Sunday, May 26, 2013

Partnership Minyanim and More

Partnership Minyanim and More
Marc B. Shapiro

1. A few people have wanted me to comment on the recent debate between Rabbis Barry Freundel and Zev Farber about the so-called Partnership Minyanim in which women lead Kabbalat Shabbat. See hereThe issue goes back to R. Freundel’s article in Tradition 44:2 (2011) on the topic. I was planning to respond to this article when it first appeared, and even wrote some pages, but I never completed the piece. Since the issue has once again surfaced, now is a good time to deal with it. Some of what I will say was also stated by an anonymous commenter on the Torah Musings blog, but both R. Zev Farber and Lazer Kaganovitch can testify that I sent them these points before the commenter posted anything, so I see no reason not to record my thoughts. (I should also note that this anonymous commenter, while pointing out errors and misreadings by R. Freundel, did not show proper respect in recording his criticisms.)

In his article, R. Freundel argues against the Partnership Minyanim with an original approach. Rather than summarize his viewpoint in my own words, this quotation sets forth his thesis, which the article attempts to prove:

In those communities which do not employ a Hazan for Kabbalat Shabbat, that lack would indicate that they view this liturgy as neither mandatory nor communal. Nonetheless, putting a woman (and maybe a child) into the role of Hazan would still be problematic. Adding a Hazan makes the prayer mandatory and communal but women and possibly children cannot lead a mandatory communal prayer. As a result, even in a setting that currently has no Hazan, the innovation of using a Hazan who cannot serve as a Hazan for communal prayer creates a halakhic dissonance that is unsustainable.

This is quite an argument and if it could be sustained, then it would be a significant contribution to the debate. However, in my opinion, and the opinion of everyone I know who has examined the issue, R. Freundel’s argument is completely unconvincing. There is simply no way that having a person read a few paragraphs of Psalms or more recent compositions before some other people makes the prayer “mandatory” and “communal.”

Before getting into some particulars of R. Freundel’s piece, let me offer a more general criticism. Reading the article I was troubled by the author’s need to come up with a halakhic argument to forbid that which pretty much everyone can see is not a halakhic matter at all (apart from possible halakhic concerns of tzeniut). Those who are in favor of Partnership Minyanim devote great efforts to show that there is no halakhic objection, and therefore these minyanim should be instituted, and R. Freundel is playing the same game, but from the other side. He feels that he needs to show why Partnership Minyanim are halakhically forbidden, and therefore shouldn’t be instituted.

The truth of the matter is that many of the most important things traditional Jews do and don’t do have nothing to do with halakhah. Something can be a bad idea, even a very bad idea, and deserve to be rejected even if there is no technical halakhic objection to it. As the Steipler wrote (Karyana de-Igarta [2011 ed.], vol. 2 no. 581):

יש כמה דברים שאין בכח החכם להורות איסור אע"פ שבאמת אינו נכון כלל

There are good reasons people can offer in opposition to Partnership Minyanim without falling into the “pan-halakhic” trap that everything you oppose has to be shown to be halakhically improper. Opponents of the Partnership Minyanim should be able to acknowledge that if non-bar mitzvah age boys are permitted to serve as a hazan for pesukei de-zimra or Kabbalat Shabbat then, apart from issues of tzeniut (in which I include kol ishah), there is no “technical” halakhic objection with women doing so as well. But as mentioned already, lack of a prohibition doesn’t necessarily make something a good idea. Plenty of synagogues will not let someone serve as a hazan if he is wearing jeans (or if he is not wearing a jacket or hat), yet this doesn’t mean that we need to find a technical halakhic objection for something which is at essence a matter of synagogue custom and propriety, and therefore does not need to be supported by halakhic sources. By the same token, I think we have reached the point whereby the typical Orthodox rabbi acknowledges (privately, at least) that there is no real halakhic objection to a woman rabbi, while at the same time continuing to oppose the concept (much like many oppose yoatzot halakhah). They oppose it because of how women rabbis will change the structure of traditional Judaism, change it in way they view as negative. This point can be made without using halakhic arguments that after a little investigation people will see don’t carry any weight. This is especially so in the Modern Orthodox world where there are women principals of Jewish day school, women synagogue presidents, women teachers of Talmud, women learning advanced halakhah, and no one bats an eye when a woman speaks in front of men.

