Volume 8 Number 45

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Halachic Responses to Modernity
         [ R. Danny Wolf]
Learning without a bracha
         [Ezra Tanenbaum]
Women Learning
         [Henry Abramson]
Women and Judaism
         [Leah S. Reingold]


From: <etzion@...> ( R. Danny Wolf)
Date: Thu, 22 Jul 93 09:54:15 -0400
Subject:  Halachic Responses to Modernity

The involvement and impact of social settings pressures on halacha and
halachic decisions are certainly vast and significant.  Halacha and its
processors and decisors don't live in a n ivory tower or bubble, but
must be involved in the world.

There are limitations, which I will explain.  The nature of the
different effects can be categorized.

1)  Special takanot, prozbul being the obvious example.

2) Legal fictions of solutions to pressing social or economic problems
(e.g.  mechiras chametz, heter iska, heter mechira for shmita).

3) Halachic decisions.  This is first mentioned in Edyos (Ch. 1, Mishnah
5), where it says that one can rely on a minority opinion in an exigency
("shaas hadehak").  This has been expanded to include not only minority
opinions per se, but any problematic argument.  Agunah and mamzerut are
two example of complete areas where hardship is endemic.  There are also
individual cases of great hardship in almost any area of halacha.

4) Changes affecting the object of discussion.  Perhaps this would be
more understandable by example: Assume, as does the Aruch Hashulhan,
that erva refers to a level of sexual excitement which doesn't exist
today.  Even though the Gemara and Shulhan Aruch say "seiar b'isha erva"
(a woman's hair is "erva"), that halacha wouldn't apply today according
to the Aruch Hashulchan.

There is one caveat that I want to emphasize: Not every goal or
sociological trend is recognized or legitimate.  There are occasions
where a posek bends over backwards to fight a trend which is not
legitimate, expanding areas using sometimes questionable logic.  The
case of shofar in a conservative shul by the Rav is a clear example.  My
impression is that the rebeim from YU prohibiting women's prayer groups
was in their minds a similar exercise.  To try to accentuate and allow
any and every modern trend is certainly dangerous and unwarranted.  To
outlaw any and every influence is not justifiable and will cause our
isolation and limit our influence on the Jewish Nation.  It will also
lead to a hostile and inward-looking Judaism -- one that is not
consistent with Torah-true ideals.  The proper balance is difficult to
achieve, and that is what makes the job of halachic decisor more complex
than just pure halacha.

R. Danny Wolf


From: <bob@...> (Ezra Tanenbaum)
Date: Mon, 12 Jul 93 10:33:09 -0400
Subject: Learning without a bracha

I once heard an exogetical explanation of the aggadata that, "The Bais
HaMikdosh was destroyed because people learned without a Bracha."  The
explanation was that many people did learn Torah.  But their motivation
to study was for intellectual or personal persuits.  They neglected the
aspect of Divine Commmandment for Torah study.  In this way they lost
touch with the Holiness of the Torah, the Holiness of their lives, and
ultimately the Holiness of the nation as embodied in the Bais HaMikdosh.

That's a good lesson for today. It can be applied to everything from our
personal involvement in Torah, as well as how we approach Tefilla
(including women's Tefilla groups), as well as how we approach social
issues (from dolphins, to Pepsi, to Israeli army service.)

Are we looking to advance ourselves and our own agenda, or are we
looking to connect with the Divine?  The bracha before a mitzva,
connects the action to G-d's commandments, as opposed to our agenda.

My local Orthodox rabbi spoke on Shabbos Parshat Balak concerning the
action of Pinchus in killing Zimri. He said that what distinguished
Pinchus' action of G-dly zealotry from other zealous emotional outbursts
was that Pinchus first went to Moshe and said, "I learned that this is
the Halacha.  Am I correct?"  He did not act from his own thought
processes and emotional needs, but allowed the Halacha to be his Higher
Power guiding his actions.

Ezra Bob Tanenbaum	1016 Central Ave	Highland Park, NJ 08904
home: (908)819-7533	work: (908)615-2899
email: att!trumpet!bob or <bob@...>


From: Henry Abramson <abramson@...>
Date: Wed, 21 Jul 93 01:37:16 -0400
Subject: Women Learning

At my wife's recommendation, I recently read Sylvia Barack Fishman's _A
Breath of Life: Feminism in the American Jewish Community_ (New York:
Free Press, 1993), and found it to be one of the most thought-provoking
works I've read in a long time.  Anyone Jewish, Feminist, or Jewish and
Feminist should have a look at it.  So much for the plug -- here's
something interesting from Chapter 8, "Educating the New Jewish Woman"
(p. 193):

"In a startling development the Lubavitcher Rebbe recently stated that
women should be taught the Talmud in order to preserve the quality of
Jewish life, and in order that the tradition should be passed down from
generation to generation...the Lubavitcher Rebbe urges that women be
taught the oral Torah so that they, who provide the most consistent
presence in the home, can supervise and guide their children's religious
studies...  he urges, woman may and should be taught the complete range
of talmudic texts.  They should study with their husbands even subjects
including the 'fine, dialectical' points of law that most previous
rabbis posited as being inappropriate for women.  These study sessions
are necessary, says Rabbi Schneerson, because without them women can
easily be seduced by the charms of secular studies.  He says: "It is
human nature for male and female to de- light in this kind of study.
Through this there will develop in them [the women] the proper
sensitivities and talents in the spirit of our Holy Torah."

