from the public thoroughfare and which is all-female or where the sexes are separated.207 Clearly, women’s tefilla groups conform to these criteria.
Finally, many posekim maintain that kol kevuda is a relative concept, depending on local habits.208 In this regard, the noted halakhist, R. Sha’ul Yisraeli, states:
It would also seem that the boundaries of kol kevuda bat Melekh penima depend on local custom, and only in communities where women never leave their homes is behavior to the contrary to be considered improper. However, in our generation, religious women work in various offices, hospitals, kindergartens, and schools, and yet no one objects. 209
Certainly, from the perspective of kol kevuda, a woman’s participation in a prayer group should be no different than her involvement or even leadership role in any other women’s organization. In light of twentieth century realities and the unchallenged integration of religious women—hareidi,210 modern Orthodox or otherwise—into all walks of life, the charge of kol kevuda simply does not ring true.
The above analysis leads one to the conclusion that, with all due respect, the halakhic arguments put forward by the stringent school are less than compelling. This school’s claim—that women’s tefilla groups per se violate Jewish law—seems neither firmly based nor absolutely convincing. This says nothing, of course, about whether such prayer groups are advisable or “a good idea” in the long run. Indeed, many of the issues raised by the stringent school could well be reformulated as Torah-value concerns. We will have more to say later in this paper about such public-policy and hashkafic considerations.
C. THE MIDDLE POSITION
As noted in our introductory comments, there also exists a middle position on this issue which argues that, in theory at least, assuming that all devarim she-bi-kdusha are omitted,211 women’s prayer groups can be run in accordance with halakha. This school includes R. Moshe Feinstein, America’s preeminent posek; R. Avraham Elkana Shapiro, former Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Merkaz haRav, Jerusalem; former British Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits, together with the London Beit Din; and, as noted at the end of Section A, the late Israeli Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren.212 R. Nachum