Reprinted with permission:
Article from Tradition 32:3 (Spring 1998)
Letters from Tradition 33:2 (Winter 1999)

Rabbi Mayer Twersky
Rabbi Mayer Twersky

Rabbi Twersky holds the Merkin chair in Talmud and Jewish
Philosophy at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.

Halakhic Values and Halakhic Decisions: Rav Soloveitchik's Pesak Regarding Women's Prayer Groups


     The discussion regarding women's tefilla groups has regrettably focused excessively on technical issues and legalities. It has been framed by limited halakhic queries such as: may the participants forgo tefilla be-tsibbur to attend these groups? May menstruant women touch sifrei Torah? Undoubtedly such technical perspectives and narrow questions are necessary to ensure our compliance with all minutiae of halakha. Torah, however, consists not only of halakhic details, but also of halakhic values. Unfortunately the latter have been neglected in the discussion concerning women's tefilla groups. When halakha is fragmented and truncated in such a fashion, it can be neither interpreted nor implemented correctly.

     The approach of Rav Soloveitchik zt"l differed. The Rav's consistent opposition to women's tefilla groups was dictated by halakhic values, not halakhic details. This article attempts to elucidate the Rav's axiological opposition to these groups. As a prolegomenon to such a discussion, we are obligated to review, at least partially, some major halakhic values and reiterate their centrality. In so doing our efforts are best characterized by the resonant introductory words of the Mesilat Yesharim:

I have written this work not to teach men what they do not know but to remind them what they already know and is very evident to them; for you will find in most of my words only things which most people know and concerning which they entertain no doubts. But to the extent that they are well known and their truths revealed to all, so is forgetfulness in relation to them extremely prevalent.[1]


     The dimension of Torah which we are reviewing is composed of concepts, values, attitudes, emotions and the like. In some instances these broad imperatives constitute separate mitsvot, while in others they are integrated with concrete particulars in the same mitsva. For instance, in addition to the issur melakha which bans specific forms of labor on Shabbat, the Torah ordains that the character of Shabbat must be safe-guarded-i.e., it must be a day of rest and repose. This requirement of Shabbaton is not defined in terms of a particular action or actions; rather, it obligates us to maintain the spirit or elan of Shabbat.

     Nahmanides elaborates upon the concept of Shabbaton:

It appears to me that the midrash [according to which "Shabbaton" bans non-melakha activities as well] teaches that we are commanded to desist on the holidays even from things which do not constitute melakha#8212;that one should not exert himself all day to measure grain and weigh fruits and fill barrels of wine, and move utensils and even stones from house to house and place to place . . . and the marketplace would be crowded for all transactions . . . since all this would have been permitted on the holidays and even on Shabbat itself because none of these activities involve melakha, therefore the Torah said "Shabbaton" that it should be a day of rest and repose, not exertion . . .[2]

     In observing Shabbat our behavior must be technically correct- i.e., we must not perform melakha. But we are also obligated to maintain the elan of Shabbat. This requirement, as detailed by Nahmanides, precludes a wide range and array of non-melakha activities. A contemporary addition to Nahmanides' list of prohibited non-melakha activities would be taking advantage of an eruv to dress in shorts and t-shirts and engage in sports on Shabbat. Such anomalous behavior does not involve any technical violations of the particulars of Shabbat,but it certainly conflicts with the principle of Shabbaton, the elan of Shabbat; [3] such behavior is therefore unequivocally wrong.

     Nahmanides' sensitivity to the principles of Torah, elan of mitsvot and values of halakha forms a spiritualizing leitmotif of his exegetical oeuvre. Perhaps the most famous instance of this sensitivity is his exposition of the mitsva of kedoshim te-hiyu ("be holy").[4] Nahmanides elaborates upon the terse comment of Hazal, who define holiness as abstinence. He graphically depicts how, lacking an imperative of kedusha, one could have technically conformed to all laws and by-laws of the Torah, and yet lead a brutish existence. In Nahmanides' coinage, one could have been a "scoundrel with license from the Torah". Gluttony, vulgarity, and excessive conjugality inter alia are all possible without violating any particulars of Torah. The principle of holiness closes this gaping breach in the wall of spirituality. It demands that our behavior be not only technically correct and legalistically acceptable but also spiritually consistent and religiously worthy. [5]

     The particulars of Torah-prescriptions and prohibitions for well defined circumstances-dictate behavior and govern actions. As such, they must be studied diligently and implemented meticulously. Such study can make one proficient and even an expert in these areas of Torah. The elan of Torah-its religious principles, values, and attitudes- nurtures the personality and molds the matrix of actions. Consequently, study must be coupled with experience. One must initially observe and ultimately share the experience of Torah with Torah personalities. Torah values are absorbed by osmosis. This is the essence of Hazal's teaching that

apprenticeship to [a] Torah [scholar] is greater than the study of Torah as is stated [regarding the prophet Elisha] "who poured water over the hands of Elijah" the verse does not say "who studied", rather "who poured".[6]

     One who studies with a Torah sage can master the technical prescriptions, prohibitions and legal formulae of Torah; one who apprentices himself to a Torah sage can assimilate the existential rhythm, ontological emotions, and cardinal values of halakhic living.

