Indeed! Keep the Conversation on Orthodox Feminism Honest!
Guest post by R. Aryeh A. Frimer
Rabbi Aryeh A. Frimer is the Ethel and David Resnick Professor of Active Oxygen Chemistry at Bar Ilan University (E-mail) and has written extensively on the status of women in Jewish law; see: http://bermanshul.org/frimer/.
In the opening article, “Orthodox Feminism: Keeping the Conversation Honest,” appearing in the first issue of Dialogue, R. Eytan Kobre attacks the theology and halakhic methodology of some of the more radical proponents of “Orthodox Feminism.” En passant, he also finds Modern Orthodoxy guilty of hypocrisy. This is because, on the one hand, the latter charge Haredi publications with hagiography and lack of historicity, while at the same time tolerating the misrepresentation of Jewish law and principles of faith by Modern Orthodoxy’s left flank (top of p. 2).
Intellectual honesty is the leitmotif in R. Kobre’s review. So to be honest, I must own up to agreeing with much of what the author writes regarding the problematics of Radical Orthodox Feminism in both theory and practice. In light of some of my recent publications, this should come as no surprise. Indeed, the author spends substantial time quoting and concurring with me – though he notes my admission to the nefarious crime of being a “Halakhic Feminist.” He also quotes liberally from others: from R. Gidon Rothstein “a self-identifying left-leaning Orthodox writer;” from R. Dov Linzer, “dean of Chovevei Torah” (R. Kobre resists using the qualifier Yeshiva); and, last but certainly not least, from haRav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l, “the preeminent sage of Modern Orthodoxy” (the encomium should not have been limited to Modern Orthodoxy; he was one of preeminent sages of Klal Yisrael). Indeed, all the aforementioned Rabbis are strongly identified with the “Centrist Orthodox” camp. Since such citations comprise much of the work, it would seem that – by R. Kobre’s own admission – Modern Orthodoxy is innocent of the charge of hypocrisy he lays at its feet. This camp has dealt with the problematic issues raised by radical Orthodox Feminism extensively, critically and above all with painful honesty and candor. The upshot of all this is that R. Kobre’s article has little if anything new to offer in the way of facts or insight.
R. Kobre has thus used a well known debater’s tactic of criticizing an opponent’s camp by describing the worse traits of some of its members, but at the same time praising his own group by describing its best representatives. However, as just noted, many Modern Orthodox spokesmen have publicly pointed out the faults and failings of the Radical Feminists, and chastised those responsible. I have seen no comparable honest soul-searching on the right – or in R. Kobre’s extensive writings – regarding Haredi authors’ blatant misrepresentation of biographical facts. After all, one who criticizes others must himself be above criticism. As Hazal admonish us – keshot atsmekha ve-ahar kakh keshot aherim (correct yourself and then correct others).
Indeed, intellectual dishonesty is not only an issue of commission but also omission, and this article suffers from offenses of the latter kind.
(1) First, not one argument, quote or article cited in this paper is footnoted – neither those cited in support of Kobre’s thesis, i.e., Rabbis Soloveitchik, Rothstein or myself, nor those who come under attack: Rabbis Avi Weiss, Martin Lockshin, Emanuel Rackman, and Daniel Sperber, and Tamar Ross, Tova Hartman and others. Indeed, the last five are not even identified by name. In the spirit of the intellectual honesty that R. Kobre purports to champion, his intelligent readers should be allowed to study the original material themselves, and not forced to pass judgment solely based on R. Kobre’s selected presentation.