For those who oppose things like women leading Kabbalat Shabbat, a weak halakhic argument is worse than no argument at all. The best tactic for the opponents is simply to keep the issue focused on what direction is best for Judaism. It is known that a number of great rabbis refused to provide halakhic reasons for particular decisions they gave, especially when the halakhic justification was weak. They chose this path precisely because they didn’t want these issues to become matters of halakhic debate, as there were other, even more important considerations guiding them. (In a future post I will give examples.) What R. Freundel’s article does is empower the proponents of Partnership Minyanim because they can rightfully say, “If this is the best our opponents can muster in terms of halakhic objections, then there really is no reason to oppose what we are doing.”

Now let’s turn to some particulars, as there are a couple of points in R. Freundel’s article that I would like to comment on. He writes:

The second oft-cited opinion in Rishonim is that of Nahmanides, who argues for obligatory twice a day recitations of the Amidah by women at Shaharit and Minha. The problem is that, despite the fact that the Mishna Berurah quotes this approach in the name of Ramban, I cannot find this opinion anywhere in Nahmanides’ writings. An examination of the section of Shulhan Arukh where Mishna Berurah makes this statement indicates that he is quoting R. Akiva Eiger.

There is a misunderstanding here. Here is the passage from the Mishnah Berurah 106:4 referred to by R. Freundel.

What the Mishnah Berurah is saying is that Nahmanides’ view is that prayer is a rabbinic commandment. The part about Anshei Keneset ha-Gedolah requiring the Amidah to be recited twice a day and that women are also obligated in this is not from Nahmanides. This is the Mishnah Berurah speaking. Contrary to what R. Freundel writes, the Mishnah Berurah is not quoting R. Akiva Eger.
In the next paragraph, Freundel writes:

R. Eiger cites Nahmanides from section 89 of Responsa Besamim Rosh. At one time this book was attributed to a variety of important scholars including Ramban, but now it is known to have been written by Isaac Molina in the 16th century. . . . Section 89 of Besamim Rosh tells us that women “in our area” are required to pray twice a day because “they have accepted this practice upon themselves.” This is hardly an indication that all Jewish women are required to recite the formal liturgy at Shaharit and Minha as Mishna Berurah claims.

Here is the responsum from Besamim Rosh.

It never uses the words “in our area”, and furthermore, the responsum is not from Nahmanides. It seems that R. Freundel makes the false assumption that at one time this book was attributed to Ramban because he thinks that R. Akiva Eger is citing a responsum of Ramban in Besamim Rosh. Yet Besamim Rosh was never attributed to Nahmanides nor to Isaac Molina.[1] The latter supposedly gathered the teshuvot (that is what it says on the title page, but this is part of Saul Berlin’s forgery). This means that R. Freundel’s critique of the Mishnah Berurah falls by the wayside, since the responsum in Besamim Rosh has nothing to do with the Ramban and thus nothing to do with the Mishnah Berurah’s point, which is derived from the Ramban. .

Here is the text from R. Akiva Eger.