She cites _Me-sichat Shabbat Parshat Emor, Erev Lag B'Omer 5750: Al
Devar' Hiyyuv Neshei Yisrael Be-Hinukh Limud ha-Torah_, May 1990.
Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to look at the original yet, but
as the proud father of two infant daughters, it has given me
considerable food for thought.

Henry Abramson


From: <leah@...> (Leah S. Reingold)
Date: Thu, 22 Jul 93 00:02:58 -0400
Subject: Women and Judaism

I wish to clarify a few points from my earlier posting that I must not
have stated well the first time.

I did not mean to imply that Gemarah is the only Jewish subject that
women have fought to study.  Nechama Leibovitz' accomplishments are of
course remarkable, as mentioned by Mr. Fiorino.

>I find it hard to believe that women uniting to form a mezuman, which is a
>din in the shulchan aruch, or women saying kiddush for themselves, which
>is clearly permissable, would have been considered "blasphemous," but then

I was not referring to women saying kiddush for themselves, but rather
for a group possibly including men.  As Mr. Fiorino discussed later in
his posting, the chiuv (obligation) issue here is fairly clearly in
favor of a woman being permitted to say kiddush on behalf of a man, due
to her equal obligation in the mitzvah.

>equal chiuv, which is the case for kiddush.  However, the mishna brura
>clearly states that it is preferable for a man to make kiddush for a woman,
>than vice versa.  To suggest that this ruling was arrived at because the
>Chafetz Chaim was sexist is a very hard statement to defend.  To say that the
>Chafetz Chaim issued a ruling which was influenced by his understanding of
>the issues of modesty and kavod is something else.  I may feel that these

I think it is impossible to separate the issues of the Chafetz Chaim's
thoughts on "modesty and kavod" and his thoughts that must have been
influenced by the surrounding society that by today's standards was
oppressive to women.  "Modesty and kavod" are tricky issues that can
often be used to defend a variety of halakhic opinions on various
issues.  For example, I can envision a world where a congregation would
be considered to be gaining kavod from a woman in a successful public
role, whereas the opposite has long been considered to be the case.

As for the mezuman issue, I have heard plenty of Orthodox women balk at
the idea, presumably because they were never taught that it is an
obligation on women as well as men.  Until I studied at Drisha, I
certainly was never taught that it was anything more than an allowable
possibility, but something that was done mostly by 'feminists.'

About Stern College and YU, I am aware that Stern offers the traditional
BA and BS degrees.  I wish it had been more apparent in my posting that
I was referring to 'semicha' training, and the accompanying quality of
education and respect for scholarship.  I am wary of promises that "[the
fact that women are not permitted to participate in such rabbinical
lessons] does not indicate a desire to withold opportunities from them."
As students of American history will recall, in the case of "Brown vs.
Board of Education," the U.S., for one, found that separate but equal
education is not a reality.

Perhaps the Jewish community has found a way around this problem, but I
have not had much evidence of that; at every Jewish camp or school that
I've attended where shiurim were segregated, the boys received more
attention and respect in their studies.  Furthermore, there are one or
two starting women's kollels in existence currently, compared to dozens
of kollels for men.  Women are frequently taken less seriously than men
when they try to buy sefrei kodesh, also.  It is simply difficult to
motivate many women to learn when the underlying message is clear from
physical reality: "You can learn nowadays if you want, but remember that
you will never be called upon to give p'sak, or to lead a congregation."
It's a bit like expecting the teachers or students in medical school to
take the studies seriously if they were told from the outset, "You will
never see a patient or be called upon for a professional opinion, but
feel free to learn the theory of medicine."  As always, there are women
who soar above the rest, and become learned for the pure sake of
knowledge.  I think, however, that it takes quite a person who is
willing to spend years of her life in studies that will not be respected
by many people simply because of an accident of birth.

I was not "bemoaning" any lack of advanced studies for those who require
them, but rather stating the simple fact that if women are denied the
highest 'degree' awarded in Judaica, that it is difficult to motivate
either students or teachers to offer top-notch education.  I do not mean
in any way to put down the efforts of those at institutions such as
Drisha and Midreshet Lindenbaum (Bravender's), which are doing a
terrific job getting women educated.  At Stern, however, I fear that the
focus is less on Jewish learning for its own sake.  This is certainly
the case in comparison with the men's rabbinical program at YU.

Leah S. Reingold


End of Volume 8 Issue 45