Women’s roles and opportunities have changed dramatically in the past century and some have called for halakhah to recognize this new situation. Women now have greater financial independence. They can choose from almost any occupation and even no occupation, opting to remain at home. Women often hire household help who free them from cleaning and cooking. Such a different daily existence calls for a reevaluation of women’s halakhic status, some would say, acknowledging the historic changes.

Judaism and Women’s Changed Status

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I. Women Today

Women’s roles and opportunities have changed dramatically in the past century and some have called for halakhah to recognize this new situation. Women now have greater financial independence. They can choose from almost any occupation and even no occupation, opting to remain at home. Women often hire household help who free them from cleaning and cooking. Such a different daily existence calls for a reevaluation of women’s halakhic status, some would say, acknowledging the historic changes.

Indeed, R. Yoel Bin Nun has reportedly called for such a radical rewriting of Jewish law (see this post: link). Arguing that women’s exemption from positive, time-bound commandments is based on their dependent status, R. Bin Nun suggests that women are now required to perform every mitzvah. The exemption no longer applies. No one has yet, to my knowledge, fully explored this argument’s radical implications for halakhic egalitarianism. However, the idea of incorporating women’s new status into Jewish law excites the imagination.

But is this really called for? I submit that the Talmud, as understood by its commentators, were aware of women who were financially independent and free from household duties. Such women existed as a minority in the ancient world and today they dominate. The status is not new, just its prevalence. (See also R. Aryeh Frimer’s critique of this view: link – PDF, pp. 94-98.)

II. Leaning

We see this in the laws of Pesach. The Gemara (Pesachim 108a) states that while women are generally exempt from leaning on their side during the seder, an important woman — ishah chashuvah — must lean. What defines an ishah chashuvah? The commentaries disagree (the following is based on Haggadah Shelemah, pp. 70-72).

Rashbam writes that a woman is normally exempt from leaning because “of the fear (or awe) of her husband and she is dependent on him.” Or Zaru’a similarly writes, “a woman is dependent on her husband; it is improper for her to display mastery and freedom in front of him.” According to them, an independent woman would presumably be considered an ishah chashuvah.

Rabbenu Manoach (Hilkhos Chametz U-Matzah 7:8) offers other definitions of ishah chashuvah. One is an unmarried woman. Another is a righteous, God-fearing woman. A third is part of an explanation of why a regular woman is exempt from leaning: Women are busy preparing and serving the food. Therefore, he explains, the rabbis exempted women from leaning just like the Torah exempted them from positive, time-bound commandments. A woman with servants, however, is an ishah chashuvah and is obligated to lean.

One group of Medieval authorities — Tosafos, as quoted by the Mordekhai and Rabbenu Yerucham (see Beis Yosef, Orach Chaim 472) — state that all women of their time (14th century France) reach the status of ishah chashuvah and must lean. I hope to explain next week why this is not the common practice. This raises a question of how Tosafos define ishah chashuvah. One is hard pressed to believe that most women in 14th century France were totally independent or free from housework. I heard in the name of R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik (second-hand, so take it for what it’s worth) that Tosafos define ishah chashuvah as someone who has a significant role in making the family’s decisions.

III. Independent Women

We see that the concept of independent women with financial means, who do not rely on or fear their husbands nor shoulder household duties, is not new. The Talmud does not clearly define its concept of an independent woman but Medieval commentaries do. And those descriptions seem quite appropriate for women’s contemporary status. Even if they did not consider the possibility of independent married women, the Talmudic sages knew of widows and divorcees who attained all of these qualities of an ishah chashuvah.

Yet neither the Talmud nor its commentaries ever suggest that an ishah chashuvah attains a radically new halakhic status. Rabbenu Manoach says the opposite fairly clearly. Women are exempt from leaning and time-bound, positive commandments for the same reason. The only change for an ishah chashuvah, to whom this reason does not apply, is that she must lean. Her obligations to the other commandments remain unchanged.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

145 comments

  1. The change in the role of women in society over the past 100 years is not just dramatic, it is revolutionary. Israel has had a female Prime Minister and the US has female Jewish Supreme Court Justices (one of whom was the first formal Bat Mitzva by R. Riskin at Lincoln Square Synagogue.

    When, in the history of the Jews, have we lived in a time when a Jewish woman can establish dina d’malchuta and yet still not be an independent full witness in a Beit Din?

    In the same way that Prozbol re-interpreted halacha (m’d’oraita no less) mipnei tikkun olam so too will halacha, sooner or later, need to deal with this revolutionary change.

    In the meantime, there is wide spectrum of mitigations, some within mainstream Orthodoxy and some outside of the mainstream.
    Time will tell.

  2. Such women existed as a minority in the ancient world and today they dominate. The status is not new, just its prevalence.
    ==============================
    So a new rov has been created – what, if any, is the impact on halacha in general and on specific halachot which assumed a different rov?
    KT

  3. IH: I appreciate your openness about your goal to transform halakhah as it applies to women.

    Joel: Tosafos said we reached rov in the 14th century. It still didn’t change any major dinim.

  4. so your contention is that the current status of women in western society is not, in fact, unprecedented?

  5. to be clear: I think it is not just a question of quantity. even the important women of tosfos’ time would have faced legal and social disabilities in nonjewish as well as jewish society that simply don’t exist today.

  6. another way of saying this: back in the day, a woman could become free from having to serve food to her husband if she or he provided a woman of lower social status to do it for her. today, she can tell her husband to go serve himself.

  7. Gil, to re-interpret, per the historic halachic process; not transform.

  8. Pruzbul is not on a de’oraysa, and it is established within thr realm of halacha. See Gitin third perek. Changing Jewish law because of your interpretation of tikun haolam is arrogance.

  9. Emma, is your comment tosfos era specific ?
    What legal and social disability did Bruriah face.what legal and social disability did that female rosh yeshiva face. (Forgot the name of that town). How were they limited. Bruria in particular.

  10. Gimpel — it’s Perek 4 and see the peirush of Rabbeinu Ovadia m’Bartenura.

  11. What legal and social disability did Bruriah face.what legal and social disability did that female rosh yeshiva face. (Forgot the name of that town). How were they limited. Bruria in particular.

    you are telling me that a female rosh yeshiva who has to sit behind a curtain is “liberated” in the modern sense?

    re: bruria, the point is about the general status of women in roman palestine (to use the historians’ term), since the question is whether it was comparable to the status of women in contemporary america such that today’s situation is not really new. to be honest, i don’t know the precise status of women in roman law/culture. but do you think that they could become senators or judges? do you think that they could own, dispose of, and inherit property the same as men?

    seriously, i don’t think it’s a big chiddush to say that today’s situation, in which it is legally and socially accpetable and/or expected for women to:
    -own and dispose of property regardless of marital status
    -hold nearly any occupation, including high positions in government and the military
    -live alone
    -control the number of children they have
    -enter the public sphere on the same terms as men (i.e., go where they want when they want with whom they want)
    -dress as they like
    -enjoy widespread literacy and education comparable to that of men
    -assume that they will very likely live through childbirth

    is unprecedented.
    (preemptively, i am not saying that none of these conditions ever obtained before. only that they never all obtained at the same time before.)

  12. >It still didn’t change any major dinim.

    The chivalrous opinion of Tosafos, that 14th century women of Ashkenaz were “choshuv” doesn’t mean that the lifestlye and status of these women were anything like modern women. Furthermore, the issue is not only does women’s status magically (halachically) change, but also that women may no longer be able to achieve spiritual fulfillment in the old ways – and that may mean women losing interest in the religion, or the same condition that we are told led to the establishment and rabbinic endorsement of Bais Yaakov schools for girls. It’s not merely a question if their status changes, but how to keep educated, accomplished women Orthodox.

  13. Forget the female rosh yeshiva then, (behind a curtain really?why? Goodness gracious)as someone that does not participate in any minyanim that have a partition I would never god forbid suggest precedents that feature partitions. As for Bruriah which points on your checklist do u believe are both important to your underlying premise and were in fact not part of Bruriahs purported lifestyle. For purposes of this question I will limit my inquiry to jewish or religious society since my question is about Bruriah. Unless your point was limited to secular society and women.

  14. “I submit that the Talmud, as understood by its commentators, were aware of women who were financially independent and free from household duties. Such women existed as a minority in the ancient world and today they dominate. The status is not new, just its prevalence”

    Agree with Gil

  15. ok, gils’ point is that women in general society have a status that was, in fact, available to some women previously. i think that is ludicrous.

    i took the status of bruria in roman society as a comparison, but perhaps her major disability there would have been being jewish, so we should deal with her status in jewish society: exactly what occupations were open to her? (judge? tradesman? teacher?) could she own and dispose of property regardless of marital status? could she, as a woman, go where she pleased, when she pleased, or were there important male-only spaces from which she was physically and legally excluded? could she have chosen never to marry without consigning herself to a life of social isolation and poverty?

    and, to get to my somewhat flippant post that i think actually captures the real shift: do you think she sat down at the table first while her husband served the food? do you think that even ever dawned on either of them?

