Volume 7 Number 76

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Women at the Kotel [m.j Vol. 7 #71 Digest]
         [Rick Dinitz]
Women's Prayer Groups (7)
         [Warren Burstein, Miriam Nadel, Arthur Roth, Bob Werman, Ellen
Krischer, Anthony Fiorino, Aliza Berger]


From: tekbspa!<dinitz@...> (Rick Dinitz)
Date: Wed, 09 Jun 93 17:16:28 -0700
Subject: Women at the Kotel [m.j Vol. 7 #71 Digest]

Allen Elias writes:
>There was a controversy several years ago at the Western Wall in
>Jerusalem.  A group of women (American Reform) organized their own
>service in the women's section. There was violence and the police were

 To the best of my knowledge, Allen's parenthetical remark is doubly
incorrect.  According to Bonnah Haberman, a participant and a
spokesperson, the group was mixed both in citizenship and denomination.
That is, it contained women from Israel, the United States and other
countries; and it contained women who identified as Orthodox,
Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist.  (Haberman and her family
identify themselves as Orthodox; they live in Jerusalem.)

[Miriam Nadel sent in a very similar response. Mod]

 Does anyone have further information on the current status of the
legal proceedings in this case?



From: <warren@...> (Warren Burstein)
Date: Fri, 11 Jun 93 03:11:42 -0400
Subject: Re: Women's Prayer Groups

>First, there is at least one Orthodox synagague in Jerusalem, called
>Yedidya, which has all of the following: women's minyan (when requested
>by or for someone specifically, ie, a Bat Mitzvah)

Please folks, there is no such thing as a women's minyan.  Even if the
people who go to it refer to it that way, I'm sure if you said that to
the organizers they would quickly correct you  - "halachic women's
prayer service".  Please dont perpetuate the error.

I want to also make a small correction - we do not (at least at present,
things may have been different in the past) have halachic women's prayer
services as Yedidya (of which I am a member), while we do have women's
Torah readings.  I don't know the reason for this.

 |warren@      But the chef
/ nysernet.org is not all that concerned.

From: Miriam Nadel <nadel@...>
Date: Thu, 10 Jun 93 11:28:50 PDT
Subject: Re: Women's Prayer Groups

There are some specific issues regarding women's prayer services (I use
this term rather than "women's minyan" because it leads to less
controversy).  The halachic questions center, though, on what brachot
can and can't be said and issues like that which are essentially
technicalities.  Most women's prayer services that I've been to do not
say those things (e.g. kaddish) which require a minyan.  When reading
the Torah is part of such a service, the most common practice is to use
the bracha for studying torah, though sometimes no bracha is used.

It is also my impression that finding women's prayer services of this
nature is likely to be difficult outside of major metropolitan areas
with large Jewish populations and/or university communities.

Miriam Nadel

From: <rotha@...> (Arthur Roth)
Date: Sun, 13 Jun 93 16:18:20 -0500
Subject: Women's Prayer Groups