(2) Second, the author has failed to take seriously the legitimate concerns and desires of educated and able women for a greater role in avodat Hashem. Thus, in the course of his citing R. Dov Linzer’s critique of Radical Orthodox Feminism (p. 17), R. Kobre finds it necessary to criticize R. Linzer for empathizing with those women who want to play a more participatory role in ritual. Kobre believes that such compassion and respect encourages theses Feminists to seek unpermitted avenues for themselves. But how can R. Kobre chastise R. Linzer for carrying out what Hazal themselves encouraged him to do: to search for legitimate avenues through which to give women nahat ru’ah (spiritual satisfaction). As to the forbidden avenues R. Kobre is concerned about, these R. Linzer has repeatedly rejected in no uncertain terms. On mark are the following comments of R. Linzer:
While it is necessary for us to explore opportunities to allow for greater inclusion of women in areas of ritual, we cannot allow such an impulse to compromise a rigorous approach to halakha and the halakhic process. If we rightfully take offense when halakha is misread to exclude women’s participation when such a conclusion is not warranted, then we must be extremely careful ourselves not to misread halakha to include women’s participation when the sources do not allow for such a reading. Only if we fully internalize our absolute need to be true to halakha can we be responsibly responsive and inclusive.
The fact is that many halakhically committed women are in search of wider opportunities for unmediated communal rituals. For example, while both men and women are enjoined by Jewish law to pray daily, women need not fulfill their obligation within the context of communal services. Since it is the men who are obligated in public prayer and Torah reading, it is the men who count for the required minyan and lead the community in these rituals. Thus, from the perspective of Orthodox women, public prayer rituals as a rule involve the intermediacy of men. While this may be the halakhic reality, there are many women who are nevertheless in search of a more active and meaningful involvement in the spiritual moments of public prayer.
One response has been women’s tefilla (prayer) groups which give many women nahat ru’ah; ease the discomfort some women feel at permanent exclusion from minyan; intensify concentration and kavana; provide an opportunity to sing praise to God, out loud, without fear of objections related to kol isha; encourage more serious study of the tefillot, Torah portions and haftarot; enhance diversity of practice, within halakhic parameters, of the Jewish community; and consequently strengthen the perception that Orthodox Judaism is sensitive to individual spiritual needs. It is true that the rabbinate has been seriously split on the advisability of such prayer groups – for a variety of hashkafic and public policy grounds. But if the verdict is indeed in the negative on this innovation, some appropriate meaningful alternatives must be seriously considered. As avi mori R. Norman E. Frimer z”l would wisely say: “To succeed as educators and religious leaders, it is not enough to say (Psalms 34, 15): ‘Sur me-ra‘ (steer clear of evil) – you must also suggest a good alternative, ‘va-aseh tov‘ (and do good).” After all, disqualifying a particular response to the desire of women for greater religious involvement does not delegitimize the fundamental validity of that underlying need – certainly, if it has been affirmed by Hazal themselves!
(3) Somewhat related to the issue of women’s tefilla groups, is the issue of how the Orthodox community celebrates life cycle events. In the case of a male child there are a variety of events, such as shalom zakhar, brit mila, pidyon ha-ben, bar-mitsva (including keri’at haTorah, aliyya, haftara, devar Torah and even serving as hazzan), aufruf and/or Shabbat hatan. For daughters the opportunities and the spiritual quality of the celebrations are much more limited. Women’s prayer groups often serve as the venue for such communal celebrations. Indeed, women, who are only marginally involved in tefilla groups on a regular basis, do eagerly attend when some special occasion or event is celebrated – be it a simhat bat (or zeved ha-bat), bat mitsva, engagement, Shabbat kalla, or a women’s Megilla reading. However, if, as noted above, the verdict is indeed in the negative on tefilla groups, then nahat ru’ah considerations require the rabbinate to actively seek out meaningful ways and appropriate frameworks to celebrate these formative and transitional moments.
