Women and Tefillin: R. Twersky’s Magisterial Approach

[Ultimately, it is not about women or tefillin – it is about the very nature of halachic process. Rabbi Mayer Twersky, a rosh yeshiva at RIETS, grandson of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l, and Harvard graduate, offers reasoning so compelling that I believe it should not be missed. It was first published on Torahweb.org, and is reproduced here with permission.]

May Orthodox Rabbis Permit Women to Don Tefillin [1]?


The Ruling of the Ramo and Modern Reaction

ואם הנשים רוצין להחמיר על עצמן מוחין בידן
and if the women wish to act stringently [and don tefillin] we rebuke them
(Ramo, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 38:3)
Recently, some rabbis have publicized and implemented their view that women wishing to don tefillin should be accommodated, contra Ramo’s ruling. A firestorm of controversy has ensued. But seemingly there is ample justification for their position.

The argument runs as follows. What, in effect, have these rabbis done? To best serve their students/congregants they have, simply, sensitively aligned themselves with the Rambam, et al, whose view, contra Ramo, allows women to don tefillin. Surely, the view of Rambam, et al is valid.

The nominal argument continues. Times have unquestionably changed. We do not live in sixteenth century Krakow, eighteenth century Vilna, or even fin-de-siecle Radin. In today’s world, women wishing to don tefillin should be accommodated.


Modern Mistakes

The beguilingly simple argument/psak outlined above is plagued by, at least, three egregious errors.

Error number one: the unequivocal ruling of the Ramo, subsequently silently endorsed by, inter alia, the Magen Avraham, Taz, Gaon of Vilna, Ba’al HaTanya, Aruch Hashulchan and Mishna Berurah, rejects the position of Rambam et al, and has stood unchallenged for over five hundred years. Moreover, Ramo’s ruling has been accepted in Sephardic circles as well [2]. Overturning five hundred plus years of precedent and overwhelming consensus is anything but simple. Only the most eminent ba’alei hora’ah could even possibly entertain the notion. For anyone of lesser stature to tamper with five hundred plus years of tradition represents the height of brazenness and goes well beyond the pale of Orthodox Judaism.

The person of lesser or no halachic stature may feel that he has a crucially important perspective on the human dimension of the women and tefillin issue. Even if he were to be correct in his assessment, however, having perspective in no way compensates for his lack of Torah knowledge and qualification in psak. Instead of paskening the layman should share that perspective with the most eminent ba’alei hora’ah.

The rabbi who is not a ba’al hora’ah may nevertheless feel that within his school or shul the question of women and tefillin is his call. Even according to his proprietary premise he is profoundly wrong. It may be his school or shul, but it is the Rebono Shel Olam’s Torah. (This point is elaborated in Section VII below.)

Error number two: even if the five hundred year consensus on the issue of women and tefillin had not existed, the recent “psak” would still be a perversion of Halachah and halachic process.

Difference of opinion in the Rishonim or Shulchan Aruch does not create a halachic smorgasbord from which everyone is free to make his own selection. At a culinary smorgasbord or in a commercial venue such as a clothing store every guest/consumer is entitled to have, and act upon, his preference. He can choose what he likes and select what suits himself/his charges best. But that modus operandi has no place in Halachah and psak Halachah. One is not allowed, much less entitled, to opine that, “I think the view of Rambam and Rashba suits me/my charges best.”

ולא יאמר האדם אפסוק כמי שארצה בדבר שיש בו מחלוקת ואם עושה כן הרי זה דין שקר אלא אם הוא חכם גדול ויודע להכריע בראיות הרשות בידו
a person may not say regarding an issue where there is difference of opinion “I will decide the Halachah as I wish”, and if he did so, the ruling is false. But if he is a great sage and capable of deciding the Halachah based upon proofs it is his prerogative [to do so]
(Ramo, Choshen Mishpat 25:2) [3]
Psak Halachah is rendered by chachomim who are ba’alei hora’ah based upon canons of psak, not by anyone else, regardless of vocation or title, and not by engaging in crass religious consumerism.

Error number three: the recent “psak” reflects myopic perception. What, in the year 5774, is the core issue regarding women and tefillin? Is it “technical”, yes guf naki or no guf naki? Or perhaps it is educational, accommodating sincere youth or rebuffing them? Alas, if it were only so simple.

In modern times women did not begin donning tefillin to emulate Michal bas Shaul, be devout Maimonideans or invoke shem Hashem upon themselves. Women donned tefillin because men do so. Within the secular modern mindset adopted by Reform and Conservative wherein equality = uniformity women who don tefillin thereby attain a measure of equality with men [4]. And thus the defining issue is axiological: can the secular value of egalitarianism be grafted onto Halachah?

The answer is obvious. Egalitarianism rejects a vital, essential, divinely ordained dimension of Halachah. Halachah does not discriminate against men or women. Most assuredly, however, it distinguishes between the genders. A genuine commitment to authentic Halachah per force entails rejecting the socially dominant, false philosophy of egalitarianism.

When individuals, regardless of vocation or title, grant license to women to don tefillin, nolens volens, they validate the insidiousness of egalitarianism.

We would do well to hear the voice of Rav Soloveitchik speaking to us across the generations regarding the obligation to staunchly resist false, socially/religiously dominant philosophies which assail Torah and its values.

In my opinion the Halachic dictum, bishe’ath gezerath ha-malchuth ‘afillu mitzvah kallah kegon le-shinuye ‘arketha de-mesana, yehareg ve’al ya’abor [at a time of religious persecution through governmental decree, even for a minor custom, such as one involving a shoelace, let one suffer death sooner than transgress it] (Sanhedrin 74b), requiring of us a heroic stand in times of adversity, applies not only to political and religious persecution originated by some pagan ruler, but also to situations in which a small number of God-fearing and Torah-loyal people is confronted with a hostile attitude on the part of the majority dominated by a false philosophy. [5]
A word of elaboration is in order. The issue is not what motivated two particular highschoolers to request permission to don tefillin in school. Their personal motives could be innocent, pure, and noble; I have no reason to think otherwise. The issue is the substance of their request – i.e., what the practice of women donning tefillin in 5774 represents.

This point can be more easily grasped by considering the following historically fictional scenario. The setting is nineteenth century Germany. Two sincere, innocent highschoolers regularly attend Reform Shabbos services. Not knowing any better, they view the playing of an organ as normative halachic behavior. What’s more they are very moved by the musical accompaniment. On weekdays they begin davening at home to the accompaniment of an organ. This prolongs their tefillah. Nonetheless they happily cut back on much needed sleep to arise early because they feel that this mode of tefillah enhances their personal avodas Hashem. Eventually, in all innocence, they approach the principal of the local Orthodox day school and request permission to softly play the organ in the ezras nashim during davening.

How should the principal respond? Should he be “sensitive”, mindful of their mesiras nefesh, and create space for their expression of their personal avodas Hashem?

