Volume 9 Number 4
                       Produced: Fri Sep  3 13:46:11 1993

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

         [Anthony Fiorino]
Women's Obligation in Prayer
         [Anthony Fiorino]


From: Anthony Fiorino <fiorino@...>
Date: Wed, 25 Aug 93 09:44:35 -0400
Subject: Minyan

In v8#88, Leah Reingold responded to Larry Teitelman's posting:

> It seems to me, therefore, to be a mockery of the advantages of 'tefilla
> be-tzibbur' to state that a woman ought to prefer to daven with such a
> minyan instead of to daven alone or with a women's tefilla group, since
> there is (and can be, in most cases) no religious difference between her
> davening with said minyan and davening alone.

Here, Leah is asserting that there is no religious difference between a
women davening with a minyan or alone.  I think this is untrue. 
Certainly, there is the fulfilment of the Rambam's directive (as
previously discussed on m-j), and there are agadatic statements
emphasizing that the shechina dwells upon every minyan.  There is no doubt
that public prayer is viewed much more highly than private prayer, and to
state that this is not so is simply denying the facts. 

> Indeed, private prayer (invented by a woman, no less!) is required at some
> points even during public davening--during the amidah, for example.

Actually, the mishna brura (somewhere on Orach chaim 90:9 I think) states
that people are mistaken to think that the reason to daven b'tzibur is
because of barchu and kadish -- rather, he says, the reason is to daven
*with* a tzibur.  Meaning, to pray one's "private" amida surrounded by others
(ie, a minyan) saying their "private" amida.  This addresses the issue of
defining what public prayer is (as was pointed out by Avi).

> Sadly, it seems that the "religiously conscientious" to whom Mr.
> Teitelman refers are few and far between.  So much so, for instance,
> that I have yet to hear of a shul that has never had to make a phone
> call to get someone to make a minyan or lain or give a d'var Torah or
> whatever.

IMO, these are the exceptions which prove the rule.  The fact is, most
shuls with even a relatively small population *sometimes* must make a
phone call to get a minyan -- in reality, enough people are "religiously
conscientious" enough such that the phone call is the exception, not the
rule.  Furthermore, I might add that the further "rightward" one gets in
outlook (of the community), the less likely this is to be a problem.  Is
it simply that there are more "religiously conscientious" people in such
communities?  Sadly, sociological surveys reveal more complete patterns of
adherance to halachah in such communities.  I don't know if that means
they are more "religiously conscientious," but I do know this -- for a
Jew, the label "religiously conscientious" cannot be applied to one who is
not carefully observant of halachah.

I think Leah raises a good point regarding divrei Torah, but I just don't
know how applicable it is.  In most shuls, it is the rabbi who does the
vast majority of the public speaking.  Here at Einstein, we have women's
shiurim on shabbos afternoons (no men allowed) -- and they are scheduled
so that women are still free to attend mincha and the rabbi's gemara
shiur afterwards.

> This message is precisely what gives many Orthodox girls the idea that
> they don't really need to daven at all (a depressing phenomenon noted
> earlier in this list), while their Conservative sisters are as interested
> the boys in mastering the week's laining, leading davening, etc. 

While the fact that many Orthodox women don't daven, or do not think they
have a requirement to daven, is terrible, I must object to looking to the
Conservative movement for a better approach.  I have several friends who
have experience interacting with Conservative clergy in various settings,
and they have told me that one of the uniform complaints of Conservatve
rabbis is that Conservative Judaism has in an important way failed (and
they contrast themselves with Orthodoxy in this regard) because it has not
generated a laity which is knowledgeable, observant, or even interested. 
So it may be that Conservative boys *and* girls train for their bar/bat
mitzvah leining -- but for a tremendous number of them, that is their last
significant encounter with Judaism. 

> Similarly, it is clear to me why many women would choose to attend a
> women's tefilla group in which they are needed instead of a minyan in
> which they are not.