(4) R. Eytan Kobre is correct for criticizing those elements of Modern Orthodoxy which encourage women’s aliyyot and “Partnership Minyanim.” Indeed, the overwhelming consensus of posekim maintains that these practices enjoy no halakhic sanction and are beyond the pale. But as noted above, Hazal have bidden us to be concerned with women’s spiritual satisfaction – and R. Kobre does not acknowledge as legitimate many rituals, benedictions and prayers which a large cadre of first class posekim have permitted women to perform in public. For example, inasmuch as women are halakhically obligated in hearing the Megilla, the notion of a women’s Megilla reading for women poses less of a problem for rabbinic authorities than does the idea of a women’s prayer group. As a result, a long list of posekim – including rabbinic leaders in Agudas Yisroel (Agudath Israel) – concur that there is little if any halakhic problem with women reading Megilla for themselves, individually or in a large group. Indeed, women’s Megilla readings have become quite popular in Israel and around the world because it is an example of a truly permissible unmediated ritual, referred to above. Despite the substantial halakhic support for these practices, why is there a refusal in the Yeshivish/Haredi community to even tolerate this practice?
Similarly, despite the widespread impression to the contrary, women too, are obligated by the majority of posekim to recite Birkat haGomel in the .presence of a minyan. They may rise in the women’s section and say it as the whole congregation responds. Furthermore, Shulhan Arukh rules clearly that three or more women can make their own zimmun prior to birkat ha-mazon. Indeed, R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l indicates that three women, who ate with fewer than three men, may make a zimmun even in the presence of the men, and the latter may join in the response “barukh she-akhalnu …”. Finally, there is also substantial rabbinic precedent for women to recite kaddish for a deceased relative. If there is indeed such ample and distinguished halakhic support for each of these practices, why do they continually come under attack from the right?
Undoubtedly, R. Kobre will express an honest concern for the propriety of these practices because they are relatively novel. However, many gedolim are already on record indicating that public policy considerations should sway the rabbinic leadership to encourage their practice. Indeed, R. Ahron Soloveichik’s comments regarding kaddish yetoma:
Nowadays, when there are Jews fighting for equality for men and women in matters such as aliyyot, if Orthodox rabbis prevent women from saying kaddish when there is a possibility for allowing it, it will strengthen the influence of Reform and Conservative rabbis. It is, therefore, forbidden to prevent women from saying kaddish.
In a similar spirit, the outstanding American posek, R. Joseph Elijah Henkin writes:
It is known that were it not for kaddish, many would refrain from teaching prayer to their sons and would not come to synagogue. When they come because of kaddish, they also come a bit closer to Judaism the rest of the year; and for that reason itself, one should not rebuff the na’arot [girls] either, since it fosters closeness to Judaism.
Finally, regarding women’s Megilla readings, R. Ovadiah Yosef writes:
The custom of women who make a minyan by themselves for mikra Megilla… should be encouraged.
Yes, R. Eytan Kobre has given Modern Orthodoxy a piece of his mind. But has this same ish emet admonished his own community for ignoring Hazal‘s concern for women’s nahat ru’ah? Has he challenged the Yeshivish/Haredi community for its intolerance of religious practices sanctioned and supported by preeminent Gedolim? Indeed! Let us keep the conversation on Orthodox Feminism honest. Serious Torah discourse deserves nothing less!
 This paper is dedicated to the memory of imi morati haRabbanit Esther Miriam Frimer a”h – the first Orthodox Feminist in my life. I would like to publicly thank (in alphabetical order) Maier Becker, R. Dov Frimer, R. Shael Frimer, Joseph Kaplan, Rachel Levmore, Menachem Malkosh, Joel Rich, David Schaps, Shira Leibowitz Schmidt, Uriella Shames, Risa Tsohar, R. Eli Turkel and Joel B. Wolowelsky for reviewing earlier versions of the manuscript and for their constructive criticism and perceptive comments. The author, however, bears sole responsibility for the final product.
