Mixed Gender Functions

[Hat tip MD]

Recently, a question was asked of the Charedi Leumi Posek, Rav Aviner, about a 50 year reunion of a group of couples who had been part of a youth group 50 years prior. They would be attending, were frum, all with their wives, and the idea was that they would recollect memories and have an enjoyable evening. The question asked to him was

Is such a reunion permitted according to Halacha

I guess the mere fact that they asked Rav Aviner the question before going ahead with their reunion is testament to their frumkeit and fidelity to Halacha. Those who are not so beholden to their Rabbi, would not even ask a question.

At any rate, Rav Aviner’s answer was

“חלילה. זו מכבסת מילים לפעילות מעורבת. זה איסור חמור גם אם אלו יראי שמים. ולצערנו יש פעמים רבות פעילות המשך

In other words, definitely not permitted and is a serious halachic infraction even if the participants are frum! Rav Aviner opines that unfortunately, there are sometimes serious outcomes from such events.

In other words, age makes no difference, and one would assume, a fortiori, that this would be forbidden for younger couples. I won’t extrapolate to mixed tables of singles at a wedding who are looking for Shidduchim. Rav Aviner may have the same opinion as R’ Aron Soltoveitchik that this isn’t just permitted but desirable. It is dangerous to extrapolate in Halacha.

Upon hearing of this Psak, respected Rav Amnon Bazak (whose writings I am acquainted with and if I am not mistaken he may have visited Melbourne) of Har Etzyon, disagreed with Rav Aviner on three grounds.

  1. The attitude of the Rishonim and Acharonim on issues such as this, was and is tightly connected with the practices in such communities. In other words, if it was common place for men and women to meet, then Poskim such as the Bach, opined that it is permitted (if you want to read more about this examine the issue of whether to say שהשמחה במעונו at a mixed Sheva Brachos. If my memory serves me correctly, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch is Machmir and says no). The point of Rav Bazak was that this is something which may well change from community to community. I wouldn’t expect this to happen in Satmar, or Belz, where the women aren’t even allowed to drive cars, of course.
  2. If one wants to say “those who are stringent will get a blessing”, this leaves is a sour taste because the idea that they get a blessing on account of people who really are not doing anything wrong according to plain Halacha.
  3. What’s the point in putting out words like ‘absolutely forbidden’ when this happens all the time, at tables, which involve Chachomim and Roshei Yeshivah at their meals?

There is also the question of when you have two long tables at a Sheva Brachos one with men and the other with women without a Mechitza. Some will still say this is “mixed” other will not, even according to those who argue with the Bach.

Mori V’Rabbi, R’ Hershel Schachter relates that R’ Moshe Feinstein ז’ל and R’ Yaakov Kaminetzy ז’ל  and others made weddings and there were mixed tables. He does however caution that times have changed somewhat to those days. He doesn’t use Rav Bazak’s arguments but notes that

  1. Women tend not to wear the ornate thick dresses that they wore in yesteryear, and sometimes, perhaps too often, are on the boundary of Tzniyus with flimsy clothing which leaves little to the imagination
  2. The music in those days was much slower and it was rare to find a women or man return to the table shvitzing with all that comes from that phenomenon and fine cloth.

Accordingly, he suggests caution at weddings.

Your views? I believe this is societal and something according to הרגלם and will change from group to group to the extent that a blanket opinion is elusive and probably not advised.

There is a lot of “Ess Past Nisht” and I’m not arguing. I’m just quoting and adding to this article

בענין סתירת הרמבם שלא יתערבו או שלא יסתכלו זה את זה,  כבר דשו ביה רבים

More on the Belzer ban on woman driving

[Hat tip BA]

I’m not always a fan of Rabbi Yair Hoffman’s halachic analyses (in the sense that I don’t always agree במחילת הכבוד)

Here is his take from Yeshiva World News. I am not the greatest fan of the Be’er Moshe. He would never have been my Posek. There are some weird weird Tshuvos in his Sheylos U’Tshuvos, which I own and looked through years ago. Personally, I felt his brother, the Btzel Hachochma ex-Melbourne of Rockbrook Road! has left a bigger imprint with his Tshuvos on the dateline. Anyway, here is Rabbi Hoffman’s take. Belz wouldn’t take notice of Rav Elyashiv. Apart from being ex-Rabbanut, he was a litvak. They have their own Poskim. I’m pretty sure my Posek, Rav Schachter, would stay out of politics, and say we don’t do things like that and give reasons and leave it at that. He might even give a Shiur on it. Who knows.

