Volume 8 Number 17

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Women's Tefillah Groups - A Beseiged Reply
         [Anthony Fiorino]


From: Anthony Fiorino <fiorino@...>
Date: Tue, 6 Jul 93 18:11:28 -0400
Subject: Women's Tefillah Groups - A Beseiged Reply

[This topic is clearly one that raises the emotions of many people. At
the same time I think it is a very important topic to many people
(clearly the above two points are related). There are serious issues to
be discussed, and overall I think that the discussion is focussing on
the issues. I ask all the participants to channel their passion toward
the issues and to reread both what you write and read to make sure you
know how what you write will be read by others and that what you read is
indeed what the poster said. With that, here is a long reply from Eitan.

Wow.  I certainly seem to have stirred up an angry response.  As is my
nature, I feel compelled to respond.  But before addressing individual points,
I would like to make a general statement of apology to any who were
offended by my posting; it was written with passion and may have at times
resonated with the excesses born of such passion.  I retract nothing, for
none of my statements were made with malice or the intent to provoke,
although they apparantly have had a provocative effect.  Perhaps some of
the resulting passion has in turn caused a misinterpretation of my remarks.

I must make a second point, about R. Weiss.  Any interpretation of
disrespect on my part for R. Weiss is an absolutely false one.  Perhaps the
details of the minyanim of his shul were better left out of the posting; 
R. Weiss undoubtably feels that the need for a woman's t'filah is very
different that the "need" for a hashkama minyan, and has acted accordingly. 
I have a very high regard for R. Weiss and all of his efforts on the behalf
of yehadut and klal yisrael.  In fact, R. Weiss stood on the beit din which
converted me to Judaism.  However, I do not consider R. Weiss a "posek;"
that is a title reserved for only a few individiduals in a generation.  I
do not consider it a lack of kavod to exclude from R. Weiss the title
reserved for contemporary luminaries such as Rav Moshe or Rav Ovadia Yosef.
And no matter who the person, I reserve the right to challenge a line of
reasoning which I perceive as faulty or which I simply don't understand.
Especially if there are rabbaim have questions similar to mine. 
Unquestionably, the tone of my statements would be different in a
one-on-one setting with a rav, but this forum is not such a setting.  And,
as explained above, the tone of my comments was determined by a passionate
and perhaps over-emotional response.  I am currently attempting to have
the questions raised here addressed by R. Weiss.  He is out of the country
for a month, so there will be no rapid response.

That said, here we go:

>From Ellen Krischer:

> > There are just too many areas for problems here.
> Since when has the potential for problems stopped us from doing
> anything in Judaism?  Keeping a kosher kitchen is filled wwith more
> problems than this, but women have been trusted with that . . .

The purpose of much of rabbinic legislation is meant to keep us away from
"problems" -- to keep us from sinning.  Examples -- all of the gezerot of
hilchot shabbat, meant to build a fence around the 39 malachot d'oraita. 
The potential for "problems" is precisely what keeps us from riding a
horse on shabbat, taking medicine on shabbat, even if that potential is
quite small.  How about kashrut: the system of fences built to keep us
from "problems" -- sinning -- is quite complex, but it does what it is
supposed to do; it keeps us from eating treif.  Not so in the case being
discussed -- the legislation puts women not at a lower risk for
"problems," but at a higher risk, at a higher risk of engaging in talmud
torah without a bracha.

> Do you always feel the legitimacy of a position is eliminated when you
> disagree with a posek?  Or is it just about some issues?

Not at all -- I feel like the legitimacy of a position is eliminated when
a position is challenged, but the challenge goes without response. 
Furthermore, I can not help but feel that there is an ideological axe
being ground here.  Considering the stature of those who have disagreed
with the halachic interpretations that have allowed certain aspects of
women's t'filah, perhaps the wise course might be to drop certain issues,
rather than pursuing them.

The second issue here is the way in which one pursues psak.  Although I
don't feel that there are no circumstances in which external factors
have some kind of influence on psak, I do feel that it is outside of the
Orthodox tradition to take an idea and pound the sources until they are
made to fit that idea, to create a psak based on a sociological agenda.
When you do that, you start sounding like Joel Roth (a Conservative
decisor).  Furthermore, I can respect Joel Roth as someone who knows a
ton more than I do, while at the same time having no respect whatsoever
for his halachic decisions.  (Note -- this is not meant to imply in any
way that I disrespect R. Weiss' halachic decisions.)

