Volume 8 Number 46

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Modern Women and Halacha
         [Miriam Rabinowitz]
Women and Judaism (2)
         [Anthony Fiorino, Caroline Peyser]


From: <miriam@...> (Miriam Rabinowitz)
Date: 23 Jul 1993   9:40 EDT
Subject: Modern Women and Halacha

"Halacha and Modernity," particularly with regard to women, has been the
subject of much discussion recently on mail.jewish.  Before giving my
opinion, I should explain who I am and where I stand on the spectrum of
Orthodox Judaism, in order that the reader understand the point of view
from which this post has been written.

I am a single, 27 year-old woman with an A.A. degree in Judaic Studies
and a B.A. degree in Computer Science (with a minor in philosophy), both
from Stern College (Y.U.).  I also hold an M.S. diploma from Columbia
University.  In certain respects I would never label myself as "Modern
Orthodox" while in other respects the term is overwhelmingly applicable.

Modern Orthodoxy, with regard to areas of "tzniut" and "arayot", has
come to imply the wearing of pants, shorts, mini skirts, low-cut blouses
etc., not covering the hair after marriage, non-observance of the laws
of negiah [prohibition of members of the opposite sex touching each
other], mixed swimming etc.  In this regard, I would not be considered
Modern Orthodox.

However, I fully support education, both secular and Jewish, for women.
And I believe that if a woman wants to learn Talmud, she should have
that option (although, I personally feel that before delving into
Talmud, I should first master the halachot of Bassar B'Chalav [the
mixing of meat and milk], Bishul B'Shabbat [cooking on Shabbat], etc.).
And if she wants to learn in a Kollelet, like Drisha, she should also
have that option, provided that it doesn't take away from her role as a
Jewish wife and mother.  Additionally, I fully support the idea of women
giving lectures on Divrei Torah and Divrei Hashkafah (philosophy) to
both men and women (Beruriah, the wife of Rabbi Meir, gave shiur to
men).  Occasionally, I attend singles weekends (I've also organized two
in Staten Island), and have given Divrei Hashkafah at several of these.
In this respect, I proudly wear the label "Modern."

Now, to the issue at hand: In M.J-8:39 Leah S. Reingold
(<leah@...>) writes the following with regard to halacha and

>	Mr. Fiorino questions the validity of stretching halakha in
>order "to make the modern woman feel more comfortable in Orthodoxy."
>Why should we bother to do so?  The answer is simply that if we do not
>make Orthodoxy comfortable for modern, intelligent women, then soon
>there will be no such women in Orthodoxy.

Orthodox women today (and those of the past generation) have had
considerably more exposure to the secular than our grandmothers in
previous generations.  And as our horizons have expanded, so have our
interests.  The secular world allows us the opportunities to develop and
cultivate our intellectual skills and talents, as well as to make public
contributions to the community at large.  And we have run with the

Ms. Reingold makes an interesting point.  If Orthodox Judaism cannot
provide us with similar opportunities to make use of our higher
intellect and to make meaningful contributions to the community, women
might feel the need to look elsewhere.

Esther Posen, who indicated that she is not "Modern," also makes an
interesting point in M.J-8:41 when she asks '"what is the ultimate goal
of the jewish woman?"  Is it to learn gemarrah, say kaddish, participate
in women's prayer groups, and in many ways satisfy her "modern" needs
outside the home or is to be the Akeret Habyit and find religious
fulfillment at home with her husband and children if she is lucky enough
to have either or both?'

In theory, I would agree with Ms. Posen that a Jewish woman should be
looking to her home and family for religious fulfillment.  However, Ms.
Reingold speaks to the reality of the situation in Modern Orthodoxy.
Women aren't finding complete fulfillment there.  They are educated,
innovative, and independent, and want to apply those talents to their
religious observance.  And if they are told that they cannot, some will
remain with Orthodoxy, living an extremely frustrated existence, while
others will be tragically lead astray from Orthodoxy.  The Chafetz Chaim
recognized this and, with regard to learning Torah, wrote in Likutei
Halachot, Sotah 21 that it is vital for women who are learning secular
languages to learn Torah in order to strengthen their religious
convictions.  Otherwise, they are liable to stray from the path of