 R. Eytan Kobre, “Orthodox Feminism: Keeping the Conversation Honest,” Dialogue, 1:1 (Spring 5771/2011), pp. 3-24.
 (a) Aryeh A. Frimer, “Feminist Innovations in Orthodoxy Today: Is Everything in Halakha – Halakhic?” JOFA Journal, 5:2, pp. 3-5 (Summer 2004/Tammuz 5764) – available online at: http://www.jofa.org/pdf/JOFASummerFinal1.pdf (PDF). (b) Aryeh A. Frimer, “On Understanding and Compassion in Pesak Halakha – A Rejoinder,” JOFA Journal, 5:3, p. 6 (Winter 2005/Tevet-Shvat 5765) – available online at: http://www.jofa.org/pdf/JOFAWinter%20pdf.pdf (PDF). (c) R. Aryeh A. Frimer, “Guarding the Treasure: A Review of Tamar Ross, Expanding the Palace of the King –Orthodoxy and Feminism,” BDD – Journal of Torah and Scholarship, 18, English section, pp. 67-106 (April 2007) – available online at http://www.jofa.org/pdf/uploaded/1206-DQLN0171.pdf (PDF); (d) R. Aryeh A. Frimer, “Lo Zo haDerekh: A Review of Rabbi Prof. Daniel Sperber’s Darka shel Halakha,” The Seforim Blog (12 June 2008) – available online at: http://tinyurl.com/68pcur. (e) R. Aryeh A. Frimer and R. Dov I. Frimer, “Partnership Minyanim,” Text and Texture (Rabbinical Council of America), May 23, 2010 – available online at http://text.rcarabbis.org/?p=909.
 Indeed, a respected friend of mine wryly commented, “Who would’ve thunk it, Frimer, that you, of all people, would become a leading spokesman for Agudas Yisroel!”
 Bava Metsi’a, 107a; Bava Batra 60b.
 On p. 14, line 6, the author describes Dr. Tova Hartman as “an influential Orthodox feminist scholar and wife of an equally prominent left-wing Orthodox leader.” Contrary to this descriptive, Tova Hartman is the daughter of R. Prof. David Hartman and the sister of R. Dr. Donniel Hartman. She is not presently married.
 See the comments of R. Gil Student, Hirhurim – Musings, “New Periodical: Dialogue 1:1” (May 22, 2011); available online at https://www.torahmusings.com/2011/05/new-periodical-dialogue-11/.
 Sifra, Parsheta 2; Hagiga 16b.
 See the review of the first issue of Dialogue by R. Harry Maryles, Emes ve-Emunah, May 22, 2011; available online at http://haemtza.blogspot.com/2011/05/dialogue.html.
 R. Dov Linzer, “A Response to ‘Women’s Eligibility to Write Sifrei Torah,’” Meorot: A Forum of Modern Orthodox Discourse, 6:2 (Marheshvan 5768; November 2007) pp. Linzer 1-11, at p. 11 – available online at http://tinyurl.com/23eqjl (PDF). See also the comments of R. Emanuel Feldman, “Orthodox Feminism and Feminist Orthodoxy” Jewish Action, 70:2 (Winter 5760/1999), pp. 12-17 at p. 15 – available online at http://www.ou.org/publications/ja/5760winter/orthodox%20feminism.pdf (PDF).
 See: Aryeh A. Frimer, “Women and Minyan,” Tradition, 23:4, 54-77 (Summer 1988). PDF file available online at: http://www.jofa.org/pdf/Batch%201/0019.pdf (PDF).
 Gitelle Rapoport, Letter to the Editor, Tradition, 33:2 (Winter 1999), p. 82.
 See the discussion in Aryeh A. Frimer and Dov I. Frimer, “Women’s Prayer Services: Theory and Practice. Part 1 – Theory,” Tradition, 32:2 (Winter 1998), pp. 5-118, text following note 25. PDF file available online at: http://www.jofa.org/pdf/Batch%201/0021.pdf (PDF).