What is being argued is not why one might want to choose to attend a
women's tefilah group, but if that is the appropriate choice.  If Leah is
attempting to indicate that women's tefila is a halachically appropriate
choice, this fails to demonstrate it.  We can easily take Leah's argument
one step further -- given the situation in Orthodoxy as Leah has described
it, "it is clear to me why many women would choose to attend a _________
in which they were needed instead of a minyan in which they are not." We
can put *anything* in that blank space -- "women's tefilla group,"
"Conservative shul," "egalitarian minyan," "Catholic mass" -- without
changing the "truth" of the statement.  The truth of the statement is not
related in any way to the halachic viability of whatever enitity is put in
the blank space, whether it be "women's tefila group" or "Conservative shul."

Eitan Fiorino


From: Anthony Fiorino <fiorino@...>
Date: Wed, 25 Aug 93 12:49:46 -0400
Subject: Women's Obligation in Prayer

I would like to add to some of Steve Epstein's comments from v8 #88. 

The mishna on brachot 20b states that women, slaves, and minors are exempt
from shma and tefilin but are obligated in tefila, mezuzah, and birkat
hamazon [grace after meals]. The gemara comments that they are chayav in
tefila because tefila is asking for G-d's mercy (d'rachamei ninhu). 
Quoting a pasuk from tehilim, the gemara says that one might have thought
that tefila is a mitzvah she-hazman grama, thus we are told that is not
the case.

There is a machelochet [dispute] rishonim regarding the understanding of
the word "tefila" in the mishna -- the Rambam holds that in this case,
tefila refers to prayer non-specifically, while others hold that tefila
refers to shemoneh esrei (this is the normal talmudic usage of tefila). 

The Rambam feels that the mishna and gemara are referring to a non-specific
d'oraita (Torah-based) requirement for tefila (based on sifrei to devarim
11:13).  In the mishneh torah, hilchot tefila 1:1, he states that this
d'oraita mitzvah of daily tefila has no set number, order, or times. 
Thus, in hilchot tefila 1:2, he concludes that since there is no set time
for tefila d'oraita, women and slaves are chayavin (obligated). 
According to the Rambam, the obligation of prayer is to offer praise to
G-d, then to petition G-d for one's needs, and then to give thanks to G-d. 
On top of this d'oraita requirement, the anshei kneset hagedolah (the men
of the great assembly) formulated the specific form of prayer (ie,
shemoneh esrei) and the times for prayer (hilchot tefila 1:5,6).  Thus,
according to the Rambam, women must recite some form of tefila each day,
consisting of the three aspects mentioned above.  This obligation is
perhaps best fulfilled through shemoneh esrei (see R. Ovadia Yosef, Yabia
Omer 6 orach chaim 17)

According to the mishna brura, the shulchan aruch holds like the Rambam. 
But the mishna brura brings down the Ramban, who holds (against the
Rambam) that prayer is actually d'rabanan (rabbinical).  The Ramban
(commentary to sefer hamitzvot positive commandment 5) brings a proof from
brachot 21a that tefila is d'rabanan -- one is not required to repeat
prayer if one is in doubt (safek brachot l'kula).  The mishna brura states
that the majority of opinion is that tefila is in fact d'rabanan (see
Rashi, Tosafot on brachot 20b; shaagat aryeh; shulchan aruch harav; see
also magen avraham).  For those who hold that it is d'rabanan, the above
gemara in brachot is interpreted in the following manner: tefila (ie,
shemona esrei) is simply an exception to the rule that women are exempt
from mitzvot aseh she-hazman grama, and this exception is due to the fact
that asking for G-d's mercy (d'rachamei ninhu) is such an important act
that an exception was made (the Yerushalmi in brachot 3:3 states this more
explicitly).  Alternatively, according to Rashi, the exemption of women
from mitzvot she-hazman grama may apply only to Biblical, not rabbinic,
commandments (Tosofot argue against this using the example of Hallel).

(It seems possible that the Rambam, and the Rif, had a different text than
the one we have today -- see the Meiri on brachot 20b; R. Elinson's Women
and the Mitzvot; aruch hashulchan orach chaim 106:5.)

This machelochet leads to a variety of approaches to women's prayer: the
aruch hashulchan requires women to daven shacharit, mincha, and maariv;
the mishna brura requires shacharit and mincha; the Rambam requires only a
daily expression of praise, petition, and thanks (with Rav Yosef noting
that the preferable way to fulfill this is through a daily shemoneh esrei).
In terms of psak, we (Ashkenazim) seem to follow the mishna brura. 