     A striking formulation of the need for an existential link with Torah sages is provided by the Sefer Hasidim, interpreting the rabbinic aphorism that "a person should always be cunning in his fear of God." [7] Sefer Hasidimexplains that in situations not specifically addressed by the Torah one is obligated to intuit and subsequently, in accord with this intuition, comply with the divine will. Significantly, reflecting the previously quoted teaching of Hazal, Sefer Hasidim emphasizes that such powers of intuition cannot be gleaned from book knowledge; rather they must be fostered as part of the oral transmission from master to disciple.

     There may be a devout person whose heart turns to do God's will and yet he does not perform as many good deeds as the wise devout person, because the latter received [the complete mesora] from his master, and his friend did not perform as many good deeds because he did not receive [the complete mesora] from his master. Had he known he would have fulfilled because [our sages] said, "one should always be cunning in his fear of God" . . . and we find in the Torah that one who can discern [God's will] even though he was not commanded to implement it, is punished for failure to do so. As it says, "Moshe became angry with the officers of the army . . .  and he said to them, 'have you spared the womenfolk?'" And why did they not answer him "and why [should we have killed them]? You did not instruct us to kill the women?" But Moshe knew that they were wise and expert to reason . . .[8]

     Rav Soloveitchik zt"l constantly highlighted the symbiotic coupling and indispensable complementarity of particulars and principles, law and spirit. Normative action must be anchored in a religious personality, technical conformity must be consistent with the elan of Torah.

     There are two covenants: the first which God concluded with the patriarchs, and the second which God concluded with Moses on Mt. Sinai. The nature of the Sinaitic covenant was a commitment to the fulfillment of commandments. It is a bond of obligation. The patriarchal covenant on the other hand, has no commandments included in it with the exception of circumcision. Yet the two are connected . . . The Sinaitic covenant relates to the human deed. The patriarchal covenant relates to the fundamental essence of a person. It teaches man how to feel or to experience as a human being. [9]

     Mesora encompasses not only analytic novella, abstract theories, halakhic formulae and logical concepts . . . but also ontological patterns, emotions and reactions, a certain existential rhythm and experiential continuity. Complete transmission of the mesora is only possible by means of intimate connection with the previous generation.[10]

     In sum, halakha is a two-tiered system consisting of concrete, particularized commandments governing our actions as well as abstract, general imperatives governing the matrix of our actions. Some abstract imperatives focus exclusively on the elan of a specific mitsva; e.g., the commandment Shabbaton ensures the spiritual character of Shabbat. Others are all-encompassing, establishing universal values and standards of conduct; e.g. kedoshim te-hiyu. The Torah legislates not only actions, but also de'ot (ethical-moral-religious-intellectual dispositions). It prescribes ritual but also establishes boundaries for the concomitant religious experience.


     The reason for halakha's binary system is self-evident. The Torah is not content with ensuring technically correct behavior; it also seeks to mold the human personality. Accordingly, it is concerned not only with our actions but also the etiology and telos of those actions as well. The dual focus of Torah law has important repercussions for the methodology of pesak. Any contemplated action or course of action must be evaluated on two levels. We must investigate if it is technically correct and permissible-viz, are any particulars of Torah violated. In addition, we must determine if the proposal is consistent with Torah principles, attitudes, values and concepts. The permissibility or appropriateness of any particular action or initiative can only be determined after such a two-pronged analysis-practical and axiological.

     This latter concern, which we have dubbed axiological, may alternatively be described as hashkafic or public policy. Phraseology and nomenclature per se are unimportant. It is, however, vitally important that we recognize that the axiological concern is not optional or supererogatory. It is not, in halakhic terminology, merely a middat hasidut or mitsva min ha-muvhar. Instead it is an integral part of our Torah and tradition, and compliance therewith is mandatory. Accordingly, hakhmei ha-mesora transmit and implement both tiers of our mesora - viz, the technical-practical as well as the emotional-axiological. Questions regarding the kashrut of food are submitted to Torah sages; so too are inquiries regarding aspects of kedoshim te-hiyu.

