Volume 8 Number 62
                       Produced: Fri Jul 30 15:17:02 1993

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Halakhah and Modernity
         [David Kessler]
Women and Prayer
         [Anthony Fiorino]


From: <kessler@...> (David Kessler)
Date: Thu, 29 Jul 1993 11:32:18 +0300
Subject: Halakhah and Modernity

This is in response to some remarks contained in Arnold Kuzmack's
posting which contain some (to my mind) unjustified and ahistorical
bashing of the Rabbinical leadership in the beginning of the Reform
period. Kuzmack implies that we are in the trouble we are in essentially
because some Rabbis refused to sanction some changes to the text of
Y'kum Purkan (an example of one of the original "reforms").  I think
this attitude, which is widespread, needs serious reappraisal.  Does
anyone out there seriously believe that ANYTHING anyone could have done
would have preserved Traditional Judaism in the face of the incredible
challenges facing it at the time?  To wit, is there an example of ANY
Ashkenazic community (the culture, etc. of the Sephardic world is
sufficiently different that they need to be considered separately) which
survived whole into the modern era.  Rabbi S. R. Hirsch's valiant
attempts at creating a "Modern Orthodoxy" notwithstanding, his community
was a small minority of Frankfurt Jewry and Hirsch did not succeed in
bring back the community as a whole into the fold.  Neither did the
integrationist approaches of his German contemporaries (R.
Hildeshiemer, etc.) succeed in preserving Tradition for the masses.
Further along the spectrum, Z. Frankel's attempt at compromise with
reform to stave off "Reform" also failed, with tragic consequences for
the history of American Jewry.  The social/ economic temptations posed
by the Emancipation, (primarily), along with the perceived intellectual
bankruptcy of traditional religion in the face of the scientific
revolution and the Enlightenment (secondarily) came too fast and too
strong for any truly successful defense of Traditional Judaism.  The
result was that Traditional Judaism died and Orthodox Judaism, a
self-conscious attempt at preserving as much of Traditional Judaism as
possible, was born.  In this light, we should look more charitably at
leaders like the Chatam Sofer (the author of the famous bon mot "Chadash
(the new) is Assur (forbidden) by Torah-Law".)  who was one of the
intellectual leaders in creating new sociological institutions (the
yeshiva, for one) to meet the challenges of the new era.  In terms of
percentage of the community "saved", was the Chatam Sofer in Hungary
less successful than his German contemporaries, with their alternate
visions?  I do not know, but I think that if anything he was more
successful.  This is not to say that the Chatam Sofer's answers need be
our answers - he was fighting a desperate rear-guard action under
unfavorable circumstances - but I think we need to appreciate better the
history of the period before casting judgement.

David Kessler               Dept. of Physics, Bar-Ilan


From: Anthony Fiorino <fiorino@...>
Date: Wed, 28 Jul 93 16:45:21 -0400
Subject: Women and Prayer

Below is a tentative attempt at understanding what I perceive as
important issue in women's prayer.

Chazal's Vision: When discussing women's t'filah, I believe place to
start is with chazal's conception of women's role in Judaism and how
that might relate to prayer issues.  Such an undertaking, in its
entirety, is beyond this format and beyond my skills, but looking at one
small aspect and relying on normative understanding of the issues will
be sufficient.  Women are exempted from mitzvot she hazman grama,
including the requirement of t'filah b'tzibur and devarim she b'kedusha.
Nevertheless, there is still a kium for women to hear and respond to
devarim she b'kedusha, and it is true that the sh'china dwells upon the
tzibur.  What is the vision of women's role which chazal express in
this?  A standard and accepted answer is that in exempting women from
the time-bound commandments, chazal are providing for (and in part
defining) the demands of the women's role in Judaism as they see it --
the role of a woman as a modest one tied first to the home.  However, it
is also clear that chazal felt that women's spiritual needs need not be
fulfilled through t'filah b'tzibur or devarim she b'kedusha.  For if
women were dependent upon these for proper fulfillment of their
spiritual needs, then chazal would not have exempted women from them.

