Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Women's prayer groups

My last post sparked a debate about Women's Prayer Groups so I would like to devote a post towards it. This will not be a comprehensive treatise, I will only be discussing the 1 point raised in the previous post.

RHS and R' Bleich make the following argument (1 of many reasons that they have in opposing them). Everyone agrees that women are not chayav in tefilla betzibur. However, they state that if a woman decides she does want to go to daven outside of the house in an organized fashion she now has 2 choices, a regular minyan or a women's tefilla group. She needs to make a choice. The halacha is unequivocally clear that tefilla betzibur is the best way to daven. Therefore if a woman picks the womens tefilla group she is ignoring what the halacha states is the best option and instead doing what she feels serves her spirituality best. This is what the Beis Halevi thinks was the chet haegel. Nowadays we assume that most people in any case cannot have true kavana and therefore to abandon what chazal say is a tefilla that Hashem always listens to for tefilla beyachid is incorrect. When the MB quotes an opinion that a person can daven beyachid if he will have more kavana he brings down from the Pri Megadim that this is only for gedolei hador. I don't think that any of the women going to these prayer groups think that they are on that level.

RHS writes:

It is true that women are not obligated to pray with a minyan (it is also a matter of debate whether men are obligated to do so). However, when women get all dressed up on Shabbos and leave their homes to pray in an organized service, and they choose to go to a WPG instead of a minyan, they are choosing a sub-optimal mitzvah over an optimal mitzvah; they are actively rejecting the more complete fulfillment for the lesser. If they stayed home, they are opting to pray alone rather than put in the effort to go to shul. However, when they put in that effort but go to a WPG instead of a synagogue, they are making a statement that they prefer the lesser fulfillment over the greater. They are figuratively being ma'avir al ha-mitzvos, stepping over a mitzvah. That, I believe, is sufficient reason to label a WPG a distortion of Torah principles. If most of the attendees of a WPG are actively choosing it over a minyan, the WPG is an instrument of misguided Torah principles, a teacher of distorted values.

R' Bleich makes the same point:
Women who pray with a minyan have a guaranteed better reward for their prayers than women who pray with a Women's Prayer Group. If women are willing to take on the burden of leaving their homes and going to a place of prayer (i.e. they are willing to invest their money in an opportunity) and choose the lesser option of praying without a minyan (i.e. place their money in the opportunity that gives a lower return), they are making a foolish choice. Anyone who advises them to do so is giving bad advice, with all of the attendant implications.

...Assuredly, the guaranteed benefits of tefillah be-zibbur outweigh those of any possible subjective experience.

Those who support Women's Prayer Groups have have tried to deflect this opinion by IMHO bringing irrelevant sources. For example, a letter of the Gra is quoted where he advises the women of his family not to go to shul. IMHO this is completely irrelevant. There were many reasons for women not to go to shul including as Jerusalem's Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shalom Messas records, that most Moroccan Jewish women never attended synagogue even on Yom Kippur. As a result, few synagogues even had women's sections. Those women who did come to the synagogue rarely participated in the prayer service. R. Messas attributes this primarily to the women's illiteracy and lack of education.

These and other similar arguments have no bearing on our case where the woman is leaving her house and going to a public prayer service. In our case she needs to make a decision, she has already decided that she wants to do more then what is required. Does she follow the guidelines of Chazal who praised Tefilla Betzibur and saying devarim shebekedusha or does she follow her "spirituality" and give these all up for a subjective spiritual experience.


Anonymous said...

This is a link to a translation of teh igeres hagra. Are you sure his advice re shul is only for women?

"Concerning solitude, the main thing is to remain at home. Even your visit to the synagogue should be very short. In fact, it is better to pray at home, for it is impossible to be spared from jealousy or from hearing idle talk or lashon hara in the synagogue. And one receives punishment for this, as we find (Shabbos 33a), "Also one who hears and is silent...." This is even the more so on Shabbos and Yom Tov when they gather to talk - It is then better that you don't pray at all. Refrain also from going to the cemetery (especially women), as it leads to all kinds of sorrow and sin. It is also advisable that your daughter not go to the synagogue, because she'll see beautiful clothes there, become jealous and talk about it at home. This will lead to lashon hara, etc. She should rather cling to Mussar and not become jealous of anything in this world, where everything is vanity and illusions, appearing and disappearing overnight (Yonah 4:10)."

etc. But the main way to merit Olam Haba is by guarding one's tongue...

I also wish to appeal to my son-in-law to adhere to all the above."

Bit hard to tell.

bluke said...

You may be right. In any case, this only strengthens my argument that this Gra is irrelevant to the discussion at hand. The Gra clearly doesn't apply where the woman is going out of the house to daven at a women's prayer group.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I forget to paste the link!