  16. Joseph Kaplan

    “The status is not new, just its prevalence”

    The important thing that’s new is not the status or even that there are more such women today than there were in the past; it’s that in the past they were a small exception (when everyone keeps on bringing up the same few examples — Bruriah, the woman rosh yeshiva, Devorah, etc. — you know they’re a small exception) and today they’re the rule. So, just like the few exceptions back then resulted in small halachic changes (e.g., women chashuvot could lean at the seder), so too now, the significant status shift should, perhaps, lead to large halachic changes, with the difficulty, of course, being able to figure out what is appropriate to change.

  17. In saying that we must reevaluate womens position in Judaism because of their changing role in modern society, R Bin NUn, R Broyde and others completely ignore the gender differences that are basic in pnimiyut ha Torah and Torat hanistar. The halachic relativism that they propose assumes that men and women were created equal when actually Man was created from Earth and Woman was created from Man ve’idach zil gmor vehaven heitev.

  18. Why do you assume that women leaning at the seder is not common practice? I was always taught that all women should lean and have taught my daughters the same. And at all sedarim I have attended, all the women leaned.

  19. I wrote about “leaning’ and Women in the seder a few days ago, and pointed out that it is a clear example of halachic change due to social norms:
    http://mostlykosher.blogspot.com/2011/04/women-leaning-during-seder-halacha-and.html

  20. R. Tzohar,

    What is “pnimiyut haTorah”? And since when does kabbalah dictate (rather than simply serve as a possible source for) halachic policy?

  21. aiwac-Pnimiyut haTorah is Kabbalah as brought down and explained in Chassidut(Tanya, Sfat Emet ,Noam Elimelech etc) also Rav Kook,Rav Ashlag ZTZL and RYGinsburg ShLYTA. Kabbalah neither dictates nor is always a source for Halacha. In the end when we relate to “womens issues” we are talking first and formost about hashkafa, and halacha without hashkafa is like guf bli neshama.

  22. I second Joseph Kaplan’s point above, and would add in response to Gil’s point re: Tosafos, that the fact that Tosafos considered all contemporaneous women to be within the category of “ishah chashuvah” does exactly the opposite of what Gil thinks it does: it makes it quite obvious that trying to equate the modern, 21st century, liberated woman with Tosafos’ conception of “ishah chashuvah” actually doesn’t work. To claim that the role taken on by women in modern society is conceptually comparable to any of the medieval descriptions you’ve cited for “ishah chashuvah” is absurd and should not be taken seriously.

    In fact, Gil’s very definition of the modern status of women seems to have been defined down – with much omitted – so as to allow this fanciful equation to move forward:

    “Women now have greater financial independence. They can choose from almost any occupation and even no occupation, opting to remain at home. Women often hire household help who free them from cleaning and cooking.”

    While all of this may be true, there obviously is so much more about the modern woman that is revolutionary and radical (from the point of view of ancient authorities) that not only would have been different for, let’s say, Tosafos in terms of degree, but different in kind (I mean come now, does Gil really think that the social changes in the status of women can be boiled down to “Well now we can hire maids whenever we want!”). To provide just a few examples off the top of my head: 1) women may be not only financially independent but can actually be the “baal habayis” – the head of the household to whom the husband is actually “subservient” (We have a lovely neighboring family that fits this description), 2) “Women” as a category (i.e. not on a case by case exceptional basis) are considered intellectually INDISTINGUISHABLE from men (and no one would say about an accomplished modern woman that “she’s just as intelligent as a man!”), 3) Social expectations of modesty for men and women are now conceptually identical (obviously there are non-conceptual differences that are anatomically based).

    The list can go on and on, but you get the point.

    Now, I actually agree with Gil’s tendency to be wary of drawing radical halachic conclusions from these observations. I don’t think it necessarily follows logically that halacha must be revamped simply because of the fact that the social status of modern women is very different from the status of the women with whom Chazal and Rishonim were familiar. But I think Gil also has a tendency to overreach when it comes to a few issues – one of them being the role of women in Judaism. On these (few!) issues, I sometimes feel as though Gil doesn’t just need to win the war, but to win every single little battle and skirmish. This is not realistic.

  23. minyan lover

    R Gil, Mycroft and Joseph Kaplan, where would one find this overwhelming “prevalence” of Bruriahs,female rosh yeshivas (like that famous one) and Judge Deborahs. Also didn’t the Gra have an opinion on how woman will eventually change. Does anyone know the precise source and context. (And whether or not its admissable evidence or hearsay).

  24. How about the issues raised in this article

    http://forward.com/articles/136770/

  25. The list can go on and on, but you get the point.

    Now, I actually agree with Gil’s tendency to be wary of drawing radical halachic conclusions from these observations
    ===========
    which was the point of my question-wouldn’t it be halachically appropriate to review where the halachic process results may need review due to changing facts on the ground?
    KT

  26. Larry Lennhoff

    Quantity has a quality all of its own. Halacha traditionally deals with the 80% case – I believe Rambam comments that this leads to an occasional injustice, but is a necessary evil. So I agree with Joel Rich – the fact that the default status of a woman has changed at least enables and maybe even necessitates a re-evaluation of women in halacha, one that gives a diminished weight to precedence since women today are not the same as women in chazal’s time. Since that hasn’t happened yet the outcome of that re-evaluation can’t be predicted – but that attempt should IMO be made.

  27. emma: so your contention is that the current status of women in western society is not, in fact, unprecedented?

    No, that it was anticipated. Analogues existed and the concepts were already conceived.

    I think it is not just a question of quantity.

    The issue is identifying the difference in status that has halakhic implications. I have not yet seen one.

    today, she can tell her husband to go serve himself.

    And therefore…?

    Anonymous: The chivalrous opinion of Tosafos, that 14th century women of Ashkenaz were “choshuv” doesn’t mean that the lifestlye and status of these women were anything like modern women.

    I agree. The other views are, I think, more important for our discussion.

    Furthermore, the issue is not only does women’s status magically (halachically) change, but also that women may no longer be able to achieve spiritual fulfillment in the old ways

    That is an important discussion to have and one that I think will not need to include additional halakhic obligations.

    Joseph Kaplan: The important thing that’s new is not the status or even that there are more such women today than there were in the past; it’s that in the past they were a small exception… and today they’re the rule.

    I agree. I just don’t see the halakhic significance of this.

    Hadassah: Why do you assume that women leaning at the seder is not common practice? I was always taught that all women should lean and have taught my daughters the same. And at all sedarim I have attended, all the women leaned.

    Very interesting. I have never heard of this before. I have always heard of people following the Rema that women do not lean today.

    Jerry: the fact that Tosafos considered all contemporaneous women to be within the category of “ishah chashuvah” does exactly the opposite of what Gil thinks it does

    I don’t think it does the opposite but it doesn’t support my thesis either. Tosafos’ definition of “ishah chashuvah” is simply irrelevant to our discussion.

    women may be not only financially independent but can actually be the “baal habayis” – the head of the household to whom the husband is actually “subservient”

    How is that better than a widow who is the sole head of the household?

    “Women” as a category (i.e. not on a case by case exceptional basis) are considered intellectually INDISTINGUISHABLE from men

    That would only impact halakhos that depend on intellectual ability. I can’t name one.

    Social expectations of modesty for men and women are now conceptually identical

    True, depending on community, and this is regularly taken into account regarding modesty rules (see R. Yehudah Henkin’s article in Tradition).

  28. mycroft: How about the issues raised in this article

    Sounds like an individual pesak that requires knowledge of personal details.

  29. Gil>That is an important discussion to have and one that I think will not need to include additional halakhic obligations.

    Maybe yes, maybe no. Maybe reasonable people will disagree. But I think the more likely issue is optional mitzvos, which traditionally have not been practised by women, and which some poskim frowned upon because of yehora or another reason, such as tefillin. Rabbis may say that its either obligatory, and that means 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year, and that women can’t do it occasionally – its always or never (and that’s assuming they even agree at all) but this gets into the other issue of the religious needs of women – and not only women in Flatbush and Lakewood, God bless them, but also women in Riverdale and Teaneck. Some people may say that its narcissism, not religion (as they already do) but some people were against Bais Yaakov, too.

  30. Charlie Hall

    “have we lived in a time when a Jewish woman can establish dina d’malchuta”

    Devorah
    Salome Alexandra
    Helena of Adiabene

    Rare, but not unprecedented.

  31. >How is that better than a widow who is the sole head of the household?

    It’s very different. Classically “almanos u-yesomim” were categories of weak, needy people. Yes, of course there were always financially independent widows – they had married rich men. Today there are many women who are themselves financially stable and able.

  32. Charlie Hall

    “That would only impact halakhos that depend on intellectual ability. I can’t name one.”

    Huh????? You can’t name someone who is intellectually incompetent as a communal halachic authority!

  33. Gil: in a parallel thread (Judaism Is Like Haiku) you advocate: “The rules offer us an opportunity for creativity. They serve as guidelines that are not meant to suffocate but to generate a framework for a more dynamic and successful life in tune with God and ourselves”

    The issue in this thread, is the example par excellence, of the creative approach you advocate — yet you take pains, over and over, to reject it.

    We all know this issue is not going away and the entire spectrum of modern halachic Judaism is struggling with this revolutionary social change. As the Jewish Week reported on the Torah in Motion debate this past November:

    “Berkowitz maintained that no one is insisting on change across the board, and that halacha is not black or white but has room for conflicting opinions.