    This is in response to Sara Kaplan's inquiry about women's prayer
groups.  This issue has created an extreme amount of animosity and
divisiveness in my shul in Skokie, IL (a suburb of Chicago).  Some
interested women started what they first called a "women's minyan",
which the rabbi originally gave approval for them to do under the
auspices of the shul itself.  He later withdrew this permission because
of all the divisiveness, which saw each side of the issue quoting
different halachic sources to support their views and certain shul
members threatening to stop supporting the shul financially if it
continued to sanction this idea.  The group now calls itself a "women's
prayer group" and is not officially associated with the shul, but it is
still thriving.  It meets just once a month, not every Shabbat.
    Having seen first hand the explosiveness of this issue, I assumed
when I first read Sara's inquiry that there would be many impassioned
responses to her in MJ from both sides.  Much to my surprise, I have
seen only a few relatively tame responses.  Hence I feel compelled,
though I cannot possibly talk about all the issues, to at least give
Sara a feel for the extent of the controversies attached to the topic
that she obviously raised in innocence.
    The controversy in Skokie was extensive enough to come to the
attention of the Jewish Federation (JF) of the entire Chicago area.
This in itself is unusual because the JF is generally not attuned to
issues that don't extend very far beyond the Orthodox community.  In
fact, their newspaper, called the "JUF News" (not sure what the "U"
stands for), often contains articles which give the impression that the
Orthodox are an extreme element of the community which shouldn't be
taken too seriously.  Quite surprisingly, then, a recent issue of the
"JUF News" contained a very lengthy article on the topic which was well
researched and, in my opinion, extremely well balanced.  It recognized
that this was an Orthodox issue involving Orthodox women and hence
contained information based on interviews with several Orthodox
authorities, some on each side and some advocating various middle
grounds.  It also attempted to summarize the reasons why some of the
women felt a need for such a group.  These women each found something
lacking in the regular minyan.  However, the next issue contained a
letter to the editor from a member of the women's prayer group who said
that though she enjoyed her participation on a once-a-month basis, this
did not indicate any deficiency (for her) in the regular minyan, which
fully satisifed her needs the other three weeks of the month.  Some of
the more interesting halachic points were:
  1. It was universally agreed that a "minyan" by definition contains
ten men, and hence that women could not read the Torah using the
traditional brachot that men make when they are given an Aliyah.  The
women's prayer group in Skokie therefore does a Torah reading merely as
a form of learning; a woman called up for the equivalent of an "aliyah"
makes the brachot on learning Torah instead of the usual brachot.  They
do this with halachic permission from a well known Orthodox rabbi whose
opinions they rely upon; however, other rabbis argue that even this is
not acceptable, maintaining that a Torah scroll is too sacred to use
just for ordinary learning activities.  The universal agreement that a
women's prayer group is not a minyan also means that they cannot recite
parts of the service such as barchu, kaddish, and kedushah.
  2. Despite this, quite a number of women's prayer groups exist
throughout the United States (and, in fact, throughout the world), some
of which apparently have received permission even for some of the
activities that the Chicago sources unanimously disallowed.  The regular
brachot over the Torah may have been one such item, though I do not
recall this point for certain.  In summary, even some of the "obvious"
restrictions may not be so obvious.
  3. Rav Gedaliah Schwartz, the Av Bet Din of Chicago, is known for
moderate opinions on many issues (e.g., he approved an eruv in the area
despite strong opposition from Rav Aharon Soloveitchik) and is
nevertheless strongly respected even by extreme right wing elements of
the Orthodox community as a great Talmid Chacham (Torah scholar).
Despite his moderate tendencies, he is adamantly opposed to any kind of
separate women's prayer groups on the grounds that they violate the
principle of "Al tifrosh min hatzibur" (do not separate yourself from
the community at large).

This only begins to scratch the surface.  I suggest that Sara (and
anyone else who is interested in the details) read the article.
Unfortunately, I discarded my own issue of "JUF News" after reading it,
but I would think that the JF would be willing to provide additional
copies (probably at some nominal cost).

Their address is           Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago
                           1 South Franklin
                           Chicago, IL 60606
If anyone tries to get the article and is unsuccessful, send me an E-mail
(<ROTHA@...>) and I will ask around to see if I can help. 
                                                       Arthur Roth

From: <RWERMAN@...> (Bob Werman)
Date: Thu, 10 Jun 93 09:03:39 -0400
Subject: Women's Prayer Groups

My wife and daughter tell me that there is also a fine women's minyan in
Omer [a suburb of Beersheva]. I of course have never seen the minyan,
which meets about once a month to once in 6 weeks, in action but I have
heard my daughter and eldest granddaughter practicing their Tora
readings with great accuracy and -- pardon the prejudice -- sweet,
non-sexual voices.  I have also heard a younger granddaughter practice
Anim Zmirot.

That is as close to the Pargod as I can get.

__Bob Werman    <rwerman@...>    rwerman@vms.huji.ac.il

From: Ellen Krischer
Date: 14 Jun 1993  14:49 EDT
Subject: Women's Prayer Groups

As our esteemed Moderator pointed out, Women's prayer groups (including
Orthodox groups) are probably not as rare as some might think.  There
are several in the NY Metropolitan area (and probably in many other
regions of the country) that have an Orthodox Rabbi as the official
posek [authority to answer ritual questions].

However, all of the Orthodox groups that I am aware of are very careful
to call themselves a "Tephilla" [literally "prayer"] - as in "Women's
Tephilla" or "Women's Tephilla Group".  This acknowledges the fact that
while women may pray and read from the Torah together, they do not
constitute a halachic [Torah legal] "Minyan" [gathering of 10 men over
the age of 13].

The group I know best, the Women's Tephilla in Teaneck, NJ, meets about
1 Sabbath every month and conducts a service much like you would find in an
Orthodox synagogue (except for the omission of some prayers that can
only be said in the presence of a Minyan - like Barchu).  Responsiblities
for leading the prayers, reading from the Torah, giving the D'var Torah
(sermon), etc. are rotated.  Special gatherings are held for Simchat Torah,
Megillah reading on Purim and (I think) Eicha reading on Tisha B'av.

