Responsum: The Participation of Women in the Performance of Mitzvoth and in the Congregation

 

Summary

What is the appropriate role of women in the performance of mitzvoth and within the congregation in modern society? The various chapters of the Bible that address creation and redemption teach us that women’s participation in the repair of society (tikun olam) and of the world constitutes part of their originally intended purpose. The desire for such partnership derives from their inherent nature, as instilled by their Creator. The current advances in women’s standing constitute a form of repair of the world.

But what does halakha have to say about this? Halakha has always recognized a role for women, as evidenced by many sources, and encourages their participation where possible.

Today, when the partnership between women and men in family life is greater than in the past, when women are able to advance in every field, and study Torah at an advanced level, it is but natural and desirable that the participation of women in the Torah world and in congregational life should increase.

Such participation may serve to bring women, men and families closer to the Torah, to the synagogue, and to the congregation. Women should rightly be partners in congregational worship and leadership, and thought must be given to their appropriate role in the congregation within the framework of halakha.

In the course of the last generation, the world has experienced a great awakening in regard to the status of women, which has significantly influenced society. This awakening has brought with it many challenges. While these have, at times, negatively affected family and communal structures, they have also brought substantial blessings and notable moral repair to society. As a result of this awakening, our current social reality has come to be based upon the values of equality and cooperation between men and women. This new reality is expressed in various spheres of life: in the family, the workplace, in attitudes and in leadership. The Jewish religious world has not been exempt from this process and its new challenges. Here, too, we find changes occurring in such areas as participation in the workplace, in Torah study, and in growing involvement in running the family, and in the education of children.

However, the matter is different in regard to the performance of mitzvoth within the congregational framework. Many mitzvoth and customs are performed exclusively by men, with women playing no active role.

Many men and women are of the opinion that it is inappropriate that women do not play an active role in congregational religious life. They believe that the growing gap between the religious and general spheres of their lives poses a threat. In their view, women who seek to participate in the performance of mitzvoth within the congregation should be afforded that opportunity within the halakhic framework. As opposed to them, others are opposed to such participation, and are apprehensive in regard to its ramifications.

In this article, we will address the fundamental questions posed by this issue, focusing upon the conceptual, ideological aspect of whether equality between men and women is a value that can be grounded in the Torah and halakha. Would it be appropriate, in the framework of halakha and congregational considerations, for women to play a greater active role in congregational life today than in the past?

We will examine the various sources in written and oral Torah law, and make practical suggestions that will help women and congregations address this issue in a manner that will enhance prayer, Torah study, and facilitate greater observance of mitzvoth.

Chapter A: The Conceptual Basis – The Contribution of Women to Society

A.1.  Creation and redemption narratives in the Bible

Several biblical chapters reflect the importance of the role of women in tikun olam (“repairing the world”):

  1. The Creation Narratives

The description of the creation of man and woman in the biblical account of creation is complex. The first chapter of Genesis portrays man and woman as being created simultaneously: “So God created the human in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (1:27). They are created as possessing an equal and common purpose that, by the plain meaning of the text, comprises the mitzvah to be “fruitful and multiply”, and the command to “subdue” the earth.

Chapter Two first presents the creation of man, but “it is not good for the man to be alone”, and therefore the woman is created to be his “helpmate” (2:18). The chapter emphasizes the difference between the man and the woman, and the attraction that arises between them: “and cleaves to his wife” (2:24).

In practice, life comprises different aspects. The Torah presents us with the two sides of this complex nature, and asks that we not ignore it. This leads to the need to create different blends of the degree and relative weight of these two sides – each woman and each couple in its own way – in order to repair their home and the world.

The Sages ruled that women are exempt from the mitzvah of procreation (Mishna Yevamoth 6:6), and the Gemara explains that the reason for the exemption is that “it is the nature of man to subdue, and it is not the nature of woman to subdue” (TB Yevamoth 65b). However, conceptually, “the text does not lose its plain meaning”. According to that plain meaning of Chapter One, the partnership between man and woman in repairing the world – expressed in the command “subdue it” – is inherent in the creation of man and woman.