> > no halachically valid state of being "dissatisfied" with davening.
> explain people who "break away" . . . don't like the davening, or where
> the shul is located, or what the Rabbi wears. . . . and they do this
> without a lot of uproar in forums like this one.

Hey, I never said breakaway minyanim weren't problem; I think they are. 
Obviously, if people live 10 miles away, or if the shul is of a different
nusach, or if there are halachic problems with the shul, this is one
thing.  But stam breaking away is a problem, as far as I am concerned. 
But even in the case of individual breakaway minyanim, we are not talking
about a movement which is attempting to establish a new minhag.  If there
was a movement within Orthodoxy to create new minyanim which left out
pesukei d'zimra, I assure you it would be discussed in this forum.

Moreover, my point was not about being dissatisfied with davening in a
particular place; I have davened in plenty of shuls where I have said to
myself "Boy, I wouldn't want to pray here every day."  I am talking about
being dissatisfied with the very nature of the seder t'fila -- one can't,
for instance, change the location of kriat hatorah or pesukei d'zimra in
an attempt to make things more "satisfying."  My hypothetical argument was
that perhaps the feeling that the very nature of the synagogue service is
inherently unsatisfying can have no legitimate practical consequences.

> I don't want to cry "double standard" without cause, but I honestly
> have to tell you that that is what statements like yours feel like.
> Somehow I just feel like if this was a question of how to wear
> tefillin or who is allowed to duchen, then the different positions are
> discussed and the results end up being "aloo v'aloo devrei alokim chaim"
> [both positions are the word of the living G-d].  But, when it comes
> to some issues - like women's tephila - it suddenly becomes another
> story entirely.

I am not applying a double standard; rather, I am trying not to.  It would be
easy to do a bit of hand-waving and not look too closely at the issues
because I believe that women's, as well as men's, spiritual well-being is
important.  But, I'm not going to do that -- I will analyze the halachic
issues involved in this every bit as carefully as I would any other case. 
I am not accused of a "double standard" when my analysis comes out on
the "liberal" side of things, but when it comes out on the "conservative
side," suddenly I am intellectually dishonest.

> Maybe it's because, being male, you are at a disadvantage
> in that you have absolutely no way at all to know what it feels like
> to have a women's experience in Judaism.

I know very well what it feels to be an outsider in Judaism.  Before I was
Jewish, I would eat with 2 guys and be quite aware of the missing mezuman.
I remember being the tenth guy in shul, but we still had to wait for one
more.  I remember lighting a match on shabbat in order to be deliberately
mechalel shabbat, since a goy is prohibited from keeping shabbat.  Once, a
friend wanted to have a mezuman with me and someone else -- he thought he
was being nice, making me feel comfortable.  I had to refuse.  I'm not
trying to say I am such a tzadik, but I knew that there were halachic
limitations on what I could and couldn't do.  I have been  eternally
sensitized to the issue of feeling estranged from avodat hashem.  So don't
say that my views are due to the fact that I am male and can't understand.

> I seems to me that people who wanted ice cream after chicken invented
> [an activity that could lead others to get the wrong impression of halacha]
> which result.  I'm not saying we shouldn't eat pareve ice cream.  I am
> saying that the fact that there are real halachik issues about something
> shouldn't stop us from pursuing it.

Yes, there is parve ice cream.  And when non-dairy creamer first came out,
it was forbidden to serve it unless it was in the package, exactly because
of marit ayin.  The halchic issues were not ignored, they were observed. 
And I never said that the halachic problems with women's t'filah should
prevent women from pursuing spiritual expression.  I simply feel that such
expression must be take place in a halchically valid arena.

> I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry.  "non-interpretable halachic
> standards"!?!  Two Jews three opinions.  Two Rabbis 3 psaks.  Are you
> telling me that all Orthodox Rabbis agree on all the statements made in
> the Shulchan Aruch?

My point was that there are subjective issues, such as "kavod sefer torah,"
and more objective issues, such as "kriat hatorah is talmud torah."  I am
willing to grant that it will be hard to get uniform acceptance on what
constitutes a violation of the subjective issues, but one can expect pretty
uniform acceptance on the more objective issues. I was not stating that
every word of the shulchan aruch is non-interpretable or that there no
dispute over any of the dinim within it.  In some cases, there is dispute;
in others, not.  And if you're going to argue on the Shulchan Aruch, you
better be a gadol, or have some good sources.

