practiced, comes “dangerously close” to violating it.
Before commenting on these charges, it should be noted that contrary to R. Schachter’s basic assumption that women never count for a minyan,127 many rishonim and aharonim indicate that women may constitute a minyan—alone or with men—in a variety of instances, although public prayer is not one of them. As we have demonstrated in a previous article,128 practically speaking (halakha le-ma’ase), these rituals include: 1) Megilla reading and the “Ha-rav et riveinu” benediction which follows it; 2) public martyrdom (kiddush Hashem be-rabim); 3) recitation of the Ha-gomel blessing; 4) circumcision; 5) Hanukka candle lighting in the synagogue. Hence, referring to ten women as a minyan in certain cases is not as strange or as misrepresentative as it might seem.
Let us return to the charge of ziyyuf haTorah. R. Yehuda Herzl Henkin129 argues that the comments of Maharshal refer only to a misrepresentation of the Torah, i.e., of biblical commandments, but not of rabbinic injunctions like public prayer or Torah reading. Hence, even if women’s prayer groups were misleading, they would not violate Maharshal’s prohibition of ziyyuf haTorah. The late Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog130 indicates that the prohibition applies specifically to cases where someone (a non-Jew) questions a point of Jewish law, but not when the information is volunteered.
A more fundamental issue, however, is raised by R. Moses Feinstein in a 1950 responsum,131 who explains that ziyyuf haTorah is prohibited according to Maharshal because it is comparable to denying the validity and immutability of the Torah (ke-kofer beTorat Moshe). As such, this prohibition is limited to those cases in which one explicitly misstates Jewish law, e.g., one states that a particular forbidden action is halakhically permitted, or that non-Jews have the same status in torts as Jews. But where one does not misstate the halakha, this would not constitute ziyyuf haTorah, even if someone could draw an incorrect halakhic conclusion from his behavior.132 In a 1981 responsum dealing with eruvim,132* R. Feinstein further clarifies that regarding fellow Jews the rules are somewhat more stringent. Thus, if the implication of ones statement or deed will cause others to forget an aspect of Jewish law (le-hashkiah Torah), this too is forbidden.
It follows then from the above analysis that, if women’s services do not violate any specific halakha and are cautious not to declare—even implicitly—that ten women make a minyan, they cannot possibly be guilty of ziyyuf haTorah. Indeed, such groups refrain from saying kaddish, kedusha, barekhu or other devarim she-bi-kdusha and repeatedly reaffirm