Once again the answer is obvious. If the principal makes space for the organ, he does not respect their personal avodas Hashem or reward their mesiras nefesh. He grievously misleads; he egregiously reinforces reform behavior and values with tragically predictable consequences.

Correcting the students’ home behavior may not fall within the principal’s purview but he certainly cannot countenance Reform values and practices within school. He should commend their sincerity and commitment to tefillah. But he also should sensitively yet clearly explain why accompaniment of an organ has no place in authentic tefillah. His mandate is to educate. He rewards their mesiras nefesh by inspiring and encouraging genuine, basic shemiras hamitzvos – Shabbos, kashrus, tznius, etc., not by acquiescing to anti-halachic behavior. He respects their personal avodas Hashem by teaching them authentic, beautiful avodas hashem, according to the Shulchan Aruch.

All this is abundantly and indisputably clear. Today’s contemporary analogue, women donning tefillin, is equally clear.


Truth and Accommodation

In the first section of this essay we mentioned a commonly asked question, surely it is preferable to march in step with the times and accommodate women on issues such as tefillin rather than risk losing them? Actually, the preceding remarks have already, in part, implicitly addressed this question. Due to its seminal importance, however, let us be explicit and more elaborate.

Once again the sagacious, authoritative voice of Rav Soloveitchik continues to speak to us.

I know beforehand the reaction to my letter on the part of our apostles of religious “modernism” and “utilitarianism”. They will certainly say that since the great majority of the recently constructed synagogues have abandoned separate seating, we must not be out of step with the masses. This type of reasoning could well be employed with regard to other religious precepts, such as the observance of the Sabbath, or the dietary laws. However, we must remember that an ethical or Halachic principle decreed by God is not rendered void by the fact that the people refuse to abide by it. Its cogency and veracity are perennial and independent of compliance on the part of the multitudes. If the ethical norm, Thou shalt not kill (Exodus 20:13), has not lost its validity during the days of extermination camps and gas chambers, when millions of people were engaged in ruthless murder, but on the contrary, has been impregnated with deeper meaning and significance, then every Halachic maxim assumes greater importance in times of widespread disregard and unconcern. The greater the difficulty, the more biting the ridicule and sarcasm, and the more numerous the opponent – then the holier is the principle, and the more sacred is our duty to defend it. [6]
The Rav was confronting the “Christianization of the synagogue”; today’s morei hora’ah confront the egalitarianization of Torah. The halachic directive, which the Rav so powerfully articulated, remains the same.

The “women’s” issues which in certain circles fuel much of the opposition to Halachah today had already begun percolating in Rav Soloveitchik’s lifetime. The Rav sensitively and unapologetically addressed himself to the surface issues as well as their underlying etiology.

(W)e must not yield — I mean emotionally, it is very important — we must not feel inferior, experience or develop an inferiority complex, and because of that complex yield to the charm — usually it is a transient and passing charm — of modern political and ideological sevoros (logic). I say not only not to compromise — certainly not to compromise — but not to yield emotionally, not to feel inferior, not to experience an inferiority complex. The thought should never occur that it is important to cooperate just a little bit with the modern trend or with the secular, modern philosophy. In my opinion, Yahadus (Judaism) does not have to apologize either to the modern woman or to the modern representatives of religious subjectivism. There is no need for apology — we should have pride in our mesorah, in our heritage. And of course, certainly it goes without saying one must not try to compromise with these cultural trends, and one must not try to gear the halachic norm to the transient way of a neurotic society, which is what our society is. [7]
In forming political coalitions or clinching business deals, negotiation, accommodation, and concession are the watchwords. They play, however, no legitimate role in determining truth. One ascertains truth through honest, rigorous, erudite inquiry – not by negotiating, accommodating, or conceding. What holds true for truth in general holds true for halachic truth (=psak) in particular. Of course, psak Halachah is always an exercise in applying Halachah to real life situations. As such, a fully nuanced, sensitive understanding of the prevailing socio-political, religious situation forms an integral part of the question. But the answer – psak – is neither conciliatory or non-conciliatory. These utilitarian categories are entirely misplaced when speaking of Halachah and psak Halachah. The psak represents what Halachah, truthfully and unapologetically, directs for the situation at hand.


Ein Kol Chadash Tachas Hashemesh

The argument that contemporary morei hora’ah should march in step with the times and make concessions to prevent assimilation is hauntingly familiar.

We similarly state in our program for the revitalization of the Sabbath that the traditional interdiction of riding on the Sabbath for the purpose of attending the synagogue service may, in the discretion of the local rabbi, be modified … we must learn to adjust our strategy to the realities of our time and place, in keeping with the realistic genius of the great builders of our faith. Thus, our Sages cautioned us, tafasta m’rubah lo tafasta – “to overreach is to court failure,” when you attempt to grasp a great deal, you will grasp nothing … In crucial periods, our sages did not hesitate to make special enactments for their own time or for a limited period of time, in order to meet the challenge of new circumstances. [8]
Conservative rabbis who adamantly insisted they were operating within, and according to principles of, Halachah promoted these arguments. In their ignorance they misconstrued and misapplied the sources they cited, and distorted halachic process and Halachah. Today Conservative Jews – Hashem yeracheim – are disappearing.


Truth Endures, Falsehood Does Not [9]

One final note about the myopic argument for accommodation on issues such as women and tefillin is in order.

As already explained, the real, underlying issue is the Torah’s religious gender differentiation. Accordingly, any accommodation nolens volens accepts and reinforces the inimical premise that avenues and expressions of avodas Hashem for men and women must be identical.

Such acceptance is wholly unacceptable. First of all, it distorts Torah. Moreover, such acceptance and accommodation actually alienate women from Torah.

The process of alienation is tragically straightforward and frighteningly quick. As just noted, accommodation validates and reinforces the inimical egalitarian impulse but cannot satisfy it. Brushing aside the Ramo’s ruling does not make Halachah conform to the egalitarian creed. Seen from the twisted perspective of egalitarianism, women still suffer from discrimination. They are excluded from serving as shliach tzibbur, the halachos of marriage and divorce are most decidedly unegalitarian, etc. By reinforcing the egalitarian impulse without satisfying it, every accommodation intensifies the demand for further accommodations. But that demand can never be met because Torah and egalitarianism are fundamentally incompatible. And thus accommodationism, ר”ל, inevitably results in alienation and assimilation.

Tragically, this process of assimilation has already partially materialized. Yesterday’s women’s tefillah groups which stemmed from the same egalitarian impulse no longer suffice. Today tefillin, “partnership minyanim” and women rabbis are sought. And the handwriting on the wall is unmistakable. Tomorrow these stopgap, anti-halachic concessions will no longer suffice. The current path leads inexorably to a black hole of complete assimilation, ר”ל [10].

The alternative to aiding and abetting assimilation ר”ל is to assume our spiritual, educational mandate. Our mandate is to teach Torah (including, but obviously not limited to, elucidating the halachic process), and engender a profound appreciation for authentic Torah values, thereby guiding men and women alike to genuine avodas Hashem and religious experience.