One of the ways of repairing the world is strengthening personal and public spirituality through the observance of God’s commandments. Women who seek a role in the observance of mitzvoth ask to participate in the spiritual repair of the world, as commanded by their Creator.

  1. The sin and the curse

After describing the ideal of creation, Chapter Three recounts the sin of the man and the woman. One of the consequences of that sin is “your desire shall be for your man, and he shall rule over you” (3:16). It is from this ruined state that humanity sets off on its way. The woman’s lowered status is a consequence of the sin and its punishment. It is not her original state, but the result of a damaged reality. It is important to emphasize that “he shall rule over you” is not a command, but rather a curse and a flaw. We do not resignedly accept the curse “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you” (3:18), but rather strive to create technological solutions and inventions that will improve agriculture, as described by Rabbi Kook (Orot Hakodesh, 2, 5724): “It is man’s duty, through scientific invention, to elevate cultivation of the land from its lowly state, which brings God’s light through human science, and one day all artisans will stand upon the earth, and the earth in its greater part will be brought out from it accursedness, because human wisdom will redeem it.” Similarly, we do not passively accept the curse “he shall rule over you”, but rather strive – men and women together – to restore the world to its perfect state.

  1. Women’s two purposes

The woman is given two names in the creation narrative. Her first name is “Woman” – “because she was taken out of Man” (2:23). Her second name is “Eve” – “because she was the mother of all living” (3:20). From this, Rabbi Isaac Arama concluded that a woman has two purposes in life: “The first is what is taught by the name Woman, that she was taken out of man, and like him, she can understand and learn intellectual matters and piety, as did the matriarchs and some righteous women and prophetesses, like the plain meaning of the chapter ‘A woman of valor who can find?’ (Proverbs 31) … and the second – the matter of birth and her being a vessel that is intended for childbirth and the raising of children, as is taught be the name Eve, ‘because she was the mother of all living’” (Akedat Yitzhak, chap. 9). The different names of  woman indicate the different areas to which a woman is called in practice: her general contribution to society, and the building of her home and the rearing of her children.

 

  1. Jeremiah’s prophecy of redemption

The prophet Jeremiah (31:20-21) saw a connection between the ingathering of the exiles and the return to Zion, and a change in the division of labor between men and women: “Set up waymarks for yourself, make yourself guideposts; consider well the highway, the road by which you went. Return, O virgin Israel, return to these your cities. How long will you waver [= from returning to the Land of Israel at your own initiative], O faithless daughter? For the Lord has created a new thing on the earth: a woman shall compass a man.” Rashi and Radak both explain that what is meant is that God would change the usual custom of a man courting a woman, to a new custom in which the woman would court the man. Similarly, the Assembly of Israel will no longer be able to wait for God to return it to the Land, but will return of its own volition, and will thus return to God.

And it seems to us that, according to Rashi’s commentary, one can infer that Jeremiah sought to blunt the barb of the curse placed upon women: “your desire shall be for your man, and he shall rule over you”. We see it as a lack of modesty and a rupture of the walls of separation when a woman shows a man that she is fond of him, but in the future, it as if Creation will be renewed, and once again, women will enjoy equal rights with men. It may be that this is the source of the custom that the bride circles the groom before the wedding ceremony. We thus begin the ceremony with a symbol of redemption, and end it by recalling the destruction of the Temple – by breaking a glass (Rabbi Yissachar Jacobson, Hazon Hamikra, pp. 44-45).

In our generation, we have been privileged to witness the realization of the miracle of the ingathering of the exiles at the initiative of the Jewish people “from below”, and women of this generation seek at their own initiative, “from below”, to partner in strengthening the tie between the Assembly of Israel and its Beloved by participating in the service of God more than they are required, just as Jeremiah prophesied. This request is one of the signs of redemption!

These chapters concerning creation and redemption show that the participation of women in repairing society and the world forms part of the original purpose intended by their Creator. This desire does not reflect improper motives, but rather derives from what the Creator made inherent in creation.

