It's a matter of halacha not feminism

This issue came up because someone posted an article in which she decried the "feminist" agenda of certain seminaries that train young women to emulate the spiritual life of men in learning Torah and believing they have an obligation to daven in full. The writer finds herself overwhelmed already with the obligations to take care of her children, household. As she does not have the time to learn and finds the suggested 40 minutes davening time her seminary teacher suggested unattainable, she believes she should relieve the pressure on herself by chucking all those feminist trappings of learning and davening and stick to changing diapers and driving her kids to soccer and ballet practice. Now here's the thing: why can a woman carve out the time to drive her kids to soccer and ballet practice but not for davening? Consider what message that gives about the focus on olam hazeh. (I have nothing against sports and dancing -- great exercise -- but one has to keep ikar and tafel in focus.)

Now, I recall back in the days when I had a houseful of little kids -- my first two are less than 1 1/2 years apart, and the next one was born when the second was 3, and then another one followed .. well, you get the picture. And I had no babysitter except when I worked, and for most of the years I didn't even have a cleaning lady come in. Yet, I never decided, "That's it, I'm too pressured to daven Shacharis and Mincha." Now, I never went so far as a neighbor who actually had a babysitter come in daily in the afternoon -- in part to give her quiet time for Mincha. That is because I did not see myself in the position to take on such luxuries. I wouldn't have hired a babsitter to go to the gym either. But any woman who does do so or who hires one so that she could just hang out with friends or go out to lunch or even do her grocery shopping without 3 little ones in tow (been there, done that, too) should remember that we all have her priorities. For some women, the quiet time to daven is priceless enough for warrant the cost.

Anyway back to the busy old days (life is much easier when you can leave the house without arranging a babysitter)  I attended a shir on the obligation of women to daven by Rabbi Yonason Sacks, the rav of the Agudah in Passaic. At the time, his own household included a number of small children, so he was fully aware of the havoc they can create in a home. Nevertheless, the halacha is the halacha, and he clarified that women have an obligation to daven every day. I remember being very impressed by the fact that a woman told me then that she was going to change her practice; she said she had mistakenly assumed she only needed to say Shma and Shmonei Esreh, but she was going to now say all that he specified. That woman also had a house full of young children and no live-in help, but she accepted the halachic point of view and didn't rationalize it away, as many do. There was no point in saying the rabbi doesn't understand what it's like to have little kids. Obviously, he did. And, no one would accuse him or his wife of promoting a feminist agenda.

The problem is largely that schools tend to de-emphasize the obligation of davening for women. My high school girls report that they know of classmates who sleep in past noon whenever they don't have school. That means they've lost Shacharis altogether. Some have decided they don't need to daven Mincha even though the school's position is that they must. They have no excuse like childcare but just feel on their own that davening -- like learning -- is only for men. It's a rather antinomian approach to a religion that really does spell out obligations very clearly in the code of halacha. But much is absorbed by watching the examples of our parents. Likely their mothers don't daven. Perhaps some do still have small children in their care. Perhaps not.

A laxness toward the female's obligation to pray sets in in large part due to the practice at the schools of scheduling davening after breakfast.   So now back to our not quite scheduled program:  a post from the older version of blog that is not easily accessed via search and a link to my husband's post around the same time.

The tefilah group for young women

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

This post is related to one I made a few posts back on the odd perspective one sometimes encounters in relation to halacha. Tefilah groups for women have been embraced by the most RW institutions—schools and camps. Think of it: the class or group of campers is expected to daven together.

My oldest daughter just turned 12, and as a bat mitzvah, she should keep to adult standards. Consequently, we told her she should daven before eating breakfast. It seems like a pretty simple thing and one that goes without saying for boys. However, RW schools for girls do not share that assumption. They continue to hold davening in school but allow not breakfast break, assuming that the girls would have eaten at home before davening. Their only suggestion is to say brachos first. In discussing this with my husband, he explained that Rav Moshe was matir this practice; however, the wording in connection to it does not present it as firmly grounded. He expressed surprise that the famous tshuva on chalav Yisrael is devoted to being matir non-chalav Yisrael, though the RW schools stress the brief suggestion of being machmir. So only chalav Yisrael is served, and all products brought in must be chalava Yisrael, even if not a single student keeps the chumrah at home. (BTW: I’m not knocking the chumra at all; I am just pointing out an inconsistency.) On the other hand, the notion that girls could eat before davening does not have very much to recommend it other than the fact that it has fallen into general practice, but here the RW schools prefer to uphold that the girls daven in the school mandated tefilah group and eat beforehand.

Really the solution is very simple. Someone I know told me that Central high school allowed time for breakfast after davening. While they didn’t offer breakfast for sale, like boys’ schools do, the girls had the time to eat what they had brought from home.

For reference to the sources see

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