I just find it curious as one always hears that he meant the advice for women, but that seems a bit unclear.

dilbert said...

As mentioned in the previous comments, " a minority opinion of several leading psekim ..maintain that women sitting in the Ezrat Nashim never fulfill befilla be'tsibbur" I haven't looked up the sources, but note 86 lists R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach as holding this position, with many others disagreeing.

Therfore, according to RSZA, this issue is totally baseless(who would have thought that R. Berkowitz and RSZA would agree on a halachic point?)

Additionally, the case of RHS is built on two assumptions:

1. tefilla b'tzibbur has value for women(I haven't seen a specific source for this)

2. tefilla b'tzibbur for women is so important that it trumps any other arguement.

As phrased by Rabbis Dov and Aryeh Frimmer: " ...(this) criticism of women's services would see, upon analysis, to boil down essentially to "a call to saintliness". Women are summoned to fulfill all those observances from which Jewish law has specifically exempted them and/or to fulfill the requirements imposed by even minor opinions. Such halakhic prescription may suit the self-selected spiritual elite, but it is certainly not binding-nor perhaps even advisable-for Jewish women as a group."

As far as the letter of the GRA, let us posit a hypothetical situation. IF the Women's service was free of lashon hara and all the other things the GRA wanted women to avoid by not going to shul, and the shul held the possibility of those things, then it seems that the GRA would hold that it would be better to go to the women's service. Therefore, the claim that tefilla b'tzibbur trumps all other issues is patently false and overstated, to say the least.

bluke said...

Look at the Gemara Berachos 8a. The gemara states that Hashem is not מואס (reject?) the tefilla of a tzibbur. There is absolutely no reason to think that the gemaras statement does not apply to women who are davening betzibur.

I believe that R' Frimer's are misrepresenting R' Shachter's and R' Bleich's argument. No one said that women need to go daven betzibur. Again, they (RHS and R' Bleich) are saying that once a woman is deciding to go out and daven somewhere she has a choice to make. R' Bleich uses the following analogy. If someone comes to an investment advisor and asks for investment advice and there are 2 investments A and B. If A is better then B, then clearly the advisor had better tell the person to invest in A. The same applies here. If the woman is already making a choice, going above and beyond what she is chayav, why tell her to choose an inferior option the women's prayer group? If she then chooses an inferior option she is opting for her judgement of spiritually rather then Chazal's. As I mentioned in the post, the Mishna Berura (Siman 101 Biur Halacha דאתא) clearly states that for the average person (everyone except the gedolei hador), tefilla betzibur trumps kavana (there are those who hold that tefilla betzibur always trumps kavana).

With regards to RSZA, I am not sure that is the case that they are not considered to be davening betzibur. In any case, even R' Frimer's point out that the majority of poskim hold that they are considered to be davening betzibur.

dilbert said...

I will check it out when I get home. However, since women are not chayyav in t'filla b'tzibbur, there is plenty of reason to think that this statement doesn't apply to them.

In the final analysis, t'filla b'tzibbur is a hiddur mitzva(even with that particular statement of Chazal) Its like telling a woman: well, you are not chayyav to shake a lulav. But, if you are going to make the effort to shake the lulav, you have to have a very beautiful etrog, to fulfill the hiddur mitzva. Having an ugly one(no matter what the reason) is forsaking a hiddur mitzva. It makes no sense. And, RHS is ignoring any possible benefit that the women's davening may have.

Its easy to make a decision when you radically emphasize the importance of the points that agree with you, and denigrate to the earth the points that dont agree with you. The halachic reality doesn't seem as black and white as RHS and you want to paint it. You also didn't address the hypothetical situation of the GRA.

bluke said...

A better analogy would be the following. A woman wants to shake a Lulav and Esrog and in front of her are 2 esrogim, A looks nice but is not really mehudar, and B doesn't look as nice but is more mehudar. Would anyone advise the woman to take A because it looks nicer? I should hope not. The same applies to tefilla.

dilbert said...

Two point. Number one, you ignored all the other issues I raised. You have not demonstrated clearly or conclusively that t'filla b'tzibbur is better for women, and/or the benefits of women's tefilla are outweighted by the benefits of t'filla b'tzibbur. Number 2, it is not assur to take the non mehudar. You are insisting that women be yotze l'chol ha'deot on something that they are not even m'chuyav, a point well illustrated in the article. People all the time go to the book store buy an etrog, and no one stands there and says, hey, buy the mehudar one, it is assur to buy the ugly one. However, RHS and R. Bleich have not hesitated to say women's tefilla groups are assur. A woman wants to shake lulav and someone is telling her she can only do it on the most mehudar etrog, that is yotze l'chol hadeot. It is right to say that it is better to have a mehudar etrog. on the other hand, if one has to choose between a $500 etrog and not eat well on yom tov, it may be better to have money to eat on Yom Tov and spend less on the etrog. So having a mehudar etrog isn't the be all and end all, just as tefilla b'tzibbur isn't the be all and end all for women.

bluke said...

