Sunday, December 11, 2016

Rav Moshe Feinstein's views on Feminism O.C. 4:49

Concerning the Feminist Movement (translation is copyrighted)

Igros Moshe (O.C. 4:49):Question: Concerning the international Feminist movement and in particular the religious women who want to fight against matters that are governed by Torah - for example some wish to pray in a talis - you want to know my views concerning this and how to respond to it?

Answer: First of all it is necessary to know that it is one of the foundations of our pure faith that the entire Torah - both  Written or Oral were given by G-d Himself at Mt. Sinai through Moshe Rabbeinu. And that it is impossible to change even the smallest detail - either for leniency or strictness. However we have been commanded that when there is the need for protective measures and decrees then the Sanhedrin and Torah scholars are to make decrees prohibiting certain matters or to obligate doing certain matters - with the clear understanding that this is only an emergency matter for a paricular crises. However from the time we have been scattered in Exile all over the world, we no longer have this ability to impose measures on the entire Jewish nation. But we still retain the ability on the local level for the scholars to make decrees for their communities – but only for a short time.

Consequently this that the Torah exempts women from time- bound commandments - is a Torah law. And the rabbis have not made a decree to obligate them because they did not see any necessity to do so. In fact they clearly understand the need to exempt them for the reasons that the Torah exempts them as well as for reasons which are not known to the masses or even to great scholars. And we are required to believe that G-d the giver of the Torah has great reasons.   There are reasons that the masses understand e.g., that the average woman is not rich and she has the obligation to raise the children which is a task which is most important to G-d and to the Torah. Furthermore G-d created the nature in every specieis  of living things that the female raise the children - and man is no exception - and woman are the most suitable to raise the children. Because of this they have the leniency of not being obligated in Torah study as well as time bound mitzvos.

Therefore even if the nature of society changes even for all women and the rich in every generation and it is possible to give the task of raising the children to certain men and women such as in our country - the Torah law does not change and not even a rabbinic law.

Therefore it doesn't help to have any campaigns concerning this matter - because we have absolutely no ability to change the halacha - even if the entire world  agrees. Consequently those women  who are stubborn and want to fight to bring about change in these matters are considered deniers (kofrim) against the Torah.

Look at the Rambam(Hilchos Teshuva 3:8), There are three who are called deniers  in the Torah. 1) One who says that there is even one word that Moshe wrote in the Torah on his own initiative 2) One who denies an explanation which is part of the Oral Torah 3) And one who says that G-d changed a mitzva.  Each of these three  is a denier of Torah and does not have a portion of the World to Come. Even though the Rambam says that “One who says that G-d changed a mitzva,” it is obviously telling us that  the same applies even if a person claims that man has the ability to change a mitzva. That is because it is also saying that the Torah is not eternal and there a number of verses which teach us that the Torah is eternal as the Kesef Mishna explains.

It is a fact that all women can fulfill even the mitzvos that the Torah doesn't obligate and they are regarded as keeping the mitzva and they also receive reward for doing these mitzvos. In addition, according to the view of Tosfos, they also can say the beracha on these mitzvos. According to our custom they fulfil the mitzva of Shofer and Lulav and they also say the appropriate beracha. Even the mitzvva of tzitzis, it is relevant for a woman to keep - as long as the garment has  a different appearence than that worn by men -   if she wears a four cornered garment that she put tzitzis on it. It is only problematic if she wants to put on tefillin - as Tosfos (Eiruvin 96a) states that it is necessary to protest women wearing Tefilin because  extra care is required to ensure that the body is clean and that it is necessary to be aware at all times that the person is wearing tefilin. In fact it is because of these concerns that men who are obligated to wear tefilin all day only wear tefilin the short tiime while they are saying the morning prayers. That in fact is the psak of the Rema (O.C. 38:3). An additional problem is that the Targum Yonasan on the verse "that a woman should not wear that which is worn by men" says it means that women should not wear tzitzis or tefilin because they are what men wear. This disagrees with Tosfos who apparently views that this desciption is not actually part of Targum Yonason.

Nevertheless it is obivous that doing this is only for women who have a strong desire to keep the mitzvos - even those which she is not commanded to keep. Thus if this is not her motivation but rather because she has complaints against G-d and His Torah - then it is not considered fulfilling the mitzva at all and in fact the opposite is true - it is viewed as prohibited. It is prohibited as an act of heresy that she thinks it is possible that there can be changes in Torah law even when she is being stringent.

Second of all it is necessary to know that the reason that they are exempt from time bound mitzvos is not because women are on a lower level of holiness than men. Because as regarding holiness they are equal to men in terms of the relevance of being obligated in mitzvos. Because it is only from the aspect of holiness that exists in all Jews that there is an obligation to do mitzvos. Because all the verses about holiness are also said about women - whether it was at the beginning of the acceptance of Torah "And they should be for me a treasure and you shall be for me a holy people" which was said to Beis Yaakov i.e., the women and "Tell the Children of Israel" i.e., the men or whether "Holy men you shall be to Me" said in Mishpatim or "And you shall be holy" which was said in Shemini or "And holy shall you be" and "you shall be holy" in parshas Kedoshim. Or "You are a holy people for G-d" in parshas Re'ah. The rule is that every place which mentions the holiness of Jews applies also to the women. Consequently women also say the beracha with the language , "who has sanctified us with His mitzvos" as the men say on the mitzvos - even on those mitvzos which the Torah does not obligate women to do.

The reason that the Torah does not require women to perform these mitzvos is only because of a leniency that G-d decided should exist for them as we discussed before - and not because they are inferior - G-d forbid.

And amongst the obligations between a man and his wife there is the obligation that a man needs to honor and respect her and she needs to honor and respect him - without any differential. There were many women who were prophetesses and they had the full status of prophet as that found amongst the men. Furthermore in many things - whether in the Bible or the words of our Sages - they were praised more than the men. There is no degradation of the honor of women.

And in all matters in which we find that they were exempt from Torah study and time bound mitzvos - there is absolutely no cause to complain at all. Therefore you should explain in every instance and be firm and strong in your mind that these are like the laws of the Torah and to protest against those women who after all this is explained - stubbornly insist on keeping their foolish and twisted views. It is important that nothing be changed from the holy Jewish conduct.

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