A.2.  Mitzvoth from which women are exempt

Women are exempt from the performance of time-bound mitzvoth and certain other mitzvoth, but many sources indicate that their performance of such mitzvoth, if they so desire, is welcome, as we shall see in this chapter.

Several explanations have been given for the exemption of women from time-bound mitzvoth. One of the explanations offered is that the exemption derives from there being a real spiritual difference between men and women. Thus, for example, in his commentary to the Torah (Leviticus 23:43), Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explained:

The reason for not obligating women to perform these mitzvoth would appear to be that the Torah does not think that women need to perform these mitzvoth, because the Torah law is based upon the fact that women have a greater love and holy ardor than men in regard to their role in serving the Creator. Men, whose trials in life endanger their loyalty to Torah, need goading, cautionary reminders from time to time, in the form of time-bound mitzvoth…

On the basis of this approach, which focuses upon a real spiritual difference between men and women, some have concluded that even if women are permitted to perform mitzvoth from which they are exempt, it is inappropriate to their nature and is, therefore, undesirable. However, the Torah records several events that are incompatible with this explanation, and there are halakhic practices that clearly demonstrate that the above does not provide the reason for exempting women from their performance. Following are a few examples:

  1. Miriam and the women who accompanied her (Exodus 15:20-21) did not suffice in passively listening to the Song of the Sea sung by Moses and the men of Israel, but rather sang their own song of praise and thanksgiving to God. The fact that the Torah found it important to relate this may be indicative for other situations.
  2. The demand of the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27) to inherit their father’s estate was not refused on the basis of an argument that it was inappropriate for women to inherit land.
  3. According to the Torah (Numbers 30), a father can annul vows made by his daughter, and a husband can annul the vows of his wife. However, if the daughter is an adult, or if a woman is widowed or divorced, her vows stand (Shulhan Arukh YD 234). When a woman stands in her own right, her vows are equal in every way to those of a man. Thus, it is her independent status that is the decisive factor, rather than some inherent nature.
  4. In another halakhic area – that of reclining at the Passover seder – we find a similar distinction. A woman who resides with her husband is exempt from reclining, because she is subject to her husband’s authority (TB Pesahim 108a, and see Rashi ad loc.). However, “if she is a woman of importance, she must recline” (ibid.), “and all of our women are deemed important” (Rema on Shulhan Arukh OH 472:4, following the view of the Rishonim). Here, once again, we see that it is not argued that reclining is inappropriate to women. The deciding factor is whether or not she is independent, and not her spiritual nature.
  5. Maimonides states the following halakha: “… it is disgraceful for a woman to regularly go out, once outside and another time in the streets, and the husband should prevent his wife from doing so, and should not permit her to go out more than once or twice a month” (Hilkhot Ishut 13:11). Nevertheless, nowadays, no one prevents his wife from leaving the house more than once a month in observance of this rule. The rule reflected a particular social reality of the past, and not some inherent spiritual attribute of women.
  6. We should also take note of the halakhic dispute in regard to whether or not women should say the blessings associated with the performance of time-bound mitzvoth (Shulhan Arukh OH 589:6). However, even those halakhic authorities who ruled that a woman should not say the blessing, do not question whether she may perform the mitzvah itself, for which she receives credit, even if not equal to that of a person who is obligated to perform the mitzvah. It is, thus, generally agreed that a woman who performs a mitzvah for which she is not obligated, does a positive, holy act.

These sources demonstrate that there is no reason to oppose the performance of mitzvoth from which a woman is exempt. On the contrary, various sources teach us that such women act in a manner that is acceptable in the eyes of God, as Rabbi Akiva Eiger wrote: “… in any event, most of our women are strict with themselves, and are careful and quick to observe most of the time-bound mitzvoth, such as shofar, lulav, and the holiday kiddush, as having voluntarily assumed them, and seek to perform them all for God” (Responsa of Rabbi Akiva Eiger 1).