     Moreover, the axiological questions are oftentimes more subtle and intricate. It can be exceedingly difficult to discern in which situations abstract or broadly formulated concepts are relevant. A profound understanding of Torah coupled with keen insight into reality is necessary to initially recognize and ultimately resolve axiological questions.

     The responsa of R. David Tsevi Hoffman zt"l, the universally acclaimed Torah sage who headed the rabbinical seminary in Berlin during the first two decades of the twentieth century, illumine and illustrate the dual concern and expertise of hakhmei ha-mesora. Rav Hoffman, as did many contemporary gedolei Yisrael, responded to the proposal of French rabbis to institute conditional kidushin-i.e., the betrothal would be predicated upon the condition that the couple remained together. In the event that the marriage failed and resulted in civil divorce, then the pre-condition of the kidushin would not have been satisfied, thereby invalidating the kidushin and obviating the need for a religious divorce. The French rabbis advocated a similar approach to avoid halitsa as well. In his responsa, Rav Hoffman enumerated many insurmountable technical problems. Then, writing with great pathos, he added

I will say one more thing which to my mind is exceedingly important . . . if we who are zealous for the word of God will imitate the heretics to negate the institution of gittin and halitsa by means of conditional kidushin, even if we would say that it is being accomplished in a permissible fashion, nevertheless what will the reformist rabbis say: behold those Orthodox [rabbis] have conceded that their laws are no good and the temper of the times cannot tolerate them . . . and they have thereby conceded that the temper of the times is mightier than antiquated laws. And what can we possibly say in response? Is there, God forbid, a greater desecration of God's name? Consequently in my opinion conditional kidushin should not be instituted under any circumstances.[11]

     Rav Hoffman clearly evaluated the proposal practically and axiologically. Accordingly, he concluded that even if one could practically design conditional kidushin and avoid violating the particulars of halakha, nevertheless it would be absolutely wrong to do so because etiologically it would signify ideational assimilation, thereby profaning God's name. Only a sage completely sensitized to the axiological framework of Torah would be in a position to make such a ruling.

     Practical or active assimilation is overt and conspicuous. The assimilationist performs melakha on Shabbat or consumes non-kosher food, etc. Ideological or ideational assimilation by contrast, which almost always precedes and inexorably results in practical assimilation, is oftentimes subtle and beguiling. It can be clothed in technical halakhic compliance, thereby masking the ideological deviation. Rav Hoffman discerned this phenomenon in the French proposal, and issued his halakhic ruling accordingly.


     Advocates of women's tefilla groups reason that these gatherings provide women with active, participatory roles in prayer, thereby enhancing the tefilla experience. No longer cloistered behind a mehitsa, women actively lead the tefilla, deepening their religious experience. The proponents hasten to add that if devarim she-bi-kdusha are omitted and keriat haTorah is not simulated then no technical violations occur. Ergo, opposition to such groups appears misogynist or reactionary.

     The foregoing, unidimensional analysis is seriously flawed. It fails to axiologically evaluate women's tefilla groups. By contrast, the Rav's analysis of such groups extended beyond the technical prescriptions and prohibitions of tefilla, and focused upon its axiology. What is the Torah's concept of prayer, and does it allow for women's tefilla groups?

     Rambam, reflecting the words of Hazal, conceptualizes and codifies the obligation and act of prayer as follows:

It is a positive commandment to pray daily as it is stated, "and you shall serve Hashem your God". Tradition teaches that this service is prayer, as is stated "and to serve Him with all your heart". The sages said, "what constitutes service of the heart? prayer."[12]

     Halakha defines prayer as service of the heart. As formulated by the Rav in halakhic terminology, recitation of the text of tefilla merely constitutes the formal ma'ase ha-mitsva; the kiyyum ha-mitsva, however, is a kiyyum she-ba-lev.[13] Authentic prayer is an inner experience; a person calls out to God from the innermost depths of his being and attempts to articulate the fundamental religious emotions of love, fear, and absolute dependence.[14]

     In a remarkably powerful article-in truth more a soliloquy-the Rav amplified the concept of avoda she-ba-lev, graphically depicting the spontaneous expression of inner religious life and emotions. Such an existential outpouring has no need for externalities; thus Judaism has traditionally excluded pomp and circumstance from the synagogue. With an almost palpable sense of anguish, the Rav decried the extroversion of prayer resulting from increased artificiality and ceremonialism.

