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What do you think of women’s prayer groups?

obama-feministThis is an excerpt from a Dov Bear post from today – he makes a good point and I know many folks who go nuts when they hear of women’s prayer groups.

When a woman wants to daven with other women, every Rabbi to the right of Avi Weiss screams feminism, or makes insulting guesses about her ulterior motives. This doesn’t happen to men. Our motives aren’t ever subjected to the same degree of scrutiny. When a man takes on something new, no one questions his intentions. No one says, “Hey I bet he’s only doing that to secure a better match for his daughter, or to make people forget about the target vomiting last year during Hakafot.”

But let a women try to improve herself, and she goes right under the microscope.

Why the double standard?

{ 25 comments… add one }
  • bitterwater July 14, 2009, 8:48 PM

    I don’t see the appeal in women’s prayer groups. I hear they have some around my area during shabbat, but what good is a shabbat prayer service without the torah reading.

  • kissmei'mshomer July 14, 2009, 10:41 PM

    Bitterwater- why wouldn’t there be a Torah reading at women’s prayer group?

  • veebee July 14, 2009, 10:48 PM

    Why wouldn’t they have a torah reading? Women are allowed to get an aliyah but the super conservative-extra machmir rabbis decided that women were inferior to men and had to be chastised for eternity.

  • Lvnsm July 14, 2009, 11:18 PM

    I think a private women’s prayer group is fine. :)Like the one at the shul near me that has a women’s tehillim group on the sunday before Rosh Chodesh.
    However, a women’s minyan with men is another story

  • A. Nuran July 15, 2009, 1:46 AM

    Dishonest lying weasel answer : Whatever the local Tallit-ban rabbis use to rationalize it.

    Honest answer: Women are icky, inferior and steal your Precious Bodily Fluids. They should shut up, do as they’re told, cook, clean, pop out large numbers of babies AND THAT’S IT. If they do anything else, especially without a man in charge they’re dangerous.

  • Puzzled July 15, 2009, 3:11 AM

    Funny, A.Nuran – neither of your answers seem to match the actual answer The Rav gave.

  • eyekanspel July 15, 2009, 3:54 AM

    Halachically, there is nothing wrong with a women’s prayer group. However, it is very much frowned upon because that’s just not how we do things.

    /EndSarcasm
    (For those who don’t know me…)

  • Yochanan July 15, 2009, 7:42 AM

    eyekanspel,

    frownuponism seems to be rampant these days.

  • Frum Satire July 15, 2009, 8:40 AM

    That’s because we don’t do it is the new answer – screw the shulchan aruch and the rambam

  • Puzzled July 15, 2009, 9:57 AM

    For what it’s worth, I’m an egalitarian (yes, weird, a Conservative follower of the Rav.) That said, there is something to the idea that it’s not assur but we don’t do it. Why don’t we do it? Because it is not in keeping with a Torah life. Is it assur to go to a strip club if the girls aren’t Jewish? Is it in keeping with Torah values?

  • kissmei'mshomer July 15, 2009, 10:36 AM

    Why should it NOT be assur to go to a strip club if the girls aren’t Jewish?
    (And yes, I know all my comments lately have been in the form of questions.)
    Besides, even if it turned out not to be assur by the Torah, there is a very good reason we say “don’t do it” because strip clubs are invariably demeaning and disrespectful to women.
    However, people are often saying “we don’t do it” about things that are not harmful to anyone.

  • StLSam July 15, 2009, 10:37 AM

    @puzzled

    where are the jewish strip clubs you alude to? I dont want to go, i just need to know so i avoid those areas. Seriously thats it. Why are you all staring at me?

  • kissmei'mshomer July 15, 2009, 10:44 AM

    (cont’d)… not harmful to anyone and are not necessarily against Torah values.

    I have heard people say about women’s prayer groups (and about teen minyanim, or minyanim for children) that they are inconsistent with Torah values because they do not promote achdut, as opposed to family minyanim because everyone present in shul together.

    However, one can argue that family minyanim – at least traditional Orthodox ones – do not promote achdut either since the family does not sit together, women cannot participate to the same extent as men, etc. Yes, you can argue that is halachic, but it is not what certain people would call “achdut” either.