Tefillin and Talmud Torah

Let us digress for a moment. In recent decades whenever people agitate for changing Halachah they trumpet the alleged precedent of women and talmud Torah. It is vitally important to recognize the wholesale distortion created by that analogy.

The Belzer Rebbe, Chofetz Chaim, Rav Soloveitchik and other gedolei Yisroel who advocated Torah she’b’al peh instruction for women were not accommodating them or conceding to heretical, egalitarian, societal trends. Women were not agitating for talmud Torah opportunities. They were ר”ל happily assimilating. The gedolim recognized that our mesorah disapproved of optional, theoretical learning being imposed upon women. Our mesorah always mandated necessary, practical learning. In the modern era Torah she’b’al peh instruction within the guidelines provided by the gedolim for women was/is vitally necessary [11].

The issues of talmud Torah and tefillin for women could not be more different. The chachmei hamesorah upheld Halachah and combated assimilation by supporting talmud Torah for women. Initiatives such as allowing women to don tefillin tamper with Halachah and fuel assimilation.


Students and Sages

Let us pause for a moment’s reflection. We have outlined three egregious errors – the brazenness of brushing aside precedent and consensus, the smorgasbord mentality and approach to psak, and myopic perception of halachic issues. Each of these errors in its own right is so elementary and so glaring. The confluence of all three within the recent “psak” regarding women and tefillin is simply mind boggling. How could this possibly come to pass?

The Shulchan Aruch addresses our issue head on.

כל חכם שהגיע להוראה ואינו מורה הרי זה מונע תורה וכו’
Any sage who is qualified to issue halachic rulings but does not do so – he is withholding Torah
[Shulchan Aruch 242:14]
תלמיד שלא הגיע להוראה ומורה הרי זה שוטה רשע וגס רוח ועליו נאמר כי רבים חללים הפילה
A student who is unqualified and renders halachic decisions is a delusional, wicked, and arrogant person, and about him it is said, “(s)he has caused many casualties”
[Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah ibid. 13, quoting Rambam verbatim]
ותלמידים הקטנים הקופצים להורות ולישב בראש להתגדל בפני ע”ה מרבים מחלוקת ומחריבים העולם ומכבין נרה של תורה
And students of small stature who leap forward to issue halachic rulings and to assume positions of authority, aggrandizing themselves before the masses cause discord to proliferate, destroy the world and extinguish the lamp of Torah
[Ramo’s gloss, also quoting Rambam, ibid.]
Let us try to get a feel for who is a chacham she’higi’a l’hora’ah. Rabbi Akiva Eiger (d.1837), the epitome of Torah mastery and majesty, seemed not entirely convinced that he himself qualified [12]. Ultimately, he wrote and published his responsa but only for the consideration of morei hora’ah. No moreh hora’ah, he insisted, should simply accept his conclusions. In more recent times, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, widely acclaimed as the posek hador, felt the need to justify how he could write and publish responsa [13]. His justification, in part: hi’gi’ah l’hora’ah is determined relative to one’s own generation. In our generation the range of our greatest sages extends over Shas, Rishonim, Shulchan Aruch, and poskim. Clearly, the bar for hora’ah remains very high.

Let us now turn our attention to the extraordinary, stinging words of censure which the Shulchan Aruch reserved for the talmid shelo hi’gi’ah l’hora’ah who paskens: shoteh rasha v’gas ruach (delusional, wicked, and arrogant.) We have generally excised such stinging epithets from our parlance because we tend to soften or sugarcoat the truth. But softening or sugarcoating also leads rachamana litslan to erosion. Accordingly, we need to take the Shulchan Aruch at its word, and try to retrace the thought process which yields the stinging censure.

Does the educator, rabbi, or layman not realize that he lacks the breadth and depth of knowledge required of a ba’al hora’ah? Does he, in a flight of Walter Mittyish imagination, think himself an expert in Shas, Rishonim, Shulchan Aruch, and major responsa? Halachic queries are never directed to him qua ba’al Halachah because he is not. They come his way only because of the professional position he occupies. Is his hubris so great and grip on reality so tenuous that he fails to recognize this distinction? How can he possibly arrogate the right to render halachic judgments, make public pronouncements about what is or is not consonant with Halachah and/or override five hundred plus years of halachic precedent and consensus?

Everyone intuitively understands and instinctively feels that a doctor who masquerades as a medical authority in an area beyond his expertise is not only dishonest but wicked. He may be very personable, affable, and even sincere in his desire to help. His personal graces and sincerity, however, do not ameliorate the evil of his masquerade. Inevitably and invariably, people will grievously suffer from his misguided medical guidance. Is a halachic masquerade any less immoral? Are spiritual fraud and injury of lesser import than medical fraud and injury?

When individuals act presumptuously and issue reckless rulings, the truth of Yoreh De’ah 242:13 becomes searingly painful. We are deeply pained by the thought that, as codified by the Shulchan Aruch, a fellow Jew is acting as a shoteh, rasha, v’gas ruach. We instinctively recoil at that thought. And yet our vulnerability to truth does not diminish its compelling veracity even an iota. The Shulchan Aruch’s stinging words of censure for the masquerading halachic authority are formulated with razor like precision.

So too Shulchan Aruch’s assessment of damage done by irresponsible psak- rabim chalalim hipila, it inflicts many spiritual casualties. Here too the Shulchan Aruch speaks with prescience and precision. Non Orthodox behavior is certified Orthodox. Secular, heretical values are accommodated and re-enforced, thereby promoting assimilation, ר”ל. A mockery is made of authentic halachic values such as sensitivity when so grossly misapplied. And sincere mevakshei Hashem are steered in the wrong direction.

Perhaps the best way to highlight the danger of irresponsible psak is this. Hakadosh Baruch Hu entrusted us with His Torah and its traditions – to study, interpret, and implement. In the hands of humble sages the integrity of Torah is secure. Their thinking and values are molded by a lifetime of immersion in Torah, and vast Torah erudition. Conversely, in the hands of non-experts the integrity of Torah is impossible to maintain. There is no end to the distortions that brazenness, a smorgasbord approach, and myopic perception will cause.

And, tragically, as per Ramo’s gloss quoted above, discord proliferates. Machlokes inevitably follows irresponsible psak because we are not allowed to remain silent. We have an obligation to protest the distortion and protect the integrity of Torah.


