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  • The Status of Women in Jewish Law: Responsa
  • Zvi Zohar (bio)
David Golinkin The Status of Women in Jewish Law: Responsa Jerusalem: The Center for Women in Jewish Law of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, 2001.

The publication of this volume by Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin is a significant event in the cultural and religious history of Israeli society. It is the first time that a sustained halakhic analysis of a particular branch of Jewish religious life has been undertaken by a scholar who identifies himself as a member of the Masorati branch of Judaism in Israel.1 Perhaps it is a good thing that such an enterprise waited for its implementation by Rabbi Golinkin. His evident erudition in the vast realm of halakhic sources, coupled with his command of academic studies and—not least by far—his sincere commitment to halakhah speak well of the capability of a representative of Masorati Judaism to participate as a serious player in the field of halakhic discourse.

In the following pages, I will first survey for the reader the topics dealt with by Golinkin in this volume. My close reading of the teshuvot lead me to consider several issues raised by Golinkin's methodology and argumentation, and I write of this in the second section. Finally, I will say something about the challenges raised by aspects of this work for future halakhic writing, by members of all branches of Judaism involved in halakhic discourse.

Most works of responsa are divided into ... responsa. Typically, they may be grouped into general topical divisions according to the four sections of the Shulhan 'arukh, or according to more focused halakhic areas, such as hilkhot tefillah, hilkhot shabbat, hilkhot kiddushin,etc. The volume under consideration, however, is subdivided not into teshuvot but into chapters, each dealing with a specific topic in the field of women's status under Jewish law. Most of these relate to women's participation in prayer and synagogue life: [End Page 240] May women put on tefillin (phylacteries, chap. 1)? May they be included in a minyan (prayer quorum), and may they lead communal prayer (chap. 2)? May they participate in the public reading of the Torah (chap. 4)? Is a mehitzah (partition) between men and women a required element of a "kosher" synagogue (chap. 9)? May women say kaddish for a deceased parent (chap. 6)? Should the formula Barukh shepetarani ("Blessed art thou ... for releasing me from responsibility for this one's punishable offenses"), traditionally pronounced in the synagogue by the father of a boy who has become bar mitzvah, be said by the parents of a bat mitzvah (chap. 3)? Most of the remaining chapters relate to women's participation in other religious rituals, such as funerals (chap. 5), the marital benedictions (chap. 7), and time-bound religious precepts (chap. 10, part 4). Relatively few chapters relate to non-ritual topics. These include the issue of women's study and teaching of Torah (chap. 10, part 3),2 and their capacity to serve as rabbis and issue halakhic rulings (chap. 10, part 1; chap. 8), to serve as witnesses or judges (chap. 10, parts 5 and 6), and to hold public office (chap. 10, part 2). All these are important issues. However, perhaps Rabbi Golinkin has fallen into a certain trap, whereby the importance of issues is defined not by their centrality in people's lives but by their centrality in intellectual discourse.

Are all of the topics dealt with in this book central to the experience of real-life women? How much of a woman's life is occupied with synagogue ritual? What of career, marriage, family? In Golinkin's defense, it must be said that in some responsa published in other collections, he does relate to certain other topics pertaining to women. In addition, by so focusing his book, he is continuing in the footsteps of halakhic authorities of the past. Much more halakhic energy has been devoted to women's recital of certain blessings than to the parameters and problems of existentially crucial issues such as the relationship between mothers and children. Yet, a revitalization of halakhah should not forget to broaden its scope, and...


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