Women’s Prayer Groups – R. Yehuda Henkin’s Position II

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I wrote in an earlier post in describing the writings of R. Yehuda Henkin:

However, I do not believe that his responsa will ever become mainstream because his method of approaching a question is fairly unique and idiosyncratic.

Let me once again clarify that I did not intend to insult R. Henkin with this comment. I was trying to offer an explanation of why I do not think that his responsa will be accepted by the mainstream Torah-studying public. My suggestion was that his derekh ha-limud — the way he approaches a sugya and the sources he chooses to analyze — is not widespread and is not what one would find in, say, the responsa of R. Moshe Shternbuch or R. Nosson Geshtetner. I’ll add that I consider this to be the same reason that R. Ephraim Greenblatt’s multi-volume Rivevos Ephraim cannot be found in most yeshiva and private libraries.

In conjunction with this, any readers who would like to obtain the three volumes of responsa from R. Yehuda Henkin may contact him personally. He occasionally posts to Mail-Jewish and Avodah, and his e-mail address is henkin-at(@)-012.net.il.

I. Public Prayer

I quoted R. Henkin as writing, “Unfortunately, many women’s sections and men’s sections alike are places of idle gossip.”

I had meant to comment that the solution to this problem is not necessarily the innovation of a new practice. Perhaps a better resolution would be to fix the synagogues so that everyone can have a talk-free davening. If that is impossible, alternate minyanim are also a possibility. I’ve seen it done. Women’s Prayer Groups are certainly not the only solution to the problem of talking in shul.

III. Foreign Influence

I had written:

My understanding, perhaps mistaken, is that this is incorrect. The Feminist movement made inroads into Christianity just like it did into Judaism and, historically, all-female prayer groups were formed among Christians before Jewish women started to do so. However, I do not currently have a source to back up that impression. I will see what an internet search turns up. This is, clearly, a crucial point. If Christians were forming Women’s Prayer Groups first then there is ample reason to prohibit such groups for Jews.

I found the following through an online search. Obviously, more adequate research is required before any authoritative statement on the matter can be made but the initial indications are that Women’s Prayer Groups have a long Christian history.

Source 1:

For example, Finney [the 19th century Revivalist] made great use of women’s prayer groups which required every woman to take her turn in public prayer, again following the practice initiated by Wesley, but hitherto far removed from orthodox Christianity.

Source 2:

While historians have examined earlier women’s prayer groups, they’ve tended to ignore these modern-day evangelical groups because of their assumed connection to the “religious right.”

VI. Falsifying Torah

I wrote regarding Maharshal’s position that falsifying Torah is yehareig ve-al ya’avor:

R. Henkin disagrees with the nature of the severity of this prohibition and even cites R. Moshe Feinstein on this matter.

I should have noted that R. Henkin cites the Talmudic Encyclopedia as a source for R. Feinstein’s position. Although, as I pointed out, R. Feinstein’s grandson implicitly disputes this attribution, R. Henkin is not at fault for this discrepancy. He was merely quoting a reputable source and had no way of knowing the “Torah she-be-al peh” on this matter.

VII. Conclusion

I quoted R. Henkin as writing, “Nevertheless, I am not endorsing women’s prayer groups, because one cannot rule from a distance without knowing the operative souls (hanefashot ha’osot).”

I was directed by a learned source to look again at the phrase hanefashot ha’osot which somehow had escaped my attention. This is, of course, a reference to Vayikra 18:29: “For whosoever shall do any of these abominations, even the souls that do them (ha-nefashot ha-osot) shall be cut off from among their people.”

Very interesting…

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 has served two terms on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five 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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