U’vacharta, And You Should Choose

תורת השם תמימה משיבת נפש עדות השם נאמנה מחכימת פתי פקודי השם ישרים משמחי לב מצות השם ברה מאירת ענים יראת השם טהורה עומדת לעד משפטי השם אמת צדקו יחדו
The Torah of Hashem is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of Hashem is trustworthy, making the simple one wise; the orders of Hashem are upright, gladdening the heart; the command of Hashem is clear, enlightening the eyes; the fear of Hashem is pure, enduring forever; the judgments of Hashem are true, altogether righteous
[Tehillim 19:8-10, Artscroll translation]
Acceptance of Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s Torah does not simply entail practical compliance. Acceptance also reflects firm belief and evinces a reverential attitude. We accept Torah with a sense of awe, joy, privilege and pride because we perceive it for what it is – Hashem’s chochmo, perfect, upright, gladdening, enlightening, true, etc. Accordingly, we accept Torah with humility and submissiveness.

This is what acceptance of Torah ought to be. What acceptance of Torah is, however, in today’s world in some circles does not correspond.

We are witness to a profoundly disturbing, religiously untenable phenomenon. Consciously or unconsciously, people want to hold fast onto some secular, anti-Torah Western values and, simultaneously, Torah. Their commitment to some anti-Torah values casts Torah, to a degree, in an adversarial role. And thus, consciously or unconsciously, in a futile attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable they push, twist and manipulate Halachah to make it more congenial to their opposing Western values. Somehow or other Torah has to be made malleable enough to accommodate their dual loyalties.

ראה נתתי לפניך היום את החיים ואת הטוב ואת המות ואת הרע וגו’ החיים והמות נתתי לפניך הברכה והקללה ובחרת בחיים
Contemplate that I have placed before you today life and good, death and evil, etc. Life and death, I have placed before you, blessing and curse, but you should choose life.
[Devarim 30:15, 19]
To genuinely live a life of Torah and serve Hakadosh Baruch Hu, we are called upon to choose blessing (=good) and forsake curse (=evil). Grafting evil onto good is simply not an option. Choosing what’s right per force means rejecting what’s wrong.

The choices we make define our lives and determine our destiny.

ותן בנו יצר טוב לעבדך באמת וביראה ובאהבה

[1] Rav Schachter shlit”a has authoritatively dealt with this question in his recent responsum. This essay, disseminated with his approbation, merely seeks to expound and expand upon some of the relevant, seminal issues in a popular forum.

[2] עי’ ילקוט יוסף שהאריך בזה כיד השם הטובה עליו, ובין היתר ציין לדברי האר”י ז”ל והחיד”א

[3] דברי הרמ”א נאמרו בקשר לפסק ב”ד בד”מ מקום שישנו מושג של שודא, וקו”ח בשאר חלקי התורה

[4] By definition there can be no adequate response to quibblers who dispute incontrovertible facts. Nevertheless, for purpose of illustration, note the following candid, representative, programmatic remarks, “Ultimately our problem stems from the fact that we are viewed in Jewish law and practice as peripheral Jews. The category in which we are generally placed includes women, children, and Canaanite slaves. Members from this category are exempt from all positive commandments which occur within time limits. These commandments would include hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, eating in the sukkah, praying with the lulav, praying the three daily services, wearing tallit and tefillin, and saying Shema…Moreover, it is both feasible and desirable for the community to begin educating women to take on the positive time-bound mitzvoth from which they are now excused; in which case, those mitzvot would eventually become incumbent upon women.” Rachel Adler, “The Jew Who Wasn’t There”, reprinted in Susannah Heshcel, ed. On Being a Jewish Feminist.

[5] “Message to a Rabbinic Convention”, reproduced in Baruch Litvin, The Sanctity of the Synagogue, p. 111.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Transcript of a 1975 shiur delivered to RIETS rabbinic alumni, available at arikahn.blogspot.com

[8] “A Responsum on the Sabbath”, in Mordechai Waxman, ed., Tradition and Change, 1958.

[9] קושטא קאי שקרא לא קאי (שבת ק”ד.)

[10] See my article in Tradition Vol. 32 No. 3, Spring 1998 (posted in 2003 on TorahWeb.org in its entirety), presenting and explaining Rav Soloveitchik’s psak opposing women’s tefillah groups. The following passage is, unfortunately, especially relevant: “These groups are predicated upon the mistaken notion that the experience of tefillah is enhanced by assuming active roles and conversely is stunted when such roles are off-limits. And yet women’s tefillah groups, conducted with even minimal technical allegiance to the particulars of Halakhah, cannot provide their participants with the same or even equivalent active roles to those that are available to men praying with a quorum. Within such groups it is impossible to recite devarim she-bi-kdusha as such, fulfill the mitsva of kerias haTorah, etc. And thus, according to the mistaken premise of the tefillah groups, women’s religious life remains muted even within such groups.

The participants in women’s tefillah groups will, within the present generation, become intellectually and existentially aware of the failure of such groups and the concomitant false yet inevitable conclusion regarding women’s standing within Yahadut. We must recognize that the possible ramifications of this falsehood are especially frightening and particularly tragic. Propelled by negative momentum and misguided by erroneous teachings, some women, God forbid, could reject all remaining halakhic constraints in an unrestrained attempt to enhance their (inauthentic) tefillah experience in particular and religious experience in general. Needless to say, this development would be especially tragic.

Accordingly, we presently have a grave responsibility to act wisely, and not be drawn into a fool’s paradise of religious accommodationism. We must understand and help others to understand that women’s tefillah groups, sincere intentions notwithstanding, both reflect as well as generate distortions of Torah principles. Instead of forming such groups we must disseminate authentic Torah teachings regarding tefillah, thereby fostering genuine, profound religious expression and experience.”

[11] See also my article about the Rav in Tradition vol. XXX, no. 4 (reprinted in Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchik: Man of Halachah, Man of Faith, edited by Rabbi Menachem Genack) and in Jewish Action Vol. 57, No. 4, Summer 1997 (also posted in 2003 on TorahWeb.org in its entirety.)

[12] ע’ הקדמת בניו לשו”ת רעק”א

[13] ע’ הקדמה לאג”מ או”ח ח”א

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28 Responses

  1. yy says:

    Powerfully eloquent elucidation of a major challenge to our generation.

    Thank you

  2. Chardal says:

    >For anyone of lesser stature to tamper with five hundred plus years of tradition represents the height of brazenness and goes well beyond the pale of Orthodox Judaism.

    This is done regularly by people on the right when it comes to other areas and leHumra. For example, the bada”tz insistence to check the lungs and tzomet haGiddim of fowl tampers with five hundred plus years of tradition/psak and is baseless in both its halachic argumentation and its understanding of the realia of shchita. This is one example amongst many. The decisions of badatz hashgacha is rarely subject to the kind of halachic process described in the post and yet no one says a word. Could the main reason be that its hard to call someone with a long beard and a black hat “well beyond the pale of Orthodox Judaism”?

    There are those who challenge the very idea of meta-halacha. Most of orthodoxy does not reject it, but is it too much to ask that the meta-halachic considerations be both transparent and consistently applied? This blog has been attacking OO for quite a while, and while I have no connection to OO, and frankly, find much of the topics that animate them to be of little interest to myself, I often find that the very arguments employed against them are just as applicable to the right.