An overflow of heartfulness and soulfulness, the sound of "out of distress I called", "from the depths I have called you, Hashem"; this is the melodiousness of service of the heart, in which form drowns in content, prose in emotion, and outwardness in inwardness. Here the heart and truth react. I imagine to myself the awe of Yom Kippurim in the beit midrash of the Ba'al Shem Tov or the Ba'al haTanya, ob"m. There they certainly did not employ music, choirs and pomp. There were no platforms decorated with rugs, flowers and rabbis trained in linguistic expression and pleasant manners . . . Does a spring which gushes forth from the ground with mighty primordial power need any artificial form to grant it majesty and dignity? Does the lava which is spewn from a volcano need to flow according to the rules of hollow and empty decorum? Their beauty, the majesty of strength, is revealed precisely in their naturalness, originality and spontaneity. And is not man who supplicates his Creator a gushing spring or even a mountain spewing fire? It is clear that prayer is the antithesis of ceremony with regard to the relationship between content and form, heart and word. Thus all these aesthetic emendations in prayer, instead of deepening the experiences will rob it of its content and soul.

The other characteristics of ceremony are also exposed as [an inauthentic] hybrid with service of the heart. If genuine prayer is performed in the heart, there is no need for a master of ceremonies who will mediate between the congregation and the Creator . . . There is no need for the rabbi to stand on a platform, bedecked in "priestly vestments", and conduct services. He and the simple Jew are of equal lineage before the Omnipresent and it is incumbent upon [both of] them to pray on the lower level of the synagogue without any distinction . . . .[15]

     The Rav authored this soliloquy over thirty years ago, long before women's tefilla groups were conceived. Nevertheless, his impassioned words also articulate with remarkable prescience and precision his unwavering opposition to such groups. We need only to shift the critical lens from inauthentic ceremonialism to misplaced emphasis on active participation and leadership. The Torah defines tefilla as service of the heart; how can this inner religious experience be genuinely enhanced by extroverted, active participation? Genuine prayer abhors ostentatiousness and flees from the public eye. The prophetic account of Hanna, which is the source for many basic hilkhot tefilla, graphically portrays her as totally engrossed in prayer, oblivious to the negative impression forming in Eili's mind.[16] Hanna, the quintessential supplicant, seeks neither approbation nor active participation, nor leadership; instead she seeks and beseeches God to find solace for her troubled soul. The desire for and emphasis upon active participation and leadership are antithetical to genuine service of the heart and contribute to the extroversion of prayer. Technical compliance with the particulars of hilkhot tefilla notwithstanding, women's tefilla groups distort the fundamental concept and experience of tefilla

     The section from the Rav's soliloquy quoted above concludes with the following axiological perspective:

It is not my intention to enter into the halakhic details with regard to the prohibition of standing on a platform for tefilla, but one thing I know, that standing in a place above that of the congregation is at odds with service of the heart, which expresses the sentiment of "from the depths."

     In his unwavering fealty to and sensitive understanding of halakha, the Rav could not be content with technical halakhic conformity while extroverted ceremonialism distorted the concept of tefilla. Accordingly, the Rav forcefully registered his disapproval.

     The Rav's consistent, unequivocal opposition to women's tefilla groups was of the same ilk. Once again a shift in focus (but not substance) directs the Rav's words to the contemporary issue and provides the compelling rationale for his steadfast opposition to such groups: It is not my intention to enter into the halakhic technicalities of women's tefilla groups, but one thing I know, that desiring and emphasizing active participation and leadership are antithetical to authentic service of the heart., which expresses the sentiment of "from the depths".

     The foregoing analysis of the Rav's axiological opposition to women's tefilla groups illumines his careful choice of words in expressing his unequivocal opposition. The Rav consistently ruled that these groups were wrong, but did not invoke the term assur. The reason for the Rav's nuanced formulation is that Hazal in many instances highlighted the difference between technical and axiological infractions by delineating different categories of impermissible behavior. Whereas the former are always labeled assur, the latter, though categorically wrong and impermissible, are classified as ein ruah hakhamim nohe mi-menu, or alternately without classification unequivocally censured. For instance, the Talmud states explicitly that it is impermissible to renege on an oral commitment to finalize a business transaction and yet conspicuously avoids the term assur, opting instead for the phrase ein ruah hakhamim nohe mi-menu.[17] Similarly, although betrothing in the marketplace is not technically assur, nevertheless, according to halakha, this vulgar practice is clearly wrong and, as such, is punishable by lashes. The same strict punishment is imposed upon one who betroths without prior engagement, though this act too is not technically classified as assur.[18] In sum, although axiological principles are sacrosanct and any deviation therefrom is severely censured, nevertheless the term assur is often reserved for technical violations. And thus, while the Rav consistently opposed women's tefilla groups on axiological grounds, he avoided the term assur.