Good think they don’t do Shidduchim with the Imahos. They would have been unTzniyusdik riding on a camel.

I’d love to see a world wide ban on boys under 18 going to Mikvah. That would be a much more important thing to deal with given what we are seeing the world over. A shower is a Mikvah iפ you are in long enough and so is a swimming pool, to me it’s good Chinuch to tell the kid why they can’t go. ובערת הרע מקרביך

The media has widely reported that a Belz Yeshiva in England has forbidden women from driving their children to Yeshiva. It was further reported that if the mothers do not comply, the children will be thrown out of Yeshiva.

In a letter sent to parents last week, seen by the Jewish Chronicle, they say there has been an increase in the number of mothers driving their children to school and add that this has led to “great resentment among parents of pupils of our [Hasidic] institutions”.

The letter says the ban, to come into force in the summer, is based on the recommendations of Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, the Belzer spiritual leader in Israel.

It says that if a mother has no other choice but to drive her child to school – for medical reasons, for example – she should “submit a request to the special committee to this effect and the committee shall consider her request.”

The question is what does halacha have to say about this?

It seems, of course, that the majority view of the Poskim is to allow it, as most Chareidi communities certainly allow women drivers. It was also the view of Rav Elyashiv to allow it. In a work entitled Ohel Yaakov (page 302), Rav Elyashiv zt”l is quoted as saying that although women should not drive in areas where it is not the custom to do so, there is no concern whatsoever in women driving elsewhere. This is certainly the predominate halachic view.

On the other hand, there are Poskim in the Chareidi community that have written otherwise. Rav Menashe Klein z”l in his Mishnah Halachos (Vol. XII #300) writes to forbid it, Rav Mordechai Gross Shlita a Rav in Bnei Brak also writes that it is a problem of Tznius in his work V’haya machanecha Kadosh (p. 15). The biggest authority who looks askance at the practice is Rav Shmuel Vosner z”l in his Shaivet haLevi (Vol. IV #1).
With due respect to the view of the latter three Poskim, however, I would like to suggest a source that indicates that, at least in the time of the Shulchan Aruch, it would have been permitted.

RENTING A DONKEY

There is a fascinating Shulchan Aruch (CM 308:1) that discusses whether someone who rented a donkey may allow a woman to ride on it without having had specifically contracted to allow it. The conclusion is that the renter may not do so. Rav Yehoshua Ben Alechsander HaCohain, the author of the Smah (1555-1614) explains that the reason is because of weight pattern differentials between genders.

The Chasdei Dovid on the Tosefta in Bava Metziah (7:6) provides a different explanation. He writes that women are not as proficient at riding as men are. Therefore, the one who rented it did not have them in mind necessarily, and it would require that it be stipulated specifically that a woman is riding the donkey.
It is clear, however, that both according to the Smah and the Chasdei Dovid, there is no breach in modesty whatsoever in allowing a woman to ride a donkey. There is no question that riding a donkey in public allows for more public exposure than driving a car. We see, therefore, that from a strict halachic point of view, there was no basis whatsoever to restrict a woman from driving a car.

One could perhaps argue that we are on a higher spiritual level than the people who lived in 16th century Tzfas. However, the general understanding of things is that as each generation progresses we are on a lower level of spirituality, as seen from the Gemorah in Shabbos 112b: If the earlier generations were like angels than we are like men etc.

Aside from this, however, there are four factors that are perhaps relevant to the issue. Admittedly, some readers will vehemently disagree with these four points, but these points do bear on the issue at hand and must be considered. These issues should be discussed with intelligence and not emotion.

POSSIBLY A GREATER BREACH

Another issue that must surely be taken into account is that when we forbid women to drive and they have a necessity to get to where they must go (doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, schools, and numerous other things) what ends up happening is that they need to take taxis. This creates an exposure that can, in our generation be much worse. This author is personally aware of two such incidences involving cab drivers that were, indeed, quite horrifying. Often these incidents are suppressed, however, and the general public is unaware of them. One can speak to Askanim to ascertain that these incidents are, in fact, quite real.
The communities in Eretz Yisroel are far different than those in Chutz La’Aretz in terms of distance. Our institutions in Chutz LaAretz are not “around the corner” as they are in Eretz Yisroel communities. We must be ever careful in creating a situation where we are forcing our women to be at the mercy of men. Logically, it is far safer for a woman to be able to travel by herself than to have to be dependant upon men, strangers or no strangers, for rides.