On my "ice cream after chicken" analogy, we had from Freda Birnbaum:

> This is not only a poor analogy, it's nasty (tho perhaps unwittingly)
> and it's ad hominem and it's condescending and it's assuming things about
> the motivations of people the poster appears to know nothing about.  I
> happen to be well-acquainted with numerous groups and individuals involved
> in women's davening groups and this is not at all their general level of
> frumkeit.  To imply by such an analogy that it is, however useful such an
> analogy may appear to be to the argument the poster is trying to make,
> is disingenouous to say the least.  The general level of frumkeit
> in these groups is that the married women go to the mikvah and the single
> ones don't have to.  In several of the groups that I am aware of, there
> is a significant overlap between the women's davening group and the
> women's chevra kadisha.  You do NOT get asked to be on the chevra kadisha
> if your attitudes and behavior are like the ones described above re chicken
> and ice cream.

I am completely stunned by this, and I resent the statement that I was
nasty, condescending, or insincere, and I am offended that Freda has
raised even the _possibility_ of an intent to hurt on my part -- "though
_perhaps_ unwittingly."  I never implied or stated anything about the
overall level of observance of the women involved in women's t'filah.  I
prefaced my "ice cream after chicken" statement with the admission that it
was a poor analogy, but it nevertheless served as a vehicle for making my
point.  Freda has chosen to read into this that I am implying that women
who daven in women's t'filah are insincere, or their level of frumkeit is
somehow deficient.  In spite of Freda's contention, I too happen to know
women who choose to daven in women's t'filah, and I do not doubt their
sincerity for a minute.  I also know a guy who will only daven in an
egalitarian "minyan."  He too is a very sincere Jew.  Does that therefore
change how I should halachically evaluate an egalitarian "minyan?"

My point is not to compare women's t'filah to egalitarian "minyanim;"
it is  simply this -- that a feeling of dissatisfaction, NO MATTER HOW
HEARTFELT AND SINCERE, does not _automatically_ mean that the cause of the
dissatisfaction can be addressed halachically, or that any proposed
solution is halachically valid.  What if I I wanted to duchen?  All the
sincerity in the world couldn't change the fact that my desire to
participate in birkat kohanim could not be addressed halachically.

> How would the poster feel if I implied that every young guy with views to
> the left of mine . . . was the kind of person who took his tefillin on
> dates?  The analogy used above simply doesn't fit the facts.

The poster (whose name Freda has mentioned when she has quoted with
approval from his postings, though now she seems to have forgotten) would
feel that this was inappropriate.  On the other hand, if one used the
example of men taking their t'filin on dates as an admittedly poor analogy,
I would have no problem with it, even if I didn't agree with the conclusion
drawn from the analogy.

> Please review Susan Hornstein's excellent piece in v7n101 for a better
> understanding of what motivates women to be involved in women's davening
> groups.

I want to reiterate that I never discussed what motivates women to be
involved in women's t'filah.  And while it is easy to divide the world up
into the "good guys" -- those favorably inclined to woman's t'filah -- and
the "bad guys" -- those not so favorably inclined -- such cheshbonot
don't answer any of the halachic difficulties raised by women's t'filah. 
Freda asked "why can't we live with something which enhances many women's
religious lives?"  I can't live with it if it was generated from outside
the bounds of the halachic process, or if by virtue of its existence, it
causes women to violate halacha.

>From Aliza Berger:

> There is room for debate on these points, yes.  However, it is not fair
> to say they are being ignored just because you are on the other side
> of the debate.

Point taken, but the issues still stand; I would like to be enlightened as
to the ways in which the issues raised have been resolved.

Even if one can find a kind of b'di avod reason for permitting what is in
question, it remains just that -- a b'di avod reason.  And that means that
recognition of women's t'filah as a davening option which is l'chatchila on
equal footing with regular davening is not possible.  But it is my
undersanding that this recognition is very important to the women's t'filah
movement; ie, they don't want to be known as a marginalized, second option,
but rather as a valid first choice; please correct me if I am wrong.  I
sense that part of what was distrubing in my post was my referal to
women's t'filah as justifiable only as a "need of the day."  But if
one wants to be a valid first choice, then one can't rely on so many
b'di avod rulings; for instance, to say "really, it is a problem for women
to learn torah without brachot, but we permit it so that the women's
t'filah can run."

