Volume 9 Number 39
                       Produced: Wed Sep 29  7:02:04 1993

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Women leaving Orthodoxy (2)
         [Shaul Wallach, Anthony Fiorino]
Women's Prayer Groups - Rav's Opinion
         [Lenny Oppenheimer]
Women's Status
         [Ezra Bob Tanenbaum]


From: Shaul Wallach <F66204@...>
Date: Sun, 26 Sep 93 17:37:21 -0400
Subject: Women leaving Orthodoxy

     Leah Reingold has again called our attention to the problems
educated women are having with contemporary Orthodoxy. Although I
have no first-hand knowledge at all with the problem, I would
still like to raise a few points. In doing so I risk being taken
as an old-fashioned misogynist :-), but even so I ask the readers'
indulgence and to be given the benefit of the doubt as one whose
intentions are for the good.

    Leah mentions the Hofetz Hayyim and Jewish education for women.
I agree that in his time this was a most worthwhile innovation,
because the alternative was secular public education and its
consequences. But I find it difficult to extrapolate to our day,
because Orthodox women often have an even better education than
men, both religious and secular. I don't understand what women are
lacking today in Jewish knowledge that could possibly threaten
their commitment to Orthodoxy.

    Of course, Leah is more concerned about issues of religious
status, such as equality, semikha and an official voice for women in
halakhic Judaism. Now before accepting her argument that this is a
major reason why women leave Orthodoxy, I would first like to ask
the critical questions: 1) are these goals feasible, and 2) are
they desirable?

     Perhaps I am too out of touch with American society, having
lived nearly 20 years now in Israel, but I still doubt that for every
American Jewish woman, these are the factors that really decide for
her whether to remain Orthodox or not. I think the problem is even
more fundamental and has something to do with the roles halakha
assigns to the Jewish woman in general and her willingness to accept
them. The problem has arisen over the past two generations with the
tremendous changes in sex roles that have taken place in American

     My feeling is that in Israel, at least in the more conservative
(Haredi) circles, there is no great problem of women leaving Orthodoxy.
I would venture to suggest that this is due to the wisdom of the
leaders of the previous generation in giving the Haredi woman a very
important role in supporting the family and thereby enabling her
husband to learn Torah full time. They were able to satisfy all of
the woman's spiritual needs without requiring her to learn Gemara,
and as a result there is no demand on her part for a voice in
halakhic decision-making. The relatively low age of marriage (18
is considered ideal) usually ensures that she will be occupied
with children and grandchildren for most of her adult life.

     In America, I understand that things are quite different.
Unfortunately many young people have trouble getting married and
choose careers instead. The curriculum for many women likewise
includes Gemara, just like men. These reasons alone would be
enough to lead an educated woman to believe that she is deprived.
If this is the case, then it is certainly our responsibility
to make early marriage more attractive and feasible for young

     The above discussion tacitly assumes that I do not favor
giving women full, formal religious equality in both public and
private. I must admit that this is true. For the halakha itself
does not do this. Even the matter of Jewish education has itself
relied on a kind of hora'at sha`a (temporary measure) since
normative halakha clearly discourages teaching women Torah at all.
The exceptions Jewry has known over the ages, like Beruria, Rashi's
daughters, Osnat Barrazani and Sara Schneerer, were all indeed
exceptional individuals whose examples were not emulated by women
at large. Similarly, in the issue of public office, the Rambam
has explicitly ruled that women are not eligible, and the lenient
opinions of a few modern scholars are still not accepted by
mainstream rabbinic opinion, at least in Israel. This problem
also involves the critical issue of Zeni`ut (modesty), which is
already far from ideal even in the most conservative circles.

     More seriously, I fear that granting formal halakhic
equality to women (i.e. as most as halakha can permit) would
have drastic implications in critical areas such as domestic
peace. The divorce rate in America shows that equality does
not necessarily bring happiness. I really wonder how many
men would be psychologically able, say, to accept a halakhic
decision from a woman rabbi, especially if he is learned
himself. Even today, there are tensions in many Orthodox
homes because the wife is better versed in practical halakha
than her husband, and the problems are compounded when husband
and wife come from different backgrounds.

     What can be done to give women a better sense of satisfaction
within Orthodoxy without making radical changes in the system?
We have already stressed the importance of early marriage,
something for which the Talmud gives an explicit mandate. Beyond
this, however, we need a strong leadership to stand up against
the changes that have beset American Jewry over the last generation.
I think it is very important, for example, to encourage people to
live in places where the old ways die hardest since, as the Rambam
rules, environment has a decisive influence on a person's opinions.
The type of education one gives his children is probably the single
most important factor. Each of the alternate types of schools now
within Orthodoxy must be carefully and objectively examined to see
whether its women graduates are happy and satisfied people, ready
to accept the traditional roles with a minimum of changes. Only
this way can we ensure that the next generation will continue to
be, in the words of the Song of Songs, a "rose among the thorns."