BITUL TORAH

One way or the other, these children have to get to school. If the wife is not driving them, it will probably end up that the husband would be driving them. In the working Chareidi community in the United States, many of the men are attending shiurim in the morning or at least they are learning some of sort of Seder during these precious morning moments. Causing the men to drive car pool or to bring the children to school will invariably be the cause of Bitul Torah.

THE GEMORAH IN BRACHOS

There is yet another very significant point that the new rule is affecting. The Gemorah in Brachos 17a poses a question as to how the women of Klal Yisroel earn merit. The underlying rationale behind the question is that since women are exempt from the Mtzvah of Talmud Torah, and the merit of that Mitzvah is so extraordinary, how then can women earn a parallel merit to their husbands? The Gemorah answers in that they bring their children to the Bnei Knishta to study.

The repercussions of this new change are that the special merit that was discussed in the Gemorah about how women can receive a super-charged merit akin to the merit of Talmud Torah will be undone. Do we really have a right to undermine the merit discussed in the Gemorah?

V’AHAVTA L’RAYACHA KAMOCHA

A final issue is also relevant. The great leaders of Torah were always looking to make things easier for Klal Yisroel. This is a manifestation of the Torah Mitzvah of v’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha. Thus, we see in the Gemorah in Moed Katan 27b how Rabban Gamliel haZakain, when he saw how Jews were burying their dead in the finest of clothing, declared that plain burial shrouds should be used instead. He did so to make life easier for Klal Yisroel. In Hilchos Shabbos, we see how the great Tzemach Tzedek (of 17th century Poland), cited by the Mogain Avrohom in the beginning of hilchos Shabbos, once ruled (responsa #28) that when local fishermen collude and lift up the price the fish excessively, a prohibition can be levied upon the consumption of fish on Shabbos. It may take a week or two or even three, but eventually the collective buying power of ordinary people would force the price back down. The Tzemach Tzedek did so to make life easier for Klal Yisroel.

This new rule seems to be making things more difficult for both the men and women of that community. There is no question, of course, that Tznius is a very important aspect of our Avodas Hashem. However, all of the above factors must be taken into account – especially when it is highly likely that the “cure” may create an even greater breach of Tznius.

May Hashem guide us all in all our endeavors.

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com

– See more at: http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/314938/forbidding-women-drivers-a-halachic-analysis.html#sthash.hljNWIq3.VxypzTCD.dpuf

The charedi press distorts Judaism

They, and I explicitly exclude myself from their interpretations of Judaism, have a right to publish their own newspapers (even though they fight anyone who brings historical proof that the Netziv, R Chaim Soloveitchik and many more Gedolei Torah read the newspapers).

They don’t need to have pictures, and here I find myself in agreement with Uri Regev when they distort the image of a female. In a bizarre way they are in fact using what is new to present a distorted world.

Now, you might ask why it bothers me? Well it bothers me because I try to follow Torah, not some new invention. As such if it was a picture of Amalek there might be a positive command to erase him etc (practically we don’t know who Amalek is Lehalocho). Charedim might cogently argue that they won’t publish a picture that shows knees. Ok. If their clientele prefer digital burkas covering the face, that’s not ok. It’s not halachic and those people should never leave their houses let alone read any newspaper. 

So, in summary, the Charedim have created a mitzvas aseh (a positive command) to digitally distort women in pictures so they are not there, where in fact there only exist negative commandments. Such negative commandments can be fulfilled by not including the picture.

Ah, but it’s got nothing to do with Halacha in fact. It has everything to do with POLITICS. They must somehow show that they are in government visually, so they want to show their male members of the government of the state of Israel.

I have no time for such false religiosity.

Policing Tznius

The halachic definition surrounding the limits of Tznius are the discussion of many a book and Responsa in Halacha, let alone Shulchan Aruch. In general, though, these tend to focus on the female aspect of Tzniyus. A good recent fundamental discussion of the issues (although it is technical and deep) is that of R’ Yehuda Herzl Henkin, author of שו’’ת בני בנים who is a grandson of the great Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin ז’ל, and who undertook shimush with his grandfather.

There are a range of views in the arena of female Tzniyus. Some relate to more fundamental aspects, and other relate to what we term Minhag HaMakom (the custom in a given place). I am certain that if someone lived in the New Square, or Williamsburg enclaves, there are strict minhagim of those micro Makomos. That does not mean that anybody from outside such communities needs to follow their dictates. It’s a free world, bound by Halacha.