In his heading he cites Ramban, but that is simply a quote from the Magen Avraham, and has nothing to do with the Besamim Rosh that he cites immediately following this. All R. Akiva Eger is doing by citing Besamim Rosh is providing another relevant text dealing with the issue under consideration, i.e., women and prayer. In R. Akiva Eger’s responsa, vol. 1, no. 9, he cites this same responsum in Besamim Rosh. (R. Akiva Eger thought that Besamim Rosh was an authentic work.[2]) 

However, how did R. Freundel ever assume that Besamim Rosh was citing Nahmanides? He never could have concluded this if he used the Machon Yerushalayim edition, which is the text I just used. He also could not have concluded this if he used one of the older editions of the Shulhan Arukh in which R. Akiva Eger’s note doesn’t even refer to Ramban. See here:

Yet here is the text as it appears in what used to be the standard edition of the Shulhan Arukh. In this edition there is a mistake in R. Akiva Eger’s text and it indeed has him stating that Nahmanides’ view is found in Besamim Rosh.

R. Freundel writes:

While all agree that women do not count towards adding Elokeinu, there is some debate about whether women can count among the three for zimmun. Nonetheless, even for those who say that women do count for the three no one suggests that a woman can lead if there are both men and women present. This is either because women’s obligation is rabbinic while men’s is Biblical or because the formal text of Birkat ha-Mazon contains references to certain mitsvot (e.g., circumcision) which are not applicable to women (emphasis added).

The passage I have underlined is incorrect. Ritva writes as follows[3]:

נשים חייבות בברכת המזון מן התורה, ולפיכך אשה מברכת לאיש על ידי זימון, או אם הוא עם הארץ להוציאו ידי חובתו כדרך שהאיש מוציאו.

See also R. Asher Ben Hayyim, Sefer ha-Pardes, ed. Blau (New York, 1984), pp. 176-177, and also the Hazon Ish, Orah Hayyim 30:8, who mentions that according to one approach in the rishonim גם הנשים רשאות לזמן כה"ג אם אין אנשים בקיאין . 

R. Yitzhak Yosef, Yalkut Yosef, Orah Hayyim 186:5, writes:

אשה שבירכה ברכת המזון ונתכוונה להוציא את האיש ידי חובתו, ושניהם אכלו כדי שביעה, בדיעבד יצא ידי חובה, ואינו צריך לחזור ולברך

A good discussion of the issue is found in R. Yehudah Herzl Henkin, Bnei Vanim, vol. 3, no. 1.[4]

R. Freundel writes:

The presence of a Hazan was essential to Magen Avot becoming a mandatory tefillah be-tsibburMagen Avot became mandatory with a Hazan. . . . If the presence of a Hazan makes a prayer mandatory, then Kabbalat Shabbat, which today has a Hazan in the vast majority of synagogues, is also mandatory.

I think R. Freundel has it all backwards. The presence of a hazan never made Magen Avot mandatory. Rather, when Magen Avot was made mandatory, it was required that there be a hazan. But what does this have to do with Kabbalat Shabbat which was never made mandatory by anyone?

R. Freundel writes:

R. Kook maintained that one who has heard the repetition of the Amidah on Rosh Hodesh thereby fulfilling his tefillah be-tsibbur requirement, but who must repeat his silent Amidah because he forgot Ya’ale ve-Yavo[,] counts among the six to whom four who previously prayed are added for recitation of devarim she-bi-kedushah. His repeat prayer constitutes tefillat rabbim in that venue, which is sufficient to count him in the majority of a tsibbur that has not yet prayed. Tefillat rabbim is, therefore, not a larger form of individual prayer, rather it is a diminished form of tefillah be-tsibbur and therefore, he counts because his is a minor act of communal prayer.

This description is incorrect as R. Kook does not “maintain” that which is being attributed to him. In his responsum, Orah Mishpat, no. 23, R. Kook presents both sides of the matter and concludes וצריך בירור. What this means is that he does not make a final decision. In any event, what does this have to do with someone such as a minor or a woman leading a prayer that is not obligatory?

The larger problem of R. Freundel’s article is that he makes assumptions which are simply not in accord with the practice of Jewish communities. For example, his argument leads to the conclusion that it should be forbidden (not just inappropriate, but forbidden) for someone under bar mitzvah age to lead any part of the service. Yet this is the practice in communities all over the world. Doesn’t every Modern Orthodox synagogue have a child lead Adon Olam? R. Freundel assumes that the only reason this can be permitted is because of hinnukh considerations. That is possible, but it is just as likely permitted precisely because there is no prohibition, and it is a nice thing to do. In other words, there is no default position that it is prohibited, from which one then needs to then find a way to permit.

