Volume 8 Number 51

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Halachic adaptation to social issues (including women's needs)
         [Arthur Roth]
Women and Torah Study
         [Lawrence J. Teitelman ]


From: <rotha@...> (Arthur Roth)
Date: Fri, 23 Jul 93 16:40:22 -0500
Subject: Halachic adaptation to social issues (including women's needs)

    I apologize in advance for the length of this posting.  I set out to
write a much shorter one, and it mushroomed to the point that I was
myself amazed at its length when I finished reading it.
    I would like to give a few more examples of halachic changes in
response to social issues that have not been mentioned in the various
postings on the subject so far.  Then I will express some opinions that
I believe these examples support.
  1. Poultry "became" fleishig when a fairly large portion of Jewish
society felt that they were unable to give "proper" respect to Shabbat
meals because they were unable to afford beef.  Wouldn't everyone like
to be able to eat chicken that didn't require shchita and then have ice
cream for dessert?
  2. Rabbeinu Gershon legislated polygamy out of halacha.
  3. Yibum is prohibited today despite the fact that the Torah
specifically regards it as meritorious and frowns upon those who have
the opportunity to perform yibum and choose not to do so.
  4. More recently, Rav Moshe Feinstein gave a psak that in cases of
hefsed m'rubah (large financial loss), treif utensils "become" kosher
again after a year of non-use.  (To ward off the plethora of responses
that would undoubtedly have addressed this point if I had not done so,
let me state that I am aware that this psak was made under special
circumstances that do not apply in all cases.  Specifically, some rich
ba'alei teshuvah would not have made their kitchen kosher if they had
been required to throw away their antique china that had a value of many
thousands of dollars.  So in practical matters, we should not try to
apply this pask on our own; as usual, CYLOR.  On the other hand, I am
aware that many quite learned Orthodox rabbis are applying this psak
almost routinely in cases where the potential loss is in the hundreds
rather than thousands of dollars, e.g., existing dishwashers in newly
purchased homes and some items even less expensive than that.)
    Before addressing the main issue here, it might be of some general
interest that #2 and #3 above are in some sense historically related.
Specifically, yibum had not been practiced for quite awhile before the
time of Rabbeinu Gershon, but it had never been formally prohibited.
The prohibition became "official" very close to the time of Rabbeinu
Gershon's decree, the fear being that a man might divorce his wife in
order to perform yibum, either because he found his sister-in-law
preferable to his wife or because of a legitimate desire to perform a
mitzvah.  Given this reasoning, I am personally convinced (but with no
sources or proof) that yibum would not have been prohibited in cases
where the man was unmarried if not for the fact that the practice was
largely nonexistent by that time anyway, so there was "no need to
bother" with such a distinction.
    Now to the main issue.  Danny Wolf very succinctly categorized the
four ways that have been used in the past to justify halachic changes.
(And let's be intellectually honest and admit that that's what they
are.)  More importantly, he implied that authorities worked hard to
accommodate (by fitting the situation to one of the four devices that he
described) a social goal that was recognized as legitimate, but he
warned that they also "bent over backwards" NOT to accommodate a social
goal that was not recognized as legitimate.  The question then
effectively reduces to what criteria can be set forth to define
"legitimate".  This leads to another obvious question, namely, even if
such criteria could be agreed upon (ha, ha), who decides whether the
criteria are met with respect to any specific social goal that comes
under consideration?  In the past, we had authorities whose word was
accepted by very high percentages of the Jewish world, among which were
the Sanhedrin and Rabbeinu Gershon (who was probably the last).  Such
authorities enabled the changes in examples #1-3 above to become
reality.  Can anybody imagine what kind of uproar there would be today
if any or all of these three changes had not yet been implemented and
were now up for consideration?  Different rabbis would disagree, each
group would follow their own rabbis, the debate would get very bitter,
and the mistrust among different groups of Jews would be magnified.  One
of the reasons that the Sanhedrin could never be reestablished today
(even according to the view that the Beit Hamikdash is not a
prerequisite for this) is that there would be no hope of finding a group
of 70 rabbis whose decisions would be even close to universally
accepted.  Acceptance even by a simple majority of the Orthodox world
would be almost impossible to get.  I'm afraid that this situation makes
halacha far more static today than in times past, and I don't think that
this bodes well for our future, though I am by no means implying that
this is an insurmountable obstacle.  As Danny Wolf so nicely put it, we
need to achieve a delicate balance; our direction cannot be allowed to
change every week based on a new whim, but we can't be so resistant to
change that we lose our ability to respond to important developments in
the world at large.  The lack of a close-to-universally accepted rabbi
or group of rabbis with the authority to make this happen is in my view
a major problem.
     Example #4 above seems to contradict my hypothesis that change is
never implemented today.  However, I failed to state that many of my
friends who are further to the right than I am either do not accept this
psak from Rav Moshe or they say that they would never do such a thing
themselves.  This supports my hypothesis, but it is not the reason that
I brought example #4 in the first place.  I wanted to use this example
to show the aforementioned friends that even their most respected
gedolim such as Rav Moshe recognized the need for change in some issues,
and that perhaps they can use this thought to justify rethinking their