A.3.  Torah study by women in our day

Nowadays, many women successfully study Torah in great depth. As we saw in the previous chapter, this phenomenon demonstrates that the exemption of women from the mitzvah of studying Torah does not derive from it being unsuited to their inherent spirituality. The opening of Torah study to women derives from social change. As the Hafetz Hayyim wrote:

It would appear that all this was in former times, when ancestral tradition was very strong among all in following the paths of their fathers, and then we could say that a daughter should not be taught Torah and should rely upon her upright parents. But nowadays, to our regret, ancestral tradition has become extremely attenuated, and particularly for those girls who study the vernacular (=secular studies), it is surely a great mitzvah to teach them Bible and the ethical teachings of the sages … so as to instill in them our holy faith, for if not, they may entirely deviate from God’s path” (Likutei Halakhot, Sotah 21).

Nowadays, women study Torah not merely as a defense against waning faith, but as something inherently desirable. Thus, in 1953, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik wrote:

Not only is the teaching of Torah she-be-al peh to girls permissible but it is nowadays an absolute imperative. This policy of discrimination between the sexes as to subject matter and method of instruction which is still advocated by certain groups within our Orthodox community has contributed greatly to the deterioration and downfall of traditional Judaism. Boys and girls alike should be introduced into the inner halls of Torah she-be-al peh … I heartily endorse a uniform program for the entire student body (Community, Covenant and Commitment, p. 83).

Therefore, the Torah education of girls should not be limited in family or educational frameworks. Rather, they should be taught all parts of the Torah at the highest level, and all the possibilities for personal growth in the study of Torah and in the observance of mitzvoth should be open to them. This is important both for women’s participation in the service of God, and for their role in passing down the Torah to future generations, and it will make it possible for women who desire it and are suited to it to continue to advance in Torah study. Thus, for example, women who have studied Torah at an advanced level now serve as legal advocates in the rabbinical courts and as halakhic advisers. These are examples of what women can attain if they so desire.

Moreover, when women participate in the study of Torah and in the performance of mitzvoth, they contribute to our understanding of the mitzvoth of the Torah. Bayla, the wife of Rabbi Joshua HaKohen Falk, author of the Sefer Me’irat Enayim, devoted herself to the rules concerning holiday candle lighting (she is quoted by her son Rabbi Joseph in his preface to Yoreh De’ah of the Arba’ah Turim), and later scholars studied her opinions and generally followed them (Mishnah Berurah 263:27). This example demonstrates how expanding the fulfillment of mitzvoth and the study of Torah by women can serve to illuminate aspects of the performance of mitzvoth that might otherwise elude us. “Magnify the Torah and make it glorious” (Isaiah 42:21).

A.4.  Historical precedents

The current desire of women to participate in the observance of mitzvoth within the community was not created out of thin air. It is part of a process establishing a new balance in congregational practice.

In the past, women were often active participants and leaders in their communities: Miriam and the prophetess Deborah, Queen Salome Alexandra, Beruriah the wife of Rabbi Meir, the Maharal’s granddaughter Hava Bacharach, Bayla Falk, Asenath Barazani, who followed her father as head of the yeshiva in Kurdistan, Professor Nechama Leibowitz, and others.

In the past, a woman had to devote all of her energies to her home and family. It was virtually impossible to devote any time to personal development and to contributing to the world. Nevertheless, when such a woman arose, she found a place in the congregation commensurate with her stature. Today, as a result of social change, developing technologies, and extended life expectancies, women are able to dedicate more time and energy than in the past to their general pursuits. What was once rare is becoming commonplace. Precedents from the past teach us that this desire is sacred and proper, and it is but natural that it now seeks expression in accordance with the abilities of modern women.

What we see from our discussion, thus far, is that women have been partners in repairing the world since creation. The participation of women in the observance of mitzvoth – even those from which women are exempt – is a blessing, and full participation in Torah study increases and strengthens the light of Torah in the world. The historical precedents show that all of this is possible and desirable, and it can now be achieved to a greater extent than in the past.

