Volume 8 Number 78
                       Produced: Tue Aug 10 12:29:33 1993

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

         [Leah S. Reingold]
Halakhah and Modernity
         [Arnold Kuzmack]
Women's Roles
         [Leah S. Reingold]


From: <leah@...> (Leah S. Reingold)
Date: Mon, 09 Aug 93 00:08:38 EDT
Subject: Abortion

Eli Turkel writes:

>     There have been several comments indicating that abortion is not
>that serious of a prohibition. I would like to stress that according to
>halakhah abortion is strictly forbidden under all circumstances.
>      For all laws (except idolatory, murder and incest) laws are
>overriden when there is a danger to life. To say that abortion is
>lessened by the permission to save the mother at the expense of the
>fetus is equivalent to stating that shabbat is not a serious prohibition
>because one may (or rather must) violate shabbat to save a life. There
>is simply no connection between the seriousness of a prohibition and the
>fact that the saving of a life is considered more important. It is clear
>that abortion is not murder and so the life of the mother takes
>precedence of that of the unborn (but not born) child.

Mr. Turkel's metaphor might lead one to incorrect conclusions-- There
are key differences between abortion and shabbat desecration: shabbat
observance is not in and of itself a threat to one's life, whereas
pregnancy always has that potential.

Furthermore, if one has to break shabbat to save a life, then the life
does not get saved simply because shabbat has been broken.  Saving the
life requires, presumably, some action such as a ride to the hospital
and medical care--breaking shabbat in some random way won't do the
trick.  Abortion, on the other hand, (in the cases where it is to save
the mother's life) is THE direct life-saving activity.

Therefore, a more logical metaphor for abortion would be surgery (which
is prohibited in non-vital cases because one is not allowed to draw
blood otherwise).  Of course, no one would say that "surgery is
prohibited in all cases," because the primary purpose of surgery is to
save lives.

So the point is that because the mother's life is a factor in all
pregnancy cases, (though more obvious an issue in some cases than
others), the abortion debate must always be considered from such a
standpoint.  In this light, it makes no sense to try to separate the
issues of abortion and pikuach nefesh, as they are permanently

Also on the subject, Robert Book mentioned that Margaret Sanger was a
eugenicist, who was in favor of "undesirables" using abortion so as to
limit their numbers.  While this is true, my understanding of her
opinions is that she became a eugenicist years after founding Planned
Parenthood.  This is not really the point, though, because Mr. Book
raises an important issue, which is that no one should be forced into
aborting by racist propaganda or for any reason whatsoever.  Again, I
find myself explaining the pro-choice view, which is that no one should
be forced into making ANY pregnancy-related decision by the state.  So
Mr. Book has simply clarified the other side of the pro-choice coin,
which is that women who want to carry their pregnancies to term should
obviously not be forced to abort (assuming that they aren't dying or
some such thing).  A big part of the problem, in my opinion, is that
U.S. society does not place a high enough value on children and
child-bearing/child-rearing.  Because Judaism has always put the highest
value on family, we ought therefore to push for more prenatal care for
poor women, childcare as a national priority, compensation for at-home
mothers, reasonable salaries for elementary school teachers, etc.

Leah S. Reingold


From: <lkuzmack@...> (Arnold Kuzmack)
Date: Mon, 9 Aug 93 01:05:41 -0400
Subject: Halakhah and Modernity

I would like to continue the discussion on halakhah and modernity by
responding to the commenters on my posting in v8n60 (July 28).

It appears that my comments on the reactions of the Orthodox Rabbinate
to the challenges of Reform touched a nerve.  They drew more comment
than the rest of what I wrote, even though they were a side point.  I do
not claim to be an expert on the history of this period (or any other
:-)), and many of the commenters added interesting references and
material for which I thank them.  Yet none seem to challenge my basic
point that this was a policy choice (perhaps a better term than
"political", which I used in my posting) -- several schools of thought
were developed and argued, and the choice was finally reached as the
best judgment of what was best for the community.  No one argued that
this was the only approach that was halakhically permissible.

I did not intend my remarks as "bashing" the Rabbis but rather as a
response to another comment against change of any sort, based on "kol
hamosif gorea".  I agree with David Kessler that they were doing what
they thought was best under very difficult circumstances and that there
was no way that Traditional Judaism would emerge unchanged from the
challenge of modernity (I might even have said that).  But the question
was then and is now the direction in which it will change.  I suggested
that "arguably much of the divisiveness and sinat hinam [baseless
hatred] which afflict the Jewish world today could have been avoided had
the opposite decision been made".  I did not mean to imply that there
was not plenty of blame to lay on the shoulders of others as well.  But
I do believe that these problems stem largely from this period.  If
others who know the history better feel otherwise, I will be happy to
learn from them.  (I note in passing that the commenters generally
defended the policy in terms of minimizing defectors to Reform rather
than contributing to ahdut yisrael.)

Eitan Fiorino responded to my other points, as well.  He wrote:

>> Halakhah is a divinely ordained human institution established
>> in love and wisdom to guide Jews in the conduct of our lives. 
>> Meeting valid human needs is therefore its essence.

> I would say that the essence of halachah is to guide Jews
> towards an encounter with the Divine; this can be done only
> through adhering to G-d's will.  Abraham Joshua Heschel once
> wrote "as long as man sees religion as a means of satisfying
> his own needs, it is not G-d he serves but himself."