Ms. Reingold's solution to this problem is to look for ways WITHIN THE
BOUNDARIES OF HALACHA to make Orthodoxy comfortable for modern,
intelligent women, because "if we do not make Orthodoxy comfortable for
modern, intelligent women, then soon there will be no such women in

Certainly, I agree that whatever we do to afford opportunities to women
must be within the framework of halacha.  However, Ms. Reingold feels
that the solution is to make Orthodoxy comfortable for these women.  I
would take a subtly different approach.  If we want to secure the
existence of modern, intelligent Orthodox women, the answer is not to
make Orthodoxy comfortable for them.  The answer is to start by making
these women comfortable with Orthodoxy, an Orthodoxy that they
apparently feel does not afford them true equality.

Perhaps the problem is that when we say we want equality, we don't
understand what equality truly is.  In the U.S., when the Feminists
speak of equality, they are talking about identical treatment for men
and women in the workplace, etc.  And, in the workplace, this indeed is
an accurate description of what equality means.  But as a result of all
this talk about it, the Modern Jewish woman may view equality as ALWAYS
meaning identical treatment.  In practice, equality is rarely that.  If,
for example, I would own a cat and a rabbit, and I feed the cat meat and
I feed the rabbit lettuce, would I be discriminating against the rabbit
(or the cat)?  Of course not.  A rabbit, by its *very nature,* requires
a different kind of nourishment than a cat.  In fact, if I were to
provide "egalitarian" treatment to the rabbit and feed it meat, I would
THEN be treating it unfairly.

Judaism addresses the *very nature* of human beings.  Men and women are
equal in importance, but are clearly not the same.  We are physically,
emotionally and spiritually diverse.  As such, in order to provide equal
treatment to each, Judaism sets up different roles for men and women,
each according to their very nature.  It treats us differently because
we ARE different, just as we would treat the cat and the rabbit
differently because they are different.

Ms. Posen implied that part of the reason that women feel unfulfilled,
is that we, as women, no longer view our role of "Akeret Habayit" as
equal.  She's hit the nail on the head.  Because of Feminism in the
U.S., we tend to look down on a woman who stays home with her children.
We feel that in order to be a complete woman, we have to do more than
"mearly" raise our children.  We view the role of a wife and mother who
maintains her house and raises her children as inferior to that of a
father who goes out and earns "the bread."

And in adopting this attitude, we fail to appreciate one of the most
beautiful gifts that G-d has given us - the special aspect of our nature
as women that makes us ideally suited to provide our children with the
foundation needed for them to grow into Torah Observant Jews.  In fact,
we have taken this gift, smashed it to the floor, and stepped on it,
saying "We don't want THIS equality!  We don't want THIS role!  We want
the MAN'S role!"

Do we realize what we've done?!  By saying that we want the man's role,
we imply that our role isn't good enough.  We, ourselves, have poured
contempt on our role as women.  In our quest for equality, we have
robbed ourselves of the area where we are, indeed, superior to men.  We
don't need male chauvinists to put us down.  We do it to ourselves.

I very firmly believe that before we should make Orthodox Judaism
comfortable for the Modern Orthodox woman, such a woman must make a
serious attempt to become comfortable with Orthodox Judaism and the
roles which it sets up for her.  If she feels that she is not fulfilled
as a human being by being a homemaker, then she should get a job.  But
before stating that she cannot be RELIGIOUSLY fulfilled by being a
mother, she aught to take the time to study and delve into the sources
to learn what that role really is and the value that Judaism places on
it.  She may be surprised to discover that Judaism entrusts her with
tremendous responsibilities, many of which afford her the opportunity to
use her intellectual talents; maintaining a Kosher kitchen, ensuring
that the laws of Shabbat are not being violated in her home, strict
observance of the laws of Taharat Hamishpacha, all require a strong
understanding of halacha.  If, after mastering these areas, she still
feels that she needs more than her role as a Jewish wife and mother in
order to feel RELIGIOUSLY fulfilled, and wishes to pursue other avenues
within Halacha, Kol Hakavod Lah, with the condition that her quest is
not at the expense of the role that G-d set up for her.