    [YA – I know many people who feel and say that the otherwise unjustified substitution of an new set of halachic standards (e.g. deciding to be insist on being machmir like the Rambam, no matter whom he opposes) is an equivalent threat to the mesorah). We can speculate as to why people don’t see as much of a problem when it comes from the right.

    Can you expect or demand consistency in the application of meta-halacha? Perhaps. But you will have to go to the people responsible for its decisions. By definition, they are not bloggers.]

  3. Bob Miller says:

    “Does the educator, rabbi, or layman not realize that he lacks the breadth and depth of knowledge required of a ba’al hora’ah? Does he, in a flight of Walter Mittyish imagination, think himself an expert in Shas, Rishonim, Shulchan Aruch, and major responsa? Halachic queries are never directed to him qua ba’al Halachah because he is not. They come his way only because of the professional position he occupies…”

    His constituents might be routing queries to him because they also have no concept of what a ba’al hora’ah is and/or because they share his social/political orientation.

  4. Noam Stadlan says:

    Rav Twersky essentially states that something that has been stated by Chachmei haMesorah and not challenged for many years cannot be overturned. This is not reality. Metzitzah b’feh was done for many years, went unchallenged, and then was overturned when it was realized it was a danger to health. A deaf/dumb was not obligated in mitzvot and couldn’t get an aliyah until it was realized that they had normal mental capacity. There are many more examples. Halacha is the result of the application of the eternal Torah to changing reality. When our understanding of reality changes, the results of the Halachic analysis can and does change.

    An article in the recent Torah u’Madda journal describes attitudes towards eved k’naani. It has changed over time. Has it been because of egalitarianism? Modernism? When the blind are given more opportunities, or the deaf/mute, is that because of egalitarianism? Why is it only when women want to do more(within Halacha) that it has to be given a label, and then described as anti-Torah? The Torah in fact commands us not to oppress our fellows. We are supposed to recognize that we are all created b’tzelem Elokim and there are responsibilities that go with that. The Yerushalmi tells us that just as it is forbidden to permit the forbidden, you cannot forbid the permitted.

    Describing those who want to allow women to do more as demanding equality or going down the road of Conservatism is an easy way to demonize the opposition, but it isn’t true of the vast majority of those in the category that I know. It is a straw person argument and the conversation, if there is one, deserves better. These are women(and the men who support them) who believe whole heartedly in Torah and Mitzvot and are not trying to make life ‘easier’ or find ‘kulot’. A woman who wants to put on tefillin is trying to find an easy way out?

    Quoting the Rav on the issue of Mechitzah and then applying it to women and tefillin is disingenuous. Partnership minyanim have mechitzot. No one in the orthodox community that is commited to Torah and Mitzvot is arguing against a mechitza.

    [YA – It appears that we read this essay very differently:
    1) R. Twersky did not say that accepted halachic practice can’t change. He said that such change properly comes about only with the approval of the most seasoned Torah scholars.
    2) He did not say that the OO crowd is looking (at least in this instance) for kulos. He did say that the tefillin-thing was motivated by an egalitarian instinct foreign to Torah thought.
    3) He did not “apply” the Rov’s thinking regarding mechitza to tefillin. He cited that thinking only to illustrate the Rov’s vehemence against changes to the mesorah motivated by the embrace of a foreign zeitgeist.

    There is enough that we disagree about without adding more to the mix! 🙂 But do keep the comments coming. The interaction keeps all of us healthy.]

  5. Ari Rieser says:

    I repeat this question, time and again, whenever I read such responsa against the growing liberal trend withing Orthodoxy: I get that you are vehemently opposed to this liberal agenda and that you feel that these innovations are heretical and anti-halacha – So what will you (in the Right-of-Center) do to make davening and the entire shul-going experience more meaningful and fulfilling to women, who are on the sidelines looking in? Surely, there should be at least a modicum of attention paid to this issue? But, unfortunately I don’t hear any voices in the “Frum Velt” wrestling with this issue. Shul is such a major aspect in our Avodas Hashem, and yet tragically nobody seems to even consider how devoid of spiritually the whole experience can be for women who are relegated to “the back of the bus.” Even if we are not ready to make significant changes, at the very least this should bother us, and the fact that it doesn’t, speak tremendous volumes.

  6. yy says:

    Ari – you touch an essential pt to the overriding issue: How to help our brethren who want to join in communal Torah observance, yet find traditional ways lacking personal meaning. Ok. I don’t think anyone here is unfamiliar with this dilemma. The problem is that before we can intelligently consider viable options for stretching tradition in more meaningful ways for segments of the more modernized members of our community, we must hear people like you putting into the same chullent the question of the “volumes” that are spoken from their lack of concern about heretical and anti-Halacha agendas!

    If you want to be grounded in Halacha, and not “reform” it, then you’ve got to be at least as bothered by these rabbinical quacks and the modern ideologies they are bent on accomodating as you are about being bothered about why standard halacha lacks meaning for them.

  7. Baruch B. says:

    You write:
    “Shul is such a major aspect in our Avodas Hashem, and yet tragically nobody seems to even consider how devoid of spiritually the whole experience can be for women who are relegated to “the back of the bus.” Even if we are not ready to make significant changes, at the very least this should bother us, and the fact that it doesn’t, speak tremendous volumes.”
    2 questions: 1: Is shul really supposed to be such a tremendous aspect of a woman’s avodas hashem? Or maybe it’s supposed to be more about Davening?
    What do you think?
    2: When it “speaks tremendous volumes”, what does it say? (I really want to know, I’m not trying to provoke anyone)

  8. DF says:

    To Ari Reiser:

    You have no evidence – whatsoever – that there is a “growing” liberal trend within orthodoxy. In fact, in proportion with the rest of growing orthodoxy, liberalism is shrinking. Don’t mistake the proliferation of news outlets for actual proliferation of numbers.

    Likewise, the claim of women being relegated to “the back of the bus” – you, my friend, are projecting your personal thoughts onto women at large. (How paternalistic.) I see ezras nachim’s packed to the gills wherever I go, just like the men’s sections. If it was such a lifeless exercise, the women wouldn’t show up. Again, assertions don’t equate to facts.

    As for me, allow me to summarize what I wrote on a different blog that also addressed R. Twersky’s article. I don’t think the Rabbi’s article stands up to scrutiny. If one is honest, there are many, MANY changes that have taken place in Jewish and Halachic life down throughout the centuries, frequently caused by outside catalysts. However, in no way does this mean we must accept all such changes. Feminism all but promotes staying single – if it does not actually do that in word, it is without question the practical effect. More American women proportionately are single today than at any other period in American history. [If you look around, there are plenty of women’s magazines that timidly explore this issue, but don’t do so in full voice for fear of appearing, God forbid, to actually want a husband and thus offend the feminists.] Orthodoxy, by great contrast, focuses on the family. In addition, the divorce rate – for which there IS evidence of its explosive growth – is directly related to the growth of feminism. Broken homes, single mothers, one-child homes. Why on Earth would we incorporate this failed ideology into orthodoxy?

