Therefore, it is obvious . . . that one may leave his community to pray with kavvana and . . . the community has no power to force individuals to pray except where they prefer.”
Hence, the fact that participants in the women’s prayer groups testify that their greater involvement heightens their concentration and kavvana has important halakhic ramifications regarding setting aside be-rov am.
Regarding decorum, posekim have repeatedly lamented about the noise in the women’s section of many synagogues. In particular, they note that it is so noisy during Megilla reading that they seriously doubt whether women fulfill their obligation.154 The women’s services, on the other hand, are generally very quiet, with little unnecessary talking.
More importantly, since women are exempted from the obligations of public prayer and from even coming to the synagogue, they ought not be faulted should they decide not to contribute to the synagogue’s be-rov am.155 With respect to the be-rov am of the male participants, there should be no difference whether the women stay home altogether or gather in someone else’s home to pray together. Of relevance is Magen Avraham’s comment, cited above,156 that the women of his community actually used to exit during the reading of the Torah. Why did Magen Avraham and the other distinguished rabbis of his community condone such behavior? After all, these were not women who stayed home, but those who came to shul and then walked out. Why wasn’t the rabbinic leadership of Magen Avraham’s community concerned with be-rov am? The answer is simple: if you are not obligated in keriat haTorah and do not have to be present in the first place, there is nothing wrong with deciding not to contribute to the be-rov am of that ritual. Moreover, some poskim have contended that only those who are obligated in a ritual can contribute to the be-rov am quality of that ritual.157 If so, the presence of women has no effect on the be-rov am quality of tefilla be-tsibbur or its associated rituals because Hazal exempted women from public prayer.
Finally, there is substantial evidence in the posekim that women as a rule are not at all obligated in be-rov am. For example, R. Abraham Hayyim Na’eh158 forbids six men who have dined together from splitting into two zimmun units of three each, because of be-rov am; nevertheless, he and Mishna Berura allow three women to break off from three men in order to make their own zimmun.159 Megilla reading for women is another case in point. As noted above,160 be-rov am dictates that Megilla should be read in the largest community possible. Nevertheless, it was common practice for women to absent themselves from the public