Volume 8 Number 81
                       Produced: Wed Aug 18 12:47:37 1993

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Mechitza Design
         [Susan Slusky]
Women and Public Prayer
         [Lawrence J. Teitelman ]
Women and Time Bound Positive Commandments (2)
         [Anthony Fiorino, Kibi Hofmann]
Women's Zimmun
         [Faith Sheiber]


From: Susan Slusky <segs@...>
Date: Tue, 10 Aug 93 15:24:00 EDT
Subject: Mechitza Design

While we're all riled up about women's participation in shul, I'd like
to ask the group about mechitza [partition - Ed.] design. I know I can
ask my own rabbi about this, but what I find most interesting about
this group is that it enables me to hear the opinions of Jews I'd
never meet or discuss things with otherwise. So, while I may
profoundly disagree with some of you, I find the give and take
informative, sometimes even fascinating.

Anyway, on to mechitza design. I've seen lots of styles. An
assortment, listed in increasing order of the isolation imposed on the
women's section:

three foot high semi opaque lace
three foot high opaque wood
four foot high opaque wood topped by another foot or two of transparent
plastic (plexiglass?)
five foot high opaque wood topped by another foot of so of semi opaque
wooden spindles
six to eight foot high opaque wood

What are the various interpretations that lead one synagogue to choose
to put up an eight foot high mechitza and another a three foot high
one? Is the eight foot high one just a stringency? Is the three foot
high one invalid?

I'm particularly intrigued by the use of plexiglass. Plexiglass
doesn't block sight at all and does a lousy job at blocking sound if
it's not floor to ceiling. So it only blocks people from physically
touching or maybe from breathing on one another. If the mechitza is
mainly to keep men from seeing women, and maybe a little to keep them
from hearing women's voices, what does an extra couple of feet of
plexiglass do (halachically) for a mechitza?

Susan Slusky


From: Lawrence J. Teitelman  <csljt@...>
Date: Wed, 11 Aug 93 15:26:47 EDT
Subject: Women and Public Prayer

Recently I (as well as others) posted several Halakhic sources
indicating that Tefilla be-Tzibbur (public prayer) is strongly
recommended, if not obligatory. In light of this information, I
suggested that women who attend tefilla "groups" would be better-
advised to participate in a regular minyan which allows them too to
achieve the merits of public prayer. (I was not raising any particular
objections to the proceedings of women's tefilla groups -- nor was I
sanctioning them. Rather, all other things being equal, it would seem
appropriate for women as well as men to want to daven in a minyan.)

In response, Leah Reingold wrote:

> 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.

> 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.

"Official recognition" in the context of prayer would seemingly be
best defined by HKBH's [the Holy One, blessed be He - Ed.] acceptance
of one's prayer. The Rambam (cited in my earlier posting as well as in
Eitan Fiorino's) states that "public prayer is always heard" and does
not limit his remarks to only the prayers of those *men* present among
the tzibbur. Accordingly, it seems that a woman *is* officially
recognized. Moreover, one's "function" in a house of worship is *not*
to be the chazan [cantor - Ed.], ba'al keri'ah [reader from the Torah
- Ed.], or gabbai ["collector" - one who helps supervising the reading
of the Torah and in calling people to the Torah, announcing donations,
etc. - Ed.]; it is to pray. While "official recognition" and
"function" may be *perceived* by others in terms of a public role in
the synagogue, I think that we should keep in mind "lifnei mi atah
omed" -- before whom we (lit. you) stand -- when we evaluate
institutions of prayer.

Along similar lines, it is certainly very noble and considerate of a
man who would otherwise not attend minyan to respond to a need for a
"tenth". (And __notwithstanding my comments above and other possible
objections to women's tefilla groups__, it is likewise noble and
considerate of a woman who would would otherwise not attend tefilla-
group to respond to a need for a ba'alat keri'ah.) Certainly we must
praise the actions of people who help out their brothers (and sisters)
when they are in need. But the "religiously conscientious" -- and it
is to this group which I addressed my original remarks -- don't wait
for a personal invitation to attend synagogue when and only when they
are needed as one of the ten or to serve in some public role. There is
a special merit of being one of the first ten at shul as well as
serving the congregation, but this is *not* what tefilla be-tzibbur is
all about.

What I find most disturbing about this whole topic, however, is not
the particular issue of tefilla be-tzibbur, but rather the general
line of argumentation. When religiously conscientious individuals
choose their actions, they consult Halakha. If they are not satisfied
with what Halakha has to say, they do not then become Conservative,
Reform, or altogether non-religious. Unfortunately, as Leah Reingold
observes -- and her experience in this area is far greater than mine,
many people raised as Orthodox become disenchanted with Orthodoxy and
thus go elsewhere to find spiritual satisfaction. So we have a problem
-- a she'at ha-dechak (time of exigency) -- and Halakha does address
such cases. Sometimes it can solve the problem and keep people happy;
sometimes it can't.

If one demonstrates (and I believe that I and others did demonstrate)
that tefilla with a minyan is better than tefilla without a minyan and
therefore concludes that religiously conscientious men and women should
whenever possible opt for tefilla be-tzibbur, then an appropriate
counterargument (i.e. an argument for tefilla groups) would be to
prove on _halakhic grounds_ that having a public role or leadership
position is more important than tefilla be-tzibbur. Perhaps advocates
of tefilla groups do have sources which support such a position, and I
welcome them to share these sources with us -- le-hagdil Torah u-le-
ha'adirah! [to magnify the Torah and make it great - Ed.]