The Beit Yosef, Orah Hayyim 53, discusses the practice of children leading the congregation in maariv and those who objected. He explains that the practice can be defended since there is no repetition of the Amidah, the hazan is not fulfilling anyone’s obligation for him, and maariv is also reshut. In other words, there are no considerations of hinnukh raised here, and for the Beit Yosef there is no default position that it is prohibited, and certainly no concept of tefillat rabbim, (which is mostly a hiddush of R. Freundel). It seems to be entirely a matter of synagogue etiquette, i.e., kevod ha-tzibbur, and if this can be overcome, then there is no halakhic problem. R. Yitzhak Zilberstein even argues that in an extreme circumstance (the particular case concerned a prison) one need not protest if a non-Jew leads the maariv service![5]

Let me stress that there is nothing wrong with R. Freundel coming up with a hiddush dealing with tefillat rabbim. However, a hiddush such as this cannot be the basis for forbidding a practice such as Partnership Minyanim. To see how far R. Freundel’s model takes him, in response to criticism he even stated that it is forbidden for a woman to recite tefillat ha-derekh on behalf of men and also to lead a communal recitation of Psalms. R. Freundel assumes that this is all tefillat rabbim and therefore forbidden for a woman to lead.

I have no doubt that if you ask the typical posek about a woman reciting tefillat ha-derekh or reading a Psalm before a mixed group of men and women, he will say it should not be done, for reasons of tzeniut or mesorah. But if you ask him if it is forbidden on account of tefillat rabbim, he won’t have a clue what you are talking about. Speaking historically, there is simply no such halakhic framework, and I find it hard to believe that people are going to be convinced that if some men and women sit down to read a few Psalms together (or a liturgical text of more recent vintage) that there is a prohibition for a woman to lead the recitation. (Again, I am not referring to tzeniut issues here.). Let me just remind readers that R. Ovadiah Yosef, relying on numerous rishonim, has ruled that if necessary a woman can read the Purim megillah for men (which might arise if no men know how to read it).[6] If the halakhically obligatory Megillah can be read by women for men, with none of the poskim saying a word about a concept of tefillat rabbim, then why should people accept that there is a prohibition for a woman to lead a group of men and women in recitation of a Psalm? (I realize that one can respond that reading the Megillah is not tefillah, but it would nevertheless be strange to permit a woman to read an entire book of the Bible before a group of men, and at the same time not allow her to read even a few verses from another book, i.e., Psalms.)

There is a good deal more to say about the phenomenon of Partnership Minyanim and the strange way they came about. Before Prof. Daniel Sperber got involved, the basis for them was an article written by an otherwise unknown rabbi in the Edah Journal. I can’t help but wonder about the halakhic methodology of changing traditional Jewish practice simply because a rabbi writes an article with some suggestions. If tomorrow a rabbi, any rabbi, writes an article arguing that in today’s day and age when men and women mix freely, that there is no need for a mehitzah in prayer (after all, it is not mentioned in the Shulhan Arukh), would that then give people carte blanche to remove the mehitzah? Had this not already been an issue between the Orthodox and Conservative, and thus of great symbolic significance, I am sure the mehitzah would already have been removed in liberal Orthodox synagogues. And what about counting women in the minyan? Halakhic arguments can be advanced for this as well. Is the only reason the liberal Orthodox don’t accept R. Ethan Tucker’s and R. Micha’el Rosenberg’s arguments[7] because of their non-affiliation with Orthodoxy? If an Orthodox rabbi had advanced the same argument as them, would it then be OK to move to complete halakhic egalitarianism?[8]

2. In a previous post I wrote about the dispute over whether there is pesak in hashkafah. Only recently did I see the following relevant statement of R. Soloveitchik, The Emergence of Ethical Man, p. 6 (emphasis added).

