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Women’s Prayer Groups-the Ongoing Controversy (Among Men)

Reacting to the responsum issued last year by five Yeshiva University scholars, which declared that separate women’s prayer groups are prohibited by Jewish law (see Kol Ishah story, “Orthodox Women’s Prayer Groups” in Lilith No. 14), Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits, a prominent Orthodox spokesman, wrote the following letter last September to the Editor of The Jerusalem Post:

Sir, — I read with interest your article of September 11, “Orthodox women fume at rabbis.” One may no longer remain silent. I have read carefully the responsum of the five talmudists at Yeshiva University, forbidding prayer services by women. I wish to state unequivocally that their so-called ‘T’shuva” has nothing to do with Halacha.

People will have to realize that knowledge and understanding are not identical. One may know a lot and understand very little.

There may be a great deal of Orthodoxy around. Unfortunately, there is only very little halachic Judaism.

May God grant to the women of Women’s Tefilla Network strength and courage to continue their efforts to the best of their abilities.

In addition Emanual Rackman, President of Bar Ilan University stated in the Los Angeles Messenger last January that “even though I do not like women’s separate services, I recommend that rabbis should not be hasty in forbidding them.” Rackman went on to clarify that:

I do not like them because I want to be where the women in my family pray and, after the service, I want to share reactions with them to all that was said and done. But if there are devout and committed women to whom such services are meaningful, then by all means, they should not be made to feel that their innovation is blameworthy… Some of the most cherished halachic rules and institutions of today began as innovations upon which one rabbi or another must have frowned when they were first projected.