    Feminism, which I define as the legally enforceable brand of Title VII, has been around less than 50 years. Orthodoxy, or shall we say, Judaism, with all its developments – thousands. Let’s see if feminism can even make it out of the 21st century, without vanishing like so many other 20th century ideological movements. Until then, it is it that must accede to the realities of orthodoxy, not the other way around.

  9. Gil Student says:

    Ari Reiser: Rabbi Twersky wrote the following in a 1998 article:

    A modicum of introspection regarding women’s tefilla groups exposes a pervasive malaise in our community affecting men and women equally. Our experience of tefilla is at best impoverished. On weekdays, we race the clock in an attempt to make tefilla conform to our hectic schedules. Instead of immersing ourselves in the heartful and soulful experience of prayer, we squeeze it, heartless and soulless, into our routine. On Shabbat and Yom Tov, tefilla, punctuated and at times overwhelmed by congregational chatter, has deteriorated into recitation by rote and mechanical mouthing of words. In this experiential vacuum, where authentic religious experience is all too often lacking, active leading roles appear-to men and women-very significant. Frustrated by the shallowness of our tefilla experience, we (men and women alike) misguidedly try to gratify ourselves by seeking active participatory roles. In truth, however, such pursuits which further externalize prayer only exacerbate the real problem.

    Thus, a vital task awaits us. We must educate and train ourselves to experience in the most profound fashion genuine service of the heart. Such an educational program cannot be fully set forth in the present forum, and thus the ensuing remarks are, at best, schematic and illustrative, but clearly inadequate and incomplete.

    The process must involve careful study of halakhot of the synagogue and biur ha-tefilla. Compliance with these halakhot would eliminate all idle talk at all times from the synagogue, and create an atmosphere conducive for kavana. By virtue of such habitual compliance, we could condition ourselves to banish from the sacred domain of the synagogue all thoughts of politics, the stock market, sports, and the like. Upon entering the bet keneset our mood would instinctively change and become reflective; our attention would be focused upon the impending encounter with the Ribbono Shel Olam. Devoting a few minutes in this rarified spiritual atmosphere to prepare for tefilla would further facilitate our experiencing genuine service of the heart. And finally, engaging in tefilla with the benefit of prior study of the various prayers-their basic themes, structure and vocabulary-would allow us to recite these tefillot thoughtfully, contemplatively focusing upon each word and its religious content rather than mindlessly flipping pages.

    Similarly, we ought to respond educationally to the secular egalitarian impetus for the tefilla groups. We need to expound and internalize the Torah’s axiom of dissimilar equality of the two genders. Moreover, we must elucidate the vitally important, heightened spiritual dimension of the feminine role, as delineated by the Torah and our sages.

    Such educational initiatives will, God willing, foster genuine religious experience and satisfaction in general and enhance the tefilla experience in particular. The religious crisis which has spawned women’s tefilla groups would thereby be authentically resolved.

  10. Robert Lebovits says:

    Ari Reiser: “Shul is such a major aspect in our Avodas Hashem, and yet tragically nobody seems to even consider how devoid of spiritually (spirituality?) the whole experience can be for women who are relegated to ‘the back of the bus'”.
    The assertion underlying this statement – that the shul experience ought to be equally meaningful for women as for men despite the fact that as a vehicle of Avodas Hashem it is only required of men and not women – is precisely the idea that R. Twersky challenges as part and parcel of a liberal, non-Torah based ideology. The avodah character of shul, as opposed to its social dimension, is purely tefillah b’tzibur for which only men are obligated. Further, I would challenge the notion that tefillah which is non-participatory – i.e., the normative experience for women in Orthodox shuls – is in and of itself “devoid” of spirituality. Anyone who has ever seen the women davening at the Kotel is immediately impressed by the devotion and intensity of their avodah irrespective of the fact that they are “simply” engaging in tefillah b’yichidus.
    I am not sure what exactly “should bother us” about women’s shul experience if the primary goal is Avodas Hashem. On the other hand, if feeling and sensibilities are the real concerns then we are no longer addressing spiritual matters, are we?

  11. Yaakov Novograd says:

    Dear Ari Rieser,
    Please see the book “Guardian of Eden” (Feldheim 1993) in which Part 2 contains “Letters to a Jewish Feminist” where Rabbi Yisroel Miller deals with these issues in a brilliant and entertaining manner.

    If that book isn’t readily available, I hope you’ll connect with someone like Rabbi Barone, who spoke with parents in America this week about his yeshiva, and said — in a different context — that even Torah study (and certainly davening, Y.N.) is a detail amongst many crucial details [yes, Torah is the most important detail] in yiddishkeit, but our focus swhould be on appreciating yiddishkeit as a whole.
    IOW, let’s try to learn, and learn to appreciate, how Hashem (the Author of the human “owner’s manual”) wants each of us to experience spirituality and then we won’t feel we ‘are relegated to “the back of the bus”‘, but we’re actual drivers.

  12. Bob Miller says:

    The more general problem is: how does one communicate traditional Torah views to someone who thinks along different lines conditioned by contemporary mores of the surrounding society?

  13. Ari Rieser says:

    Rabbi Student – for a change I actually agree with what you (or the quote you shared has to) say! If our shuls truly resembled the true Mikdash Me’at that they are supposed to be, then perhaps a good number of these issue would be resolved.

    DF – perhaps you do not live in a Modern Orthodox community or daven in a Modern Orthodox shul, but rest assured that there most definitely an under and above ground movement developing. This is not just a media-driven, online blogger bluster – this is for real. You also bring up the issue of “feminism” – I made no mention of this being a feminist-driven agenda in my comment. Why do those who oppose addressing the role of women within Orthodoxy always distill the issue as Feminism? The answer is, because it is convenient to say so and discard the whole matter as Pritzus and a breach of Tznius. This is a fallacy and enables you and others to completely avoid the issue of how we within the Orthodox community need to at least minimally address of the reality of the enhanced role of women in modern society (that may be a result of the Feminist Mov’t, but no longer is driven by it) and the inherent consequences that it poses to us.

  14. shaul shapira says:

    “As for me, allow me to summarize what I wrote on a different blog that also addressed R. Twersky’s article. I don’t think the Rabbi’s article stands up to scrutiny. If one is honest, there are many, MANY changes that have taken place in Jewish and Halachic life down throughout the centuries, frequently caused by outside catalysts.”

    Can you elaborate? (Some actual examples) Specifically, were those changes similar to the Beis Yaa’kov movement- which R Twersky himself addresses in this article- or ladies putting on tefillin? I think that’s a crucial differtence.