It is well-known, that the Orthodox world accepted the lenient definition of Shok (section of the leg) as enunciated by the Mishna B’rura, and, as such, defined it as “over the knees” in a sitting situation (if the knees are visible while sitting then one would need to make sure they always stood?). Others, such as various Chassidim, Chardal and more are stricter and only accept skirts which are extended to the calf area. In general, none expect that the skirt should be “skin-tight” to the extent that it advertises the outline of the anatomy. Each to their own Rav HamuvHak, and one should not blithely condemn anyone for following an acceptable Psak. To do so, is the antithesis of the halachic process and an insult to the honour of respected Poskim who established their criteria with the permission of the Torah (even if we arguably no longer have Smicha today).

Other areas of the anatomy are always a matter of Minhag. I’m not aware of a Minhag that a female has to wear gloves. Her hands from the wrist bone to the tips of her fingers are never considered Erva by any opinion I have come across. If a reader knows of one, please tell. On the other hand, from the ankle down, is a matter of rather strange contention, with some saying that unlike hands, the foot area is a matter of Tzniyus, while other say it is a matter of the Minhag of the place, and others stating that since there is generally no accepted minhag in a larger city, one may follow any minhag. Some are careful on this matter on Shabbos, but not during the week. That is usually a matter of being elegantly dressed or a function of the heat in a particular place. Each to their own. To criticise someone for clearly halachically valid views is not effective and according to most Acharonim, even when a practice is halachically invalid, a stranger would have no liability to admonish, as their words would not be listened to, and we have lost the “art” of admonishment. Certainly, the Satmar Rebbe, who was extreme in all matters, and who one does not have to accept as the yardstick Rabbinic authority, specified a curious view of stockings, in particular:

“The rebbe taught that even 70-denier stockings should not be worn. The numerical value of sod (secret) is 70, so the secret is out that this [stocking] is also transparent.” There then follows a lengthy account of Teitelbaum’s creation, with the help of a Brooklyn businessman named Lipa Brach, of an exclusive line of fully opaque women’s hosiery:

Money in hand, Reb Lipa Brach began to work on the project. He went to several hosiery manufacturers, collected samples, and brought all of them to the rebbe to inspect. The rebbe was very pleased with the progress, and he tested each sample by pulling it over his own arm. If his hair showed, it was no good…. The new stockings were given the brand name, “Palm,” the English translation of the Rebbe’s surname…. To this day every Satmar woman and girl wears Palm stockings.

Fast forward to schools and acceptable Tzniyus practices as recently described here. This is not only applicable to Schools, but also to camps (where I have a reliable source to confirm that often girls have to put on socks as soon as they emerge from a women-only pool, and cannot even walk to the bunk house in any other fashion).

I do think that it is critical that Schools (and Camps) enunciate what is acceptable, and anyone who enrols their child in a school should not complain about that level. They do have a choice. They might wish to send their children to another school if views on Tzniyus are considered too right-wing. Often Schools are either inconsistent and/or lax. This can be constant or may reach a crescendo, from time to time. In such a case, the question is how one now educates existing girls about the need to adhere to the standards in the shadow of inconsistent practices of enforcement.

I am opposed to the approach of having non-Jewish (or even Jewish) Tznius “police” casting their eyes up and down girls as they enter the gates and either expelling or calling them out if they breach an aspect. If the school had been inconsistent in the past, then it needs to take a far more sophisticated and educative approach than simply policing with halachic batons. Such policing will simply turn people off, possibly forever, and make them respect no Tznius Police style people or their comments.

What would I do? For a start, I wouldn’t try to single girls out especially publicly. I would take silent note of what the issues are, and away from the school gaze, enunciate the views of the school and source these in a halachically mature and respectful way. That way should not disqualify other approaches but should contextualize the varied approach(es) adopted. It may be necessary to have a weekend seminar, and bring in thoughtful and soft people who are knowledgeable both about the halacha and mind-set of those who sometimes get excited only by these issues. Failure to do that (and there may be other solutions) are likely to be doomed and disenfranchise and cause more underlying dissension than had existed before.

Once a consistent standard has been in place for a few years, a different approach can be adopted, but, again, I’d try not to shame someone in front of their peers.

There are halachic views, as I recall, mentioned by Chacham Ovadia Yosef stating that if the approach in a Xtian country is for a unmarried girl to wear a hat to Church as a matter of modesty and respect, that a Jewish girl should do so no less!  It cannot be that the אומות העולם grab the high ground. At the same time, there are limits. Burkas and the like are not within the confines of reasonable halachic parameters (although we see demented people in Yerushalayim and Beit Shemesh following such antithetical and condemned practices).