The point about the esrog is very simple. If you have 2 esrogim everything else equal what would you pick? Could a Rav tell you to pick A? I don't think so. That is exactly the point here. No one is saying that a woman has to be mehader, but to skip over the hidur for no reason but the fact that the other option makes her feel more spiritual is more wrong.

The gemara states that tefilla betzibur is better then tefill abeyachid. there is absolutley no reason to think that the Gemara's statement would not apply to women. The gemara is saying that Hashem prefers the tefilla of a tzibbur. Why would that not apply to a woman?

dilbert said...

BECAUSE A WOMEN IS NOT MECHUYAV IN TEFILLA B'TZIBBUR, doesn't count for a tzibbur of men, and is not mechuyav even in making sure that there is a tzibbur.

Also, the benefits of women's tefilla group go way beyond making a women feel more spiritual. As mentioned before, and conveniently skipped over by you, there is added kavvanah and learning.

To beat the dead horse one last time:

1. You have not demonstrated conclusively that the benefit of t'filla b'tzibbur applies to women.

2. Even granting number one, you have not demonstrated that t'filla b'tzibbur for women trumps other considerations, when the halachic and historical evidence clearly shows that it has not.

3. Even granting number 2, you have not shown that the pluses of t'filla b'tzibbur out weigh the benefits fo women's tefilla groups in terms of learning and kavvanah.

4. And even then, it is a matter of whether something is added to the mitzva, not a matter of the mitzva itself, and saying that it is assur to do a mitzvah without all its possible hiddur seems to me a tremendous chiddush. It eliminates the concept of hiddur and raises the hiddur to the level of the mitzva itself.

Of course, if you insist that you have proven all four, then the conclusions are obvious. But the reality is that neither you, RHS, nor R. Bleich have done so, and there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Finally, I think there is clear basis in halacha on this point to allow women's tefilla groups. Whether you choose not to go in that direction is a matter of weighing halachic pluses and minuses. However, equating having women's tefilla groups with making a golden calf, when one has a halachic basis, and the other one is a tremendous issur is tremendously insulting to Chief Rabbi Goren(who said it was ok), Rav Berkowitz, R. Aryeh Frimmer, R. Dov Frimmer, R. Saul Berman, R. Shlomo Riskin, R. Avi Weiss, R. Avraham Magence, and countless other rabbanim(with orthodox smicha and credentials) who have said it is ok.

bluke said...

1. The reason why tefilla betzibur is not rejected by Hashem is because it blends in with the group, when you daven beyechidus your tefilla needs to stand on your own. This rationale certainly applies to women.
2,3. The Mishna Berura (which I quoted already) states unequivocably that for everyone except the Gedolei Hador, tefilla betzibur beats out kavana.
4. I won't repeat myself but you are misunderstanding what they said

I think we have exhausted this topic and it is pointless to repeat he same arguments over and over again.

dilbert said...

I agree to disagree, though I am still troubled by your equation with the golden calf.

Anonymous said...

"If someone comes to an investment advisor and asks for investment advice and there are 2 investments A and B. If A is better then B, then clearly the advisor had better tell the person to invest in A. The same applies here. If the woman is already making a choice, going above and beyond what she is chayav, why tell her to choose an inferior option the women's prayer group."

this would make it lifnei iver to advise in favor of WTG, but I don't think it's ossur to do something ill-advised.

Larry Lennhoff said...

"If someone comes to an investment advisor and asks for investment advice and there are 2 investments A and B. If A is better then B, then clearly the advisor had better tell the person to invest in A."

Better by what metric? There exist mutual funds that are 'socially aware' - they will not buy stocks in corporations that while profitable, produce products or services that the fund finds objectionable - e.g., porn, cigarettes, nuclear power, arms for export, etc." These funds are usually not the highest performing ones. If an investment advisor is made aware that the client wishes to invest in a socially aware fund, must the advisor try to talk the client out of it? I think not.

jdub said...

Another thought:

In my shul, the WTG does not meet at the same time as the regular minyan. They tend to do shabbos mincha around Rosh Chodesh. it's several hours before the regular minyan.

So a woman who has left the house to go to shul doesn't have the option of a WTG or t'fillah b'tzibbur, only the WTG (or davening alone). So where's the harm of a WTG? Maybe they wouldn't come to the regular minyan since many have young kids and their hubbies are going off to minyan. SO the earlier WTG gives them an outlet for t'filla and they're not poresh min ha'tzibbur.

I don't know how RHS would respond to that. I know that rebbeim that I respect -- including my mora d'asra -- permit it, so I don't have a problem with it.