     Before concluding this section, the following must be briefly noted. While the Rav's opposition to women's tefilla groups in general was axiological, he opposed women's megilla readings (wherein a woman reads the megilla for other women) in particular for technical reasons as well, citing inter alia Magen Avraham's ruling disallowing this practice.[19]


     Women's tefilla groups distort not only tefilla but also the standing and status of women within Yahadut. Consistent with the axiomatic metaphysical equality which it bestows upon the genders,[20] the Torah manifests profound and equal concern for the spiritual welfare of women and men, and directs both genders along the path of religious fulfillment and perfection. By contrast, women's tefilla groups nolens volens lead to the inevitable conclusion that the Torah has, God forbid, shortchanged women.

     This inexorable logical process unfolds as follows. Prayer, as the Rav explained, is a staple of our religious existence.

It is impossible to envision service of God without prayer. What is prayer? The expression via the oral medium of the soul which yearns for God . . . If the Torah had not charged [us] with prayer as the sole medium of expressing inner service- we would not have known what a person whose soul thirsts for the living God should do when he seeks God. Is it conceivable that Judaism wanted man to suppress his experience? On the contrary! The halakha has always been concerned with the expression of the inner life.[21]

     Accordingly, if, God forbid, halakha were to discriminate against women in the realm of tefilla, it would eo ipso suppress their religious experience and stifle their spiritual aspirations. Such a religious handicap would relegate them to spiritual mediocrity.

     This false, egregious conclusion replete with potentially tragic ramifications is dictated by women's tefilla groups. These groups are predicated upon the mistaken notion that the experience of tefilla is enhanced by assuming active roles and conversely is stunted when such roles are off-limits. And yet women's tefilla groups, conducted with even minimal technical allegiance to the particulars of halakha, cannot provide their participants with the same or even equivalent active roles to those that are available to men praying with a quorum. Within such groups it is impossible to recite devarim she-bi-kdusha as such, fulfill the mitsva of keriat haTorah, etc. And thus, according to the mistaken premise of the tefilla groups, women's religious life remains muted even within such groups.

     The participants in women's tefilla groups will, within the present generation, become intellectually and existentially aware of the failure of such groups and the concomitant false yet inevitable conclusion regarding women's standing within Yahadut. We must recognize that the possible ramifications of this falsehood are especially frightening and particularly tragic. Propelled by negative momentum and misguided by erroneous teachings, some women, God forbid, could reject all remaining halakhic constraints in an unrestrained attempt to enhance their (inauthentic) tefilla experience in particular and religious experience in general. Needless to say, this development would be especially tragic.

     Accordingly, we presently have a grave responsibility to act wisely, and not be drawn into a fool's paradise of religious accomodationism. We must understand and help others to understand that women's tefilla groups, sincere intentions notwithstanding, both reflect as well as generate distortions of Torah principles. Instead of forming such groups we must disseminate authentic Torah teachings regarding tefilla, thereby fostering genuine, profound religious expression and experience.

     Some women articulate a different rationale for the tefilla groups. It is especially gratifying for them to see women filling roles such as shaliah tsibbur etc., traditionally exclusively reserved for men.

     This very rationale, however, invalidates such groups. While the Torah does not discriminate against men or women, it certainly does discriminate between them. A major component of our service of God is gender specific, and thus any attempt-formation of women's groups or otherwise-to blur gender differences and create a unisex egalitarian orthodoxy clashes with Torah principle.[22]

     The testimony, albeit sincere and accurate, offered by some women that the tefilla groups indeed enhance their prayer experience in no way justifies the practice. Subjective experience cannot establish objective truth because often it simply reflects and is pre-determined by one's a priori hopes and desires. Case in point: if one desires to assume an active, leading role within tefilla, upon achieving that goal one naturally feels fulfilled. This subjective, personal experience however only mirrors preliminary aspirations; it does not establish objective truth.

     A modicum of introspection regarding women's tefilla groups exposes a pervasive malaise in our community affecting men and women equally. Our experience of tefilla is at best impoverished. On weekdays, we race the clock in an attempt to make tefilla conform to our hectic schedules. Instead of immersing ourselves in the heartful and soulful experience of prayer, we squeeze it, heartless and soulless, into our routine. On Shabbat and Yom Tov, tefilla, punctuated and at times overwhelmed by congregational chatter, has deteriorated into recitation by rote and mechanical mouthing of words. In this experiential vacuum, where authentic religious experience is all too often lacking, active leading roles appear-to men and women-very significant. Frustrated by the shallowness of our tefilla experience, we (men and women alike) misguidedly try to gratify ourselves by seeking active participatory roles. In truth, however, such pursuits which further externalize prayer only exacerbate the real problem.