It is certain that the fathers of the Church and also the Jewish medieval scholars believed that the Bible preached this doctrine [the separateness of man from nature]. Medieval and even modern Jewish moralists have almost canonized this viewpoint and attributed to it apodictic validity. Yet the consensus of many, however great and distinguished, does not prove the truth or falseness of a particular belief.

In my article, I discussed some of the difficulties with the Hatam Sofer’s position that principles of faith can change with time, and are determined in a fashion no different than typical halakhic decisions. I argued that this understanding diverges from that of the rishonim. In R. Dovid Cohen’s recently published Ha-Emunah ha-Ne’emanah (Brooklyn, 2012), p. 41, he appears troubled by the Hatam Sofer’s approach.
וקשה מאד להתאים דברי הח"ס שעיקרי הדת חשובים עיקרים שהכל צריכים להאמינם מפני ההכרעה שאז י"ל שהפורק עול שאינו רוצה לקבל ההכרעה נענש מטעם זה, אבל איך זה שייך לסברת האברבנאל והגרי"ז שמי שאינו מאמין אין לו התפיסה שיוכל להשיג עולם הבא האם ההשגה תלויה בהכרעה או במציאות של האמת והאם שייך לומר שלרב הלל יש חלק בעוה"ב והבא אחריו שסובר כוותיה אין לו חלק לעולם הבא שאינו יכל להשיג. . . . ועיין לקמן בעיקר ז' שהערתי שמשמע מהאריז"ל ומבעל התניא שהם חולקים על החתם סופר ודו"ק.