tendency to reflexively and automatically say "No ...  now let's find a
reason why not" whenever the possibility of instituting a change arises.
That is not to say, of course, that every possible change is justified;
each issue ought to be taken on its own merits, but hopefully without
preconceived ideas that do not relate to the issue itself.  It is
interesting that the same people who rush to listen to Rav Moshe's
stringencies are less willing to embrace his leniencies.  The notion
seems to be that leniencies are inherently almost as bad as outright
changes of the type we've been talking about all along.  As Danny Wolf
said, inflexible resistance to change has the potential to get us all in
a lot of trouble.
    Finally, now that I've stated the abstract issues (what is
"legitimate", and who decides), let me give my opinions on how
"legitimacy" relates to the women's issues that started all of this.  I
reject Eitan Fiorino's implication that an issue (such as being
"dissatisfied") is not legitimate just because it has not been raised
before, or at least there are no direct sources for it in the Talmud.
The whole point of the above examples (and of Danny Wolf's discussion)
is that BRAND NEW issues may arise and still be legitimate.  Having said
that, I think that Leah Reingold's contentions are basically right on
target (though I disagree with one of her points, as explained below).
IMHO, one category of "legitimate" issues (among several) are those that
would ultimately, if satisfied, serve to further the major ideals that
Judaism has always stood for.  In this case, women are aiming to become
more involved with learning and davening, which obviously has to be good
for the causes we are all working towards.  One of our major viewpoints
is that more of these sorts of activities improve the quality of the
world.  So it seems clear to me that this is a "legitimate" cause,
though someone else's reasoning may conclude otherwise.  That is why I
went through the whole argument that I posted last month trying to find
a way to say that women may halachically learn Torah for a small part of
the day without a bracha; it was in the spirit of attempting to fit a
"legitimate" social goal into one of Danny Wolf's categories of change.
Let me qualify the above claim for "legitimacy" by pointing out that
accommodating even a "legitimate" goal must not be done at the expense
of other goals/principles that are more important or even equally
important.  Let me relate this to the current issue using a nonsensical
hypothetical construct.  There is no doubt in my mind that the Sanhedrin
or Rabbeinu Gershon, if given their former authority in today's society,
would consider the current women's rights issues as "legitimate" social
issues.  On the other hand, only a fool would entertain the notion that
they would allow people to eat pig or eat on Yom Kippur or eat chametz
on Pesach, etc. in order to address people's needs regarding this issue.
That is because these matters are so much part of the basic fabric of
Jewish life and all that it stands for, that any society which omits any
one of them would no longer be recognizably "Jewish".  On the other
hand, if the needs related to women's rights could somehow be satisfied
by allowing people to shave with a razor blade, it is conceivable to me
that they might have considered doing so.  Please note that I would
never shave with a razor blade, and I am not advocating this or arguing
that it is permissible in any way, shape, or form; rather, I am arguing
that this is not one of the things on which Jewish life per se will
either stand or fall.  Incidentally, carrying this nonsensical construct
a step further, were the Sanhedrin or Rabbeinu Gershon to decide that
this type of "trade-off" is worthwhile, they might then justify it on
the grounds of a minority view among today's poskim, which holds that
blades manufactured using today's technology are safe enough not to come
under the Biblical prohibition against the use of instruments of
mutilation on the face.  (Again, let it be very clear that it is NOT
permissible to follow this view in practice.)  Such a hypothetical
ruling could fall under three different ones of Danny Wolf's categories
for halachic changes: the permission to appeal to a a minority view in
cases of real need, the ordinary halachic decision, or the argument that
changed circumstances have rendered a certain halacha inapplicable.
    The only place I think Leah Reingold erred is that I can't see
committed women leaving Orthodoxy en masse because of the lack of a
women's prayer group or a challenging enough shiur.  In that case, one
might wonder why the issue is so pressing in the first place.  My answer
is that the effect of ignoring the issue would be more gradual, but just
as insidious and perhaps even more harmful.  Under such circumstances,
these women, for the most part, would wind up harboring some extent of
inner resentment towards the position in which Judaism has placed them.
The love parents have for their commitment to Judaism is imparted to
their children in a myriad of subconscious ways.  If anything starts
diminishing the parents' love for this commitment or making it less than
unconditional, this will be felt by the children as well, whether the
parents intend for this to happen or not.  Thus, I fear that failing to
satisfy women's Jewish needs on an intellectual basis will eventually
impede their effectiveness in the traditional Akeret Habayit role that
several contributors have said should be their major responsibility
above all else.  If this happens, we will all be sorry a generation or
two down the road that we didn't do something about this problem when we
first had the chance.
    I'll make one last minor point to the contributor who responded to
Leah's request for a high level Gemara shiur by saying essentially that
she shouldn't be so worried about Gemara until she has mastered Tanach.
One logical implication of this position is that men shouldn't learn
Gemara either!  But more to the point, there are so many references in
Gemara to Nach, that I have found a properly done Gemara shiur to be one
of the most effective methods available for filling in the gaps in my
knowledge of Nach.  Thus, we can kill the proverbial two birds with one
stone (or one shechting knife?).

