Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Some more arguments on behalf of women who wish to wear talitot

From where I sit the argument over women wearing talitot is not like an argument over the kashrus of pig meat, as some have tried to characterize it, but more like an argument over whether or not women should listen to the shofar or take a lulav.

I base this on the writings of our Rabbis.

According to the law books, a woman wearing a talis and a woman listening to the shofar are technically the same. Both are characterized as reshus, meaning women have no obligation to perform either mitzvah but receive a reward when they do.

My question, then, is directed at those of you who wish to stop women from wearing talitot at the kotel.  Do you also wish to stop women from hearing the shofar? Would you prefer that women stay home on Rosh Hashona rather than "acting like men" by allowing the shofar blasts to penetrate their delicate ear drums? Anyone who has resolved himself to women hearing the shofar, shoud resolve himself  to women wearing talitot. Technically there is no difference. Here is Rav Moshe Feinstein on the subject:
But since any woman is permitted to perform even those commandments that the Torah does not obligate her to perform, and these women do a mitzvah and are rewarded for performing these commandments. And according to Tosfot’s view they are also told to recite the blessings on these commandments — and in accordance with our custom that they perform the commandments of [hearing the] shofar and [waving the] lulav and recite blessings [on these performances]. If so, with respect to tzitzit as well, it is possible for a woman who wishes to fulfill this mitzvah to wear a clothing item that is distinct from the one typically worn by men but which has four corners and for her to attach tzitzit to it and thereby fulfill this commandment. - Iggrot Moshe OC 4:49
I expect those who wish to strip the  Women of the Wall of their talitot will sidestep this challenge by offering a meta-halachic sociological argument, a meta-halachic sociological argument that goes something like this: Women who wish to wear talitot are following the zeitgeist rather then the yearnings of their soul. They don't wish to perform mitzvos. They wish to be like men. And if the motive is not perfect, neither is the performance of the mitzvah.

And indeed, Rav Moshe has something to say in support of this view as well. Here's the rest of the quote cited above:
However, it is obvious that this applies only if her soul yearns to perform mitzvot, notwithstanding the fact that she is not commanded to perform them. However, since it is not with this intent but rather stems from her protest against God and His Torah this is not the act of a mitzvah at all; quite the opposite, [it is] a forbidden act, for she commits heresy, thinking it possible for the laws of the Torah to be changed even in a grave matter.
I wouldn't dream of arguing with Rav Moshe, but I do have some questions bout this statement, questions that also apply to the meta-halachic sociological argument against women wearing talitot: 
  • First, we can't know with any certainty what motivates a person to take on a new commandment. While, Rav Moshe's psak will certainly apply after we've perfected mind-reading technology, what do we do in the meantime? Shouldn't we offer women the benefit of the doubt? 
  • Second, I don't understand the double-standard Rav Moshe proposes. We never look into a man's motive when he decides to take on something new. Maariv,  for example, is technically a reshus but no one worries that a man who say maariv every day is only trying to impress his neighbors. Why do we impeach a woman's motive, but not a man's?
  • Third, why are we looking at motives at all? On Psachim 50B,  Rav Judah says in Rav’s name: “A person should always occupy himself with Torah and good deeds, though it is not for their own sake, for out of [doing mitzvot] with an ulterior motive there comes [doing them] for its own sake.” This seems like a very sensible law. We want people to do mitzvos, so we abstain from challenging their motives. Its a mitzvah for a woman to wear a talis, Rav Moshe agrees, just as surely as it is a mitzvah for her to take a lulav or hear the shofar. As a result, we should abstain from challenging the motives of a women who wishes to wear a talis on the theory that it is better for her to the mitzvah then to not do the mitzvah.
  • Finally, is it possible to protests the Torah by following the Torah? Rav Moshe, and others who make the sociological argument, accuse talit-wearing women of violating the Torah, but where is the violation? The Torah allows them to wear talitot. They accuse the women of wishing to change the laws of the Torah, but what Torah law do the wish to change? Rav Moshe (and others) have already said that the law permits women to wear talitot.  If I think a law is bad, I protest that law by refusing to follow it. When Ghandi wanted to overthrow the British, he broke British laws. He didn't call on his followers to follow them publicly. Martin Luthor King Jr did the same. So how can these women be accused of opposing laws by following them? How can they be accused of rejecting a system that, by Rav Moshe's own admission, allows them to do the very thing they wish to do? 


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