hakafot.262* R. Soloveitchik often expressed his extreme annoyance at being cited as the authority who had supposedly sanctioned women’s hakafot.263 The Rav would acknowledge that women’s hakafot violate no strictly halakhic prohibition; nonetheless, he consistently recommended against them. That, for the Rav, was not a heter. On the contrary, in the mid 1970’s R. Soloveitchik indicated to his nephew, R. Moshe Meiselman, that he viewed women’s hakafot as a breach of proper synagogue etiquette.264
R. Soloveitchik also ruled on numerous occasions against having a women’s Megilla reading. Here, however, the Rav’s considerations were rooted in halakha. As noted above, the reading of Megillat Ester should preferably be carried out in the presence of a minyan; also, many posekim hold that a minyan is indispensable for reciting the concluding benediction, Ha-rav et riveinu.265 While most authorities agree that ten women constitute a minyan for both mikra Megilla and for the recitation of Ha-rav et riveinu, a significant minority dissent.266 Because the Rav preferred that women fulfill their Megilla obligation according to all views (la-tseit kol ha-de’ot le-kha-tehila), he strongly advised women to be stringent to hear mikra Megilla in the presence of an all-male minyan.267
For the Rav, neither life nor halakha was simplistic; not every “shaila” could be answered with a superficial response of “mutar” (it is allowed) or “assur” (it is forbidden). The “ish ha-halakha” (halakhic man) does not live in a theoretical vacuum; he must also be sensitive to the need for a public policy. The possible impact of a pesak upon the Jewish community is a critical factor which the posek has to take into account before he renders his decision. Yet, at the same time, intellectual and analytical integrity has to be preserved. The Rav’s approach to women’s prayer groups is a delicate balance between these various halakhic considerations, recognizing their distinct character and, consequently, their relative weight. Thus, the Rav could forthrightly state that a particular action violated no halakhic prohibition, while at the same time counsel against its performance on hashkafic and public-policy grounds. Unfortunately, many of his talmidim apparently failed to appreciate this fine balance—some pulling too far le-heter (towards permissibility), others pulling too far le-humra (towards stringency). But the Rav himself adamantly refused to be drawn to extremes.
As already mentioned above, R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik was not the only gadol baTorah who objected to women’s prayer groups on the grounds of hashkafa and public policy. Although the two never discussed the matter, this view is also shared by the Rav’s younger brother, R. Ahron Soloveichik.268 In short, he too maintains that, in principle (“mei-ikar ha-