Volume 8 Number 84
                       Produced: Thu Aug 19  7:10:30 1993

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Needs, agendas, and women's tephila
         [David Novak]
Women and Public Prayer
         [Smadar Kedar]
Women at Minyan
         [Aliza Berger]


From: David Novak <novak@...>
Date: Sun, 8 Aug 93 13:09:44 -0400
Subject: Needs, agendas, and women's tephila

Discussion in mail-jewish has continued recently on the subject of how
people's needs and desires are accomodated in the halachic process.  I
have stated previously that in the process of making a halachic decision
(psak) people's needs and desires are constantly accomodated.
Furthermore, I pointed out that the difference between the intellectual
categorization and discussion that might occur in a yeshiva or a
University and the psak that occurs in real life is just this: psak
takes people's needs and desires into account.  In this connection, I
wish first to relate an anecdote which has come to my attention and then
to respond to some recent remarks of Eitan Fiorino.

Rav Gedaliah Schwartz is Av Bet Din (head of the Bet Din) of the Chicago
Rabbinical Council; I understand that R. Schwartz holds a similar
position with the Rabbinical Council of America.  A friend relates that
R. Schwartz gave a public talk some time ago in which he discussed the
difference between being a Rosh Yeshiva and being an Av Bet Din.  R.
Schwartz is said to have stated that the difference is that the Av Bet
Din, who is constantly answering questions, must take people's needs
into account and does not have the luxury of simply seeking the logical
conclusion from the sources.  R. Schwartz is reported also to have said
that he spends approximately half of his working day understanding and
considering the needs of those who come to him asking halachic

In Volume 8 #68 Eitan Fiorino writes:

>I have said, numerous times now, that ... it is outside the bounds of  
>Orthodox psak to attempt to further a particular aggenda [sic] by 
>consciously searching through the sources for support

And later, he writes:

>Hefsed meruba is a halachic concept which has consistantly played a 
>role in halachic decision-making, particularly in kashrut....  To 
>conclude from Rav Moshe invoking the concept of hefsed meruba that Rav 
>Moshe "recognized the need for change in some issues" is erroneous.  
>The latter statement may be true, but this example is no proof of it.  
>Rav  Moshe balanced an already existing halachic concept against the 
>normative halachah and was able to generate a leniency....He did not 
>pursue an agenda through his psak.  It is also informative to look at 
>the details of the case -- my understanding is that this teshuva 
>involved the parents of a baal teshuva who wanted to make their home 
>kosher for their child.  Thus, there was a shalom bayit issue to start 
>with.  Second, this was a case of a person trying to do teshuva; if 
>the people were frum from birth and accidentally treifed their fine 
>china, it isn't so clear that such a ruling would have been 

It seems to me that Eitan gives a counter-example to his own
generalization.  I believe it is fair to say that Rav Moshe's agenda was
to increase shalom bayit, make it easier for someone to do teshuva, and
prevent an unnecessary financial loss.  In following this agenda, in
Eitan's words, "Rav Moshe balanced an already existing halachic concept
against the normative halachah and was able to generate a leniency."
Indeed, he was able to generate a leniency; in other words, he found a
way to realize a certain agenda.  So, too, Rav Moshe had an agenda to
help agunot from the Holocaust to be able to return to a normal life, so
he "was able to generate a leniency".  This is how the real world of
halacha works.  We are fortunate indeed when the greatest Rabbis of the
generation have such agendas.

Again, Eitan writes:

>In the case of women's tefila, there is no even-handed application of 
>the halachic dialectic.  There is not a balancing halachic concept 
>invoked by R. Weiss in _Women at Prayer_ which justifies the 
>institution of birkat hatorah in the manner he advocates; the only 
>justification is the desire to establish a women's prayer service.

I do not know whether there was an "even-handed application of the
halachic dialectic", nor whether any other intellectual category was
satisfied in R. Weiss's book.  I do know that it is normal to take
people's needs into account (to have an agenda concerning people's
needs) when reaching a real-world halachic decision.  I would like to
suggest that the approach of R. Weiss will be judged by k'lal yisrael
and by history.  Meanwhile, R. Weiss's position is making a difference
to real women in the real world.

                                 - David Novak


From: <kedar@...> (Smadar Kedar)
Date: Wed, 18 Aug 1993 13:11:35 -0600
Subject: Women and Public Prayer

I would like to focus here on just one point regarding women and public
prayer: The desire to pray in a women's minyan seems to misapply a
secular notion to a religious activity.

Leah Reingold wrote (emphasis mine):

> 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**. 

Being orthodox is being religious first, and porting notions from the
secular world only if compatible with the religious world. The values of
"officially recognize her presence", being "recognized and needed",
having a "role or function" do have a place both in secular and
religious society: I, and many women like myself in my community are
professional (e.g. an airline pilot, a social worker, a physician, and
myself, a research scientist).  We are aware of our opportunities in the
secular world and want to be treated equally before the law in salary,
position, etc., In our religious community we desire (and are) fully
recognized for our roles in charity, teaching, leadership, etc.

Yet these notions of recognition and role are misapplied when applied to

To me, although tephilla be'tzibur enhances the strength of the communal
prayer and of its communication to Hashem, as long as we are not
obligated in it, tephilla can be first and foremost a private, quiet
activity between myself and Hashem (like meditation, it acts to center
oneself and get in touch with one's divine spark).  Why would someone be
more spiritually fullfilled by being recognized as a gabai, rather than
having a meaningful prayer and meditation session between her and

The values of the secular society have seeped into us so deeply, we
subconciously assume that "recognition" and "opportunities" are always
superior to "meaningful" and "private", in all phases of life.  So few
moments of our day are ones where we can temporarily espcape the hectic
world around us and take a quiet, spiritual break. Why is that not
spiritually fulfilling enough?