  15. Rafael A. says:

    Why is everybody here responding to Ari Reisner’s assertions. They can basically be boiled down to the fact that liberal Orthodox Judaism wants the gender role division in Yiddishkeit to be minimized as much as possible, if not eliminated (same with the treatment of heterosexual and homosexual sexuality). The answer to this is that halochoh does not permit this, this is not Judaism in any sense of the word, and if that means that a few who want full egalitarianism feel they are at the back of the bus, it is for those women to change their feelings and not expect Judaism and halochoh to change in order to assuage those feelings, which is something really that frum Yidden do everyday when halochoh conflicts with our thoughts, desires, and societal pressures.

  16. Steve Brizel says:

    R Twerksy’s article on Torahweb is a superb analysis of the clash between egaliatarian rooted feminism and its unyielding and never satisfied demands, those who lend support to such claims and why Baalei Mesorah are correct in viewing the views of feminists and their apologists within the LW MO with grave suspicion as to the motivations for the same.

  17. Steve Brizel says:

    Ari Reiser set forth the following basis for his observations:

    “perhaps you do not live in a Modern Orthodox community or daven in a Modern Orthodox shul, but rest assured that there most definitely an under and above ground movement developing”

    I think that it wrong to extrapolate from LW MO communities located in the UWS, UES, and Riverdale to other far more committed MO communities and claim that what exists in some quarters in the LW MO world is a “movement.” I think that it also patronizing and condescending to write off entire communities, Charedi and MO, where no such evidence supporting your claims is extant at all.

  18. Steve Brizel says:

    Noam Stadlan-attitudes towards the “deaf/mute” changed solely because of the development of specialized treatment and education of such individuals. It remains an open halachic question whether for example a person with a hearing aid could and , even more importantly, be a Baal Tokea or a Baal Koreh on any day when Krias HaTorah is a Mitzvah Min HaTorah. Your discussion of MBP assumes that the same has been abolished by Poskim ala smoking in a public place. In fact, I would suspect that the same is probably more an individual choice, rooted in minhag than in anything else, as opposed to the controversy as to whether MBP is merely a Minhag or an essential part and parcel of the Mitzvas Milah. I would suggest that far more evidence on the ground is warranted in terms of actual Piskei Halacha from Baalei Horaah, and what people are choosing to do in all Torah observant communities, before asserting that MBP has been abolished. I don’t see your point re Eved Knaani-so many sugyos in Shas and discussion in Rishonim and Acharonim deal with the halachic consequences of such a status.

  19. Steve Brizel says:

    Noam Stadlan-the article in the TuM Journal by R Shmalo surveyed views in the Gdolei HaMfarshim as to understand the institution of Eved Knanni as a historical, and philosophical issue from a wide range of perspectives. Yet, the article IMO should have included a section reminding the reader that the institution of Eved Knanni could and should not in any way be compared with slavery as practiced in the pre Civil War US.

  20. Eli M says:

    While it is true that certain movements are pushing women’s issues to destroy Halachic Judaism, that does not negate the fact that there is also a real problem that must be dealt with. The classic role of a woman in society was one that fit well with the classis frum experience. As society is changing, and it is irrelevant whether the changes are for the better or for the worse, the way women exist in this world is changing too. Sticking our heads in the sand will not make the changes go away. Lack of tefilin is not the issue, lack of respect and recognition as real equals is.
    The rub is to make clear that women are truly considered the equals of men, each in their respective roles, and if we can convey that, then there won’t be such a clamor for equivalence. The problem is that womens’ platitude detectors are pretty good, and when men talk equal but different but don’t really believe it, then women fight – they see that in secular field sthey are equal, why does the Judaism insist they are inferior. What is needed is a serious treatment of this issue, dealing with all the parts of the mesorah, those that praise and raise women and those that seem to denigrate them. If done well, women are more than smart enough to understand, unfortunately, if not done well, women are also more than smart enough to notice.

  21. Ari Rieser says:

    Steve Brizel – While you may be correct that there isn’t the same push for a more liberal MO outside of NYC, the fact remains that NYC has the overwhelming majority of young MO singles and new married couples. These couples eventually move out of the city to raise their B”H growing families. As such, it is only a matter of time for this (as you put it) “LW MO” ideology to gradually spread elsewhere. Therefore, I am confident that, like it or not, this movement to give women a more involved role within Orthodoxy will be an issue that will have to be addressed in many more MO shuls in the near future.

  22. Robert Lebovits says:

    Eli M.:
    “Equal” by what measures? I am a child of the 50s & 60s with Holocaust survivor parents and a mother who did not work outside the home. There was never the slightest doubt in my mind that my mother was the “equal” of my father, whether in terms of her standing, authority, or hard work. Whatever activities they each pursued had no impact on my perceptions of them as both deserving of my respect and admiration.
    My wife has always worked outside the home as have I. The “equal” status we have in the minds of our children I seriously doubt is owed to our out-of-the-home engagements. The current controversy will not go away so long as playing roles traditionally ascribed to men are the standard by which equality is measured – precisely the foundational principle of feminism. Liberal ideology does not accept the very notion of separate gender pathways for living.

  23. DF says:

    Ari Reiser – you ask why the “changing role of women” is always distilled to feminism. The answer, of course, is because that’s the driver. You want proof? Why is it that the morethodoxies of the world always speak about adapting to change, but keep coming back, time and again, to women’s issues? How come they never address yom tov sheni? Why don’t they ever wonder if perhaps the halachic view of electricity is outdated? Why don’t we hear anything about the second yokum purkan, which still speaks as though we’re in Bavel? It’s always women’s tefillah and women’s hakafahs and now women’s teffilin, and nothing else. Why? Because its driven by feminism. Please don’t be naïve enough to think there’s any genuine religious yearning here.

    Shaul Shapira – I could cite many examples, but it’s not the thrust of the blog here. Google this topic, you’ll find plenty.

    Eli M – as it happens, I think its already been pretty well conveyed that women are equal to men in their respective roles. In fact, I’ve not seen any statement to the contrary in any sefer written in the past hundred years (and if such a statement exists, it would reflect merely an individual opinion.)However, included among the “respective roles” is the fact that men are tasked with being the public face, or if you prefer, the head. This shouldn’t be a big deal. A famous non-Jewish movie a few years ago showed two women speaking to each other, in which one told the other that the man was the head – but, she said laughingly, the woman is the neck, and the neck turns the head! (I know many, MANY orthodox Jews, including modern orthodox Jews, who saw that movie, and laughed right along with the line, identifying with it.) So you say that Judaism insists they are “inferior”? I think that’s how you’re interpreting “different.”