Shaul Wallach

From: Anthony Fiorino <fiorino@...>
Date: Fri, 24 Sep 93 04:52:23 -0400
Subject: Women leaving Orthodoxy

Leah S. Reingold wrote:

> . . . if educated women begin to leave Orthodoxy at an
> alarming rate, then Orthodoxy will suffer.  Period.  It's not a threat;
> it's a fact.  Orthodoxy simply cannot afford to lose half of its
> educated members without severe negative repercussions.  Furthermore,
> this argument was used, essentially, by the Chofetz Chaim, in his
> argument for Jewish education for women.  No one would have claimed that
> he was "strong-arming" the Jewish community.

To claim that half of Orthodoxy (ie, all the women) is going to give up on
Orthodoxy is ludicrous.  In my experience, not broad and certainly
anecdotal, most Orthodox women are satisfied with Orthodoxy to the extent
that giving it up is not a thought which would enter their heads.  If one
is predicting a mass exodus in the future -- well, the "death" of
Orthodoxy has been predicted since the Enlightenment, and it has endured.

> The suggestion that such women ought to join other movements is hardly
> appropriate.

I would point out that I said explicitely in my posting that I was *not*,
chas v'shalom, suggesting that anyone leave Orthodoxy.

> Presumably these women are strongly affiliated with halakhic Judaism,
> and wish to remain that way. . . . Orthodox Judaism should be delighted
> that frustrated women within its ranks are trying to work within the
> system instead of throwing the baby out with the proverbial bathwater. 

If one is strongly affiliated with halachic Judaism, then one does what
the halacha says.  And if women are trying to work within the system, and
are committed to the system, both when it does what they want and when it
does what they don't want, then the suggestion, prediction, threat that
they are going to give upo on the system has *no* place in the discussion.
But, if the system itself is going to be used as a bargaining chip, then
there is nothing to discuss.

> This feminist trend, supported by every Jewish source, ought to continue
> into our present age.  All of a sudden, traditional Jewish society,
> rather than being ahead of its time in its treatment of women, has
> fallen behind. . . . it is an anachronism that women have no official
> voice in halakhic Judaism.

This line of argumentation is headed nowhere -- we do not judge Judaism as
being "ahead" or "behind" the times -- Judaism does not adhere to some
external standard to which it can be compared or  contrasted.  Is Judaism
"behind the times" for being uncompromising on homosexuality, when the
secular ethic sees nothing problematic in it?  Should we, in fact, call
for a revision of the halachah forbidding homosexual acts since such a
halachah is so clearly "behind the times?"

Wishing everyone a gemar tov and I hope you will all grant me mechila for
any offensive postings or statements I may have authored.

Eitan Fiorino


From: <leo@...> (Lenny Oppenheimer)
Date: Tue, 28 Sep 93 13:17:32 -0400
Subject: Women's Prayer Groups - Rav's Opinion

Aliza Berger writes:
> Perhaps it is better to research what a rabbi actually said or wrote
> before trying to extrapolate from other views of his.
> The following information is from the book "Women at Prayer" by Rabbi
> Avi Weiss:
> "In the early 1970's, Rav Soloveitchik indicated to some rabbis that
> under certain guidelines, women's tefilah groups are permitted.  
> "Yet Rabbi Kenneth Auman remarked that Rabbi
> Moshe Meiselman quotes Rav Soloveitchik as being opposed to women's
> prayer groups." ...

I'm not sure what this quote proves, other than that there is controversy
as to what Rav Soloveitchik held about this issue.

The point that I was trying to make, which I believe is valid, is that Rav
Soloveitchik would agree that "great scrutiny" is appropriate when
tampering with the the very specific, formal order of prayer service that 
we have been privileged to be able to use in approaching G-D.
I do not believe that he would have lightly gone along with those who
feel that a human need, alone, is enough to justify a basic change in the
way we serve Hashem.

Lenny Oppenheimer


From: <bob@...> (Ezra Bob Tanenbaum)
Date: Fri, 24 Sep 93 04:52:13 -0400
Subject: Women's Status


Your posting about equal public acknowledgement of women's
accomplishments was excellently argued and right on the money.

I always thought that Orthodoxy should precede Conservative Judaism
with women pulpit rabbis since there is nothing in halacha which
prevents a woman from teaching, lecturing, and advising, so aside
from being a signatory or judge at legal events (marriage, divorce,
conversion) or leading services a woman could halachically fulfil
all the duties of a rabbi. Only tradition stops us. Since Orthodoxy
presumably maintains halacha and Conservative Judaism upholds
tradition we should be at the forefront.

Ezra Bob Tanenbaum	1016 Central Ave	Highland Park, NJ 08904
home: (908)819-7533	work: (908)615-2899
email: att!trumpet!bob or <bob@...>


End of Volume 9 Issue 39