What does the last word (abbreviation) mean, as it does not stand for ודוחק קצת, which is how it is usually understood? Furthermore, what are we to do with the expression והדברים ברורים ודו"ק that appears in Maharsha and elsewhere? I remember how in yeshiva we didn’t know what to make of this, since it obviously doesn't  mean  ודוחק קצת. One rebbe told us that the abbreviation mark is a mistake and it should be read as  ודוק, that is, “examine it carefully” (like ודייק). It is also possible that the abbreviation stands for ודיק וקרא, although this meaning is not mentioned in Otzar Rashei Tevot. R. Meir Mazuz recounts that in Tunis they explained it: ואחר דרישה וחקירה קל. (Otzar Rashei Teivot has ודייק ותמצא קל). See his Lo Tashikh (Bnei Brak, 2005), p. 8 (first numbering). But he assumes that the real meaning is as I mentioned, i.e., ודייק.
Returning to R. Cohen’s book, it really requires a post of its own, as it contains all sorts of interesting things. Here is one example, from p. 127, where he suggests an interpretation of the Twelfth Principle of Maimonides according to which belief in a personal Messiah and other details in the Principle are not really  required beliefs.
וצ"ל שהעיקר הי"ב הוא גאולה באחרית הימים והכופר בזה הוא כופר גמור והפרטים שכתב הרמב"ם שיהיה משיח והוא מיו"ח של שלמה בן דוד אין זה מהעקרים שהכופר בהם אינו נחשב ככופר והוא חידוש עצום.
I only quote this for its novelty, as it is contradicted by Maimonides’ explicit words in the Principle. With reference to the detail of the Messiah’s genealogy, Maimonides states: “Included in this fundamental principle is that there will be no king of Israel except from David and from the seed of Solomon exclusively. Anyone who disputes concerning this family denies God and the words of His prophets.”
On p. 162 R. Cohen states that according to Maimonides even non-Jews are obligated to believe in the Thirteen Principles. He concludes his paragraph with ודו"ק, and again, it does not mean ודוחק קצת.
ועיין סוף פ"ח ממלכים שכתב וז"ל כי [כל] המקבל שבע מצות ונזהר לעשותן הרי זה מחסידי אומות העולם ויש לו חלק לעולם הבא. והוא שיקבל אותן ויעשה אותן מפני שצוה בהן הקב"ה בתורה והודיענו על ידי משה רבינו שבני נח מקודם נצטוו בהן. אבל אם עשאן מפני הכרע הדעת אין זה גר תושב ואינו מחסידי אומות העולם ולא מחכמיהם עכ"ל. ומשמע מכאן שהרמב"ם בא לכלול הגוים שהם חסידי אומות העולם שמאמינים בתורה, אבל אינם מאמינים בי"ג עיקרים שאין להם חלק לעוה"ב . . . הרי מוכח כנ"ל שגוי צריך להאמין בי"ג עקרים ודו"ק
Contrary to R. Cohen, when Maimonides speaks of righteous non-Jews being required to believe in the revelation at Sinai, this has nothing to do with acceptance of the complete Thirteen Principles.
One more point about R. Cohen's book is that it is obvious that at times he is responding to what I wrote in The Limits of Orthodox Theology (and he also makes use of many of the sources I cite). While I am not mentioned by name (no surprise there) I am apparently included among the משמאילים referred to on p. 5 (see Limits, pp. 7-8).
Finally, let me add more comment about the Thirteen Principles. Just when I was about send in this post, I received the latest issue (Spring 2013) of the journal Conversations, published by Rabbi Marc Angel’s Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals. Each issue is a great read as it includes material from both well-known scholars as well as talented newcomers who have a lot to contribute and whose writings have often been real eye-openers for me.
Among the established writers in the new issue is R. Nathan Lopes Cardozo. If there is any contemporary writer in the Orthodox world who reminds me of the early Hasidic masters, the Kotzker, or even R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg in his private moments,[9] it is R. Lopes Cardozo. Reading him one can sense how difficult it is for R. Lopes Cardozo to live in a world in which spiritual authenticity is in such short supply. As with his similar-minded predecessors, he too must protest, and the real perplexity is why so many others don’t join in this protest. The questions he asks, and what keeps him up at night, are exactly what should be on the mind of all thinking Orthodox Jews, even if one may disagree with the answers he gives.
His latest article, which appears in Conversations, is entitled “Lonely but Not Alone: An Autobiography by a Jew Who Should Never Have Been.” On p. 10 he writes:
It became clear to me that Judaism is based on the need for absolute questioning. I discovered that there are no absolute dogmas in Judaism, at least not in the way they are found within the Catholic Church. Maimonides’ famous Thirteen Principles of Faith, which are sung in nearly every synagogue on Friday nights, were never accepted as the final version of Jewish belief and were in fact heavily attacked and challenged by the greatest rabbinical authorities. Today, I see that Maimonides’ thirteen principles caused major damage to Judaism. It was the famous Professor Leon Roth who once remarked: “For this Hebrew of Hebrews had in many respects a Greek mind and through his sense of logic and his passion for precision, he brought Judaism into a doctrinal crisis, the echoes of which are with us yet” (Judaism, A Portrait, 1960, p. 122). How true! Judaism, while surely consisting of certain beliefs, is open to self-critique, debate, and ongoing discussions that have almost never been resolved. This spoke to my imagination. A religion with no dogmas, always open to new ideas! What could be better than that!

3. In a previous post I called attention to a bizarre segulah from R. Zvi Hirsch Kaidonover which I didn’t translate and which I suggested the police might regard as a form of sexual abuse. The text is as follows:
ועוד סגולה נפלאה לתינוק הנולד שלא יקרה עליו חולי נכפה בר מינן, מיד כשנולד ישימו בפיו ברית קודש של תינוק ויהיה ניצול כל ימיו מחולי נכפה
If you thought that this was strange, I guarantee that you will find the following, which was sent to me by a friend, even stranger.