    She asserted that “many women feel very disconnected” from synagogue rituals that exclude them, and change is needed to keep them active in observant life.

    Rabbi Sperber agreed, saying that “if we didn’t accommodate these women, they would be leaving the Orthodox community.”

    The issue is “not about numbers, but about sensitivity to a segment of our community,” he said, adding: “I don’t see myself as a feminist, but as a halachaist” who believes it is important “to permit that which is permitted.” ”

    Shabbat Shalom

  34. Anonymous: But I think the more likely issue is optional mitzvos, which traditionally have not been practised by women, and which some poskim frowned upon because of yehora or another reason, such as tefillin.

    I agree, although tefillin is the most difficult of mitzvos and the wrong one with which to start. Many women have long adopted some optional mitzvos such as shofar and lulav. There are more they can adopt if they want.

    Anonymous: Classically “almanos u-yesomim” were categories of weak, needy people.

    Certainly not all of them. The Gemara even mentions some who were rich and powerful.

    Charlie Hall: You can’t name someone who is intellectually incompetent as a communal halachic authority!

    True, but women were never excluded from that role because they were considered intellectually incompetent so I don’t really see its relevance.

  35. IH: The issue in this thread, is the example par excellence, of the creative approach you advocate — yet you take pains, over and over, to reject it.

    This thread is about (not) changing halakhah. The earlier post was about creativity within the rules of halakhah, not about creativity in changing halakhah.

    As to R. Sperber’s focus on a few people to the detriment of the entire community and its tradition, I think he is wrong and has no chance of success.

  36. >I agree, although tefillin is the most difficult of mitzvos and the wrong one with which to start. Many women have long adopted some optional mitzvos such as shofar and lulav. There are more they can adopt if they want.

    That’s details, and we can quibble. And by your use of the word “start” there is an implication that eventually it gets there.

    >Certainly not all of them. The Gemara even mentions some who were rich and powerful.

    Of course, but you are talking about rarities in the past versus common things in the present. I can understand if ultimately someone concludes that these can be equated, but what is your process for arriving at that position? Is the Kurdish rabbanit then a precedent for Torah leadership in our time? In other words, are unusual cases in the past to be equated with the norm at present?

  37. Again, it is about re-interpreting halacha, as per the historical halachic process.

    There are many changed to Orthodoxy in the last few hundred years that no one predicted would have a chance of success. Time will tell.

  38. “Anonymous: But I think the more likely issue is optional mitzvos, which traditionally have not been practised by women, and which some poskim frowned upon because of yehora or another reason, such as tefillin.

    I agree, although tefillin is the most difficult of mitzvos and the wrong one with which to start. Many women have long adopted some optional mitzvos such as shofar and lulav. There are more they can adopt if they want”

    Agree with Gil

  39. A question for any women commenters who are inclined to erase the differences that halacha prescribes for men and women (and this is a real question, not rhetorical one –I am truly interested in your answer): if the differences between men and women in halacha could be erased by the rabbis declaring them no longer applicable in our modern day and age because of historical circumstances, would you really commit to doing all the mitzvot aseh shehazman grama all the time (not just when it’s rosh chodesh or the mood moves you)?

    Keep in mind that there are minyanim 3 times a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year when you answer this.

  40. Carlos,
    It is far from obvious that there is any chiyuv to daven with a minyan. Even if there is, why should women be any better than men, as a group with going to minyan. Finally, if the status of women really has changed and this results in a change in halachic reality vis a vis women’s status, then it doesn’t matter whether they would be willing to go take on the extra obligations. They would be obligated whether they liked it or not.

  41. Anonymous: That’s details, and we can quibble. And by your use of the word “start” there is an implication that eventually it gets there.

    No, I meant that as women dip their toes in the water of additional mitzvah observance, they should start with non-problematic mitzvos. They will probably add more but I did not mean to imply they will eventually observe all mitzvos aseih she-ha-zeman geraman.

    Of course, but you are talking about rarities in the past versus common things in the present.

    Precisely.

    IH: Again, it is about re-interpreting halacha, as per the historical halachic process.

    Isn’t that what everyone says?

  42. “if the differences between men and women in halacha could be erased by the rabbis declaring them no longer applicable in our modern day and age because of historical circumstances, would you really commit to doing all the mitzvot aseh shehazman grama all the time ”

    short anwer: yes.
    yes, but, that is: yes, but i agree with mdj that davening with a minyan is not necessarily obligatory. but yes, i would daven three times a day (well, actually i currently do that), i would put on tefillin, i would wake up earlier for zman krias shma, etc. of course, in this hypothetical world there would need to be some new rules – for example, does one have to put on tefilin in labor (highly doubt it) or in the immediate postpartum period (also doubt it)? and if both parties are obligated to go to minyan (which, as i said, i also doubt), there would have to be some accomodation for those who have small children. or we would start to have a lot of redundant services – 4 pm mincha and 5 pm mincha, eg, so people could switch off (as many people already do with hashkamah on shabbos.)

  43. How does R. Bin-Nun differ from Conservative JTS? What is Orthodox about his position?

  44. Hirhurim: Tosafos’ definition of “ishah chashuvah” is simply irrelevant to our discussion.

    No. ALL definitions are irrelevant to our discussion because they’re not describing a reality that is conceptually comparable to our present reality.

    Hirhurim: How is that better than a widow who is the sole head of the household?

    Quite obviously because a widow is in charge IN PLACE OF a dead husband, rather than over and above a living husband.

    Hirhurim: That would only impact halakhos that depend on intellectual ability. I can’t name one.

    First of all, it certainly impacts how we understand Chazal’s statements about female intelligence and the like, which is at least hashkafically important. As far as halacha is concerned, it may impact the issue of Torah learning for women (or it may not).

    But of course that’s not the point. The larger point is not how each individual datum changes a specific halacha. The point is that taken together these observations combine to equal the fact that Chazal and Rishonim had no concept whatsoever of what being a woman means to us in the present day (the fact that I even have to write such a sentence annoys me). They didn’t even have any language to describe an equivalent phenomenon (including “ishah chashuvah”). As I said earlier, the difference between our women and their women is one of kind, not degree.

    I do, however, basically agree with your point that none of this necessarily requires a radical restatement of halacha. One doesn’t flow logically from the other. But having said that, I also oppose those who insist that not only do we not have to revamp halacha due to modern advances, but that Chazal and Rishonim actually anticipated these advances and related to equivalent ones through categories like “ishash chashuvah.” Like I said, you can win the war without having to win every tiny little skirmish. I just don’t see why it’s necessary to insist that the modern status of women is really nothing new.

    And as indicated I strongly object to your strange presentation of the advances of women as essentially consisting of the freedom to hire as many housekeepers as one wants. Your description seems to have been (misleadingly) crafted simply to be able to shoehorn modern reality into “ishah chashuvah.”

  45. R. Gil,
    all my examples are trying to get at one fundamental thing: in the past society was status-based. What you could expect in life, what you could do with your time, what legal rights you had, were determined at leat in part by characteristics over which you had no control. for women, those things were primarily gender, marital status, and social class/pedigree. now, the fact that for some women the increased status available due to their higher social class canceled out some of the decreased status available due to their gender does not make it any less of a status-based society.

    what we have today is not a status-based society. legal rights, educational, proffesional, and economic opportunities, and rights and duties within a family, are not pre-determined by gender. (social class is still important, but not de jure.)

  46. “Very interesting. I have never heard of this before. I have always heard of people following the Rema that women do not lean today.”

    The impression I have is that it’s mostly yekkishe women who lean, and in other communities women do not.

  47. i would be quite surprised if most women who, like me, went to coed dayschools where we learned about the minhagim of the seder (and no one mentioned until high school that there was some issue with women leaning, but that an “ishah chashuvah” should, and then quotd tosfos) don’t lean. I mean, I was always taught “we” lean at the seder, and never explicitly told that “we” follow the rema and don’t.

  48. R’ Gil, my impression is that there are a number of modern Orthodox rabbis and scholars who have done quite a lot to “recognize this new situation.” It’s also my impression, from your post, that you find these folks’ approach uncongenial to your own way of thinking. So: who of your circle is addressing these issues?

    To put it more skeptically: I take it you disagree with R. Sperber and R. Weiss, just to take two well-known names, in their approach. But who *would* you agree with? Is there anyone who recognizes feminist claims that isn’t too liberal for you?

  49. Excellent post, R Gil.

    The types of changes advocated by this rabbi, with all due respect to his knowledge and character, contravene everything that Mesorah, that the Rav and his talmidim, that poskim throughout history, have stood for. The early Reform and Conservative movements were far less radical than this rabbi’s approach in advocating changes in Halacha due to social changes.

    Y’yasher kochacha.

  50. ps – to the apologists who always cry that judaism is “separate but equal,” where are you when David Tzohar says that men and women are not “created equal”?

  51. In my family, everyone leans (including women). Always having eaten seder with them (with one exception), I had assumed that the norm until now.

  52. emma: You are absolutely right that things now are different from the way they were in pre-modern times. We can list many more ways as well. But how does that translate into halakhic implications? Life expectancy is much higher. Does that mean that we should move bar mitzvah from 13 to 18?