For me, one of the most exciting parts of the Tephilla in watching girls
reading an entire sedra [weekly Torah portion] as part of the celebration
of their Bat Mitvah.  We are raising a generation of girls to whom the
finer points of Torah grammer, pronunciation, and ta'amim [singing vowels]
will not be a closed book.

Ellen Krischer

From: Anthony Fiorino <fiorino@...>
Date: Wed, 9 Jun 93 19:48:56 -0400
Subject: Women's Prayer Groups

The book _Women at Prayer_ by R. Avi Weiss (ktav, hoboken n.j.)  is an
attempt to understand and justify women's prayer groups through an
analysis of the relevant halachic and talmudic sources.

On a side note, most (perhaps all) Orthodox women's prayer groups call
themselves "women's prayer group" or "women's tefila," and specifically
avoid calling themselves a "women's minyan," because they do not have 10
men and thus do not say barchu, kaddish, etc.

Eitan Fiorino

From: <A_BERGER@...> (Aliza Berger)
Date: Fri, 11 Jun 93 11:37:39 -0400
Subject: Women's Prayer Groups

"Women's minyan" is incorrect terminology - the proper term is "women's
prayer group", or in Hebrew "tefilat nashim" (Women's Prayer - for some
reason this works in Hebrew but not in English).  The use of the term
"women's minyan" only discredits the enterprise by making it sound non-
halakhic.  Rabbi Avi Weiss' book "Women at Prayer" discusses the
specific halakhic issues involved; he is the posek (rabbinic decisor)
for some of the groups.

The "Women at the Wall" are Orthodox, Conservative and Reform - an
unusual display of unity!  The common denominator is that for this
purpose, they have decided to abide by halakha in the prayer service.
The first time they met, the rabbi of the Kotel (Western Wall), Rabbi
Getz, said that what they were doing was not problematic halakhically,
therefore he would permit it. He later recanted this permission under
pressure from other rabbis.  At present, the women are permitted to pray
at the kotel, but not raise their voices too loudly, and also not to
read from a sefer Torah there.  To read from the Torah, they go to an
outdoor area in the Jewish Quarter.

Women's prayer groups currently meet in the following locations:
Brooklyn (Flatbush), Washington Heights, Riverdale, Upper East Side of
Manhattan, West Side, Staten Island, Teaneck, Englewood, Great Neck,
Highland Park, Bala Cynwyd, Pa., Columbus, Skokie, Ill., Denver,
Portland, Ore., Montreal, Jerusalem (Women of the Wall), London, and
Melbourne.  Our umbrella organization, the Women's Tefilah Network, held
its second annual conference in February 1993, which over 100 women

Synagogues (besides Yedidya) that allow more than "the usual"
participation by women in the services are:

Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (Rabbi Avi Weiss), which this year had a
women's reading of Megilat Esther that men attended.

At Kehilat Orach Eliezer (Manhattan), women read megilot Ruth, Shir
Hashirim, and Kohelet (the ones that do not have blessings associated
with them), for the entire congregation, based on a psak by Rabbi David
Weiss Halivni.  This is done after the entire prayer service has been
finished (instead of in the middle), with the reader facing the
congregation.  The reasoning which permits this is similar to the reason
that women in a women's prayer group are permitted to read from the
Torah since it is considered "learning" as distinct from public Torah
reading.  This synagogue does not consider itself affiliated with any
particular movement (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or Union for
Traditional Judaism which Rabbi Halivni founded).

The following information is from "Women at Prayer" by Rabbi Avi

In a 1974 responsum, Rabbi Shlomo Goren concluded that women's tefilah
groups are halakhically permissible and that women may recite devarim
she-be-kedusha (kaddish, kedusha, and borchu).  He affirmed this
position in a conversation with Rabbi Weiss in 1989.  However, later
that year he withdrew from his position, saying that his prior heter was
only meant as an interesting theoretical analysis.  The practice of all
(I believe) women's prayer groups today is NOT to recite devarim

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin has indicated on numerous occasions that Rav
Soloveitchik had told him that women's tefillah groups are halkhically
permissible.  The Rav, however, objected to the recitation of devarim
she-be-kedusha.  He was positive about the idea of women's prayer groups
in general, so suggested substitute texts for these omissions.

A source prohibiting women's prayer groups is:

Beit Yitzchak, vol. 17 (March 1985), (Yeshiva University's halakhic
journal), by R. Hershel Schachter (Hebrew).  Rabbi Weiss in his book
discusses the issues raised in this article.

Aliza Berger


End of Volume 7 Issue 76