    So if something can be allowed by halacha and also affords people their sense of achdut and belonging, why shouldn’t that choice be available to people?

  • Debbie F. July 15, 2009, 11:39 AM

    First let me comment about the family achdut issue brought up by kissmei’mshomer. If that’s the reason for no women’s minyanim, then there’s also a problem with the following: (a) Small shtiblach that have a teeny women’s section with obviously not enough room for all women in the family; (b) hashkama minyanim where the men go at 7AM, learn (or nap) before lunch and if the women go at all it’s at a regular time minyan and (c) any family where the husbands and wives prefer different shuls.

    I see nothing wrong with women’s tefillah groups. Especially now that we’re moving so far to the right that even in the Young Israels, a former bastion of modern orthodoxy, women don’t sing the tefillot in their full voices because the men might hear them, which I believe can hamper the experience for many. One can only become closer to a person when one can be oneself, so (lehavdil), kal vachomer, how much moreso does one distance oneself from Hashem when one has to suppress oneself just because one is a woman behind a mechitzah who has to focus more on not drawing attention to herself than on her relationship with her Creator.

  • Puzzled July 15, 2009, 12:13 PM

    http://torahweb.org/torah/special/2003/rtwe_wtg.html

    The link is to R’Mayer Twersky’s explanation of The Ravs answer on women’s prayer groups. He explains better than I will. His answer, as I understand it, was essentially that there is no legal, halachic objection to it. However, in terms of haskgacha, he believes it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of both prayer and the role of gender in Judaism. This seems to me to be a different statement than is implied by summarizing as “it’s allowed but we don’t do it.”

    I may disagree on just what the Torah value is, but I entirely agree that the way to understand halacha is in terms of inculcating values and a worldview – in The Halakhic Mind, the Rav seems to see the halacha as a Kantian lens – and that this kind of statement is therefore not wrong on its face, even if the action undertaken doesn’t harm anyone. Going to a strip club isn’t harmful either – and I disagree that it is demeaning. If someone offered me money just to look at me, I wouldn’t feel demeaned.

    I’m not prepared to say that the man I consider the gadol of his generation, and my rebbe’s rebbe, was giving a made up answer to hide his sexism. I think adopting that position would be difficult for the typical MO person as well. I am willing to say that on certain questions I disagree, but not that he’s disingenuous.

  • Anonymous July 15, 2009, 1:24 PM

    You know all of your questions about the female place in Judaism would be answered if you had the right perspective.

    Women are born perfect, men are born evil and need many commandments to straighten them out. Women don’t daven with a minyan because they don’t need to, same with tefillin, talis etc. If women want to have a prayer group, they should but they don’t need to. Men are supposed to treat women like gold in Judaism, in fact they’re not allowed to make women cry. The fact that men can’t look at women is his fault not hers, because he can’t control himself. Even the whole Cheit Eitz Hadaas is because He told Her the wrong thing.

    Most factions of Judaism take one side and run with it. Charedim and ultra-frum focus on the man’s need to isolate himself from the world (and other women) to keep away from sin. But often they forget to treat their women properly. On the other side we have the woman acting like men which is unnecessary and screws up the family values. And yes I’m sure you’ll find cases on both sides and in the middle that have it right.

    The point of all the mitzvos in the Torah is to make you into a perfect human being at one with nature and fellow man. If you come across someone that’s not perfect, they must not be following some part of the Torah. In the proper way both men and women feel fulfilled and are happy.

  • Miriam Tzipora July 15, 2009, 2:03 PM

    As an egalitarian, I think it should be allowed, just as men’s prayer groups are allowed. But I also think it should not be necessary.

    While women are not commanded to daven or wear talit/tefilin, we should be allowed to take on those mitzvot if we want to. I also think that men who take on the child-rearing role, either because they are widowers, divorced, or just stay at home dads, should be exempted from the time-bound commandments.

    Fair is fair.