Women may well argue, and do argue, that there is a degree of misogyny on display. Why is it that the focus appears to be largely on females and not males? This is a good question. I recall in Malaysia and Indonesia where I often saw a poor (hot) female dressed from top to toe (inclusive) in a gown that allowed only her eyes to peak out. Her husband and kids were walking along in tow. The often bearded husband ironically wore shorts, a singlet and flip flops! That is, the type of clothing many people wear in hot weather. I couldn’t understand why Islam seemed to have two standards. Does Judaism have the same attitude? It could be argued that a man wearing floppy shorts, a t-shirt and flip flops isn’t technically breaking any law of Tzniyus, save a possibly “Minhag HaMakom” where “Makom” doesn’t purely exist, such as in places like Melbourne, where a multiplicity of views is extant. Sure, during davening, men have dicta, some of which are relativistic, but it seems that the female folk are the ones who are getting all the attention. There is a level of existentialism in this, although some may argue.

Is the approach taken by a school and others that “yells” and “calls out” right? Is it fruitful? More importantly, is the shouting, embarrassing, policing style approach likely to achieve anything positive?

I think not. Most attitudes are formed at home. That is the place for education, and it needs to start early.

A fantastic shiur

I guess people might have time during Chol Hamoed to listen. It’s well worth it. It’s given by Rabbi Wallerstein, on the topic of Shovavim, but is intriguing as he recounts his own interactions with an addictive vice. A refreshingly honest shiur. He sounds like a great teacher.

Make sure you have an hour to listen. I heard it in the car, on the way to work and then back home.

Download it here

Hellish Education?

[Hat tip Ezra]

I understand I’m exposed. I understand that I am secularly educated. I understand that I’m not cloistered in Lakewood. I understand that there is more than one nuanced path in Judaism. Alas, I do not understand what the following approach to “encouraging” Tzniyus amongst the girls in a Lakewood Girls School can possibly achieve. To be sure, this approach focusses more on fear than love, but surely this is just too extreme?

Read the article here

Re-architecting our Mikvaos

The scourge of male perverts, pedophiles and sickos is challenging communities across the globe. The Halachos of a Mikva are complex and need expert Rabbinical advice and architectural nous. Our Mikvaos are cleaner and more acceptable than in times gone by. My father’s description of the scene at the Mikva in Rawa Mazowiecka in Poland before World War 2 was, how do I put it delicately, “off-putting” especially by today’s standards.

I recall when I was learning in Israel that, before Pesach, I sought out a Mikvah near Rechov Har Sinai in Ra’anana. I was the only person there apart from the Mikvah Warden. After completing my spiritual oblution, I opened the door to leave the Mikvah proper only to find the warden “too close to the door”. I had the distinct impression that he may have peered through the key hole. You don’t forget scenes like that.

I do realise that it is only Chassidim who dip in the Mikva daily today. Some, like me, have the custom to do so before the שלש רגלים. Most will do so on Erev Yom Kippur. Strictly speaking, one could also dip in a swimming pool (heated, one would hope 🙂

It’s perhaps worth considering a few changes to future or renovated Mikvaos. My suggestions are:

  1. The change area no longer be a common open area. Rather, there should be a series of say 10 little cubicles with a swinging door behind them where one undresses and then girds a towel.
  2. Showers must have self-closing doors behind them
  3. In high use communities, for example, Chassidim, a total of four consecutive mikva pools should be available. Each pool should be fully enclosed so that nobody can peer in.
  4. There should be a maximum of one person in a pool at a time, unless it is an older or incapacitated man who brings someone to assist them.
  5. The absolute maximum time for an individual to be in the Mikvah should be 60 seconds. There should be an LED timer on the back of the self-closing door which should start warning that time is elapsing, from 30 seconds into the process.
  6. There should be a separate entry door and exit door to each pool. The entry door should be accessible from the shower area. Only when a person has exited through the exit door, should the entry door unlock and indicate that the pool is available.
  7. If a person has not emerged after 120 seconds an alarm should sound.

It is important that we not only strengthen Tzniyus in our community by focussing on the translucency of female stockings (which is only a matter of Minhag) but return to fundamentals. Some reformation of Mikva architecture, based loosley on my suggestions above, would seem to be necessary in our times.