 A former student of mine recently commented: “Being so blithely tossed aside by the likes of R. Kobre is, in some ways, quite liberating. If I am already on the outside, perhaps I am no longer subject to the will of halakhic insiders. I can go off to a Partnership Minyan, trusting that the G-d who created me knows who I am and that the halakhic establishment surely does not. So, in some ways, he provides a fine impetus for women stepping outside the camp and indulging in extra-halakhic practices. It is people like you and R. Linzer that create the problem. If I am being addressed with seriousness, with compassion, with respect for my intelligence and with encouragement for shouldering ol ha-mitsvot with my brother Jews, then I am forced to behave like an insider – weigh the words of the Rabbis and Sages, consider the practices of my sisters in more traditional segments of the community and curb my appetite for halakhically questionable practices that, by any other measure, might make perfect sense to me.”
A prominent talmidat hakham and To’enet Rabbanit had this to say regarding the seeming insensitivity of the right wing Rabbinate, as reflected in R. Kobre’s piece: “There are real issues that pain Orthodox women and men. When the ‘truly Orthodox’ rabbinic establishment totally ignores the legitimate pain and problems, even as they become more and more intense, and chooses to put up barricades to prevent the pain from even being heard – they have only themselves to blame for those who defect, trying to resolve the problem on their own. The pain of being ignored, cast aside, left in limbo, castigated for having an opinion – will not stay bottled up in today’s day and age. When the ‘truly Orthodox’ rabbinate prefers to keep its blinders on, by their very own hands, they are turning the sensitive and needy into the type of individual R. Kobre finds abhorrent.”
 See notes 3d and 3e, supra, and the references cited therein. In particular, in a lecture given in July 2009, R. Joshua Shapiro reported on a conference (held several years before) of the religious Zionist rabbinic organization “Tzohar.” A halakhic forum, comprised of Rabbis Jacob Ariel, Shlomo Aviner, Chaim Druckman and Aaron Lichtenstein, concluded that Kehillat Shira Hadasha has crossed the red line of what could legitimately be considered Orthodox practice; see: http://www.yrg.org.il/show.asp?id=33537. R. David Stav, Chairman of Tzohar (conversation with DIF, Oct. 16, 2009), confirmed the accuracy of this report.
 These and many other issues have been previously discussed by Joel B. Wolowelsky; see: Joel B. Wolowelsky, Women, Jewish Law and Modernity: New Opportunities in a Post-Feminist Age (Hoboken, N.J.: Ktav, Inc., 1997); Joel B. Wolowelsky “Feminism and Judaism: Women, Tradition, and the Women’s Movement, by Michael Kaufman – Review,” Judaism 47 (Fall 1998), p. 499; Joel B. Wolowelsky, “Embers to Radical Flames,” Hamevaser, Tevet 5759 (January 1999).
 See the discussion in (a) Aryeh A. Frimer and Dov I. Frimer, “Women’s Prayer Services: Theory and Practice. Part 1 – Theory,” Tradition, 32:2 (Winter 1998), pp. 5-118, text following note 25. PDF file available online at: http://www.jofa.org/pdf/Batch%201/0021.pdf (PDF); (b) Aryeh A. Frimer, “Women’s Megillah Reading,” in Traditions and Celebrations for the Bat Mitzvah, Ora Wiskind Elper, ed. (Jerusalem: Urim, 2003), pp. 281-304. PDF file available online at: http://tinyurl.com/63xfmpn (DOC).
 In the words of R. David Feinstein: “You can’t forbid women from doing that in which they’re obligated.” See the discussion in Aryeh A. Frimer and Dov I. Frimer, supra, note 17a, note 221 therein.
 R. Hayyim Joseph David Azulai, Birkei Yosef, O.H., 219:2; R. Elijah Shapiro, Elya Rabba O.H., 219:12; R. Schneur Zalman of Lyady, Seder Birkat haNehenin 13:3; R. Yaacov Emden, Siddur Sha’arei Shamayim, Birkat haGomel, 2; R. Ephraim Margaliyot, Sha’arei Efrayyim 4, Pithei Sha’arim 28; R. Joseph Hayyim, Ben Ish Hai, Ekev, 5; R. Abraham Danzig, Hayyei Adam 65:2; R. Eliezer Waldenberg, Resp. Tziz Eliezer 13, 17; R. Barukh Goldberg, Penei Barukh, Bikur Holim keHilkhato 2:33 – see also comments of R. Y.Y. Fisher therein who notes that the custom nowadays is that women do make the haGomel blessing; R. Abraham Alkalai, Zekhor le-Avraham II, O.H. II, sec. 12; R. Judah Samuel Ashkenazi, Siddur Beit Oved, Birkat haGomel laws 22; R. Jacob Culi, me-Am Lo’ez, Vayera, p. 348; Derech Yeshara 2, 12.
