such services. R. Soloveitchik’s negative attitude towards women’s services emanated not only from his doubts as to whether the halakhic guidelines would be scrupulously followed. He also expressed concern regarding numerous other hashkafic and public-policy issues which relate to the fundamental nature of religious practice and community.
As a rule, R. Soloveitchik gave great credence to established Jewish custom and tradition, especially in the area of prayer and the synagogue. Consequently, the Rav was quite conservative when it came to changing minhagim.237 Minhag beit ha-kenesset (synagogue custom) constituted proper Jewish shul etiquette, and its modification was to be allowed only with the utmost caution.238 Women’s prayer groups with Torah reading, hakafot, etc. was, for the Rav, a clear deviation from Jewish prayer forms. That alone was sufficient reason for the Rav to withhold his support for the emerging practice.239
On a pragmatic level, the Rav feared for what he termed “brinkmanship.” He was worried that if the rabbis gave in on those matters of synagogue practice where there was admittedly some room for flexibility, it might well lay the ground for a call for change in other areas of halakha as well—areas where there was little or perhaps no room for maneuvering. How would the rabbis respond then? And, should the rabbis indeed resist further attempts for change, how would the women cope with the heightened sense of frustration they would most likely experience?240
But more importantly, the Rav was uncertain as to what precisely the women participating in these services were seeking: greater spirituality resulting from increased kiyyum ha-mitsvot (fulfillment of the commandments), or—consciously or not—something else, perhaps public peer approbation, conspicuous religious performance, or a sense of equality with men. If the real motivating factor was any of the latter, it was likely that a women’s tefilla group would not truly satisfy their religious needs; on the contrary, the women’s services would merely foster increasingly unfulfillable expectations, resulting in greater frustration and perhaps even a break with halakha.
R. Soloveitchik believed he had good reason to doubt that greater fulfillment of mitsvot motivated many of these women, as illustrated in the following story, related to us by R. Yehuda Kelemer, former Rabbi of the Young Israel of Brookline, Massachusetts. During the mid 1970’s, one of R. Kelemer’s woman congregants at the Young Israel of Brookline was interested in wearing a tallit and tsitsit during the prayer services. After R. Kelemer had expressed to her his hesitations about the matter,241 she approached R. Soloveitchik—who