The text comes from Meir Benayahu, Toldot ha-Ari (Jerusalem, 1967), pp. 224-225, and describes a “cure” recommended by R. Isaac Luria. The passage is too bizarre to translate. If the man who “came to the rescue” was just a man off the street it would be one thing. However, we see that it was none other than R. Moses Galante, a great sixteenth-century Torah scholar of the land of Israel who was given real semikhah by R. Joseph Karo. Even though the pre-modern mind was able to come up with all sorts of strange “cures”,  I would like to believe that the entire story is a fiction. But even if it never happened, the fact that people believed it happened tells us a great deal about their mindset.

On p. 110 n. 4, Benayahu cites the following text from R. Hayyim Vital (and note the shocking passage I have underlined):

בענין לילית ההורגות את הילדים מבן שמונה ימים ללידתם . . . נטיתי אז ושמתי אבר מילת נער קטן בפי הילד תכף כשנולד טרם שיינק . . . ואמנם פעמים אחרות עשיתי כל הנ"ל וגם דברים אחרים, שנבאר עתה, ולא ניזוק. ואלה הם: לשים אבר מילת אבי הנולד עצמו בפי הילד טרם שיינק
On p. 111 he records a story that once when a lion was about to attack R. Hayyim Ben Attar

גילה בריתו ברית קדש, וכשראה אותה האריה ברח מפניו . . . שמעולם לא ראה טפת קרי

All of these texts relate to the power of circumcision, a topic that is relevant to an earlier post here where I discussed the notion that Eliezer took an oath to Abraham by placing his hand on Abraham's circumsision.

Returning to the first story quoted from Benayahu, there is no doubt that people can believe all sorts of strange things. There is currently a situation in London where a leading rabbi is charged with inappropriate contact with women. This rabbi denies the charges. However, he has admitted, so I am informed, that he did touch women in non-sexual ways, but this was done as part of his “therapy” which he claims was halakhically permitted. Now obviously we can’t have a situation where a male therapist, or  “therapist”, is arm wrestling or massaging his female patients. In fact, after everything we have seen these last few years, I think we can all agree that there can’t be any touching.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when in the most recent volume of Ma’ayan Omer I came across the following text:

R. Ovadiah gives permission for a kabbalist to touch a woman as part of his kabbalistic healing. R. Ovadiah requires that he wear gloves when touching her, but this is still surprising, as once such a heter is given it is not too difficult to see where this can lead..

I didn’t know what to make of the words צריכה להתפשט. Does this mean that a woman can remove all her clothes if that’s what the kabbalist needs in order to complete the healing process? (According to news reports, the Breslov figure currently in the news for sexual impropriety operated in this way). I was certain it couldn’t mean this, but then what does it mean? I wrote to R. Avraham Yosef and here is his reply.

Even with R. Avraham’s explanations, both regarding the nature of the pesak and the limited removing of clothes, it is still very difficult to stomach. But I acknowledge that this is only because of my rationalist perspective and my assumption that virtually all of these “kabbalists” are more snake oil salesmen than anything else. (R. Yitzhak Kaduri, a real kabbalist, said that an authentic mekubal does not charge money for helping people, so that immediately knocks out some of the most popular “kabbalists” who make a very good living at their craft.) However, for one who believes that a kabbalist can heal just like a doctor, then all the heterim that apply to a male doctor, including touching a woman while healing her, would also apply to a kabbalist. Skeptical as I am, I wonder why such a powerful kabbalist can’t do his healing without touching the woman.[10]

