the position of the middle school as follows: a women’s prayer service can be performed within the guidelines of halakha. Nevertheless, the issues of motivation and halakhic integrity must be of primary and paramount concern to the rabbinic authorities in considering, on a case by case basis, whether to allow such services in practice.
D. LE-MI-GDAR MILTA: HALAKHA AND PUBLIC POLICY
As should be clear from our analysis thus far, the purely halakhic points raised by the “stringent school” do not seem adequate grounds upon which to prohibit women’s prayer groups. Perhaps the true issue at the heart of the imbroglio is one of hashkafa and public policy. In reality, the basic question might be: “Are women’s tefilla groups good for the Jews or bad for the Jews?” Put somewhat differently, are women’s prayer groups the appropriate Jewish response to women’s desire for greater religious involvement? If this is indeed the pivotal issue, then a variety of subsidiary questions need to be pondered, which relate to both the community and the individual. For example, concerning the former, one might ask: how do such services affect the sense of kehilla created by sharing common experiences? Do we undermine a community’s commitment to tradition by allowing practices and prayer forms that are perceived as radically new and not authentically Jewish? Are we blurring the distinctions between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox movements within Judaism? Regarding the individual, one might inquire: do women’s prayer groups push the horizons out so far that they create unfulfillable expectations? Will those women “spoiled” by a tefilla group experience be able to return to a normative public prayer situation? Are we in fact merely making it easier for marginally halakhic women to rebel?
We do not mean to imply that tefilla groups are unaware of or insensitive to these public policy issues. Indeed, for fear of splitting the community, many groups have agreed to meet only at times when women do not normally come to shul—on a Sunday morning, Erev Rosh Hodesh, or Shabbat afternoon. Other groups have consciously attempted to play down the innovative element of their meetings, placing greater emphasis on communal learning. Nearly all have a local Orthodox rabbi or some other rabbinic personality to guide and advise them. Nevertheless, most of the aforementioned queries have no easy or “right” answers. It may require decades before the long-term effects of this innovation can be accurately measured.
Jewish law clearly empowers rabbinic decisors to forbid otherwise permissible actions