(c) 2000 Dr Hendel; 1st appeared in Torah Forum (c) Project Genesis

Date: Thu, 4 Jun 1998 21:52:16 -0400
From: rhendel@mcs.drexel.edu (Russell Hendel)
Subject: Re: Women's prayer groups

I really want to thank all the people--Eric Simons, Debbie Israel[TFn4v8],
And Levy-Stevenson, Chayyim Markowitz [TF4v9], Yonah Russ [TF4v10],
Randolph Shiner[TFn4v11]--who carefully read my comments about women and
responded. They have inspired me to modify my original 3 premises with one
more important premise and one observation.

This is true Talmudic fashion: The Talmud relates that Rabbi Yochanan
lectured: When someone came and gave him 100 supports for his ideas he
retorted "Do I need you to tell me I am correct." But his famous Chevruta
Resh Lakish always contradicted him leading to finer distinctions. I hope
this discussion continues and I hope it becomes a model for other Torah
(Forum) discussions.

NEW PREMISE (#0): >  >  Men and women are EQUAL with regard to monetary
>  >  rights, moral responsibilities, and punishments throughout Torah.

NEW OBSERVATION: 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"

Now let me restate my original 3 premises: 1) A goal of Judaism is to
populate the world with an many people as possible; 2) raising children
requires enormous amounts of work and 3) endocrinology shows that women
have hormones which bias them towards acts of caring.

Now let me proceed to rederive conclusions but avoid the pitfalls I made
last time.

CONCLUSION A: Because of Premise #0--women=men--we will NOT apodictally
PROHIBIT women from anything (like prayer groups). We at most will create
structures where they are not PREFERRED. This answers people like Chayyim
and Tikwa who seem to agree with me---they cited many Gedolim who prohbited
female prayer groups. Actually though I am not asking for a prohibition
only for preferences. This also answers Debbie who cited Shirath Miryam.
Again, Debbie, I am creating a "state of halacha" where something is not
PROHIBITED BUT NOT PREFERRED---doing the act (like Miryam) doesn't in and
of itself show disrespect for G-d (because it is not prohibited)

CONCLUSION B: Because of the FINACIAL EQUALITY of men and women we will
*only* create preferred avoidances for women in NON MONETARY areas!! This
answers Eric and Andy who noted that my argument would encourage women
avoiding *ALL* non child bearing areas. But premise 0 says they are equal
to men in financial areas. Hence the most halacha does is create
preferences against women in non monetary areas (like prayer, teaching, etc).

CONCLUSION C: Finally I want to thank Randolph Shiner [tfv4n11] for his
comments with which I "almost" all agree. Randolph correctly observes that
our "society" requires husband-wife earnings to keep up and hence
(especially in light of my remarks about equality) we shouldn't avoid
something unless it is PROHIBITED(and I already said it is PREFERRED to be
avoided not PROHIBITED).

But everyone will ask in astonishment "If you agree with Randolph then what
did you defend with your arguments." The answer is simple: I defended the
right to call our society wrong and "ask that our society be changed so
that we can go back to the preferred social state where women take care of
children and men do other things."

In summary: *I have not gone as far as many Gedolim to prohibit female
prayer groups. However instead I believe they are PREFERRED TO BE AVOIDED
*I also agree that economic needs may necessitate women taking on
traditional male roles (and there is nothing wrong with this)( *But I can
only see women taking on traditional male roles as a TEMPORARY
solution...we must understand that while halacha is plastic enough to
temporarily meet modern needs we must strive to restructure our society so
that women can stay home and men can run minyans and be bread winners.

And if we don'T??

Then it is the children that will suffer...and modern studies do bear out
that there is more anxiety amongh modern children because of 2-parent
earner marriages.

I apologize for the length but I believe this is an important topic. I
think it would be beautiful if our email group would make significant
contributions to the diverse opinions that abide here. I hope I have
clarified the situation a little bit and look forward to further discussion.

Russell Jay Hendel Ph.d ASA
Rhendel @ mcs drexel edu