their commitment and subservience to halakha. They call themselves “women’s prayer (or tefilla) groups” or “women’s services,” and not “women’s minyanim.” Forbidding such services because some non-halakhic prayer groups act improperly would be comparable to forbidding public prayer in every synagogue because some errant congregations have mixed pews.
In closing, it should be noted that R. Moses Feinstein,133 R. Isaac Herzog,134 and R. Yehuda Herzl Henkin135 have all indicated that normative halakha clearly does not follow Maharshal. R. Feinstein points to the fact that for hundreds of years, editions of the Talmud, codes, responsa, and other assorted religious texts opened with a disclaimer distinguishing between the halakhic status of the idolaters mentioned in the Talmud and the status of present-day gentiles. The purpose of this broad-sweeping disclaimer was to appease the censor, but it was, nevertheless, generally false. Similarly, R. Yehuda Herzl Henkin cites several examples where halakhot were distorted to appease the censor, yet no rabbinic authority objected.136
We turn now to R. Bleich’s characterization137 of the keriat haTorah at women’s prayer groups as “farcical.” Such an analysis assumes that the women’s reading of the Torah is devoid of religious value. Proponents have argued, on the other hand, that such readings serve as a vehicle for limud haTorah (Torah study).137* The vast majority of posekim concur that even in the absence of a minyan, there is no prohibition for anyone to learn from a Torah scroll, provided that the keriat haTorah benedictions are not recited.138,139 What is more, R. David Ibn Zimra (Radbaz) and a host of other posekim who cite him140 maintain that because of its greater sanctity, private Torah study from a Torah scroll is actually preferred, provided one reads the words properly accompanied by the ta’amei ha-mikra [intonations].
R. Bleich’s citation from Maimonides141 forbidding all religious innovations should not serve as an obstacle for this practice. Rambam certainly could not have intended to forbid religious innovations such as minhagim (customs) or rabbinic ritual. Indeed, it is obvious from a reading of this entire passage that Rambam’s intention was to forbid only those religious innovations about which it is falsely claimed that they are divinely binding.142
Thus, this selection from Maimonides’ Code is inapplicable for several reasons. First, this practice could not “acquire the characteristics and overtones of a divinely mandated ritual,” to use R. Bleich’s own words, since keriat haTorah itself is a rabbinic, not biblical, enactment. Second, there is no false claim or misrepresentation if the women “candidly acknowledge that they do not thereby fulfill the rabbinic requirement,” as R. Bleich