     Thus, a vital task awaits us. We must educate and train ourselves to experience in the most profound fashion genuine service of the heart. Such an educational program cannot be fully set forth in the present forum, and thus the ensuing remarks are, at best, schematic and illustrative, but clearly inadequate and incomplete.[23]

     The process must involve careful study of halakhot of the synagogue and biur ha-tefilla. Compliance with these halakhot would eliminate all idle talk at all times from the synagogue, and create an atmosphere conducive for kavana. By virtue of such habitual compliance, we could condition ourselves to banish from the sacred domain of the synagogue all thoughts of politics, the stock market, sports, and the like. Upon entering the bet keneset our mood would instinctively change and become reflective; our attention would be focused upon the impending encounter with the Ribbono Shel Olam. Devoting a few minutes in this rarified spiritual atmosphere to prepare for tefilla would further facilitate our experiencing genuine service of the heart. And finally, engaging in tefilla with the benefit of prior study of the various prayers-their basic themes, structure and vocabulary-would allow us to recite these tefillot thoughtfully, contemplatively focusing upon each word and its religious content rather than mindlessly flipping pages.

     Similarly, we ought to respond educationally to the secular egalitarian impetus for the tefilla groups. We need to expound and internalize the Torah's axiom of dissimilar equality of the two genders. Moreover, we must elucidate the vitally important, heightened spiritual dimension of the feminine role, as delineated by the Torah and our sages.

     Such educational initiatives will, God willing, foster genuine religious experience and satisfaction in general and enhance the tefilla experience in particular. The religious crisis which has spawned women's tefilla groups would thereby be authentically resolved.


 [1] Mesilat Yesharim, Introduction (Feldheim, second ed.), p. 3.

 [2] Commentary to Leviticus 23:24. See also Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Hilkhot Shabbat 24:12-13.

 [3] Vide Arukh haShulkhan, Orah Hayyim 308:70.

 [4] Commentary to Leviticus 19:2.

 [5] My greatly beloved and lamented father and master, the Talner Rebbe hk"m, drew my attention to the following remarkable passage in Nahmanides' commentary to Deuteronomy 21:18, regarding the wayward son (ben sorrer u-more) who is punished with death.

He is punished for two offenses: the first, he disrespects his father and mother and rebels against them, and the second, he is a glutton and drunkard who transgresses the commandment "you shall be holy". Kedusha is the life-blood which sustains religious existence, and without which such existence is impossible.

Nahmanides again underscores the centrality of Torah values in his commentary to the verse "and you shall do that which is just and right" IDeuteronomy 6:18). The interpretation of lifnim mi-shurat ha-din which emerges therefrom provides the key for understanding Hazal's comment in Bava Metsia 30b about the destruction of Jerusalem.

 [6] Berakhot 7b. Of course the need for apprenticeship exists in other areas of Torah study as well; nevertheless, the need is greatest in the area of halakhic values.

 [7] Ibid. 17a.

 [8] Section 153. Vide Rav Akiva Yosef Schlesinger, Lev haIvri vol. II, p.161 (originally published in Hungary, 1869, re-issued in Jerusalem 1989), who cites this passage in connection with contemporary reformers. He compares their conduct to that of Zimri, who insolently questioned Moshe Rabbenu regarding the permissibility of consorting with a Midyanite woman. In fact, Zimri posed his question before the halakha prohibiting gentile women had been communicated to the Jewish people. Nonetheless, the relevant prohibition concerning such anathematic behavior could-and should-have been easily intuited. Accordingly, the very question bespeaks hubris, cynicism and abandonment of Torah. Contemporary reformers, concludes Rav Schlesinger, are equally culpable.

 [9] Rav Soloveitchik, Shiurei haRav, p. 51.

[10]. Idem., BeSod haYahid ve-haYahad, p. 270.

[11]. Melamed leHo'il III, 22, 51.

[12]. Mishne Torah, Hilkhot Tefilla 1:1.

[13]. Vide e.g. Al haTeshuva pp. 41-44.

[14]. Rav Soloveitchik, "Ra'ayanot al haTefilla," HaDarom XLVII.

[15]. "Tefillatam shel Yehudim," in Mayanot, vol. VIII, pp. 9-11.

[16]. Samuel I, 1. B.T. ibid. 31a.

[17]. Bava Metsia 48a, 49a.