Should we look for ways within Halacha to provide new opportunities for
women to find religious fulfillment?  Absolutely.  If we interact with
the world around us, we are influenced by it.  Modern Jewish women today
are different than any Jewish women before us.  We are Orthodox but are
also very involved with the secular world, and as such, we have certain
religious needs that our grandmothers didn't have.  If we are going to
achieve a successful balance between the secular and spiritual worlds,
we must address these new needs (particularly those of us who are single
and don't have a family to care for).

Torah/Halacha are timeless.  They were designed so that they could be
applied in every age and generation.  With the advent of electricity
came a host of questions.  But Chazal never addressed electricity
because it didn't exist in their time.  So we applied the Halachik
principles set down for us by Chazal so that we could address
electricity.  So too, many women's issues today are new, because our
needs are new.  It is imperative that we explore, not stretch, Halacha
in order to better understand the principles that Chazal have set down
for us and how these principles can be applied to today's Modern
Orthodox woman.  Thus we can determine where we can afford women greater
opportunities within the boundaries of Halacha.


From: Anthony Fiorino <fiorino@...>
Date: Thu, 22 Jul 93 17:45:48 -0400
Subject: Women and Judaism

I had a few comments on Leah's posting, and a friend not on the network
has some more comments at the end of my posting. (I know it's long, but
it's not all mine this time.)

[I've split it into two submissions, using Caroline Peyser's name but
giving Eitan's email address in the From line. Mod.]

> 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.

I just want to point out that the Mishna Brura's statement that it is
preferable for a man to make kiddush for a woman is probably based not
on societal influences at all, but rather on the gemara in sukah (38a)
in which it says a curse comes upon a man whose wife makes blessings for
him.  If you say this begs the question, that the statement in the
gemara is based on sociological phenomena, I will say that whatever the
interpretation of such a Talmudic dictum, it nevertheless had halachic
content for the mishna brura.  He poskined based on the fact that in his
day and age, when women knew very little, if a man had to rely on his
wife or children to make brachot for him it meant that he was an
ingnoramous.  Though this is not true today, I do not possess the
necessary knowledge to know if we can simply disregard the mishna
brura's opinion or not.  Furthermore, modesty and kavod are serious
halachic inyanim which are not used to "defend" halachic positions but
rather are part and parcel of some halachic decisions.

> 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.

As Larry Teitlebaum pointed out, the Rosh holds that it is an
obligation, while other rishinim disagree; the Shulchan Aruch poskins
that woman's mezuman (not in the presence of a 3 or more men) is a
reshut, not a chiuv.

> 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

I have two comments on this -- have the decades which have passed since
that time shown that separate IS equal?  Not at all -- blacks still get
a subpar education in this country.  Desegragation was not the panacea
it was made out to be; the reasons for inferior education run much more
deeply.  The issues of equality in education are perhaps independent of
"segregated" versus "intergrated."  At a school like Yeshiva Flatbush,
all the limudei kodesh classes are separate, but the same faculty
teaches and the same exams are given and the same expectations exist for
both sexes.

Second, we don't learn things out from the secular way of things.  As I
have been saying over and over, Judaism posits essential role
differences between Jews.  Between kohein, levi and yisrael.  Between
man and women.  In the Rav's zt"l formulation, these are ontological
differences rooted in the depth of the metaphysical human personality.
Yet, Judaism attaches no value judgement to these role differences -- a
kohein is not more valuable than a yisrael, and a man is not more
valuable than a woman.  The secular way of things is completely at odds
with this -- but nevertheless, in Judaism separate (or distinct) but
equal is axiomatic.

> 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.

The highest "degree" awarded in Judaism is not smicha, but is knowledge.
The more one knows, the more respect one gets.  I know many talmidei
chachamim who are not rabbis.  Some of them are women.

Eitan Fiorino

From: Caroline Peyser <fiorino@...>
Date: Thu, 22 Jul 93 17:45:48 -0400
Subject: Women and Judaism

[A friend who is not on the network has been following this discussion and
has a few words to add: (from Eitan)]

Hi! My name is Caroline Peyser and I sit next to Eitan Fiorino at the
computer center at Einstein. He has completely distracted me from
working on my thesis by telling me of the various letters and responses
that he has been reading on his e-mail. Finally, I couldn't resist - I
had to jump in (really this is just another way to avoid working on my

Actually, I just wanted to share a couple of personal reflections on the
topic of women's learning. I have not followed the discussion that
carefully, but I did read Leah's posting and wanted to respond to it.