Smadar Kedar   	       	       	       	(708)-467-1017  (office)
Institute for the Learning Sciences     (708)-491-3500  (main number) 
Northwestern University	       	       	(708)-491-5258  (FAX)
1890 Maple Ave.	       	        	email:  <kedar@...>


From: <A_BERGER@...> (Aliza Berger)
Date: Wed, 18 Aug 1993 19:29:50 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Women at Minyan

Larry Teitelman expressed surprise that a woman would ever go to a
women's prayer group given the spiritual value placed on with a minyan,
to which Leah Reingold raised some reasons that a woman would want to do
this, saying in part:

>the men who object to women "separating" themselves
>by forming a women's tefilah cannot have it both ways: they should 
>either admit de facto that women are separated during tefilah, and therefore
>accept the women's tefilah, or they should work on eliminating the
>separation within the existing minyanim.
(that's a paraphrase, but almost an exact quote)

Even without such "controversial" changes that would involve women more
in the minyan, such as lowering the mechitza, having a woman carry the
sefer torah into the women's section, having women be presidents of the
congregation, there is a lot that could be done logistically.  I agree
with Larry Teitelman's suggestion that women should pray as much as
possible with a minyan (that is one of the reasons that women's tefilah
groups meet only once a month), but logistics that are not caused by
women (except insofar as that women have just begun to question them)
sometimes make this difficult.

Many Orthodox synagogues hold the daily minyan in a room that has no
mechitza at all.  A visitor to a town doesn't have much leverage to
change this situation; at the very least it is uncomfortable to have to
ask.  This could even be uncomfortable for a synagogue member who's not
used to making waves.  Many "makeshift" minyanim in public places do the
same.  The result is that a woman has to think twice before trying to
attend such a minyan, or even not go because she is not sure whether the
reaction to her presence will be welcoming (from personal experience,
sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't.)  To take it to the extreme,
think of the situation of a woman who is saying kaddish.

Here's another example of an uncomfortable situation for women: A while
back on mail-jewish there was a discussion of the permissibility of
holding a minyan in a wedding hall where there were women milling
around.  Presumably the assumption there was that no women would be
praying, since if it would be all right to have women praying in that
situation with no mechitsa, there ought not to be a question about the
ones milling around.  (Are women who are praying more distracting than
women who are not? Or is it just that the ones who are praying would be
in closer proximity, therefore creating a greater halakhic problem?)  If
the assumption was in this discussion that no women would be praying
there, then it is safe to say that a woman who in real life joins such a
minyan would be at the least breaking the usual pattern, never a
comfortable situation to be in.  A woman might definitely hesitate in
that situation: For example, if I follow the opinion that such a
one-time minyan would not require a mechitza, I wouldn't go so far as to
impose this opinion on the other guests at a wedding who might be more
strict (and there's no time to take a poll).

The "makeshift" situations could be rationalized by some as trying to
accommodate only those who "really need" the minyan (men), but realize
the other side of the coin: the exclusion of women from the
optional/preferential situation of public prayer.  As Leah Reingold
said, "these men can't have it both ways." There's no excuse for a
permanent synagogue situation without a women's section.

There is one occasion where logistical issues really are difficult for
women: praying at the kotel [Western Wall].  It is impossible for a
woman to pray with a minyan there.  It is my understanding that before
1948 there was no mechitsa at the kotel.  Does anyone know if minyanim
took place there then, or did people just go to say tehillim etc.?  Did
men forsake praying with a minyan for the great spiritual experience of
praying at the kotel?  Today, how should a woman choose between the
experience of prayer at the kotel and praying with a minyan (while men
have both all at once)?  If it is acceptable to occasionally give up
prayer with a minyan for an alternate spiritual experience such as
prayer at the kotel, I think that a women's tefilah is occasionally
acceptable as well.

I think it has already been stated by others on the list that men's
exemption from attending public prayer services extends to more than
situations that comprise "ha-osek be-mitsva patur min ha mitsva"
[someone who is busy with one commandment is free from another].  The
exemption includes work and child care.  In fact, the term "obligation"
is probably inappropriate, since the sources do not couch it in these
terms (Rambam Hilchot Tefilah 8:1 says "tzarich" - is required to go -
whenever he can, not "chayyav" [is obligated]).  However, since public
prayer is viewed as important (e.g. as in statements such as "the
prayers of an individual are not answered"), it is a communal obligation
["hiyyuv ha-tsibur"] to have a minyan, (but not an obligation on the
individual ["hiyyuv ha-yahid"]). The obligation on a particular
individual man, knowing that there will be no trouble having a minyan
without him (e.g. in a large community), then might not be any greater
than that of a particular individual woman.  They might be equal as far
as the application of the Rambam's prescription to attend public prayer
whenever one is able.  A practical effect of this line of thought would
be that it would be no more preferable for a husband to go to a minyan
while his wife takes care of the children than to do it the other way
around.  I don't have any children, but I imagine that this would extend
to both husband and wife staying at home if that will make the duties of
home life at all easier.  From my observation, this is what happens
often in practice anyway.

Aliza Berger


End of Volume 8 Issue 84