Women's prayer services

This week's Ask the Rabbi feature also includes swaying during prayer and why golf is not played on Shabbat.

Rabbi Raymond Apple ,

Women praying at King David's Tomb
Women praying at King David's Tomb
Flash90


Q. What is your view of women’s prayer services?

A. Both sexes have spiritual yearnings. Both men and women can and should seek and speak to God.

But the halakhic rule is that public worship is to be conducted by men, and women are not counted in the minyan which is required for certain prayers such as Bar’chu and K’dushah.

There are many precedents for women having their own prayer gatherings, though they are not called a minyan (and therefore the parts of the prayers that need a minyan may not be said, ed.).

Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled in 1982 that if the women are genuinely pious, not acting out of militancy or to undermine tradition, they may hold services and even read the Torah, though without the accompanying blessings (which need a minyan and the commandment to learn, ed.). There is no reason why they should not touch the Torah scroll.

May they use the "trops", the melody of Torah chant? The answer is that this is not "singing" in the sense in which women’s singing voices during prayer may not be listened to by men. Men, however, should not attend the women’s services.

As well as Rav Moshe Feinstein, Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren gave guidance to women’s groups about how to conduct their services within halakhic parameters.

Let me add in all humility that for a long period I was the rabbinic mentor of the Sydney Women’s Prayer Group and the guidelines they followed were drafted in consultation with me after checking the halakhic writings on the subject.

Swaying while praying

Q. Why do people sway whilst they pray and learn?

A. Religious activity often goes with physical movement.

When the Torah was given, "The people saw it… and they shook" (Ex. 19:15). The Psalmist says, "All my bones declare, 'O Lord, who is like You?'" (Psalm 35:10). He also says, "Rejoice with trembling" (Psalm 2:11).

Passages such as these illustrate the notion of bringing bodily rhythm into prayer.

Yehudah HaLevi adds a pragmatic consideration: when people studied from large folio books they leant over to see the words and developed the habit of swaying during Torah learning.


Golf on Shabbat

Q. Why can't I play golf on Shabbat?


A. There are general as well as specific issues to be considered.

The main general issue raises the nature of Shabbat. Fundamentally it is a day for spiritual and cultural concerns. Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler was asked whether children may swim on Shabbat and he asked, "Did they daven first?" (And that is without raising the possibility of breaching the law against wringing out water from cloth on Shabbat).

When rabbinic authorities addressed the question of sport on Shabbat many were sympathetic, but warned against incidental breaches of the Sabbath laws such as travelling or carrying, though the carrying issue is eased if there is an "eruv" (a symbolic boundary which encloses an area and allows carrying within it).

Breaches of the law which might be involved in playing golf include "muktzeh" (handling things that have a "weekday" character), and the prohibition of reaping (in this case, cutting grass) and ploughing (digging up soil). The consensus of rabbinic opinion is disapproving of golf on Shabbat.

Rabbi Raymond Apple was for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Jewish religious issues. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at http://www.oztorah.com



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