(c) 2000 Dr Hendel; 1st appeared in Torah Forum (c) Project Genesis
Date: Mon, 9 Feb 1998 19:43:33 -0500
From: rhendel@mcs.drexel.edu (Russell Hendel)
Subject: Re: Women's prayer groups

QUESTION: Are men and women equal in Judaism. Should Judaism
allow women's prayer groups? Are such groups disrespectful? If
they are disrespectiful to WHOM are they disrespectful.

To answer this question we present 5 premises which account
for many of the laws in Jewish halachah.

PREMISE 1: Men and women are EQUAL with regard to monetary
rights, moral responsibilities, and punishments throughout Torah.

PREMISE 2: It is one goal of society to create as many people
as possible and to fill the world with different people

PREMISE 3: It really takes alot of work to raise a child
properly..it is not like putting a frozen dinner into the
over and taking it out a half hour later

PREMISE 4: Modern endocrinology has shown us
that the female sex produces more hormones dealing with caring
and growing (e.g. prolactin and a whole collection of others).
Men however also have such hormones.

PREMISE 5: There are certain areas of halachah where we do not
prohibit but rather say that something is "preferred but not necessary".
I am indebted to Rabbi Professor Septimus of Harvard for a
beautiful article he wrote as an undergraduate demonstrating that halacha
doesn't just deal with "obligation and prohibition" but also with
supraobligation--grey areas of it is nice to..but not obligated." In
other words there is a category of "preferred but not necessary"

Using the above 5 premises we obtain the following conclusions.

CONCLUSION A: Because of Premise #1--"women equal men"--we will
NOT apodictally PROHIBIT women from anything (like prayer groups).
We at most will create structures where they are not PREFERRED.

CONCLUSION B: Because of Premise #1, the FINACIAL EQUALITY of men and
women, we will *only* create preferred avoidances for women in

CONCLUSION C: Because of premises 2 and 3 (society wants people and
they take a long time to produce) we see that it is in the self
interests of society to create a society where it is preferred for
one party to work on raising children while it is preferred for the
other party to work more on communal activities.

CONCLUSION D: Because of Premise 4 (women have more hormones encouraging
caring behavior) it is in the self interests of society to assign women
to the "preferred but not necessary" role of caring for children and
men to the preferred role of other community activities. Again all that
is being encouraged here is preference--no one is being forced to their
assigned role.

CONCLUSION E: However because of premise 1(men and women are equal)
if a society necessitates 2-earner families then we will not prohibit
men and women going out to the workplace. We will instead encourage a
long range societal change to a societal setup where women need not feel
pressured to earn money and can take care of children.

In summary: (a)We have not gone as far as many Gedolim to prohibit female
prayer groups. (b) However it is PREFERRABLE but not NECESSARY
TO AVOID them since they are disrespectful to society's long range goals
(c) While Economic needs may necessitate women taking on
traditional male roles (and there is nothing wrong with this) we should
only see women taking on traditional male roles as a TEMPORARY
solution. That is we must understand that while halacha is plastic enough to
temporarily meet modern needs we must strive to restructure our society so
that if they want to, women can stay home and men can run minyans and be
bread winners. (d) And if we don't restructure our society so women can
stay home then it is the children that will suffer. Modern studies do bear
out that there is more anxiety among modern children because of 2-parent
earner marriages.

Russell Jay Hendel;Ph.d; ASA;
rhendel @ mcs drexel edu


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