the general Torah reading obligation, which is rabbinic in origin and from which women are exempted, as noted above. Consistent with this view is the prevalent custom of a second reading of Parshat Zakhor for women without the appropriate benedictions or the presence of a minyan of men.114 While the precentor for these second readings is commonly male, R. Moses Shternbuch, Vice President of the Rabbinical Court of the Eida haHareidit, states explicitly that women may read this portion themselves from the sefer Torah.115
Interestingly, one of R. Shternbuch’s colleagues on the Rabbinical Court of the Eida haHareidit, R. Abraham David Horowitz, forcefully contends that if women are indeed obligated to hear Parshat Zakhor, they too, can constitute a minyan for the reading, certainly by themselves and perhaps even with men.116 Although not cited by R. Horowitz, this position already finds expression in the works of R. Moses Sofer.117
In summary, the stringent school’s first criticism of women’s services would seem, upon analysis, to boil down essentially to “a call to saintliness.” Women are summoned to fulfill all those observances from which Jewish law has specifically exempted them and/or to fulfill the requirements imposed by even minor opinions. Such a halakhic prescription may suit the self-selected spiritual elite, but it is certainly not binding—nor perhaps even advisable—for Jewish women as a group.118
The arguments of the RIETS Rashei Yeshiva lead them to conclude that women may not pray in their own groups; in order for women to fulfill their prayer obligation in a complete fashion, they must pray together with men in a minyan. This line of reasoning, however, equally leads to the conclusion that women should not pray alone at home, but only with men at shul. Nonetheless, we have seen no similarly argued responsum requiring—or even encouraging—women to participate regularly in communal synagogue services, and criticizing women’s preference for private prayer. Even on Purim, when there is a special mitsvah of pirsumei nisa (publicizing the miracle), the common custom was for women not to come to the synagogue for Megilla reading, but rather to hear the Megilla in the privacy of their homes.119 In light of the traditions of the past, it is difficult to take issue with the newer women’s prayer groups on the grounds of incompleteness.
One final remark before concluding this section of our paper. In his addendum to the responsum by the RIETS Rashei Yeshiva, R. Abba Bronspigel asserts that absent a minyan, “there is no fulfillment of communal prayer (tefilla be-tsibbur) whatsoever.”120 With all due respect, this claim is inaccurate. As a number of halakhic authorities have noted,121 there are