  • Shalom, NJ July 15, 2009, 2:19 PM

    Perhaps it is somewhat similar to the Nazir, who gave a Korban Chattat (Sin Offering) after his time as a Nazir. The requirement of a Korban Chattat, of all korbanot, shows that while one may take on the stringencies of being a nazir if one felt the need, it wasn’t the preferred way of behavior. Likewise, if some women feel the need for a womens prayer group, it’s allowed, but not the best way for people in general.

  • Frum Satire July 15, 2009, 2:49 PM

    It is allowed – the whole point is that there isn’t anything wrong with it but Charedim bitch and moan whenever a woman does anything that takes her away from the kitchen and baby making duties.

  • BT at Work July 15, 2009, 3:31 PM

    I heard a shiur last night on tzitzis, and why women shouldn’t wear them, and it sort of relates. It’s brought down from Moses Isserles and the Ba’er Hetev that because the tzitzis aren’t even mandatory for men – they only have to wear them when wearing a 4 cornered garment, and nowadays no one would wear it except for to voluntarily go out of their way – so for a woman to voluntarily take on something that is already voluntary it is a sign of haughtiness. Like they are saying “look how pious I am!!”, so they’re doing it for all the wrong reasons.

    So I would think that If women are davening together just to be equal to men then it’s problematic.

    But I would also think that if they get something spiritually out of davening together, they would just daven together in the women’s section of the shul while the men are davening. Why have their own little group?

  • Miriam Tzipora July 15, 2009, 6:11 PM

    That’s precisely the problem – halachically, it’s allowed. But socially/culturally/in practice…not so much in certain circles.

  • Puzzled July 16, 2009, 11:40 AM

    Is anyone really willing to seriously argue that whatever is halachically permitted ought to be socially and culturally acceptable? What should I do with the Rambam ruling that it is permissible to hit one’s wife with a stick smaller than one’s thumb – should I get angry at haredim for saying we shouldn’t engage in this practice even though it isn’t forbidden?

  • kissmei'mshomer July 16, 2009, 2:15 PM

    Puzzled – I’m confused. It sounds to me like you’re saying that we should avoid women’s prayer groups for the same reason we avoid strip clubs and hitting wives with small objects?
    Now I’m sure you’re not quite comparing women’s prayer groups to strip clubs and wife-beating. I’m assuming that you’re stating that since we readily accept that the same “halachic but not hashkafic” means that we just plain shouldn’t do certain things, why is it so hard to accept that we just should avoid women’s minyanim?

    To me it seems MUCH MORE CLEAR why strip clubs and wife-beating should be avoided by decent people, in that is much clearer how a person is being directly harmed.

    I disagree with your opinion that strip clubs re not demeaning to women. I am sure that there are strippers and exotic dancers who will tell you that they find their vocation liberating and empowering. Maybe there are some clubs where that it the case for such women.

    But I highly doubt that the environment in most strip clubs embrace women as strong, independent individuals who are celebrating their sexuality because it makes them feel good and powerful and have the freedom to do with their bodies what they wish. It seems far more likely that the men are viewing them as their sexual playthings who are there to make MEN feel powerful. I also highly doubt that the men in these clubs respect these women very much.

    So while I can understand that people oppose women’s prayer groups to do certain hashkafos (which I personally disagree with), it seems as though the hashkafa which would lead a person to avoid strip clubs and wife-beating is more clearly universal and more founded in basic decency. By contrast the hashkafa which opposes women’s prayer groups seems more dependent on one’s understanding of Jewish beliefs rather than on fundamental compassion.

  • Yochanan July 16, 2009, 2:22 PM

    Puzzled,

    I thought the “rule of thumb” was from an English Common Law, or whatever they call it.

    I’ve also heard that the Rambam said that a man can’t personally beat his wife, but can get the Bet Din to do so.

  • Puzzled July 16, 2009, 2:24 PM

    Ok, I never saw it in the text, so I may have misspoken. I think the point still comes through, though. Isn’t there a mishnah where a tanna said burning dinner is a sufficient reason for a man to divorce his wife? My point is simple – just because something is halachically permissible doesn’t mean it has to be socially accepted.

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