Steve interprets the gemara as stating that tefila is 
> included as a time-bound commandment which women are obligated to perform
> because . . . prayer is an act of petition.  Hence, if prayer was just a
> mechanical action of saying and hearing specific words at specific times
> of the day, women would be absolved from this commandment like any other
> mitzvat aseh shehazman grama.  However, since prayer contains elements of
> communication with G-d, meditation, introspection i.e. spirituality, women
> are also required to pray during the day. 

By relying on the fact that "prayer is an act of petition" to justify why
women are chayav in tefila, Steve is following the reasoning of the Ramban
as described above (as we saw, the Rambam obligates women because he feels
the mishna is referring to a non-specific daily d'oraita requirement for
tefila which is not bound by time).  However, there is a flaw in his
logic.  Steve concludes that because prayer is an act of petition, it is
not "just a mechanical action of saying and hearing specific words at
specific times of the day." Why is this conclusion true?  An act of
petition can certainly be mechanical, and the sources above do not make
any reference to *the way* in which one must petition G-d.  He then goes
on to state that because prayer is not mechanical (a statement not
necessarily true), women are obligated to pray.  Why is this conclusion
true?  First, according to the second (majority) view, women are required
in prayer because of the importance of asking for mercy -- simply because
prayer is important; not, as Steve states, because "prayer contains
elements of communication with G-d." Neither the Ramban nor the Rambam
indicate that the reason for obligating women has anything to do with the
fact that prayer is communication with G-d.  It may be clear that this is
true, but that isn't why women are obligated.  Second, according to the
Rambam, there is no doubt that women are included in the obligation of
prayer because he simply does not consider prayer to be a mitzvat
she-hazman grama -- thus, according to the Rambam, the very premise of
Steve's argument (that prayer is "a time-bound commandment which women are
obligated to perform") is false.  A final point is that R.  Yeshayahu
Leibovitz's formulation of prayer is one in which prayer is precisely a
mechanical action -- yet in R. Leibovitz's view, prayer as mechanical act does
not impact on women's chiuv at all.

Steve goes on to state "based on this reasoning, the place where a woman
prays should be the place which maximizes her spirituality." I do not
understand this conclusion at all, even if the reasoning to which he
refers was sound in the first place.  None of the sources describing a
woman's obligation to pray, at least none of those I found, have anything
to say about the *conditions* under which a woman should daven.  None of
the sources indicate in any way that "spirituality" or "closeness to G-d"
are factors which apply more to women than to men -- Steve's conclusion,
if his initial set of conclusions had been valid, would thus be applicable
to men *and* women equally.  If one is going to say that "the place where
a woman prays should be the place which maximizes her spirituality," then
one must say the same thing for a man, at least based on the sources above
(which served as the basis for Steve's line of reasoning).  More
correctly, one would have to conclude that these sources really say
nothing at all about the conditions under which men or women should strive
to daven; rather, they are simply establishing the obligation of women in

The point is valid that a woman has more flexibility in choosing a
davening environment.  But the proper place to see this is not in women's
chiuv in davening in general; rather, it is in women's lesser chiuv of
davening b'tzibur (with the congregation) than men (as has been discussed
previously on the network).  One cannot determine that women have less of a
chiuv than men in tefila b'tzibur by referring to the sources which
discuss women's chiuv in tefila in general.

As far as evaluating the argument that "if a particular woman's feelings
of exclusion or the noise caused by roaming children is so great that she
can not feel connected to G-d then . . . her benefit is consumed by her
loss," that may be true.  In general, I am wary of discussions which weigh
the need to daven with kavanah against the need to daven b'tzibur.  First,
for men at least, the need for kavana does not halachically "outweigh" the
requirement of tzibur.  Second, the shulchan aruch (orach chaim 98 -- "it
is required that one pray with kavanah") states that in our day, we no
longer have proper kavanah (98:2).  Again, in orach chaim 101:1, the Rema
states that if one prayed without kavanah, even though really one is
required to repeat shemoneh esrei, in our day we don't because we will not
have kavanah the second time either.  Thus, the halachic consequences of
lack of kavanah are muted in our day, making the argument that kavanah is
more important than tzibur tenuous at best.  But, given the lack of
obligation of women in tefila b'tzibur, this argument may hold weight
for women and not for men (indeed, this is the fundamental principle upon
which women's tefila is based).