    My point, in different words: The reasons offered in the past for women’s exemption from positive, time-bound commandments no longer apply. But the Talmud already conceived of women for whom those reasons do not apply and did not obligate them in all commandments.

    i would be quite surprised if most women who, like me, went to coed dayschools where we learned about the minhagim of the seder (and no one mentioned until high school that there was some issue with women leaning, but that an “ishah chashuvah” should, and then quotd tosfos) don’t lean.

    I would presume that most of them are learned and know that the Shulchan Aruch and all subsequent codes says that women don’t lean. I could be wrong but that’s what I assume.

    Zackary: But who *would* you agree with?

    I’ll give you two: R. Hershel Schachter and R. Mordechai Willig.

  53. Rafael Araujo

    How does R. Bin-Nun differ from Conservative JTS? What is Orthodox about his position?

    It doesn’t. As you see from many comments on this blog site, the way forward is to the same positions as Conservative Judaism holds except with some cosmetic changes so they can claim the title of “Orthodoxy.”

  54. Rafael Araujo

    Sorry, should read “He doesn’t.”

  55. “Life expectancy is much higher. Does that mean that we should move bar mitzvah from 13 to 18?”

    No, but it does mean (along with other social changes) that most of us no longer follow “ben 18 le-chuppah” as even a desideratum.

    “My point, in different words: The reasons offered in the past for women’s exemption from positive, time-bound commandments no longer apply. But the Talmud already conceived of women for whom those reasons do not apply and did not obligate them in all commandments.”

    First, I don’t think you can confidently say what the reason for the exemption is. I, personally, find it hard to believe that it is unrelated to the status-based nature of society at the time. But even if you want to focus on the “reasons offered” by authorities other than the ones who first codified it, what about the rationalle of “shi’abud” to husband? Even the richest woman back in the day was still, legally, subbordinate to men. Some women didn’t have husbands, but they were still in the category of “women,” subbordinate to the category of men in society (did a rich widow comapre to a rich widower?), and if they married they would have been subbordinate to a husband. that’s just not true today. furthermore they were still excluded from leadership positions (and sometimes the public sphere at all) in a way that they are not in today’s america.

    so no, i don’t think that the rabbis ever dealt with women like today’s women. but even if there were isolated women as “liberated” as today (doubtful), as noted they were exceptions. if you have a rule that everyone has to swipe their thumb before entering building X and someone is born without a thumb, you might just deny them access (or you might find them another way, but if you don’t it’s just one person). If everyone starts to be beorn without thumbs you don’t keep the rule because “we didn’t make an exception for so-and-so.”

    further, you might note that tosfos did accept certain adaptations for the women of their times – such as regarding saying brachos on zman grama mitzvos.

    As for leaning, my recollection is that I was never taught that, lemaaseh, women should not lean. i also recall shiurim that went over the sources you mention but focussed on ishah chashuvah to explicitly permit/recommend leaning for women. seriously, once you know that the reason not to lean is that you are subbordinate, why would you not lean if you don’t think you are subbordinate?

  56. It is also interesting to note that several of the recent pushes for adaptations in light of women’s changed status come from Israeli rabbis who do not live in constant fear of The Conservatives (the latter being essentially irrelevant in Israeli life). They are, I would submit, able to evaluate the issue without denominational overlays.

  57. This is a weak post. You haven’t said anything new about hesebah and you haven’t said anything cogent about feminism and Judaism.

    Better just to say what the charedim say: God gave men and women different natures and, in His wisdom, commanded them to serve Him in different ways. We are to serve Him as he commanded, and not in ways of our choosing.

    One can agree or disagree with that, but at least it isn’t risible.

  58. the argument that the change is merely quantitative not qualitative is at best questionable.

    the difficult issue is to delineate when circumstance matters in determining halakha and when it does not. here the extremes argue almost identically – the rabbis / gedolai hamesorah decide. to some this means nothing more than “where there is a halakhic will there is a way.” to others it says without support of gedolim (however defined) these changes are not possible. these LOGICALLY SIMILAR VIEWS may in fact BOTH be accurate; a more conceptual (brisker) delineation may not be possible. fwiw, i have not read or heard one.

  59. This is a slippery slope. Why not learn the lessons from non-Orthodox movements which preceded Orthodoxy in adapting practices so as to be compatible with the zeitgeist, including feminism and egalitarianism? At first, they also justified their adaptions as being within the spirit of the Torah; eventually they abandoning explicit Torah laws and fundamental Jewish beliefs. How has that worked out for them, in terms of Jewish participation and continuity?

  60. >>Zackary: But who *would* you agree with?

    ??I’ll give you two: R. Hershel Schachter and R. Mordechai Willig.

    Gil, what feminist claims do these two rabbonim agree with?

  61. Another classic Hirhurim post which follows the pattern of many recent posts. Gil posts something that goes according to the Meshorah and is a broadly accepted Halachic view. The post however, is not in line with the latest Western thought, even though it is mildly apologetic about that.

    The choir (the 10-20 people who supply 90% of the comments) then try to eviscerate the post and show how the post is morally atrocious since it is not in line with holy western morals.

    The bottom line: Two sides talking over each other. Gil trying to reason something starting from Jewish sources and where feasible making some allowances for Western ideas and the commenters starting with Western ideas and insisting that Halacha follow along.

    I don’t know what the point of doing this over and over again is whether it be following rabbis, brain death, feminism etc… The bottom line, there are two camps who have different starting points and different goals.

  62. for the record, i don’t think (nor do i think anyone else said) the post is morally atrocious. it’s just historically wrong.

  63. >Life expectancy is much higher. Does that mean that we should move bar mitzvah from 13 to 18?

    Naturally life expectency plays no role. Why would it? And yet, delayed childhood on the one hand, and earlier puberty on the other may well play a role.

    On the other hand, there is still a huge difference: the issue with women isn’t only that women have changed in our society, but also that many women can no longer be traditionally Orthodox (perhaps) continuing as they always have. Is there something comparable with bar mitzvah that we should know about? Are 13 year olds no longer capable of putting on tefillin, and will stop being frum if we don’t wait until they’re 19, or on the other hand let them start at 11? No, these are not comparable.

  64. >I would presume that most of them are learned and know that the Shulchan Aruch and all subsequent codes says that women don’t lean. I could be wrong but that’s what I assume.

    Gil, believe it or not the mimetic tradition is still alive at Orthodox sedorim, and people do what they saw their moms and grandmothers do, and aren’t asking what the Mishna Berurah paskens. In many families the women lean.

  65. ARW

    >The choir (the 10-20 people who supply 90% of the comments) then try to eviscerate the post and show how the post is morally atrocious since it is not in line with holy western morals.

    What was “holy” about the pressures that forced Orthodox women’s education in the west of Europe in the 19th century and in the east in the 20th? Nothing, and yet it was needed.

    The issue here isn’t that women in Flatbush and Lakewood need some kind of religious revival. They’re happy with the apologetics, and great for them. You know, the women in Teiman didn’t need a Bais Yaakov either. But women in Teaneck and Riverdale and the Upper West Side? They’re not a moldy sandwich. They have needs, and their rabbis have to keep the religion relevant for them. The need and finding a solution is no less holy than the work of Rebbetzin Schenirer’s. The morals of Lakewood do not get to dictate what women in Teaneck need.

  66. Steve Brizel

    R Gil deserves a Yasher Koach for indicating while all women are viewed as Nashim Chashuvos, the same has no halachic relevance. A while back, I suggested that based on one view in the Midrash quoted by Rashi with respect to Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu as having separate but equal roles, and was challenged by many here , on a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that this was “only” one view in Rashi (Paging Moshe Shoshan!). Yet, many Mfarshim on the Haggadah also define “Avodas Parech” by citing Midrashic and Aggadic statements that state the Egyptians attempted to destroy the family life of the Jewish People by making men do the work of women and vice versa. I would suggest that one cannot deny that the Tanaim and Amoraim understood that there was an innate difference between men and women in their spiritual roles and that the same cannot be reconciled with the radical feminist egalitarian agenda that views men and women as having no differences other than that a woman is the biolgical mother of a child.

  67. Rafael Araujo

    “Gil, believe it or not the mimetic tradition is still alive at Orthodox sedorim, and people do what they saw their moms and grandmothers do…”

    And what if such leaning has its source in ignorance? What if the grandmother decided its a grand ole’ idea to start leaning like her husband and the tradition is two generations old. The problem with mimetic tradition is that you have to probably analyze each tradition and try to see whether it was a genuine mesorah, or simply an error. May MO commentators here have no problem setting aside a minhag because they believe it to be mistaken or baseless. Mimetic tradition should be subject to the same scrutity. Anyway, LWMO wants to do away with mimetic tradition, since many of those traditions are “mysoginist”, unless of course its the politically correct haseibah!

  68. Rafael Araujo

    “You know, the women in Teiman didn’t need a Bais Yaakov either. But women in Teaneck and Riverdale and the Upper West Side? They’re not a moldy sandwich. They have needs, and their rabbis have to keep the religion relevant for them. The need and finding a solution is no less holy than the work of Rebbetzin Schenirer’s.”