I thought the longest how to respond to this comment.  Basically, I
believe that in meeting our own needs, *properly understood*, we *are*
serving G-d.  G-d created us to have biological, emotional, and
spiritual needs, including the needs to act ethically, to work to
improve human society, and to relate to the Divine.  Judaism in general
has not devalued the day-to-day routine of human life but has sought to
sanctify it and to teach us how to serve G-d through it.  I suspect
that, at this level of generality, Eitan and I would agree.  However,
when faced with instances of apparent conflict between our understanding
of halakhah and what we would agree are valid human needs, I would be
more willing than he to "stretch" halakhah to resolve the conflict and
satisfy those needs.

> I have never said that halachah is static and frozen.  All I
> have said is that it is outside the realm of traditional
> halachic decision-making to search through the sources in order
> to find a way to legislate a preconceived agenda.  My whole 
> point all along has been that the normal halachic dialectic 
> has not been applied to the arguments in favor of certain
> aspects of women's t'filah.

Obviously, it is not enough to find one isolated phrase that can be
tortured to support some position.  But the historical fact is that such
agendas have always existed and will undoubtedly continue to exist at
least until Moshiach comes.  The question is not whether we can somehow
proceed "objectively" without paying attention to the agendas (there is
more than one around, and not all are on the "left") but rather which
elements of which agendas will ultimately be adopted.

>> Jewish women who are testing the limits do not necessarily 
>> maintain that "equality means identity of roles and
>> responsibilities" . . . .  Rather, they are objecting to
>> being permanently excluded from the core public expressions of
>> the community.

> My question then is this -- but what if that is simply the way
> things are?  What if the halachah has bent as far as it will
> bend?  What if the essence of Jewish womanhood means permanent
> exclusion from certain public roles?

That is, of course, one of the logically possible alternatives.  But
IMHO it is not the case.  If we choose not to adopt the extra-halakhic
view that the traditional role distinctions are somehow an unalterable
feature of the human personality, then the bases of many of the
restrictions seem to be rooted very much in social and economic
conditions at the time they were formulated.  (This is not a criticism
-- I have been arguing that this is appropriate for our time as well.)
Consider, for example, "kavod hatsibbur".  Why should the community feel
its honor has been offended if a woman reads publicly?  At the time this
principle was first stated, the answer was so obvious the question was
not even asked.  Today, it is hard to come up with an answer that will
withstand scrutiny.  Similar questions can be raised about "kol ishah"
and the whole concept of time-bound positive commandments in a society
where the child-rearing is shared more equally.  I do not expect radical
changes quickly, but there seems to be plenty of room for

Arnold Kuzmack
<lkuzmack@...> (my wife's Internet account)


From: <leah@...> (Leah S. Reingold)
Date: Mon, 09 Aug 93 00:08:38 EDT
Subject: Women's Roles

Larry Teitelman writes:

>she-bi-kedusha, etc.) But perhaps Ms. Berger *is* correct in her view
>that there should be little or no distinction between men and women when
>it comes to tefilla be-tzibbur.  Surely, in light of the above
>information, a religiously conscientious woman would whenever possible
>want to particpate in tefilla be-tzibbur.  So it is rather surprising
>that someone would foresake such an opportunity to instead attend a
>tefilla group which openly declares that it does not consider itself to
>be a minyan, the halakhic criterion for tefilla be-tzibbur?

It is not surprizing to me whatsoever that a religiously conscientious
woman would NOT necessarily choose to attend a minyan that does not
officially recognize her presence, and in which she has no function.
This is especially the case for women who are aware of their
opportunities for equality in the secular world, and who are therefore
dissatisfied with an 'invisible' role in the synagogue.  (This does not
only apply to being included in the davening itself--some synagogues
even prohibit women from holding high synagogue offices (purely
lay-person positions), not to mention anti-woman attitudes that too
often pervade all aspects of davening from mechitza style to
announcements that "mothers should make sure their children are
well-behaved or else exit with them.")  Whatever apologists may say,
there are certainly halakhic designs for mechitzot that create a
comfortable, welcoming atmosphere for women, and surely fathers can be
held responsible for their children as much as can mothers.

Indeed, a modern Orthodox woman might well be more fulfilled spritually
if she were to attend a service where she is noticed and needed.  A
simple example: a man who is called the night before a minyan because
they need people is likely to go, because he knows the others will be
counting on him so they can daven.  While ideally, this man would attend
minyan because it is a mitzvah (or at least strongly urged in halakhic
sources), it is far more often the case that peer pressure is the active
force.  A woman has no such pressure to attend, UNLESS it is a women's
tephila group where, for example, she is being relied upon to lain,
gabbai, etc.

As a related point, it is strikingly unfair for certain men to blame
women in such tephila groups for "separating themselves from the
community"--these men cannot have it both ways; either they ought to
admit that women are separated from the male community during davening,
de facto, and therefore accept it as a part of Orthodoxy, or else if
they object to such a "separation," then they should work on eliminating
it within the existing minyanim.  This "separation" is not the effect of
a women's tephila group; it is the cause.

A final point: several people have objected to my earlier assertion that
many women are leaving Orthodoxy because they are being held back from
the type of religious opportunities (learning, laining, semicha, etc)
that they crave.  I contend that such women are not hooked up to this
list to speak for themselves, having given up on traditional avenues.  I
therefore offer as evidence my experiences as a Hillel leader these past
four years at MIT.  I have spoken PERSONALLY with scores of women from
campuses around the country who were raised to be Orthodox, but who were
able to advance far in the secular world, wanted parallel opportunities
in the Jewish world, and therefore left Orthodoxy for precisely the
reasons that I outlined earlier.  These women often stay active in the
Jewish community, become leaders in Hillels, attend JTS or join other
Conservative movement organizations, organize cross-denomination women's
tephila groups, etc.  Incidentally, I suspect that there are a smaller
number of men who have also left Orthodoxy because of the problems they
see concerning women's issues.

Leah S. Reingold


End of Volume 8 Issue 78