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The Conservative movement started to allow women to count in a minyan in 1973 without publishing a halachic justification. In 2002, Rabbi David Fine published a teshuva on the issues of women counting in minyanim and serving as שליחות ציבור to explain the ruling. In examining the teshuva, I had a hard time understanding a few of the parts of the logic, and I was wondering how those issues are explained by the Conservative movement.

1) In footnote #1, the author states that he did not consider קול אשה to be a "significant objection". Why not?

2) The whole argument rests on the idea that women can obligate themselves in a mitzvah. But doesn't everybody agree that women have at least a derabanan obligation for tefila? It seems to me that accepting the obligation upon themselves would not effect an obligation any higher than the level of a neder, even if such an acceptance is possible. So is the point that women can take upon themselves an obligation on a Torah-level even though it was not originally commanded to them on a Torah level? If this is not the case, why would women be able to be motzi men in davening if their level of obligation is still lower than that of men?

3) Related to (2), Rabbi Fine bases his argument that women can accept mitzvot upon themselves on the Magen Avraham saying that women have taken the mitzvah of counting the Omer upon themselves. But how does he interpret that to show that women have a greater-than-neder-level of responsibility for counting Omer, or that women can be motzi men in the counting of the Omer? This seems to be a necessary logical step for his argument to work.

4) One issue that Rabbi Fine addresses is the argument that most Conservative women have, in practice, clearly not accepted the obligation of tefila, considering the vast majority of them do not daven thrice daily. His rebuttal is that Conservative women have, as a class, accepted that they have an obligation to daven three times a day, but that they simply fail to live up to that obligation and commit a sin every time they do not daven.

I have a very hard time with point (4) in particular. It seems to me that he is instituting a chumra (women must daven three times a day) that the majority of people do not follow, causing them to sin. That is definitely something that at least the modern poskim have gone to great lengths to avoid doing. This makes it seem like the author jumped through many hoops to arrive at a pre-determined conclusion, which is something that the Conservative movement claims not to do.

  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/44989/3483 – Mike Sep 3 '14 at 1:44
  • "But doesn't everybody agree that women have a derabanan obligation for tefila?" Not exactly. Some Rishonim view women's obligation in prayer as Biblical and some as Rabbinic. From among the former group, some Achronim suggested as a possibility (to justify why largely illiterate women weren't praying) that they believed only the biblical obligation applies to women but not the Rabbinic one. I'm not aware of any particularly early source for this distinction though. So everyone agrees there is either a biblical or a rabbinic obligation, and some think both. – Double AA Sep 3 '14 at 2:55
  • @DoubleAA Either way, they already have a seemingly higher level of obligation than what seems to be a neder here. But edited with your suggestions – Daniel Sep 3 '14 at 4:07
  • Kol Isha is a modern advent. Very few followed this even fifty years ago. If you go back before the time of the mishna we were basically saying sh'ma with a few other additions, perhaps benching and some other things. Remember most of our traditions, how we daven, what we say, are modern advents. Before the destruction of the temples, people gave karbanos. Today prayer is mostly a replacement for those karbanos. In any event, it's a good question as to how can they rectify the issues. But just remember that this is all derabanan. – JMFB May 31 '15 at 18:45
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Kol Isha -- presumably, the gemara in Megilla says that theoretically a woman could receive an aliyah. In those times, receiving an aliyah meant reading the Torah as well. Hence many rabbis (including some Orthodox ones) would say that kol isha wouldn't be a problem reading the Torah, and if that kind of singing isn't provocative, one could argue that leading the davening isn't either. (Again, there's singing, and then there's singing. There's chanting, and then there's chanting ... but there is a theoretical source on the books here.)

"Everyone is obligated" -- good question. Until recently, if I understand correctly, a woman could only be ordained by JTS as a Conservative rabbi if she took an oath to say the full prayers thrice daily (whereas her default obligation was to do some prayer each day), known as the "Roth neder." The argument was that she's now obligated, so she can help others fulfil their obligations. This logic ignored the distinction between those obligated per se in the rabbinic obligation to pray the specified prayers, versus those obligated by force of a vow.

As for the concept of extending obligation and then ignoring it -- well I'd say the approach of the responsum is more "how can we enable" instead of "how were we obligated." (And conveniently ignoring Rambam's point that before enacting any new law, a Sanhedrin must seriously consider whether most people will be able to uphold it.)

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    To your first paragraph: Most Rishonim permit a women to read Megillah for a man, and of those who don't only one relatively obscure one mentions Kol Isha as the concern. – Double AA Sep 3 '14 at 2:52
  • @DoubleAA who's the obscure one? – Y     e     z Sep 3 '14 at 3:19
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    @YEZ My brain is saying either Kol Bo or Orchot Chaim. Don't quote me on that, though. – Double AA Sep 3 '14 at 4:49
  • @Yez hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=20023&st=&pgnum=32 note the footnote as well – Double AA Oct 11 '16 at 3:54

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