    Except, of course, if such “holy work” will completely change the face of Orthodox Judaism so to make unrecognizable, which these changes will certainly do. If you look at what the Bais Yaakov movement has done, I would argue that it has in fact supported and strengthened women’s traditional roles in Judaism. It has not lead to women to demand becoming part of a minyan, leading davening, doing away with skirts and head coverings, and Rabbahs.

  69. Rafael Araujo

    “They have needs…”

    I would like to know from those who are okay with pushing halachoh’s boundaries if some women in Teaneck and Riverdale (not including the yeshivishe communities there) would press for complete equality in Judaism, with removal of all gender-based boundaries, whether we should accomodate that or they will leave? How far should we go to meet the new demands of the modern Jewish woman?

  70. >And what if such leaning has its source in ignorance? What if the grandmother decided its a grand ole’ idea to start leaning like her husband and the tradition is two generations old. The problem with mimetic tradition is that you have to probably analyze each tradition and try to see whether it was a genuine mesorah, or simply an error.

    Or – you don’t.

    It’s like that scene in the Karate Kid, where Daniel stands with a book about karate in one hand and tries to do the moves in the picture. It’s ridiculous.

    You can get your Yiddishkeit from a book, or you can be part of a shalsheles ha-kabbolo. Al titosh toras imecha – not everyone’s mesorah was interrupted.

    >I would like to know from those who are okay with pushing halachoh’s boundaries if some women in Teaneck and Riverdale (not including the yeshivishe communities there) would press for complete equality in Judaism, with removal of all gender-based boundaries, whether we should accomodate that or they will leave? How far should we go to meet the new demands of the modern Jewish woman?

    In hachi nami, but that doesn’t mean that therefore you do nothing.

  71. Anonymous wrote

    >But women in Teaneck and Riverdale and the Upper West Side? They’re not a moldy sandwich. They have needs, and their rabbis have to keep the religion relevant for them.

    I live in an American community with a strong Charedi majority. I can 100% guarantee you that none of the women in this community are “moldy sandwiches”. I am not exactly sure what this means, but I assume it means that you think Charedi women are so sheltered or brainwashed they don’t know any better. That is a fundamental mistake. These are women who know what the alternatives are and have chosen to stay in this path. Most of the womean are full time mothers, some (including my wife) have careers and/or advanced degrees. None of them wants or needs a women’s minyan or egalitarianism in their shuls.

  72. MMH,
    Any evidence for your assertion that SAR students won’t be able to get into good yeshivot, other than an assumption on your part that said yeshivot will discriminate against these students because of the gender of their teacher?

  73. >I live in an American community with a strong Charedi majority. I can 100% guarantee you that none of the women in this community are “moldy sandwiches”

    Huh? I was talking about the women in Teaneck et al. I should have said “chopped liver,” but reread it again with that in mind. I think you’ll see that all I meant was that the women on the MO end of the spectrum have issues even if the women on the RW end of the spectrum don’t have those issues. And as the women in Teaneck are not chopped liver, i.e., ignorable and irrelevant – then you can’t just say who cares about them, we are fine the way we are. That’s fine for such communities, but not for the other communities.

    The rest of your comment only underscores the point. Great for Lakewood and Flatbush with all their educated, modern women who are perfectly happy with their version of Orthodoxy. But their alleged fulfillment and harmony does nothing for an entire wing within Orthodoxy.

  74. Great for Lakewood and Flatbush with all their educated, modern women who are perfectly happy with their version of Orthodoxy. But their alleged fulfillment and harmony does nothing for an entire wing within Orthodoxy
    ========================================
    imho the chareidi leadership is quite aware of the differences but view it as a case of the lifeguard having to let a swimmer drown rather than being pulled down with him. i may disagree, but quite understandable.
    KT

  75. Joseph Kaplan

    “oseph Kaplan: The important thing that’s new is not the status or even that there are more such women today than there were in the past; it’s that in the past they were a small exception… and today they’re the rule.

    I agree. I just don’t see the halakhic significance of this.”

    Well, what the the halachic significance of nashim chashuvot? There wasn’t any until some rabbis decided to give it halachic significance. There wasn’t any halachic significance of women having a serious secular education re talmud torah until some rabbis decided to give it halachic significance and change the educational system for females.

    “Hadassah: Why do you assume that women leaning at the seder is not common practice? I was always taught that all women should lean and have taught my daughters the same. And at all sedarim I have attended, all the women leaned.

    Very interesting. I have never heard of this before. I have always heard of people following the Rema that women do not lean today.”

    My guess is that it depends on communities. Most women I know lean,

    “Another classic Hirhurim post which follows the pattern of many recent posts. Gil posts something that goes according to the Meshorah and is a broadly accepted Halachic view. The post however, is not in line with the latest Western thought, even though it is mildly apologetic about that.

    The choir (the 10-20 people who supply 90% of the comments) then try to eviscerate the post and show how the post is morally atrocious since it is not in line with holy western morals.”

    I don’t think that’s what happened. It’s not that the [post is morally atrocious; no one said or implied that. It’s that some disagree with it based on it’s own logic; that is, the nashim chasuvot issue that Gil brought up in support of his argument can be used in exactly the other direction. If you want to say halacha re women can’t change, then you’re right; those discussions usually end up with people talking past each other (with, I note, choirs on BOTH sides). But here, Gil actually raised a new interesting point which I,, and others, think helps our, and not Gil’s, argument. So, thanks Gil!

  76. >imho the chareidi leadership is quite aware of the differences but view it as a case of the lifeguard having to let a swimmer drown rather than being pulled down with him. i may disagree, but quite understandable.

    I suspect that’s the case – but the chareidi leadership doesn’t lead Teaneck.

  77. Bear in mind that the source for the ptur from time bound commandments is Tefillin, which in turn is derived from the ptur from Talmud Torah. Does Rabbi Bin-nun really want to go there?

  78. “How does R. Bin-Nun differ from Conservative JTS? What is Orthodox about his position?”

    He differs in his motivation. Unlike Conservative, he is motivated by his view of what the Torah requires, not by what contemporary society demands. Since he is a very unusual thinker (either “original” or “quirky” depending on your perspective) he very often comes to surprising conclusions. But these conclusions are machmir (i.e. not to rely on eruvs) as often as their mekil.

    “Does Rabbi Bin-nun really want to go there?”

    Maybe. Ask him.

    “The problem with mimetic tradition is that you have to probably analyze each tradition and try to see whether it was a genuine mesorah, or simply an error.”

    That seems to go against the Rama who says (regarding the megillah reading) that one may not cast doubt or scorn on any minhag no matter how strange.

  79. r’ gill – would it possible to have r’ yoel bin nun answers on some of the issues. i know his english isn’t great but it would be beneficial to here his side of your argument.
    i do think your analysis of ishah chashuva is off and jerry hits the nail on the head. and chazal never saw the possibility of what we have now. wether that changes anything or everything is on how the halachik process works.
    emma points out an interesting fact – its always the israeli rabbis coming up with ideas – it seems they are more secure (for many reasons) in their identity as religious leaders while american rabbis just do not lead (a personal rant of mine from previous posts).

    to that point i just read an article(16 pages) to be published in a journal of a yeshiva in ey- from a student in that yeshiva – an halachik analysys of women and zimun. the conclusion is that women – in a family setting – should be counted even if 2 woman and one man. interesting in the first footnote – the person thank rav aaharon l. for his comments and received the haskama of the co-head of the yeshiva on his halahik conclusion.

  80. r’ gill – i just assume that most if not 90%+ of all mo women and daughters lean at the seder. am i that out of touch what the majority in the mo world are doing? do all these people tell they underage boys to bring a pillow to the table for leaning and just tell their bat mitzvahed daughters to bring the pillow for others? i wonder how many mo rabbis (especially in in shuls) tell their wives and daughters not to lean?

    the ishah chasuva as a reason for ALL women to lean on seder night as a general klal was first adapted by the mordechai (pesachim). and later also adopted by the rema. reasoning being that only a woman, unlike a slave, who is free (like a man who is a ben chorin) can or is obligated to lean. i assume my wife and daughter are free people and are obligated to lean.

  81. “Teiman didn’t need a Bais Yaakov either. But women in Teaneck and Riverdale and the Upper West Side? They’re not a moldy sandwich. They have needs, and their rabbis have to keep the religion relevant for them”

    BTW-one can overexaggerate stereotypes-I believe the only husband/wife couple to win the Israel prize are the Yeminite born Kapachs- Rav Kapach and his wife Bracha Kapach. They won for different things.

  82. “i wonder how many mo rabbis (especially in in shuls) tell their wives and daughters not to lean?”

    I would be surprised if many MO Rabbis told their wives daughters to lean.

  83. Joseph Kaplan

    Mycroft, do you know what the Rav’s wife/daughters did at their seder?

  84. >BTW-one can overexaggerate stereotypes-I believe the only husband/wife couple to win the Israel prize are the Yeminite born Kapachs- Rav Kapach and his wife Bracha Kapach. They won for different things.

    Were they in Yemen? No. QED.

  85. Let me rephrase the issue and perspective.
    I think that with respect to any specific issue (tefilin, partnership minyanim, rabbah, communal authority) one can argue (whether argue convincingly or honestly varies with the issue and what one thinks is convincing or honest – ) for and against specific changes. Furthermore, it is difficult to see how true egalitarianism is compatible with classical halacha (and I don’t think anyone here has been advocating it).