  24. Eli M says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. However, I am afraid that if you ask a random sample of non rabble rousing mainstream frum high school girls, they will tell you that they consider themselves less than equal to their male counterparts. Many will have no problem with this, and be content to be ‘merely’ an aizer k’negdo, but for many it may fester inside them. Mainstream frum society often seems to prioritize males over females, even when there is no Halachic issue at stake, i.e. more responsibilities and less ‘fun’ for girls. This feeling is probably exacerbated by the current situation in shidduchim.
    Personally,I believe women to be the equal of men, and my mother to be at least the equal of my father. I detest the OO movement, and consider the desire for women to be the same as men as silly. I must admit though, that in frum society as a whole, and in some ways it creeps into my own thoughts and actions, a subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) belief that as a rule men are superior and ‘more worthy’ than women. Some gemaros and halachos can easily be (mis)constued this way, and unforunately not all lomdei Torah are sufficiently mature to properly understand these sugyos. I remember singing ‘shelo asani isha’ to annoy the girls when I was a young child, sometimes it seems that some men remain forever young.
    If everyone was as sensitive as you and I, or the majority of the readers of cross-currents, I wouldn’t worry.
    Read some comments and posts here or especially at other sites, and you will see why I believe that not everone is one with our mindset. Would that it were so.

  25. Sara says:

    The whole debate about tefillin strikes me as unecessary. Women wanting to wear tefillin, women creating their own tefillah groups… these are all merely symptoms of an underlying, festering problem. Addressing the symptoms is like putting band-aids on an infected wound that is rapidly becoming a systemic infection. The misguided women who fight for these “rights” do so for lack of awareness of the wholeness of our Torah life, and for lack of a better way of dealing with their – very real – frustration. Many frum women feel the same frustration and anger, but do not have the freedom of expression – or even desire for that expression – of our less constrained counterparts. We frum women know that putting on tefillin will not help the underlying issue, but we do wish and hope that the underlying issue be dealt with seriously. We are not placated when you tell us, “of course Judaism finds you equal”, because in today’s age we are lucky to have access to almost all the writings and sources and resources that men do, albeit acquired with more difficulty. So when in high school we are told that women don’t need all the mitzvos that men do because women are naturally more holy and spiritual and don’t need the extra “motions” to become close to Hashem, we feel placated and calmed. Then we grow up, and scour for information because some answers still don’t sit right, and we find male-driven writings (such as the one by H. Grossman reprinted on this site) in which we are told that men are the spiritual, holy, transcendental beings whereas women are more base, earthly, purely utilitarian beings. Pick one, we cry; you can’t be both picking each at the time when it is most beneficial for men. We are good at sensing these contradictions. Another incongruity we have noted: women, you say, are meant to exist in the private sphere, while men are the “public face” of Judaism. But then for the purpose of supporting husbands who want to live in the cocoon world of kollel, frum women are encouraged en masse to become the primary breadwinners and exist in the public sphere (but only within those very exact parameters – as soon as we return home from our hopefully lucrative jobs we are expected to fade into the background, dim into obscurity). Pick one, we say; if you are the public heroes, then act like it. Throughout the women’s educational process we are told of the value of mitzvos, chessed, middah-improvement, and emunah and we are joyful to be able to serve Hashem fully. Then we become older and have the opportunities to listen in to male-dominated halacha and hashkafa education, and we find out that talmud Torah is the prime, the supreme, practically the only way to come close to Hashem and become great, and we are hurt because we are simultaneously told that this is an endeavor from which we are excluded. You tell us we are equal, but for many purposes we are equated with canaanite slaves in halacha. Animal farm equality, we ask? You tell us we are equal, but then we are also told that our only value lies insofar as we are able to support the wellbeing and advancement of men (aizer k’negdo, nashim bmah zachyan, etc). And no, the racecar driver and the mechanic are not equal; each is essential, no doubt, but no thinking person would ascribe them equal value in winning the race. You tell us that the Torah respects and values women, but once we begin to search, we find myriads of demeaning and derogatory statements. You tell us that these are just the few among the many complimentary onces, but not having access to those elements of Torah learning, we have not been able to find them yet, and the men are remarkably silent in this area.
    For better or worse, as members of modern society we have had our value, intelligence, capabilities, success and potential validated. We are too aware by now to believe the opposite. Imagine; many women are highly successful in previously male-dominated careers while at the same time caring for a home, raising a large family, being involved in community and chessed, and attempting to carve out time to build a relationship with Hashem.
    We don’t deny Hashem. We don’t negate Halacha. But we have real issues and questions and want them dealt with seriously, within the constraints of Torah-true values and Halacha, and with our involved input. We are not clamoring for the rights to wear tefillin. We are not fighting for the role of baal koreh or pulpit rabbi. But we are growing loud enough for you to hear that perhaps change is necessary. Before the BY movement was put into action, it was inconceivable to most men – including many gedolim of that generation – that women can and should be learning Torah in a formalized setting. That too went against axioms of torah shbeal peh (halomed bito torah…) and conventional mores. But it was, unexaggeratedly, a lifesaving measure for the continuity of the Jewish nation. I don’t know what form this change would have to take. But I do know that change is possible within the confines of Halacha and Jewish values, and that it will take big people to “be man enough” to shoulder those changes. Perhaps this is still a few years premature, but change will have to happen; your Jewish bloodline depends on it, depends on us.
    This is stretching way beyond relevance to the original essay, so please just take note: when you deny the existance of a problem, when all you allow yourself to see are a few unrelated symptoms, then you are encouraging the eruption of new symptomatology, potentially more harmful than what came before.

  26. shaul shapira says:


    “Shaul Shapira – I could cite many examples, but it’s not the thrust of the blog

    It’s certainly part of it. R Twersky pointed to a difference between BY and PM’s

    How about if you just cite a few? (say 3)

  27. Rafael A. says:

    Our society, revolutionized by feminism, now accepts the principle that equality means nothing less than full and equal roles, in whatever area of life. Therefore, differences predicated based on gender = inequality of the genders.

    Judaism believes that men and women are equal but have different roles to play. Therefore, what is happening is that OO is trying to push the square peg of general society’s view of equality into the round hole of Judaism. This is doomed to failure.

    What we have to is educate our children, especially our daughters, that they are equal to men in the eyes of Judaism and Hashem. Instead, all lot of our daughters come to feel, whether this is taught to them or not, that society’s version of equality is correct and so we have to do everything we can to bring Judaism into compliance with that view of equality.

    This is what OO is doing and its dangerous.

  28. Steve Brizel says:

    Ari Reiser wrote:

    “Steve Brizel – While you may be correct that there isn’t the same push for a more liberal MO outside of NYC, the fact remains that NYC has the overwhelming majority of young MO singles and new married couples. These couples eventually move out of the city to raise their B”H growing families. As such, it is only a matter of time for this (as you put it) “LW MO” ideology to gradually spread elsewhere. Therefore, I am confident that, like it or not, this movement to give women a more involved role within Orthodoxy will be an issue that will have to be addressed in many more MO shuls in the near future”

    Unfortunately, one can discern support for “LW MO” within YU ( as opposed to RIETS), and in some portions of some communities that either in such cosmopolitan areas of NYC such as the UWS and YES, or communities that are best described as MO in orientation. Like it or not, ignorance of Halacha and Hashkafa is a malady that knows no hashkafic boundaries.I see no evidence of such a trend outside such communities.

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