[1] This information is available simply by googling "Besamim Rosh", and the first two results are from Seforim Blog posts. The third result is Wikipedia which also states that Besamim Rosh is an eighteenth century forgery.
[2] This can be seen from how he cites the source, and see also his note to Shulhan Arukh, Even ha-Ezer 117, where he is explicit (this source was noted by one of the commenters on Torah Musings).
[3] Hilkhot Berakhot 7:2 (p. 106 in the Mossad ha-Rav Kook edition).
[4] R. Baruch Gigi, one of the roshei yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion, believes that women saying birkat ha-mazon together with their families can be counted towards a mezuman. See Yonatan Gershon, “On Women Joining in a Zimmun,” Meorot 9 (2011), available hereI have yet to see this acted on in practice.
[5] Hashukei Hemed, Berakhot 51b. R. Zilberstein’s books contain some of the strangest cases. I don’t know whether these are actual cases or if people just ask him the strange questions knowing he will respond, or if perhaps even he makes up the questions so that he can then discuss the matter להגדיל תורה ולהאדירה
[6] See Yalkut Yosef, Dinei Keriat ha-Megillah, no. 12.
[7] See here.
[8] David Berger has recently alluded to Partnership Minyanim in his “Texts, Values, and Historical Change: Reflections on the Dynamics of Jewish Law,” in Michael J. Harris, et al., eds., Radical Responsibility: Celebrating the Thought of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (Jerusalem, 2012). In referring to Haym Soloveitchik’s thesis in “Rupture and Reconstruction,” Berger writes (p. 204): “[S]ome of those who lionize the mimetic society as they savour the anti-haredi uses of Soloveitchik’s analysis are simultaneously impelled by feminist convictions to change generations of synagogue practice on the basis of textual analysis far more tenuous than the considerations that lead the traditionalist Orthodox to their usually more stringent deviations from the practices of the past. Affirmation or rejection of a mimetic ideal can depend very much on whose ox is being gored.”
[9] I think readers will appreciate this letter of R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg. It first appeared in Mordechai Eliav and Yitzhak Rafael, eds., Sefer Shragai (Jerusalem, 1981), p. 275, and was reprinted in Ba’ayot Aktualiyot le-Or ha-Halakhah (Jerusalem, 1993), pp. 58-59. We are now sixty years after R. Weinberg wrote his letter, and not only have things not gotten better, but they have actually gotten much worse.

[10] In the recently published Mesorat Moshe, p. 612, it records that R. Moshe Feinstein responded as follows, after being told of a dentist who sexually assaulted female patients while they were sedated: אמר רבינו שממש פלא, דהלא זה כנגד החזקה שאומן לא "מרע אומנותו". I don’t understand R. Moshe’s surprise, as he could say the same thing about teachers or anyone else who engages in this sort of behavior. Since we are dealing with people who are sick, there is no rational calculation for which you can apply the concept of מרע אומנותו. We have already seen numerous people who have destroyed their lives and their families by engaging in the sort of behavior, and taking the sort of risks, that simple self-interest would be enough to deter normal people from. (In a future post I will discuss other passages in Mesorat Moshe.) Also regarding sexual (and physical) abuse, R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv writes, in discussing whether to inform the authorities (Kovetz Teshuvot, vol. 4, no. 198):

יש גם לשקול בגדר של ההתעוללות, שבהשקפה שלהם היא אחרת לגמרי משלנו

What does this mean? In what way is the religious Jewish approach to this matter superior to that found among non-Jews and non-religious Jews?

And finally, I found what I thought was a strange passage in R. Abraham Bornstein, Avnei Nezer, Even ha-Ezer no. 44. Much like Todd Akin, the Avnei Nezer thought that a woman couldn’t get pregnant through rape (unless . . . actually I would rather not explain it).

ואם היתה אנוסה מתחילה ועד סוף ולא רצתה בו כלל אי אפשר שתתעבר, רק שיש חשש שמא תחילה באונס וסופו ברצון . . . אלא ודאי כמ"ש משום דבאונס מתחלה ועד סוף אי אפשר שתתעבר

I have not found such a notion in any earlier rabbinic source. However, S. of On the Main Line called my attention to Rachel P. Maines, The Technology of Orgasm (Baltimore, 2009), pp. 51-52, from which we see that there was indeed a long-standing view that conception was not possible without female orgasm or at least desire.


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