Chapter B: Moral and Spiritual Consequences

Liberty for all – including women – is one of our society’s fundamental values. The view that a woman enjoys autonomous status is now widely accepted in Orthodox society. A married woman freely makes a mutual covenant with her man. She does not belong to him, and is not subject to his authority. This morally correct reality must include a woman’s liberty to choose the manner by which she will realize her religious duty to contribute to the world, in the framework of halakha.

This is not a matter for women alone. The increasing observance of mitzvoth by women in the congregation spiritually deepens and enriches us all in our personal and communal observance of mitzvoth. Inclusion of half of the community in the congregation’s religious observance, rather than estrangement, affects the entire congregation’s sense of closeness to God.

The current expansion of the role of women also leads to a new partnership between men and women in various tasks, such as child rearing and family finances. This new partnership does not stop at the threshold of the home. A new partnership between men and women is also being forged in congregational life, and it, too, will be a blessing for the world.

In addition, a large gap has been created between the roles that women play in all other areas of life and their passivity within the congregation. For many women, this gap threatens to come between them and Torah, and to erode the faith and Torah observance of a large segment of the public. Increasing the active participation of women in congregational life may significantly narrow this gap, and strengthen the connection between life and Torah. Such a connection can have a positive, far-reaching effect upon the public!

Unfortunately, a comprehensive ban upon the participation of women in the congregation removes and distances women from the congregation and from the Torah, and their families and children along with them. We are concerned with women and men, Orthodox, traditional and secular, all of whom seek and desire a connection with the synagogue and the congregation, but who do not find it in a synagogue that is so foreign to their general way of life. Some seek their Jewish connection in Reform synagogues. Do we not have an appropriate halakhic response for our generation?

Nearly a hundred years ago, Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg considered this in addressing the question of the height of the mechitza in the synagogue. He wrote: “In our day, the situation has changed, and nature has changed, and if women remain at home and do not come to the synagogue, their Judaism will be entirely forgotten. It is certainly prohibited to remove and distance them due to an exaggerated strictness that has no firm grounds in the Talmud and rabbinic responsa” (Responsa Seridei Eish, 2:14). What was true then, is all the more so true today.

Chapter C: A Measure of Caution

C.1. The slippery slope

There are some who identify with the importance of women’s participation in the congregation’s observance of mitzvoth, but who fear a “slippery slope”. They warn that what may begin as the permissible participation of women may lead to conduct that is contrary to halakha.

That fear is not unfounded, and we must proceed with care and wisdom so as to preserve the balance between tradition and innovation within the bounds of halakha. These are important considerations, but they are not the only ones.

Above all, we must remain true to the Torah, which includes bringing the Torah to the world through both men and women. As we have already mentioned, this is neither an innovation nor a halakhic change, but rather a fortification of what was already true in the past. Our task today is not to prevent that fortification, but to set it in directions that reinforce faith and the observance of mitzvoth.

In addition, we should bear in mind that the slippery slope goes in both directions. Just as there is a danger that permitting something that is halakhically acceptable may, through lack of knowledge, lead to permitting something that is prohibited, there is also a danger that forbidding what is permitted may lead to permitting everything. We must act for the sake of heaven, bearing in mind both directions of the slippery slope.

On a similar matter, Rabbi Kook wrote:

By seeing that we permit all that can be permitted through a deep understanding of the law, they will come to understand that what we do not permit is due to true Torah law, and the many who cleave to the Torah will, God willing, attend to the teachers. Which is not the case when it is discovered that there are matters that should be permitted in accordance with the rules of halakha, but the rabbis were not considerate of the inconvenience and misery of Israel, and left those matters prohibited. That results, God forbid, in great desecration of God’s name, to the point that an increasing number of transgressors will say of some fundamental Torah prohibitions, that if only the rabbis so desired, they could permit them, and so the law will be distorted (Responsa Orah Mishpat, OH 112).