    However, the issue of what specific changes can or should be made is a secondary issue – because one first has to resolve two other issues.
    One is the understanding of the metziut that we deal with.
    The second is the issue of the relationship of halacha to the metziut – not the issue of bending to current waves, but how psak in different metziut yields different results.

    WRT first, Gil’s analysis is truly astonishing, and suggests an utter blindness to the radical changes that have occurred. Yes, one can cite independent wealthy women of power in the past – but the fact that they were so few is not a mere additional fact, but reflects how halacha dealt with them.

    In Ma dodech midod, rav soloveichik says that his uncle, the brisker rav’s, relationship to medinat yisrael was due to the fact that he could find no classical halachic category to deal with it. Gil’s problem, and the problem of his teachers (and he cites RHS and RMW – both Briskers) is the same with women – the changes are sufficiently revolutionary that they are unable to find proper halachic categories – except isha chashuva…

    I think that for most people who have any awareness of actual social reality, such comparisons reflect on the lack of knowledge of reality those making them. Furthermore, psakim based on such comparisons are irrelevant to the world that we actually live in – and, as based on the wrong metziut can and should be ignored. Psak is a reflection not merely of text – but of metziut. Again, I can’t see any rational person with knowledge of social reality arguing as Gil does that the changes are not so profound. – and anyone who argues that way has no standing in the debate..

    The second issue is far more complex – because even if one is willing to recognize reality, the issue becomes the proper response – and one can still argue against change. The issue then becomes whether halacha has any intrinsic interest in fostering some spiritual growth – or is merely a set of obligations. If the former, the question that Gil views as secondary becomes primary – how to achieve spiritual fulfillment., when old ways do not work.

    This is what is driving much, with the following (actually very traditional understanding). If the external spiritual and material world that women live in today is close to egalitarian, the ways to achieve spiritual fulfillment may be close to egalitarian – and the model that exists, sanctioned by halacha – is that of men’s halachic obligations – is the one that is easiest to adapt. One could, of course, be nontraditional and try to formulate completely new formulae for women – but it is actually commitment to classical halacha, and view of halachic obligations as the touchstone for authentic Jewish spiritual fulfillment, that is driving much of the quest for halachic changes.

    Which such changes can actually be justified in a halachic context, as well as the possible dangers for mesora, are all subjects of legitmate discussion – the existence of a need does not mean that a particular solution is justified. However, Gil’s article shows an utter lack of awareness of the issues and metziut – and he therefore can’t be part of the discussion.

  86. sorry. Anonymous from April 9 11:52PM is me

  87. “not the least of which was that this was “only” one view in Rashi (Paging Moshe Shoshan!). Yet, many Mfarshim on the Haggadah also define “Avodas Parech” by citing Midrashic and Aggadic statements that state the Egyptians attempted to destroy the family life of the Jewish People by making men do the work of women and vice versa. I would suggest that one cannot deny that the Tanaim and Amoraim understood that there was an innate difference between men and women in their spiritual roles”

    rashi in gemara says that avodas perech from switching roles is because they weren’t USED TO IT (eyno ragil bekach) – nothing to do with anything innate (but it’s just an opinion of rashi’s i say sarcastically)

  88. >True, but women were never excluded from that role because they were considered intellectually incompetent so I don’t really see its relevance.

    רמב”ם הלכות תלמוד תורה פרק א

    אישה שלמדה תורה, יש לה שכר; אבל אינו כשכר האיש, מפני שלא נצטווית, וכל העושה דבר שאינו מצווה עליו, אין שכרו כשכר המצווה שעשה אלא פחות ממנו. ואף על פי שיש לה שכר, ציוו חכמים שלא ילמד אדם את בתו תורה: מפני שרוב הנשים, אין דעתן מכוונת להתלמד, והן מוציאין דברי תורה לדברי הבאי, לפי ענייות דעתן.

    Sounds like the Rambam says it’s because women are stupid. Which was of course a valid belief for him living in his time and place – but not for us. IIRC, the Meiri says the same thing in stronger terms. Now I don’t think that women are excluded from the other mitzvot for the same reason, but it IS a reason for their exclusion from Talmud Torah.

  89. “Joseph Kaplan on April 9, 2011 at 11:09 pm
    Mycroft, do you know what the Rav’s wife/daughters did at their seder?”
    No.
    My educated guess would be that they didn’t.

  90. “Anonymous on April 9, 2011 at 11:12 pm
    >BTW-one can overexaggerate stereotypes-I believe the only husband/wife couple to win the Israel prize are the Yeminite born Kapachs- Rav Kapach and his wife Bracha Kapach. They won for different things.

    Were they in Yemen? No. QED”

    But both were married in Yemen. R Kapach was clearly as loyal to Yemen as possible-wrote halichot temam, dated things in minyan hashtarot etc

  91. I hope to catch up on comments tonight. In the meantime, let me respond to the most recent comment. I asked a Bostoner last week and he told me that RYBS said that women *should* lean. Although I suspect that his wife’s family custom did more to determine what his daughters actually did.

  92. “. I asked a Bostoner last week and he told me that RYBS said that women *should* lean. Although I suspect that his wife’s family custom did more to determine what his daughters actually did.”

    or the Ravs own custom-the Rav did not put on tfillin chol hamoed-but told people who asked him wo a family custom to put on tfillin on chol hamoed.
    In general way too much emphasis is placed on hanhagat haRav as opposed to piskei Harav bizman Hazeh. When the Rav did something one has to distinguish from things that he did becasue of minority family minhag and things that he believed were correct where minhag plays no place. Thus, the Rav of course would as if he were shaliach zibbur in a standard ashkenazic schul say baruch hashem lolam amen vamen.-myself witnessed that-
    Just as one has to be very careful with quoting the Rav -he could discuss things in a hypothetical way with even star YU talmidim and giove good svaras for that action and not do them himself. What he did at home need not reflect chakirahs stated in a shiur or even privately to a star talmid.

  93. >But both were married in Yemen. R Kapach was clearly as loyal to Yemen as possible-wrote halichot temam, dated things in minyan hashtarot etc

    He was not as loyal to Yemen “as possible.” He was clearly much more modern than your average Mori. Where were his simanim (peyoth)? Even his own Yemenite tradition was more modern – his grandfather was seen as a heretic in Yemen. God bless Rabbi Kapah, but he and his wife – who were acculturated Israelis to a certain degree – are not proof that in traditional Yemenite Jewish society the girl’s were in need of a Bais Yaakov movement. The point is that traditional Yemen was much less modernized than Warsaw before the war. Just like Teaneck is more modernized than Lakewood. Lakewood’s lack of need for an assessment and possibly changes in approaches toward women doesn’t cancel out Teaneck’s need for it any more than Yemen’s lack of need canceled out Warsaw’s need.

  94. “He was not as loyal to Yemen “as possible.” He was clearly much more modern than your average Mori. Where were his simanim (peyoth)? Even his own Yemenite tradition was more modern – his grandfather was seen as a heretic in Yemen.”

    R Kapach was loyal to the rationalistic Rambam tradition of Yemen-he certainly did not agree with the mystical, kabbalist school that many Yemenites followed-in his mind they were similar to the perversion of classical Yahadus found in Ashkenazic Chassidism. Certainly R Kapach followed in the tradition of his grandfather-who led a counterreformation in Yemen against mysticism and for halacha as represented by the Rambam.

  95. “Why not learn the lessons from non-Orthodox movements which preceded Orthodoxy in adapting practices so as to be compatible with the zeitgeist, including feminism and egalitarianism?”

    Because there are no such “preceding”, and I’m not sure there are any such “lessons”. The Reform movement started in Germany in 1811 and in America in 1824. Hebrew Union College ordained its first woman in 1972, the same year that the first Women’s Tefillah Group was started, and decades after Rov Soloveitchik z’tz’l started teaching women gemara. Furthermore, while the Reform movement does indeed have problems that have been much discussed in the Jewish newspapers, they still have twice the number of dues-paying members in the US as do we Orthodox have. The Reform movement as a non-halachic movement is more comparable socially to Christianity, and as I have pointed out, some Christian groups that embraced egalitarianism (at least as far as ordination of clergy) have enjoyed spectacular growth over the past century. I personally suspect that the Reform movement will be with us for centuries more, that we underestimate the appeal of an antinomian religious movement that is truly monotheistic. Notice that there are still some Karaites today.

    “I have always heard of people following the Rema that women do not lean today.”

    I laugh when I hear of how important it is to follow every minhag of the Rema from people who recite Hallel in shul on seder night.

  96. There seems to be an assumption by some that those of us who want to expand the roles of women within Judaism would ideally like to replace Orthodox Judaism with a fully egalitarian religion. I can’t speak for everyone else, but that is not the case for me.

    I can also say that I have heard Rabbi Avi Weiss repeat his support for non-egalitarian Judaism many times.

  97. ” these conclusions are machmir (i.e. not to rely on eruvs) as often as their mekil”

    My very strong suspicion is that most Orthodox Jewish women would prefer to be able to rely on an eruv and not to get the 6am phone calls to come help out with a struggling minyan!

  98. >>“Why not learn the lessons from non-Orthodox movements which preceded Orthodoxy in adapting practices so as to be compatible with the zeitgeist, including feminism and egalitarianism?”

    Of course, Reform Judaism came before feminist ideology; sorry for the anachronism. I only meant to suggest that we learn from Jewish history how small changes in Jewish practice (to be like our non-Jewish neighbors) may lead to greater changes, and eventually to schism. The feminist critique of Judaism, in particular, implies that Judaism is somehow misogynistic, or that the Torah is imperfect, or that Judaism is essentially man-made, explaining the “oppression” and “second class” status of women. This is not an accusation against Jewish women who are attracted to feminism; it’s only a possible result of the slippery slope.

  99. > I personally suspect that the Reform movement will be with us for centuries more, that we underestimate the appeal of an antinomian religious movement that is truly monotheistic. Notice that there are still some Karaites today.

    To nitpick – the Karaites were never and are not antinomian. They are just anti-rabbinic.

  100. Disclaimer: I haven’t seen R’ Bin Nun’s arguments.

    Let us assume he is correct. Let us assume that there was a latent view in Chazal as hinted at by the Magen Avraham that prior to Mashiach coming, the level of Torah and Emuna would be so great that it would extend out of the realm of men only, and due to Melachtan Naasos Al Yedei Acherim, Women and Men assumed interchangeable roles in respect of ritual. R’ Bin Nun, despite making his apparent Psak would presumably acknowledge that his view isn’t widely held. Indeed, what if the male does not have the time to help out with home issues in any elaborate way because he is making a living and learning Torah, would R’ Bin Nun in that situation ask the wife to continue some of the more traditional tasks which would preclude her ability to attend Minyan, or would he say that the two of them should go to a Din Torah to determine whose learning or tzidkus or whatever was more desirable to Hashem? Would he take the view that since the Male had the vast majority of opinions on his side, and the woman had a Daas Yochid or Yechidim on their side, that even according to his opinion, the Woman is Patur somehow?

    Perhaps he is suggesting that it is now a divine task for each home to obtain two full wages so that a Filipino should be hired to take care of certain domestic tasks especially while the Husband AND Wife were at Davening. Is he suggesting this is now an ideal?

    And what of women who decide to follow standard Halacha Psuka as we know it today and feel comfortable in their suit of being Patur. Are those women now any LESS in Hashem’s eyes because they should have tried to break out of the mold and aspire to the loftier levels of women who have assumed equal responsibility to men?

    Quite apart from the serious Halachic issues that R’ Bin Nun discusses, the ramifications of his Psak are absolutely ENORMOUS. And no, it is nothing like the ramifications for women learning more and varied Torah than their mothers did.

    For me: I’ll stick with Rav Soloveitchik’s view that their is an existential difference between males and females in the service of Hashem. That is the Mesorah and it is immutable. The Rav certainly was positive about women learning but he was equally firm about the immutability of that existential reality; a reality that underpins a mimetic tradition.

  101. “I laugh when I hear of how important it is to follow every minhag of the Rema from people who recite Hallel in shul on seder night.”

    Not aboyut any particular issue but it amuses me that people often forget that in general when the Rema states that we are noheg something different than the mechaber it is not aminhag in colloqual expression it is normative Ashkenazic practice. As far as Hallel Seder night I believe it is Prof Waxamn who wrote that a lot of American Orthodox Jewry in the past couple of decades has gone away from classic Ashkenazi c practice that existed for centuries. He writes that it is probably influence of Israel-but Ashkenazim in America do not have minhagei EY. A separate discussion.

  102. Larry Lennhoff

    There’s also a practical aspect to all of this. I have repeatedly asked people from egalitarian communities how many couples they know that both have young children and where both parents daven b’tzibur for shacharit, mincha, and maariv. I’m still waiting to hear of the first couple.

  103. Larry, as has already been addressed in the thread, there is no chiuv to “daven b’tzibur for shacharit, mincha, and maariv” so what is your point.

    Aside from that, what percentage of a MO Jewish couple’s life does this situation cover on average?

    Like the slippery slope argument that others make, in my view, this is a rationale based on insecurity and emotionalism.

  104. And just to neuter some of the emotionalism (b’lachash) ask yourself if you really disagree with either of the dictionary definitions of egal-i-tar-i-an-ism:

    Definition of EGALITARIANISM
    1: a belief in human equality especially with respect to social, political, and economic affairs

    2: a social philosophy advocating the removal of inequalities among people

    First Known Use of EGALITARIANISM
    1905

  105. ‘The feminist critique of Judaism, in particular, implies that Judaism is somehow misogynistic, or that the Torah is imperfect, or that Judaism is essentially man-made, explaining the “oppression” and “second class” status of women.’

    Well, I have talked to a bunch of Orthodox Jewish feminists in my neighborhood, and none of them agree with that critique.

  106. “As far as Hallel Seder night I believe it is Prof Waxamn who wrote that a lot of American Orthodox Jewry in the past couple of decades has gone away from classic Ashkenazi c practice that existed for centuries. He writes that it is probably influence of Israel-but Ashkenazim in America do not have minhagei EY. A separate discussion.”

    How standard Ashkenazic practice in fact differs quite a bit from the minhagim of the Rema is indeed worthy of discussion in a separate thread. R’Gil?

  107. “To nitpick – the Karaites were never and are not antinomian. They are just anti-rabbinic.”

    Agreed. I should have made that distinction.

  108. ‘where are you when David Tzohar says that men and women are not “created equal”’

    Wondering if we are part of the same religion! None of my charedi or modern orthodox teachers has ever said anything like the stuff he posts here.

  109. If we’re already on the subject, has anyone seen the articles in the latest Hakirah journal on women Rabbis (Rav Schechter’s article and Rabbi Broyde’s)?

    I’d be curious to know what they say.

    http://www.hakirah.org/CurrentIssue.htm

  110. Larry Lennhoff

    AIWAC. Standing on one foot:
    RHS: No.
    RMB: No. Maybe not yet, but for now, no.

  111. “Wondering if we are part of the same religion! None of my charedi or modern orthodox teachers has ever said anything like the stuff he posts here”

    Well, they are probably being discrete. I am familiar with most of these ideas from traditional sources, and I imagine most rabbis are as well. My point was not that these ideas are untraditional, but rather the disingenuousness of the “separate but equal” position’s willingness to tolerate inequality, but not un-separateness.

  112. “No. Maybe not yet, but for now, no.”

    Fewer than 40 years ago, this was the attitude toward a Bat Mitzvah having any sort of religious ceremony. It was also the mainstream attitude toward the institutional teaching of Gemara to adult women and to the notion of a woman’s minyan.

    These are all normative in modern Orthodoxy today.

  113. …and 40 years before that, “No” was the mainstream attitude regarding instruction in English at Rabbinical school.

    Despite all protestations, normative modern Orthodoxy will continue to adapt to the revolutionary change in the role of women over the past 100 years; slowly, and using the historical halachic process of re-interpretation.

  114. I haven’t read all the comments, but I was just wondering if anyone has brought up the possibility that some of the more chauvinistic attitudes and opinions about women lacking intelligence found towards women from various sources, were derived from a misunderstanding in the science of the day that most women were intellectually inferior to men?

  115. Baruch Alster

    Larry,
    I think you missed the real hiddush in RHS’s article – he treated RSL as if he were a standard Acharon!

  116. >>‘The feminist critique of Judaism, in particular, implies that Judaism is somehow misogynistic, or that the Torah is imperfect, or that Judaism is essentially man-made, explaining the “oppression” and “second class” status of women.’

    >Well, I have talked to a bunch of Orthodox Jewish feminists in my neighborhood, and none of them agree with that critique.

    I have heard these critiques, though not from Shomer Shabbos women. However, MO Jewish women have told me that they support abortion rights and euthenasia. We are all influenced by the surrounding culture.

  117. “Fewer than 40 years ago, this was the attitude toward a Bat Mitzvah having any sort of religious ceremony.”

    KAJ had bat mitzvahs more than 40 years ago-so they had the reception et al across the street-but bat mitzvahs were recognized.

  118. MDJ wrote:

    “Any evidence for your assertion that SAR students won’t be able to get into good yeshivot, other than an assumption on your part that said yeshivot will discriminate against these students because of the gender of their teacher”

    The real issue is the state of Jewish literacy of the average SAR grad after K-8-when compared with their peers elsewhere.

  119. IH wrote:

    “And just to neuter some of the emotionalism (b’lachash) ask yourself if you really disagree with either of the dictionary definitions of egal-i-tar-i-an-ism:

    Definition of EGALITARIANISM
    1: a belief in human equality especially with respect to social, political, and economic affairs

    2: a social philosophy advocating the removal of inequalities among people

    First Known Use of EGALITARIANISM”

    To use a lawyerism-I object to the form of the question. Radical egalitarianism as used by feminists goes way beyond such a simplistic definition, and sees no differences between genders except that women bear children.

  120. Aiwac wrote:

    “If we’re already on the subject, has anyone seen the articles in the latest Hakirah journal on women Rabbis (Rav Schechter’s article and Rabbi Broyde’s)?

    I’d be curious to know what they say.

    http://www.hakirah.org/CurrentIssue.html.

    My copy just arrived today. When I have some more time on my hands, I will comment on R Broyde and R Brody’s article.

