Orthodox Women’s Prayer Groups

“Even in the best (Orthodox) shul, there is still no ritual women can perform if men are in the room.” Thus, Rivkeh Haut, a Talmud teacher, explained her motivation in co-founding an Orthodox women’s prayer group in Flatbush, Brooklyn. The group is one of several that have sprouted up in recent years seeking to offer Orthodox women more active and direct involvement in Shabbat services.

The women’s prayer groups were condemned by five Yeshiva University (modern Orthodox) scholars. Responsa (formal rulings on Jewish law) by Rabbis Herschel Schacter, Abraham Bronspigel, Yehuda Parries, Nissim Alpert and Mordechai Willig maintained that such prayer groups are prohibited by Jewish law, and are a “total and very apparent deviation from tradition.’ The rabbis added that, “all these customs are coming from the movement for the emancipation of women, which in this area is only for licentiousness.”

One of the rabbis, quoted anonymously in a February 1985 interview with the Long Island Jewish World, complained, “What are they (the women) doing it for? A psychological lift? It has no halachic (Jewish legal) meaning. If they want to get their kicks, there are other ways to get it.”

Commenting on the responsa, Rivkeh Haut told the Jewish World, “I think they’re afraid. It’s never been done for women to take ritual into their own hands. Before, women couldn’t read and understand. Now we’re pumped full of education and yet they still expect us to sit passively behind the mechitzah” (partition between women and men worshippers).

Moreover, she declared, “They’re totally falsifying what we’re doing. None of the rabbis bothered to contact us. Members of every group make it very clear it’s not a minyan” (the ten-member prayer quorum in which, according to traditional Jewish law, only men are counted), and that they assiduously avoid prayers and blessings intended to be recited “My real dream,” said Haut, “is that every sizeable Jewish community should have women’s davening (prayer) groups.”