We at the beit midrash of “Beit Hillel” pray, as did Rabbi Nehunia ben Hakaneh (TB Berachot 28b): “that I may not call the impure pure nor the pure impure”, and so those who hear us will learn to permit what is permitted and prohibit what is prohibited.

C.2. Modesty

There are some who fear that increasing the participation of women in the congregation may lead to immodesty.

There can be no doubt as to the importance of modesty in all its aspects – there is neither Torah nor holiness without modesty. But modesty has halakhic parameters, and they should define the boundaries of what is permitted or prohibited in this regard, as Rabbi Chaim Hirschensohn wrote:

And all of the above cancel out all this idle talk by those who are ignorant of Torah who view men as licentious, and do not know that there are Torah, and law, and fixed rules even in regard to licentiousness, and that not just anyone is free to denigrate the daughters of Israel and the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in God’s name, and present them as wallowing in filth, God forbid, and all the harm they cause leads to licentiousness … (Malki Bakodesh, 2:4).

Today, women participate in all areas of life, the economy and leadership. This situation may be accompanied by a breach of halakhic boundaries, and sexual permissiveness, in which case it is very harmful. However, when it is accomplished within the halakhic framework, and in a manner that respects both men and women, it does not infringe modesty. On the contrary, it shows us how to live modestly in our generation.

Thus, Chief Rabbi Meir Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel wrote in regard to the election of women to public institutions and leadership (such as the People’s Council prior to the establishment of the State, and the Knesset thereafter):

Arguably, every serious meeting and helpful conversation does not comprise immodesty, and every day men meet with women in business transactions and negotiate, and yet there is no breach or outcry … and sitting together for the purpose of public service, which is holy work, does not accustom to transgression or lead to levity (Responsa Mishpatei Uziel 4 HM 6).

If this is true in regard to the Knesset, how much more so when we are concerned with the performance of a mitzvah and with holy matters. God forbid that we should distort the holiness of modesty in Israel, and use it as “a spade to dig with” in order to prevent women from serving God in manners permitted by halakha.

Chapter D: Participation of Women in the Congregation in Various Areas – Practical Suggestions

From all of the above points that we have raised, we may conclude that the desire of some women today to participate actively in the congregational observance of miztvoth is of great importance. Practical steps in this regard must be adopted with care in order to preserve the balance between tradition and innovation, and careful distinctions must be made between what is permitted and what is forbidden.

The leaders of the congregation bear a heavy responsibility. They must lead their congregations in the path of Torah, teach Torah and decide halakha, carefully listen to the various voices arising in the congregation, and lead their congregations in a manner that will bring them closer to the love of God and the acceptance of the Heavenly yoke. All of this must be accomplished while preserving the unity of the congregation and the fostering of space for discussion and attentiveness within the congregation.

The questions that we are concerned with arise in various congregations in various areas. We will note the main areas that should be addressed:

The central issue is that of the role of women and their place in the synagogue and the congregation.

In some synagogues, women are “present absentees”: They are hidden away in a marginal area, behind an opaque mechitza, so that they neither see nor are seen. Sermons and announcements make no reference to their being part of the congregation. They do not participate in congregational leadership, or are included only in those aspects that are traditionally viewed as “belonging” to women, such as preparing the kiddush, or providing childcare during services.  The sense is that the congregation belongs to the men, but that women are permitted to enter as long as their presence is not felt. In practice, their position in the congregation is similar to that of small children.

This situation is not required by halakha, nor is it halakhically, morally or socially appropriate. The following are a number of practical suggestions:

a)     Congregational leadership: Women should participate in congregational leadership, so that their voices are heard, and their opinions, feelings and spiritual needs are taken into account in the congregation.

b)     Structure of the synagogue: The synagogue can be designed such that the women’s section is alongside the men’s section, rather than behind it, or on a separate floor, and certainly not in some distant area.

The women’s section should be designed in a manner that allows women sitting in any part of it to see the Torah ark and the bima, allows them to be connected to the prayer and Torah reading platforms, and to experience the synagogue service as their own rather than as strangers who are disconnected from what takes place in the men’s section. An appropriate women’s section should also be provided in the place where weekday prayers are conducted.