The ontogeny of conflict: The pre-modern woman did not, in general,
experience conflict over her role in Judaism.  The view of women which
was prevalent in society in pre-modern times, which was that women were
of secondary importance and therefore received lesser education,
opportunity, and freedom, was not inconsistent with a non-public,
home-based role for women, Jewish or non-Jewish.  With the advent of
modernity, women began to break from the position as "the second sex,"
to use deBeauvoir's term.  Women's societal role as the second sex was
seen as stemming from "patriarchal" religion, an attempt was, and is,
being made to address issues of inequality not only in the general
societal arena, but also at the perceived root of the societal
inequality, the religious sphere.  For instance, Robin Morgan states in
her introduction to _Sisterhood is powerful_ (Vintage, 1970) that "every
organized patriarchal religion works overtime to contribute its own
brand of misogyny to the myth of woman- hate, woman-fear, and
woman-evil."  Gloria Steinem links all forms of oppression, even the
oppression of the authoritarian state, to familial roles (in H.V. Vetter
ed, _Speak out against the new right_, Beacon Press, 1982).  To conclude
that societal inequalities arose from religious role differences is
probably not incorrect; the social inequalities which have been
promulgated by and large by men in many cases result from tragic
misunderstandings and inappropriate extensions of religiously-defined
role differences.  From this perspective, we can even understand the
view that "women presumably find comfort in religion because it
sanctifies their oppression and provides them with an emotional release
and a kind of masochistic pleasure" (C. Andreas, _Sex and caste in
America_, Prentice- Hall, 1971).  The fundamental misreading of the
religious role of women sees the judgment of women as inferior because
of a more private, home- based role.  However, the resultant attempt to
overturn religiously-defined roles, while understandable, is
nevertheless misguided, certainly in the case of Judaism.  There are
huge halachic consequences based on the roles of men and women as
understood by chazal; furthermore, as part of our emunat chachamim, we
believe, as the Rav zt"l stated, that these roles reflect not the
socio-political status of women in antiquity, but rather ontological
differences in the metaphysical human personality.  Thus, although
sexism, discrimination, and inequality may point to religious roles as
their source, they are derived from those religious roles only through
misinterpretation and do not arise inevitably from those roles.  Judaism
maintains that there are aspects of the religious roles of men and women
that are distinct and unchangeable, yet those roles are of equal value.

We have seen modernity tear at the fabric of religious life.  There was
a feminist backlash against the woman who stayed at home, who chose to
raise a family, a backlash caused by the mistaken conclusion described
above, that religious roles reflect sexism and patriarchy as much as
social roles (this is not true for all segments of the feminist movement
nor for all times; obviously, there are those who recognize that a
woman's choice to explore her uniquely feminine aspects need not be an
act of submission to societal stereotypes.  However, even a moderate
position would state that aside from the biological differences between
the sexes and the behavioral differences which result, there exist no
inherent psychological or metaphysical differences between the sexes).
Thus, modernity came to place a value judgment upon the role of women as
defined by Judaism.

Jewish Approaches: There are a variety of ways in which contemporary
Judaism approaches the post-feminist world.  A right-wing approach
rejects the notion that extra-religious social roles should be
disrupted; this view holds that the role of women as defined by chazal
extends far beyond the dalet amot of halachah and observance, and in
fact should determine all aspects of a women's behavior under all
circumstances, whether in the home, the synagogue, or the office.  A
centrist approach would be that outside the realm of halachah and
observance, equality of roles should be pursued; however, within the
sphere of halachah and observance, there are distinctions between men
and women which are not changeable, and the halachic process should not
be altered in order to achieve a definition of religious equality which
has been in part determined by a secular and anti-religious ethic.  A
left-wing approach accepts the contention that differences in religious
roles are sexist, but is nevertheless committed to the halachic sources,
and so will attempt to legislate equality bounded only by the limits of
whatever opinions have been expressed within the normative tradition.
However, this approach does not advocate appealing to external or
non-normative sources in order to determine actual practice.  Finally, a
Conservative approach would reject halachic argumentation on principle,
and simply reorganize and reconstruct the woman's role in Judaism
according to the parameters set by the secular ethic.  This is in fact
what happened in the Conservative decision to grant rabbinic ordination
to women: opinions such as David Feldman's, which argued against
ordination on halachic grounds, or Joel Roth's, which argued for
ordination on (flawed) halachic grounds, were rejected by the Rabbinic
Assembly in favor of arguments which simply dismissed as sexist and
incompatible with a modern democracy the idea that women may not become

The dilemma exists, then, not for the right-wing or Conservative woman,
but only for the centrist or left-wing women.  For in these cases, she
is exposed to and in fact takes advantage of the social equality (or
attempts at it) which exist in the modern world.  Thus, she is told
"define yourself and your role in society," while simultaneously living
in a Jewish role not of her choosing or definition.  Even in many of
these cases, no conflict precipitates from the encounter, and the
equality and self-definition in other spheres does not cause a
perception of inequality to arise in the Jewish sphere.  But for many,
there is conflict -- in spite of all the apologetics, and carefully
reasoned arguments (like this one), there is the undeniable feeling that
in Judaism, the men's role is simply more valued.  While I do believe
that many individuals, men and women, feel this to be the case, I also
believe that it is not necessarily the case, and that an effort must be
made, and perhaps the educational process is the place to make such an
effort, to demonstrate equal value for men and women, and for their
respective roles.

As a centrist, I believe it is out of the realm of halachic decision-
making to pursue an agenda through psak.  This is a theological
statement which has nothing to do with my views on women.  As I have
discussed on the network, I see some halachic problems with (many)
women's t'filah groups, as well as mete-halachic problems with the
process which resulted in their establishment in the first place.  Yet
my thoughts on this matter return consistently to one place -- as I
mentioned above, while there is certainly a real kium fulfilled for a
woman to daven b'tzibur, ultimately, a woman is not dependent upon
t'filah b'tzibur for her spiritual expression.  I tentatively suggest
the following: the distinct nature of men and women, as understood by
Judaism, includes distinctions in the optimal mode of spiritual
expression, and that the more private role of the woman in Judaism may
provide clues as to the optimal form of her spiritual expression.  Thus,
the optimal manner of women's spiritual expression may not lie in what
is ultimately an incomplete imitation of the men's mode of spiritual
expression -- ie, kriat hatorah, devarim she b'kedusha, t'filah b'tzibur
-- but rather in private, spontaneous moments of devotion and prayer and
in an attachment of spiritual value to those aspects of the woman's role
which are not shared by men.  It seems that the very nature, the form,
of the public prayer service is to provide a forum for the devarim she
b'kedusha.  Thus, to establish a women's prayer service based on the
form the public prayer service, while divesting it of a large portion of
its content (ie, devarim she b'kedusha), is perhaps establishing a
method of prayer which is not only not ideally suited to the spiritual
needs of women, but is also stripped of the value of the devarim she
b'kedusha.  And while it may feel good and satisfying to participate in
what are in reality imitations of devarim she b'kedusha (the pseudo-
chazarat hashatz, kriat hatorah with no minyan), ultimately, prayer is
about more than feeling good; it is also a metaphysical experience in
which one encounters hakadosh baruch hu, and imitation devarim she
b'kedusha, especially those which are halachically questionable, may do
nothing to foster this goal.

In this context, it seems to me that perhaps the most promising areas
for women's spiritual expression may be in the use of and/or development
of private prayer, and in the reinvestment of spiritual content in the
unique aspects of women's roles.  In this manner, a uniquely feminine
form of spiritual expression would be pursued which would perhaps be
better suited for bringing about an encounter with hakadosh baruch hu.
On this note, I mention that a collection of techinos, prayers composed
by and for women, was recently published, translated into English from
Yiddish.  The techinos are exactly what I have described -- personal,
spontaneous prayer, often relating to various aspects of women's lives.
They were used extensively in pre-modern Europe, thus the specific
content of some individual techinos may not always seem relevant to
contemporary women, given the technological and sociatal changes which
have occured since then.  And while it may be easy to view the
pre-modern woman as oppressed and locked out of the modes of spiritual
expression, the existence of such prayers testifies to the drive for
contact with hakadosh baruch hu, a profound spritiual sensitivity, and a
level of empowerment necessary to compose the means of expressing that

Eitan Fiorino


End of Volume 8 Issue 62