Briefly summarizing, the stringent school’s opposition to women’s services is predicated on six major grounds: 1) in such services, mitsvah actions cannot be fulfilled in their most complete form; 2) the very existence of such services is a misrepresentation of Torah; 3) they contribute to divisiveness within a prayer community; 4) women’s prayer groups are a serious, intentional departure from Jewish tradition; 5) these services are foreign to Judaism and violate the biblical prohibition against following non-Jewish religious practices and immodest mores (be-hukoteihem lo te-leikhu); and finally 6) women’s prayer services (as well as women’s Megilla readings and Simhat Torah hakafot) run counter to the traditionally more private and modest role of the Jewish woman. Let us now turn to each of these points respectively, examining their soundness and cogency.
1. Incomplete Fulfillment of Mitsvot: The RIETS Rashei Yeshiva and R. Messas begin their responsa by noting that even women who participate in truly halakhic women’s prayer groups have missed out on the opportunity to take part in the various rabbinic mitsvot connected with a bona fide public prayer service. In particular, by praying in the absence of a minyan, they have forfeited the opportunity of tefilla be-tsibbur (reciting the amida together with a halakhically defined community) and of answering to kaddish, barekhu and the repetition of the amida (hazarat ha-shats) with kedusha or reciting the thirteen attributes. Without these important segments of the service, the prayers of the women’s groups are lacking and incomplete.75 What is more, argues R. Schachter, women are actually rabbinically obligated, in the opinion of Magen Avraham,76 to hear the weekly reading of the Torah (keriat haTorah). The latter can be properly performed only with the recitation of barekhu and the berakhot, which, in turn, require a male minyan.77
Similarly, contends R. Schachter, the reading of Ester on Purim, which is incumbent upon both men and women, cannot be properly fulfilled in a service composed solely of women. In support of this contention, R. Schachter cites the ruling that Megillat Ester should preferably be read with a minyan;78 furthermore, for the recitation of the concluding benediction, “Ha-rav et riveinu,” such a quorum, according to many views, is indispensable.79 Rama expresses doubt as to whether women can be counted towards a minyan for these purposes.80 Consequently, concludes R. Schachter, a woman can properly fulfill her obligation of hearing the Megilla only in the presence of a male minyan.81
Lastly, R. Schachter points to the mandatory Torah reading of Parshat Zakhor (Deuteronomy 25:17-19), traditionally read on the Shabbat before Purim. He argues that “in