> Also, to say that these points eliminate the legitimacy of the entire
> enterprise is only correct from the point of view of someone who
> believes that the women's tfilah is "necessary" for "negative" reasons
> such as women's "needs".  If you believe that it is a positive thing, not
> just necessary to fulfill someone's needs that they would preferably be
> controlling in another way, then these points remain just small problems.

I am disturbed by the notion that halachic difficulties should be viewed
simply "small problems" because of a particular viewpoint.  I think all
should be equally concerned, and all should make it their business to
understand what the problems are and why some rabbis have permitted them. 
I, for one, do not understand some of the issues, in spite of having read
_Women at Prayer_.  It seems to me that the very participants in women's
t'filah should have taken the time to familiarize themselves with the
answers to these questions, and should be able to field the problems I and
others have raised, and respond to them on halachic terms.  And if one can't
respond to them, then the response should not be "these are small
problems" or "there is a rav who has matired all this, so I don't have to
worry about it."  For instance, I adhere strongly to a "Torah Umada"
viewpoint, and I possess the ammunition to engage in debate about the
subject with someone who doesn't believe that non-Torah studies are
permitted.  I possess this ammunition because I have made it my business to
find out, because I am aware that it is an area on controversy and thus I
want to evaluate both sides of the argument.

I never said that women's needs were "negatives" -- please don't put words
in my mouth.  What delegitimizes women's t'filah from my perspective is
not my view of women or their needs, but rather a large reliance on "b'di
avod" psak and by the attempt to force the sources into another framework.

> We who follow halakha often have to control our desires for things that
> lie outside halakha (e.g. ice cream after meat).  Would any of us say that
> we "need" the ice cream, to the point where we would eat it?  Probably
> not.  Since we can't have it, it's not a "need".

A need is not defined simply as something which it is permitted to fulfill;
to argue that "we can't have X, therefore X is not a need" doesn't work. 
Sometimes, needs can be left unfulfilled.

> Similarly, the women's tefilah is not a "need".  Rather, it is a viable,
> halakhic activity that has many merits.  

But that is exactly what is at debate here -- can we really say that
women's t'filah is a viable halachic activity if there are halachic
problems with it?

It seems to me, the whole basis for establishing women's t'filah is that
there is a special need present now which was not present in previous
generations.  For those involved in setting the guidelines for these
groups, this need has justified the issues of violation of minhag, kavod
sefer Torah, arbitrary movement of birkat hatorah, etc.  If we are now
arguing that women's t'filah is not a need, then what justifies the women's
prayer groups in the first place?  If there is no need, then why the
violations of minhag, kavod hatorah, birkat hatorah?

Arthur Roth proposed a solution, which is that there is no sin involved in
a someone learning if they haven't made the brachot.  He states that
learning before making birkat hatorah is learning "incorrectly," and thus
one who learns incorrectly must still make birkat hatorah.  He draws the
analogy between lulav and learning.  The difference is that the bracha on
lulav is a birkat hamitzvah.  Birkat hatorah is not the same -- it has a
dual nature, of birkat hamitzvah, and birkat hashevach I believe.  Second,
I would hestitate before relying on a drush on a Rambam before calling
learning before making a bracha "halachically meaningless."  The mishna
brura explicitly prohibits learning before saying the brachot, and goes
into great detail as to what constitutes learning.  This doesn't sound
"halachically meaningless" to me.  Furthermore, to institutionalize such
an act by incorporating it into the seder t'filah is a much further step.

[Note: There is a direct reply to this point currently in the queue.

I thought about the "asher bacher banu" issue over the weekend, and it
seems like the only way to understand it is to say that women are not
forbidden from learning Torah if they haven't made the bracha.  Ashkenazim
are noheig to make this bracha anyway, and I believe that Sefardim are
not; perhaps the only real problem in moving birkat hatorah is the issue of
the arbitrary change in the seder t'filah (although, it may mean that
sefardic women are in general prohibited from making "asher bachar banu").
The problem with taking birkat hatorah out of birkat hashachar and
plopping it down into the middle of davening is that it is a bit
contradictory; if things are so flexible that a woman may learn without
making the bracha, then why should she say it at all?  If, on the other
hand, she really is supposed to say it before learning, then why wait
until kriat hatorah?

Eitan Fiorino


End of Volume 8 Issue 17