Arthur Roth


From: Lawrence J. Teitelman  <csljt@...>
Date: Fri, 23 Jul 93 01:50:35 EDT
Subject: Women and Torah Study

> 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. 

The society in which the Chafetz Chaim lived undoubtedly had different
ideas about the role of women than that of today's society, and quite
conceivably, he was even influenced by his surroundings. But he was also
influenced by the Bible and Rabbinic Literature which contain notions
that may seem alien to the values (or, in some cases, lack of values) of
any given particular society. The Chafetz Chaim was not the first rabbi
to say that a woman should refrain from doing a permitted activity in
light of "modesty and kavod". Such attitudes date back thousands of

> "Modesty and kavod" are tricky issues that can often be
> used to defend a variety of halakhic opinions on various issues.

Granted that "modesty and kavod" are tricky issues, but that doesn't
mean that they should be altogether discounted as factors in a halakhic

> 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.

The original quote was "My sister's school in Israel did not welcome
boys on its campus; that fact does not indicate a desire to withhold
educational opportunities from them." I was merely trying to illustrate
that there exists a trend in most Torah institutions to separate men and
women, and it does not necessarily reflect anything more than that.
Unlike in the "Brown vs.  BOE" case, however, mixed yeshivot -- as far
as most authorities in both the charedi and modern communities are
concerned -- are just not an option.  Yes, there are numerous rebbeim at
YU who would not give "separate but equal" shiurim to women, but there
are others who are quite willing to share everything they know with men
and women alike, albeit separately. If women are not challenged by what
the latter type of rebbeim have to offer, well then -- we have come a
long way!

> Furthermore, there are one or two starting women's kollels in existence 
> currently, compared to dozens of kollels for men.

It was not very long ago when there were only a few kollelim for men and
a few yeshivot for women. Today, both of these situations have
substantially changed for the better (ignoring any economic
considerations). When the kollelim for women become too populated to
comfortably accommodate all of the women who wish to study in them,
additional ones *will* open.

> Women are frequently taken less seriously than men
> when they try to buy sefrei kodesh.

