women’s tefilla groups might be interpreted as an implicit validation of the claims and principles of feminism, thus leading to hillul Hashem (a desecration of God’s name).272 This hillul Hashem would be aggravated were the rabbinic approval for women’s prayer groups viewed incorrectly as an acknowledgment that women can constitute a proper minyan, contrary to the halakhic rulings and practice of the past. 272*
These same considerations have prevented R. Ahron Soloveichik from allowing women’s hakafot with a sefer Torah or Megilla readings.273 In practice, however, he has counseled his students to refrain from either encouraging or discouraging these latter practices, especially where the local rabbi’s active opposition would cause controversy in the community and possibly lead to a split in the congregation.
The Av Beit haDin of the Rabbinical Council of America, R. Gedalia Schwartz, has also adopted a position very similar to that of the Rav and R. Ahron Soloveichik.274 R. Schwartz expresses some hesitation regarding various specific practices of the women’s prayer groups, particularly the removal of a sefer Torah from the Ark for a non-obligatory function, which may entail zilzul (disrespect) for the Torah Scroll.275 Nevertheless, he candidly acknowledges that most of the issues involved do not constitute clear violations of halakha (issur gamur), provided devarim she-bi-kdusha and berakhot for a public Torah reading are omitted.
Still, like many of the other halakhic authorities cited above, R. Schwartz has serious concerns regarding the motivation of those women who prefer a women’s tefilla group to a regular minyan. Equally disturbing to R. Schwartz is his fear, based on more than three and a half decades of experience in the American pulpit rabbinate, that the development of women’s prayer groups will generate fragmentation and bitter dispute within the Jewish community. The Av Beit haDin also emphasizes that the issues of motivation and divisiveness are critical considerations within the parameters of Jewish Law.276 The responsible ba’al hora’a cannot ignore their significance, and they remain integral elements of any halakhic decision—all the more when dealing with synagogue custom. Moreover, he notes, these factors must be examined not merely as they pertain to any specific group of women; the posek must take into account their possible impact upon the Jewish world as a whole. At the same time, the weight given to any one element may vary from generation to generation and situation to situation. On balance, R. Schwartz believes that today’s communal conditions suggest firm restraint on the creation of women’s prayer groups.