUALLY
encourage women to say Kaddish when the occassion arises. Again I
emphasize: If without the Kaddish these people have no tie to Judaism
and if saying Kaddish gives them this tie then we should encourage it.

Although I have steered away from technical legal issues, I believe the
philosophical goal presented here--saving people from loss to
Judaism--has halachic implications also.

Respectfully Russell Jay Hendel;


From: Michael <mordechai@...>
Date: Mon, 23 May 2005 22:39:04 -0400
Subject: Womens Zimun/Mail Jewish in Jewish Action

We recently had Rabbi Zivotofsky as a Scholar in Residence at my shul
and he had suggested I look up his article on the OU website on Women's

I think its relevent to our discussion on women and kaddish because of
the issue that halacha allows significantly more options for women than
actual practice typically allows.  What's more interesting is how many
times Mail Jewish is quoted as a source in the article.



End of Volume 48 Issue 9