> One's spirituality is completely subjective.  I believe that a woman
> . . . should judge honestly which place induces the most spirituality
> and daven at this place.

I believe the approach to spirituality expressed here is wrong.  Acts and
actions are not spiritual acts because they "feel" a certain way.  An act
has spiritual content only insofar as it is commanded by G-d.  Yehuda
Halevi observed this fact in the Kuzari -- "Man cannot approach G-d except
by means of deeds commanded by Him" (Schocken Books, 1964, p111).  Before
I converted, I did many mitzvot -- I kept kosher, I put on tefilin, I
prayed, and so on.  These acts were often associated with a set of
feelings, feelings of spirituality and closeness to G-d.  But this
subjective set of feelings, though very real, had no basis in religious
reality -- as a non-Jew, my performance of mitzvot had absolutely *no*
spiritual significance whatsoever, simply because I was not commanded in
those mitzvot (leaving aside any possible issue of hechsher mitzvah,
preparation for a mitzvah).  I might have davened in an ecstatic fit -- it
makes no difference -- I was no closer to G-d because I was not commanded.

My point is that subjective feelings are perhaps the *last* thing one
should rely on when assessing the spiritual fitness of any given
situation.  The first thing one should determine is the halachic
correctness -- while doing mitzvot draws one close to G-d, doing aveirot
(sins) drives one away from G-d.  Furthermore, R. J. David Bleich has
written (Shma 15:299, 1985) "the fulfillment of a mitzvah in an optimal
manner . . . is to be favored over less optimal fulfillment accompanied by
fervent religious experience." This is so because the more "correctly" one
performs a mitzvah, the more closely one has followed the will of G-d, and
the more that act can foster closeness to G-d.  The Jew is summoned to do
the will of G-d, to achieve closeness to G-d through doing His will.  This
phenomena is *entirely* independent of the subjective feelings which
accompany the performance of that mitzvah-act.  When one passes up tefila
b'tzibur for women's tefila, one is passing up the ability to perform the
mitzvah of prayer in its most optimal manner (by skipping the devarim
she-b'kedusha), and one is compromising on one's ability to draw close to
G-d.  This alone might be excusable, but if there are other halachic
problems -- for instance, with the very institution of the services, or
with brachot which are of questionable halachic viability (perhaps even
l'vatala -- in vain) -- one has entered the realm of actually distancing
oneself from G-d, thus actually accomplishing the exact opposite of the
stated intent.  What's worse, given the positive subjective feelings which
accompany participation in such a service, the distancing from G-d remains
obscured.  Ironically, the activities which are the most questionable
halachically -- kriat hatorah (Torah reading), birkat hatorah (the
blessings on the Torah) -- and are thus the acts least likely to promote
genuine spirituality and closeness with G-d and most likely to cause a
distancing from G-d, are the acts to which most proponents of women's
tefila most firmly adhere. 

I have a friend who is married with 2 children.  She is "modern" in the
sense that she has a doctorate in clinical psychology and takes her career
very seriously, and she and her family made aliya last year.  Two years
ago, she told me a story from Yom Kippur, and I think the story is
relevant to the recent discussions on mail-jewish.  For the first time in
her life, she was not in shul for Neila (the concluding service on Yom
Kippur) -- instead, she was at home, playing with her nine month-old son. 
She noticed the time, and thought "Yom Kippur is ending, they are davening
Neila, Hashem is passing judgement on me, and instead of davening my heart
out in shul, I am home playing a stupid game with my son." She told me at
that moment, she realized that in fact she was doing *exactly* what G-d
wanted from her at that moment.  She would not gain atonement by ignoring
her son and davening intently, nor by going to shul and having her husband
stay home.  They could not find a babysitter, so she had to be with her
son.  Such a solution may sound unpalatable to many.  But I believe there
is a great deal of truth in it.

Eitan Fiorino


End of Volume 9 Issue 4