All of this refers, of course, to the building of a new synagogue. But even in existing synagogues, every effort should be made in various areas to repair what needs  repairing.

c)     The mechitza: The mechitza must fulfill its halakhic purpose within the bounds of halakha. However, it should be assured that women feel that they are partners in congregational prayer.

d)     Prayer: Women and mothers should be encouraged to participate in synagogue services.

Appropriate measures should be adopted to make it possible for men and women to participate in prayer. For example: Several minyans can be held at different times, and women and men should be encouraged to cooperate in the care of small children so that both can participate in congregational prayer.

e)     Classes, sermons and announcements: Women who study Torah, and visiting female scholars,should be active participants in giving sermons and in teaching the congregation, in separate frameworks for women and in general congregational frameworks, in accordance with the practices of each congregation.

During the sermon, the mechitza can be opened so that the women will be full participants in the study of Torah at such times. Announcements should refer to the women present in the synagogue, as well as to their role in the synagogue’s leadership and in its activities.

f)       Young women: Just as we provide opportunities for young men to express themselves in the congregation, ways should be found to allow young women to be actively involved in the congregation.

g)     Bat mitzvah: A bat mitzvah event should be designedfor the synagogue. The lack of such an event is hurtful to girls and to their place in the congregation.

h)     Reading the Megillah: Women are permitted to read Megillat Esther for women on Purim, as well as the other four megillot at their designated times (the sources appear in the halakhic decisons of Beit Hillel in this regard).

i)       Simchat Torah: Ways should be found for women to participate in the celebration of Simchat Torah in the synagogue.

j)       Birkat hagomel, prayers for the sick, and mourning: Arrangements should be made so that a woman who must say birkat hagomel may do so, and so that a woman who wishes that the congregation pray for a person who is ill be able to submit the name to the gabbai. Just as we welcome and comfort a male mourner in the synagogue of Friday evening, so too, a woman mourner should be welcomed and offered comfort in the women’s section. When a woman wishes to give a eulogy, appropriate arrangements should be made.

There are various halakhic questions that arise in various congregations in regard to the possibility for the active participation of women in various situations in the synagogue, such as saying kaddish and others that we have not addressed in this article, which will be addressed by Beit Hillel’s halakhic beit midrash in the course of our work.

Chapter E: Study and Dialogue in the Home, the Congregation and the Educational System

The theoretical and practical aspects in regard to every area should be examined through in-depth Torah study, and that is surely the case in regard to the status of women in the congregation, regarding which the public holds a variety of views. We recommend creating a new dialogue in this regard – first, a dialogue amongst the women themselves, followed by a congregational discussion, including a discussion between the men and the women, and of course, a discussion with the congregational and public leadership. These discussions must be respectful of differing voices and considerations. The unity of the congregation is an important concern, alongside the other considerations that we have raised in this article. Attentive, respectful discourse may serve to deepen the relationship and mutual respect of the members of the congregation, and fortify congregational unity. Through such study and discourse, each congregation can make its decisions in this area in the best manner, while deepening individual and communal service of God.

The young women also hear the different voices in the community, and they, too, must consider these matters. They are participants in the communal discussion from an early age, they hear the different views, and decide their path. They should be taught Torah at an advanced level at home, in the congregation and in the educational system. They should be afforded a solid Torah base so that they will grow to be knowledgeable participants in the communal debate.

It is important to emphasize that intensifying Torah study among Jewish women in the last generation has moved the students to the love of God, love of Torah, and to greater observance of mitzvoth, and God willing, this will also be the case in the matter we are discussing.

We pray that the Giver of Torah will “open our eyes to your Torah, and cause us to cleave to your mitzvoth”, and that we may be privileged to sanctify the Holy Name.

===

The rabbis and rabbaniyot of the Beit Hillel organization are available to congregations and groups that wish to study these issues, in coordination with the congregation. We can be contacted at office@beithillel.org.il

%d bloggers like this: