Women’s Prayer Groups: R. Hershel Schachter’s Position II

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I post the following in response to Comments by Ben to this post. Angry White Male, whoever he is, wrote generally in the same vein as I am.

Ben: In order to evaluate his arguments, you need to ask if he applies them boardly, or only in this case.

Evaluate his arguments for what purpose? To understand what he says or to determine whether you would rule likewise? If the latter, and you are of sufficient stature to disagree with him, then you are correct. I doubt that. If you wish to understand then you might want to reread my “Prefatory Comments” about why R. Schachter might rule more strictly in this matter than in others.

Ben: For example, in I and IV he is concerned that women are giving up on the various benefits of shul davening to go to the WPG. Is he similarly insistent that all women go to shul?

I already addressed this in the last paragraph of section I. Women are not obligated to pray with a minyan but if they are willing to put in the effort to do so but instead choose to pray without a minyan, they are essentially slapping the greater mitzvah in the face and saying “We don’t want you.” It is a quintessential ma’avirin al ha-mitzvos which is a non-halakhic (maybe even anti-halakhic) attitude.

Ben: Further, the lack of an eruv in his community of Washington Heights prevents most women from leaving their homes to engage in tefila betzibbur, hear kaddish and kedusha, etc. So where’s the eruv?

This is not a valid argument, but it is still wrong. R. Schachter is the posek for the YU eruv. If you mean the other side of Washington Heights, that is Breuers territory and it would be wrong for anyone other than Rav Gelley to put up an eruv there.

Ben: Similarly with Gentile practices (IX and X) and new customs (XI, XII, and XIII). I think a lot of the concern about shul decorum comes from Christian influence.

It all depends on the reasons behind each individual practice. The posekim speak about this at length and are truly concerned with these issues. I emphasize the following statements from my post which might prove helpful to you:

While this prohibition has limits, it certainly forbids practices that might lead to licentiousness.

Exactly which practices can be termed sufficiently egalitarian to be prohibited and which not is not a simple matter and must be decided by our greatest scholars.

Ben: echoes the empty argument of “chadash assur min hatorah” – everything new is assur (except actual chadash, or course).

It might be better to understand what was meant by the slogan “hadash assur min ha-Torah” before denigrating it. It certainly did not rule out all innovation. It ruled out innovation that would lead to diminished observance and heretical beliefs. In mid-19th century Germany and Hungary, that ruled out almost all innovation (in the learned view of many great scholars) but in late 20th and early 21st centuries America, it might have a different application.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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