If a guy wearing a tee shirt, jeans, and sneakers walked into a seforim
store and asked for the Chiddushei Basra on Yevamos, he too would not be
taken very seriously. If a chasid in full garb walked into a bookstore
and asked for Milton's Paradise Lost, the clerk would probably ask him
to repeat himself before processing his request. In the communities in
which most seforim stores are located, men who dress in tee shirts and
jeans as well as women just don't read certain types of seforim. The
salesmen or women in these stores are not accustomed to the things going
on in the more modern communities. When I visited the Shatnez Lab in
Williamsburg, the owners were shocked that I as a YU student was
permitted to learn from a sefer containing a Satmar haskama.  When a
certain rebbe came to visit YU and Rabbi Lamm suggested that they go
downstairs to daven mincha, the rebbe asked (in Yiddish), "They really
daven mincha here?" People often are unaware of what goes on outside
their own environments -- especially when they make an effort not to
find out.  Accordingly, it is only natural to expect that a person not
looking like a Yeshiva Bochur (either because his garb is not Yeshivish
or he is not a bochur) is not taken seriously in such establishments.

> 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 certainly understand your argument from a logical point of view, but
the facts are quite different. Despite pleas from Rabbi Lamm, the Roshei
Yeshiva, and administrators, a large percentage of the guys who study
for and receive semikha at YU -- and even those who learn for years
post-semikha -- never enter the Rabbinate or Jewish Education. Instead
they become doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs. Among those who do
enter "Avodat ha-Kodesh", many never dreamed of it before they were in
their last year of the semikha program and realized that it's time to
find a job and the job for which they are most qualified is a
Torah-related one. In the other yeshiva communities, most guys learn for
many years in a Beis Medrash without receiving semikha. When they're
about to get married, they go into business or to graduate school,
perhaps first sneaking in a few years of kollel. Talmud Torah per se is
what motivates these people to learn, not titles and positions. Indeed
it may be unfortunate that people who spend so many years learning don't
go into professions wherein they have to teach Torah, but that is an
entirely different issue ....

The people who walk into a Beis Medrash program with the expressed
motivation of becoming a Rosh Yeshiva or Posek are usually not the ones
who make it in the end. One learns, and learns, and learns ... and if
such a person has "hatzlacha", recognition of these accomplishments by
others will bring about a Torah leadership position. Ba'alei ga'ava say
that they want to be gedolim when they grow older; gedolim don't. Surely
it is frustrating for a women to know that despite reaching a high level
of erudition, she can't assume certain jobs or receive certain degrees,
but in the majority of cases, it is neither of these which motivates men
to learn. I know of a class full of women, most of whom had never before
studied gemara, who were told on the first day that they should aspire
to become poskim. Obviously, one should always try to learn his/her
hardest, but just like a person should master calculus before
contemplating becoming a distinguished professor of mathematics, there
is a natural course for proceeding in the study of Torah. When the
number of women who are thoroughly proficient in Shas, Shulchan Arukh,
and She'elot u-Teshuvot becomes a significant figure, maybe they will be
entrusted with the responsibility to decide certain areas of halakha. Lo
navi anokhi -- I don't know what will be. But for now it seems that the
question is still in the hypothetical realm.

> 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.

For what "sake" were the shiurim at Stern studying masekhtot like Bava
Metzia?  And even if the focus at Stern is not "learning for its own
sake", is that really so terrible? Women, after all, are exempt from the
mitzva of Talmud Torah per se, but have an obligation to study mitzvot
that pertain to them.  Those who take a more liberal view on women's
education extend the parameters of appropriate material by arguing that
seemingly unrelated texts nevertheless provide necessary background
information, develop essential analytical skills, etc., but all of these
are to ultimately reach the goal of a proper under- standing of women's
mitzvot. I don't believe that learning for the sake of getting a degree
constitutes "learning for its own sake" (see Ezra Tannenbaum's posting
in MJ 8/45), and thus those women of which you speak who need the degree
to motivate their learning are by thus your own admission performing the
mitzva at a suboptimal level. Fortunately, there are many women who
learn quite competently and don't get caught up with "academic"

I once heard a Rosh Yeshiva interpret the verse (al derekh ha-tzachut),
"Lo ta'alu be-ma'alot al mizbechi" -- You shall not rise to the altar
(i.e.  service of HKBH) by "degrees".

Larry (<Teitelman@...>)


End of Volume 8 Issue 51