  121. David Tzohar wrote:

    “The halachic relativism that they propose assumes that men and women were created equal when actually Man was created from Earth and Woman was created from Man ve’idach zil gmor vehaven heitev”

    What about the fact that the Torah states that both man and woman were created Btzelem Elokim?

  122. to give credit where credit is due, i am glad to see that of the separate-but-equalers whom i sort of chastised above, steve, at least, is consistent on his “separate-but-spiritually-equal-roles” position!

  123. Steve,
    Why would that be the real issue when we were talking about SAR high school?

  124. Steve — radical anything is a bad thing. Nu?

  125. “The real issue is the state of Jewish literacy of the average SAR grad after K-8-when compared with their peers elsewhere.”

    Do you actually have any personal knowledge with respect to that alleged “issue” or are you simply casting aspersions by raising it?

  126. steve b. – is it after h-8 and before high school or after high school? i can speak to both. but not sure if there is a question, statement or innuendo? what do you really want to know or tell us.

  127. Joseph Kaplan & Ruvie-I can speak with personal knowledge re a comparison of graduates of K-8 between the level of textual knowledge vis a vis SAR and its competitors, especially YCQ, but I will not divulge the source. That being said, my source told me that SAR’s entering 9th graders in Central were far less textually literate than their classmates who had graduated YCQ.

    IH-I have previously posted that IMO one of the major problems within MO is that far too many MO refuse to realize that at some time within their lives, they should be able to realize that they have far more in common with the CS than the author of the Biur. Except for the fact that we now have many shiurim , drashos and books on how husbands and wifes should relate than we had in prior generations, I do regard radical feminism as a clear and present danger to Torah observance. One cannot deny the radical views of its founders vis a vis the family, their radical political views and the simple fact that it is well known that while feminism/gender based theory is the philosophy, the destruction of the family and lesbianism is the practice. None less than RYBS, despite his approval of Talmud study for women, rejected the feminist critique of Halacha and TSBP as sheer slander. The fact that eminent and prominent MO rabbinical leaders cannot do the same is a sad commentary on their inability to draw a line in the sand and realize that radical egalitarian feminisn seeks the obliteration of all gender based differences within Halacha. In this regard, the time has long arrived for MO leaders to be like Churchill, as opposed to Chamberlain.

  128. steve b – textually literate in which areas – chumash, tanakh or talmud? i do not know much about ycq but in my day (i am a queens boy after all but did not attend) ycq was known for their strength in ivrit.
    i believe that sar is on the same level as ramaz and mds for what i know abd the kids seem to be much happier there than any other school that i am aware of. when my daughter didn’t feel well she refused to stay home and always went to school. (i know that has nothing to do with your post). i know the chumash and navi are pretty good in general. but i always wondered why the children there love going to school and still get a good education. in fact, ramaz faculty have told me that the best students they get are sar students hands down. just one person opinion – who is positively bias.
    majority of the school now goes on to sar high school and ramaz (also frisch)- very few that i am aware of go to ycq (actually none) – so it may not be representative of the school.

  129. Steve – Tachlis, please. Do you consider Partnership minyanim to be “radical feminism”? And, women’s minyanim?

  130. “However, MO Jewish women have told me that they support abortion rights and euthenasia.”

    Every abortion ban I’ve ever seen would restrict halachically mandated abortions. The Catholic Church actually supports banning ALL abortions, even if the mother would die without an abortion, and they have managed to get a few countries to do this.

  131. While women are not second class,men are 1 and women are approx. 1.1 .

  132. IH wrote:

    “Steve – Tachlis, please. Do you consider Partnership minyanim to be “radical feminism”? And, women’s minyanim”

    Absolutely.

  133. Ruvie wrote:

    “textually literate in which areas – chumash, tanakh or talmud? i do not know much about ycq but in my day (i am a queens boy after all but did not attend) ycq was known for their strength in ivrit.
    i believe that sar is on the same level as ramaz and mds for what i know abd the kids seem to be much happier there than any other school that i am aware of. when my daughter didn’t feel well she refused to stay home and always went to school. (i know that has nothing to do with your post). i know the chumash and navi are pretty good in general. but i always wondered why the children there love going to school and still get a good education. in fact, ramaz faculty have told me that the best students they get are sar students hands down. just one person opinion – who is positively bias.
    majority of the school now goes on to sar high school and ramaz (also frisch)- very few that i am aware of go to ycq (actually none) – so it may not be representative of the school

    Ruvie-It is hardly a Chiddush that many Ramaz students go to SAR and vioce versa. When my source attended Central, a few SAR grads attended there as well. My definition of textual literacy is in Chumash, Nach and Siddur for high school aged women. I fully recognize that many MO schools offer Talmud for both genders, but in all candor, and with no apologies as to its lack of PC, a woman who “knows” Gantz Shas, Rishonim and SA is an Aino Mtzvuhe VOseh and receives nowhwere the Scar Mitzvah as a man who works hard to understand Pshat in a Blatt, as well the Rishonim and Acharonim and Nafke Minas L Halacha.

  134. Thanks for the direct response, Steve. So, to your mind, what concessions to the changed role of women in society qualifies as non-radical? I’m not planning to debate, just trying to understand your POV.

  135. (a tachlis list, please)

  136. “and with no apologies as to its lack of PC, a woman who “knows” Gantz Shas, Rishonim and SA is an Aino Mtzvuhe VOseh and receives nowhwere the Scar Mitzvah as a man…”

    Now I get it; you’re interested in the reward you get for learning and all the women who devote themselves to learning (you’re talking about those who know “gantz shas”) are interested in is the learning. I’ll let God worry about rewards, but I know who I’d choose to be my children’s teacher or, indeed, my teacher.

  137. Joseph Kaplan-The Talmud emphasizes in numerous instances that a MTzuveh VOseh is on a far different level than an Eino Mtzuveh VOseh. There is no comparison between one who learns Lishmah purely because he is a MTuzveh VOseh and someone who learns as an Eino MTzvuveh VOseh-as is the case in Kol HaTorah Kulah.

  138. IH wrote:

    “. So, to your mind, what concessions to the changed role of women in society qualifies as non-radical?”

    I think that the current educational structure offers many opportunities for Charedi and MO women to serve their communities within the confines of Halacha. I would certainly applaud women who seek post graduate training and degrees in Tanach, who wish to be active as Toanot or Yotzaot Halacha. Beyond that, I think that one must draw the line in the sand. Like it or not, despite all of the feminist outcry, I think that it is a profound mistake to assume that a woman is obligated to learn Torah in the same manner as a man. All of the feminist rhetoric and apologetics that one reads in favor of the same simply ignores this bedrock principle.

  139. Emma wrote:

    “to give credit where credit is due, i am glad to see that of the separate-but-equalers whom i sort of chastised above, steve, at least, is consistent on his “separate-but-spiritually-equal-roles” position”

    Thank you for your kind words. Let me offer the following observation. I admire a lot about both the Charedi and MO worlds-I consistently reject what IMO is extremism offered buy both worlds.

  140. Steve, I appreciate the candor. My takeaway is that in relation to Judaism, you view any substantive form of feminism to be radical by definition. Thus, all feminism is “radical feminism” (per your comment of April 12, 2011 at 10:13 pm)

    I obviously disagree, but it is helpful to understand your position clearly and plainly.

    Gil, do you concur with Steve’s view?

  141. “I would certainly applaud women who seek post graduate training and degrees in Tanach, who wish to be active as Toanot or Yotzaot Halacha. Beyond that, I think that one must draw the line in the sand.”

    Steve, what is the source of this line? Why is talmud or women learning “gantze shas” worse than learning (a) gemara and halacha w/ poskim (yoatzot) or (b) tanach?
    (a) is no more “muttar,” according to those who asser women learning gemara, than learning gemara be-iyun. (when they say “women have to learn halacha” they do not mean tu”r + beis yosef!)
    In any case, your issue seems to be not about TSBP per se but about metzuveh ve-oseh, in which case where is the mitzvah to learn Tanach?
    Why does commandedness in learning in general map onto what specific subjects women should learn?

  142. “The Talmud emphasizes in numerous instances that a MTzuveh VOseh is on a far different level than an Eino Mtzuveh VOseh. There is no comparison between one who learns Lishmah purely because he is a MTuzveh VOseh and someone who learns as an Eino MTzvuveh VOseh-as is the case in Kol HaTorah Kulah.”

    I am quite aware of the Talmudic statements. But:

    1. You spoke about schar mitzvah, not levels There’s a difference between doing something because you are commanded or doing it because your reward is greater which is what talking about schar mitzvah means.

    2. There’s no comparison? There certainly is, although one is “gadol” than the other. Why don’t you tell us how much more gadol metzuveh is than eino metzuveh, so we can see whether there is a comparison or not.

  143. Joseph-The Talmudic statements emphatically state that a Mtzuveh VOseh is “Gadol” mot just terms in terms of responsibility but also in terms of Scar Mitzvah, a concept that I would hesitate strongly in discarding since in fact it is used throughout the relevant Talmudic passages. I think that it can be argued that Scar Mitzvah means something very different in the aforementioned passages than in the sugyos that compare Kibud Av and Shliluach HaKen.

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