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.
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.