I have had the opportunity to study Gemara at various schools including
high school (Maimonides) and have also been fortunate enough to have had
the opportunity to teach women both at Drisha, LSS, and informally. I
share some of Leah's feelings in that learning Talmud on an advanced
level, at least at this point in time, is not easily or readily
available to women. Since women have "gotten into the game late", it is
not surprising that not as many institutions exist for women to study
Talmud on the advanced level nor are the students even in these
insitutions all on the level of men in programs such as RIETS given
their background. I too am frustrated at the fact that their are few
Gemara shiurim, especially advanced shiurim, for women to attend
although they are certainly increasing. I am optimistic, however, for
the future given the rate of expansion on the last 5 years alone.

I also agree that often times women's shiurim are not taught on the same
level as men's shiurim. I think there are several reasons for this not
merely that the teachers do not take their female students seriously. In
those latter instances, I think it is inexcusable; the level to which a
teacher aspires for his/her students is subtly communicated to those
students and shapes their expectations of themselves.To some degree, I
felt taken more seriously at Maimonides where all classes are co-ed and
I never sensed that a teacher expected less of me than any of my male
counterparts.  This was less true at some all-female schools. But this
is certainly not always the case and I can think of several teachers at
my Alma Mater, Stern College, whose expectations for their students is
no different than it is for men (Rabbi Moshe Kahn is an excellent
example).  However, I think there are a number of other factors involved
as well. I think that given the way things have been for 2000 years, the
average woman is simply not as learned as the average Orthodox man and
therefore the level of many shiurim geared towards woman cannot always
be as high as those geared for men. Again, this is not true across the
board, I am merely talking about the average person that I have
encountered in the various institutions where I have studied and taught.
I have seen women who have attended Shiurim open to a mixed audience but
geared toward the men's educational background and they have simply been
bored or could not follow. Now certainly this is not true of all women
nor will it be true of each subsequent generation because, BH, there is
a boom in women's learning but it is true, unfortunately for many women
in our generation.

But there are a number of areas where I disagree with what Leah has
written. First, what I have written up until now is true of Gemara
classes and to some degree halacha classes. But I don't believe the same
holds true for other areas of Jewish studies. In fact, there are more
opportunities in Manhattan these days for high level courses in Bible,
Jewish Philosophy etc open only to women (i.e. Drisha). I know a number
of men who would like very much to attend such classes but cannot. One
male student came over to me yesterday after class asking if there are
any classes equivalent to those at Drisha for men because he personally
does not like Blatt Gemara Shiurim. I looked at him with surprise and
amazement since those are the shiurim I currently crave, but, you know,
the grass is always greener.

> "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 strongly disagree with the statements here.  Learning in both the
Orthodox as well as Ultra-Orthodox world is not for the sake of
obtaining semicha or paskening halacha. One prominent example of this
fact is the Lakewood Yeshiva which Rabbi Aharon Kotler established
expressly for the purpose of Learning Lishma, not for teaching and not
for ordination (see Helmreich's "The World of the Yeshiva" for more on
the motivations of establishing the various yeshivas). Learning in
Judaism serves many purposes - learning to know the laws, learning as a
Kiyum Hamitzva, learning as a means to draw closer to God, learning to
teach, learning for the intellectual challenge and engaging your mind in
the service of God, etc. However, learning in order to Pasken has never
been a central motivating factor. Nor is such a person, a posek,
necessarily the highest level to achieve. Many Roshei Yeshiva, the most
learned of the Community, do not Pasken nor do they wish to Pasken. And
with regard to teaching, women too are allowed to teach and there have
been example of women have been Moreh Halacha. Learning in the Jewish
world differs in this important way for studying in the academic world
in that "learning" is a goal onto itself whereas most Academic studies
are terminal, ending in and often taken on for the purpose of recieving
a degree which will allow them to pursue a profession. Which reminds me,
I won't have a profession if I don't end this and get back to work.

Well, it's been fun to finally write on E-Mail. Just one further note,
Eitan should also be working on his Ph.D. but instead is Mevatel hours
on this E-Mail. Now I see why, it's addictive.

					Caroline Peyser 


End of Volume 8 Issue 46