Larry Teitelman


From: Anthony Fiorino <fiorino@...>
Date: Tue, 17 Aug 93 11:52:53 -0400
Subject: Women and Time Bound Positive Commandments

Regarding the exemption of women from time-bound positive commandments,
we had the question

> What is the _real_ reason for this exemption? If, as is commonly
> stated, it is so a woman will be able to care for her family, I would
> think that the first principle (ha-osek...) should be enough to exempt
> women with children from these mitzvot.
> But the gemara's statement expands this to all women, including those
> not taking care of children. Why? I would have thought that a woman
> without family obligations (eg: one who is not yet married, or a widow
> whose children have grown and moved out) should be obligated in these
> mitzvot. The gemara, however, says that this is not the case.

The gemera does not eleborate on the exemption of women from mitzvot
aseh she-hazman grama [time-bound positive commandments - Mod.].  Any
attempt to explain this exemption is merely that -- an attempt to create
a framework in which to understand the exemption.  Such explanations
(such as women will be taking care of children) may or may not be true,
and even if true, have no bearing on the halachah.  In general,
explanations for mitzvot do not impact the observance of those mitzvot.

As for the example that while engaged in a mitzvah, one is exempt from
other mitzvot, I don't know that child-raising in a general sense
qualifies as a mitzvah.  It certainly is something which must be done,
but does this automatically mean when one is osek [involved] in
child-raising that one is patur [exempt] from other mitzvot?  There are
certainly many mitzvot involved in child-raising, but I don't see how we
can classify the whole concept of raising children as a mitzvah which
exempts one from other mitzvot.  Furthermore, the parameters of ha-osek
b'mitzvah patur min hamitzvah do not apply across the board; for
instance, being osek b'talmud torah [Study of Torah - Mod.] does not
exempt one from kriat shma [Reading of Shema - Mod].  In this context it
is important to note that the halachic responsibility for educating
children rests not upon the mother but upon the father.  Any attempt to
explain the exemption of women from mitzvot aseh she-hazman grama in
terms of child care must incorporate this fact.

Eitan Fiorino

From: Kibi Hofmann <hofmanna@...>
Date: Tue, 17 Aug 93 11:52:50 -0400
Subject: Women and Time Bound Positive Commandments

A few contributors have written recently that the reason for women being
exempted from time-bound mitzvas is because of their manifold
responsibilities at home. David Charlap in #79 said that if this was so,
then the reasoning of "osek be-mitzva potur min ha-mitzva" ought to
cover the situation.

I'm not sure that really works, since normally the sort of "osek" we
think of is fully occupied with the mitzva, and all but the busiest
women probably have some time in the day when they could say put on
tefillin or put on tzitzis (it doesn't really take too long). As David
says, it also doesn't work for single women, older women, childless
women etc who form a large proportion of women in general, yet they are
also exempted.

I wonder if anyone has a clear, *old* source for this (i.e. old enough
that we won't get cries of "sexist rabbi, afraid of feminism..."). If
not, then perhaps it is better to state the law as a chok (statute with
unknown reason) and just get on with trying to figure out the
implications rather than the rationale.

If women are not obligated in the same type of tefilla as men because
they are exempt from time bound mitzvas, and they are exempt from time
bound mitzvas simply because thats the way it is, then the only
discussion needs to be about how to deal with women's tefilla _within_
those borders rather than spending time railing against the "unfairness"
of the Torah.

Kibi Hofmann


From: Faith Sheiber <sheiber@...>
Date: Tue, 10 Aug 1993 14:00:16 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Women's Zimmun

    In response to the statement quoted in the name of Rav Sheinberg
stating that "it is not the minhag [custom - Ed.]" for women to make a
zimmun ["invitation", i.e. to say grace together - Ed.], I would like
to add another source.

    While it is true that in many communities, in fact, it is not the
minhag for women to be mezamen and it would be considered
inappropriate, there are authorities who take a different stand on the
issue of women's zimmun other than that presented by Rav Sheinberg.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach as quoted in the book Halichot Beita,
authored by his nephew and bearing his haskama [approbation - Ed.],
rules that 3 or more women may make a zimmun *even* in the presence of
1 or 2 men and the men may respond to the zimmun. Where there are
three men present, the women have the option of separating and forming
their own zimmun or answering the zimmun of the men. When three men
are present and less than three women are present, women are
*obligated* to respond to the zimmun of the men.(Sources: Shulchan
Aruch, 199:7, Mishna Berura Ad loc 17, Halichot Beita Chapter 12,
paragraphs 7-8, footnote 14.). No where does the author mention or
even suggest that it is not the minhag for women to make a zimmun.

    Clearly there is not one opinion on the matter. Certainly in some
communities, and in those over which R. Sheinberg presides, women's
zimmun goes against the minhag and I don't see the point in arguing
with R. Sheinberg's ruling or trying to suggest that he didn't mean
it. But for other communities, there certainly are plenty of Poskim
who hold otherwise, R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach among them.

    In response to Miriam Rabinowitz's posting, I think it is
speculative, at best, to infer that the Chafetz Chaim would today
obligate women in zimmun. First of all, the Chafetz Chaim was
suggesting a * possible* reason why women were exempt from zimmun, not
a definitive one. Secondly, even if that were the reason that Rabanan
exempted women from zimmun, one could argue that once women were
exempted, they are exempt. In any case, according the Mishneh Berura
women *can* make a zimmun so why the push to actually find that they
obligated? I am very happy to have some optional mitzvot!

                                        Caroline Peyser


End of Volume 8 Issue 81