[18]. Kidushin 12b. See my article in Jewish Action vol. LVII, no. 4 for additional Talmudic references and examples of unequivocally wrong behavior which are not technically labeled assur.

[19]. Vide Magen Avraham 689:7, subsequently cited by Mishna Berura ad loc. and Hayyei Adam ch. 155. For another relevant source, vide Rama's gloss to 690:8.

[20]. See my article in Jewish Action, ibid. n. 18.

[21]. Ibid. n. 14 pp. 85-6. Cf. Berakhot 20b. The Talmud explains that although tefilla is a mitsvat ase she-ha-zeman gerama (a positive commandment caused by time) and women are ordinarily exempt from such mitsvot, nevertheless they are obligated to pray because prayer is supplication for divine mercy. And thus it is inconceivable that women should be exempt. We might add by way of amplification that it is equally inconceivable that women not be allowed to fully experience prayer.

[22]. Cf. my article in Jewish Action, op. cit. n. 18.

[23]. I am indebted to Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan zt"l for his brief but exceedingly rich article entitled "Davening with Kavana" [The Jewish Observer, vol. XVI, No. 8] which provides many of the suggestions presented here.


Women's Prayer Services

Rabbi Twersky responds:

I thank Ms. Rapoport, Rabbi Angel and Mr. Kaplan for taking the time to read my article and respond.

Ms. Rapoport queries if "men should be faulted for desiring active participation and leadership roles." Undoubtedly the answer is affirmative. Hazal's disapproval of seeking leadership roles is evidenced in the following example. The halakha stipulates that the role of shaliah tsibbur may only be assumed in response to an invitation and from a sense of obligation. For this reason Hazal ordained that one must initially demur when requested to serve in that role, thereby professing his inadequacy. Cf. Berakhot 34a and Rashi ad. loc., s.v. "ye-sarev." (Vide "Torah Perspective on Women's Issues," Jewish Action Vol. LVII, fn. 4.)

Nevertheless, Ms. Rapoport's implied equation between the behavior of men who wrongly seek leadership roles and women's tefilla groups is certainly mistaken. Personal foibles are wrong and must be rectified; however, the institutionalization of such foibles, as is done in forming women's tefilla groups, is egregiously wrong because it seeks to legitimize and perpetuate distortions. Moreover, as explained in my article, the misplaced emphasis on active participation and leadership roles which comprises the raison d'etre of women's tefilla groups not only distorts the Torah's concept of tefilla, but also implies that, God forbid, the halakha discriminates against women and mutes their religious life in denying them leadership roles within tefilla which even the tefilla groups cannot provide. In addition, the egalitarian impulse for women's tefilla groups is also antithetical to Torah. And thus, while it is wrong for men to seek leadership roles, it is simply incorrect to equate their conduct with the formation of women's tefilla groups.

Ms. Rapoport advocates such groups by reasoning that "the experience and effects of active participation vary for different people." Nevertheless, halakha obviously does not sanction the distortion of avoda she-ba-lev and principles of Torah in a misguided attempt to enhance one's tefilla. Furthermore, as explained in my article, "subjective experience cannot establish objective truth because often it simply reflects and is pre-determined by one's a priori  hopes and desires."

Ms. Rapoport is certainly correct in emphasizing quality rather than quantity. Vide Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 1:4. However, "the length of the standard prayer service" is not the problem and accordingly the curtailing of that service is not the solution. Rather, the insufficient time we stintingly devote to tefilla must be increased. In other contexts-academic, professional, etc.-we succeed in maintaining a high level of concentration as we strive to attain challenging, ennobling goals. Why should we be so quick to compromise in the realm of tefilla?

R. Angel rejects the Rav's "opinion" that contrived ceremonialism and artificiality in tefila are antithetical to genuine service of the heart by invoking the avoda in the Bet haMikdash and the formal requirements of public prayer. I simply do not understand. How can one possibly equate authentic, divinely ordained modes of worship with inauthentic, humanly contrived modes of self-expression?

R. Angel and Mr. Kaplan misunderstood my reasons for quoting from the Rav's essay " Tefillatam shel Yehudim." Therein, the Rav critiqued tangential forms of ceremonialism which do not tamper with the tefilla service per se. Obviously, these forms of ceremonialism do not compare either in magnitude or number to the serious distortions of tefilla and Torah principles created by women's tefilla groups. My purpose in quoting the Rav's essay was twofold. Firstly, the Rav's comments graphically illustrate the role of axiological concerns within halakha. Secondly, in presenting or analyzing the Rav's halakhic or philosophical thought, whenever possible I always strive to quote the Rav. The Rav's own formulations are pristinely authentic, incomparably eloquent and preclude revisionism. Since the Rav never expressed his opposition to women's tefilla groups in writing, the most faithful method of beginning to explain that opposition was to transpose his comments from "Tefillatam shel Yehudim."