 R. Hayyim ben Israel Benveniste, Knesset haGedola, O.H., 219:9 – cited by Birkei Yosef, O.H., 219:2; R. Shneur Zalman of Lyady, Seder Birkat haNehenin 13:3; R. Judah Ashkenazi, Be’er Hetev, ibid. no. 1; Mishna Berura, ibid., no. 3; Kaf HaHayyim, ibid. no. 3; R. Ovadiah Yosef, Yehave Da’at IV:15, note 1; R. Ovadiah Yosef, Resp. Yabia Omer, VIII:22, no. 10; R. Barukh Pinhas Goldberg, Penei Barukh, Bikur Holim keHilkhato 2:33, note 80.
 Shulhan Arukh, O.H., 199, no. 6; Encyclopedia Talmudit, XII, “Zimmun” sec. 8. See also: R. Ari Z. Zivotofsky and Naomi T.S. Zivotofsky, “What’s Right with Women and Zimmun” Judaism, 42:4(168), (Fall, 1993) pp. 453-464; R. Ari Z. Zivotofsky, “Legal-ease: What’s the Truth about … Women’s Zimmun?,” Jewish Action, 60:1 (Fall 5760/1999), p. 52; Joel B. Wolowelsky, Women, Jewish Law and Modernity: New Opportunities in a Post-Feminist Age (Hoboken, N.J.: Ktav, Inc., 1997), pp. 34-42; Joel B. Wolowelsky, “Women and Zimmun,” in Traditions and Celebrations for the Bat Mitzvah, Ora Wiskind Elper, ed. (Jerusalem: Urim, 2003), pp. 257-268.
 R. David Auerbach, Halikhot Beita 12:7. n. 14. R. Aharon Lichtenstein, in an oral communication to R. Dov. I. Frimer, concurs.
 For recent reviews, see: Joel B. Wolowelsky, “Women and Kaddish,” Judaism 44:3 (Summer 1995), pp. 282-290; Joel B. Wolowelsky, Women, Jewish Law and Modernity: New Opportunities in a Post-Feminist Age (Hoboken, N.J.: Ktav, 1997), pp. 84-94; R. Reuven Fink, “The Recital of Kaddish by Women,” The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society 31 (Spring 1996), pp. 23-37; R. Yehuda Herzl Henkin, Letter to the Editor, The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society 32 (Fall 1996), pp. 97-102; reprinted in Equality Lost: Essays in Torah, Halacha and Jewish Thought (Jerusalem: Urim, 1999), pp. 42-53; R. Yisroel Taplin, Ta’arikh Yisrael, sec. 19, no. 19, note 34; R. Eliav Shochetman, “Aliyot Nashim la-Torah,” Kovets haRambam (Jerusalem: Mossad haRav Kook, 5765/2005) [Sinai 68:135-136], pp. 271-349, at p. 341 and note 306. See also the collection of articles at: http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/tfila/kadish/legufo-2.htm.
 R. Ahron Soloveichik, Od Yisrael Yosef Beni Hai, end of sec. 32, p. 100.
 R. Joseph Elijah Henkin, Kitvei haGri Henkin, II, Teshuvot Ibra, sec. 4, no. 1; see also R. Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, cited in Ta’arikh Yisrael, supra, note 23; Resp. Iggerot Moshe, O.H., V, sec. 12, no. 2.
 R. Ovadiah Yosef, Yabia Omer, VIII, O.H., sec. 56, end of no. 4.