R. Angel advances the following argument in favor of women's tefilla groups: "The fact that we gather in synagogues for public worship implies value in public prayer." As a simple statement of fact, this is quite true. As an argument in favor of women's tefilla groups, it is completely irrelevant. Such groups clearly do not constitute public prayer; that appellation is reserved for the tefilla of a halakhically valid quorum. And accordingly it is self-evident that my presentation of the Rav's opposition to women's tefilla  groups does not imply any lack of appreciation for the singular importance and unquestioned centrality of public prayer.

R. Angel asks, "Is the opinion of Rabbi Twersky the only legitimate statement of genuine Jewish expression?" He concludes his letter on the following note: "what is really needed is an authentic and sincere dialogue among Orthodox Jews-not one-sided condemnations and attempts to delegitimize." I am profoundly saddened by the angry accusatory tone adopted by R. Angel. My article simply presents and amplifies Rav Soloveitchik's position on women's groups. It is just unfathomable that Rabbi Angel should vituperatively and distortionally dismiss that position as a one-sided condemnation and gratuitously insinuate that I claim a monopoly on genuine Jewish expression.

Mr. Kaplan's initial criticism focuses on my citation of the Rav's essay " Tefillatam shel Yehudim" and has already been addressed in my reply to Rabbi Angel.

 Mr. Kaplan also argues that "if the Rav had wanted to convey that his opposition was a manifestation of the halakhic concept of "ein ruah" he could have easily done so." Ergo, concludes Mr. Kaplan, "[the Rav's] silence speaks louder . . . than Rabbi Twersky's attempt to tell us what the Rav really meant." Mr. Kaplan's premise misrepresents my explanation of the Rav's nuanced response. I never suggested that the Rav intended to specifically classify women's tefilla groups as " ein ruah. . . ." I mentioned that category as but one example inter alia of unequivocally wrong, impermissible behavior which is nonetheless not labeled asur. [1] In fact, I explicitly wrote (p. 18): "The latter [axiological infractions], though categorically wrong and impermissible, are classified as ein ruah hakhamim nohe mi- menu, or alternatively without classification unequivocally censured." Moreover, most instances of impermissible behavior (the sources for which I cited in the text, ibid. and in fn. 18) are not subsumed under ein ruah hakhamim nohe mi-menu, but instead without classification unequivocally censured. So too the Rav adamantly opposed the wrong practice of women's tefilla groups without applying the term ein ruah etc. And thus Mr. Kaplan's conclusion is entirely erroneous, and inadvertently misrepresents the Rav's position.

It would be fruitful to inquire what criterion Hazal employed in categorizing axiological infractions. Which types of impermissible behavior are classified as ein ruah etc., and which are censured or condemned without such characterization? This question merits lengthy study and careful analysis that exceed the limitations of this response. Nevertheless, it seems reasonable that the term ein ruah etc. is not sufficiently forceful and thus was deemed too tepid for severe axiological infractions. Seen in this light the Rav's reticence in using the term ein ruah etc. while unequivocally opposing women's tefilla  groups points to the severity of the axiological infraction.

Mr. Kaplan concludes with the observation that women who participate in the tefilla groups are serious and focused. Then he remarks, "While that may not be sufficient in itself to make these groups halakhically proper. . . ." Presumably, Mr. Kaplan's tentative tone was intended for rhetorical effect, albeit at the expense of halakhic precision. Surely it is abundantly clear that silence and seriousness cannot compensate for distortions of tefilla and Torah principles.


[1] Indeed, on one occasion (witnessed and recounted to me by R. Fabian Schonfeld shlita, a long-time disciple of the Rav) the Rav himself invoked ein ruah precisely in this fashion- i.e., not to specifically classify women's tefilla groups as such but rather to illustrate the genus of axiological infractions which subsumes such groups. The Rav's comment was offered in the following context. In response to an inquiry, the Rav expressed his unequivocal opposition to women's tefilla groups and noted that the Conservative movement began with such initiatives which are rooted in lack of understanding of halakha. The Rav further amplified his remarks by adding that, technical knowledge notwithstanding, one's understanding remains deficient until and unless he can intuit and comply with retson hakhamim. Inter alia, in addition to ein ruah the Rav cited Shabbat 54b. (Cf. Bet Yitshak 5757, pp. 214, 225).