Shul Chronicles 308
Ami Magazine, R. M. Taub
Is the Election Over? Can I Come Out of My Study?
Some years ago I was on a Torah U’Mesorah S.E.E.D. program in South Carolina. There were four of us, and aside for studying one-on-one with members of the community we each had to prepare and deliver an hour public lecture on our own chosen topic. Silly me, I chose the title “Gd: Democrat or Republican?” thinking that it would bring a crowd. I was young, inexperienced and naïve.
While it did bring in a great number of people, these people arrived with an equal number of agendas. If there was one class where I can be assured everyone would walk away equally disappointed, this was it! So, it is my night to give the talk. The crowd shows up; I stand up by the podium and begin:"Tonights lecture is titled 'Gd: Democrat or Republican?"Before I even finish the first sentence, an attendant cut me off and loudly declares:“I know what Gd is… She is a Democrat”! Hashem, of course, is neither male nor female and to think otherwise, would be either kefir or just foolish interpretation to seemingly anthropomorphic texts.I stood at the podium, all of twenty years old, shell-shocked. Ever since then I have always been weary of talking politics from the pulpit. All good mothers teach their children that religion and politics should not be discussed among good company for the fear that it will lead to discomfort at best and discord at worst. As a rav, I must speak of one of those two, but I try to stay away from the other.
In 1917 only Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Russia had granted women the right to vote. By 1925 all of the northern European countries (Britain, Ireland, Luxembourg, Austria, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia and Poland had accepted women’s suf- frage. (America accorded women the right to vote in 1920.) No country in the Mediterranean Basin (Spain, France, Italy, Albania, Yugoslavia, Turkey, and Greece), Asia (except Russia), Africa or the Middle East recognized women’s suffrage.
Geographically, Palestine was located squarely in this lat- ter non-suffragist bloc, yet it too was swept up in the con- troversy. When it became apparent after the November 1917 Balfour Declaration that the new Yishuv would need to elect political entity to represent it vis-a-vis Great Britain, the question of suffrage arose.. This issue was hotly debated in the Ashkenazic Old Yishuv during 1918 and 1919
The Mizrahi party in Israel was split on this question. National elections were set for October 1919 and, faced with a policy decision, Mizrahi scheduled a conven- tion in Jerusalem in September. Many from outside the city who supported women’s suffrage found themselves in direct confrontation with the Jerusalem Ashkenazic rab- binic leadership. As a response they turned to Rav Kook—the newly installed Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi of Jerusalem—to decide the issue for them, assuming his support for women’s suffrage. Shortly thereafter, a rab- binic forum was convened that included Rav Kook. To the shock of many, he announced via a public letter his opposition to women’s suffrage in passionate and unequivocal terms. The opposition to women in public life was not merely personal, claimed Rav Kook, but the unanimous voice of all Jewish culture and halakhah.Mizrahi succeeded in averting the impending the crisis by obtaining a postponement of the elections. Since that sup- port implied an endorsement of women’s suffrage, Rav Kook reacted with a second public letter, articulating an opposition even stronger than the first. For Rav Kook, participation in an election that granted women suffrage constituted “betrayal”against Jewish tradition and law. He supported a boycott by religious Jews of the elections--no small sacrifice for an ardent Zionist—unless women were barred from the electoral process. Rav Uziel composed his responsumn this issue in 1920, while Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Jaffa. In it he argued
strongly for women’s suffrage for religious, moral and political grounds. Out of respect for Rav Kook, he never identified his intellectual adversary, but it is clear that much of his teshuvah is a point-by-point rebuttal of argu- ments Rav Kook had raised in the two letters.
An Open Letter!
To the Hon. Committee of the Mizrahi Association,
I was honored to receive your request that I express my opinion concerning the pending question of electing women to the assembly of the representatives of the Jews of the Land of Israel. Despite my not being worthy of being approached, I consider that circumstances require that I expound my opinion on this matter, with greatest possible brevity.
It seems to me that the issue can be analyzed under three headings:
a) Regarding the law (din), whether the matter is permitted or forbidden
b) Regarding the general good, whether good for Israel will result from an affirmative answer or from a negative one
c) Regarding the ideal, whether our moral con sciousness opposes the prospect or supports it
We must expound our attitude on each of these three aspects, for I wish the discussion to be addressed to all our ranks: to the fully faithful of Israel, for whom the halakhic ruling is central; to those for whom the nation’s good is decisive; and to those whose main regard is for the moral ideal in itself.
Regarding the law, I have nothing to add to the words of the rabbis who came before me. In the Torah, in the Prophets, and in the Writings, in the halakhah and in the aggadah, we hear a single voice: that the duty of fixed public service falls upon men, for “It is a man’s manner to dominate and not a woman’s manner to dominate”
(Yevamot 65b), and that roles of office, of judgment, and of testimony are not for her, for “all her honor is within” (Ps. 45:14). Striving to prevent the mixing of sexes in gatherings is a theme that runs through the entire Torah. Thus, any innovation in public leadership that necessari- ly brings about mixing of the sexes in a multitude, in the same group and gathering, in the routine course of the people’s life, is certainly against the law.
Next to be discussed is the aspect of the general good. Regarding this, I think it is our duty to inform all our brethren, whatever their orientation—all of whom surely wish the good of our nation and the enhancement of our rights in the Land of Israel—of the foundation of the British government’s [Balfour] declaration, which has planted for us a young shoot from which redemption will grow. The declaration rests on the correct view, shared by the best of the gentiles and the best of the British people particularly, that our link to the Land of Israel is some- thing divinely sanctified. They are influenced in that view by the holy light of the Bible, which is treated as holy by the greater part of civilized nations today. And the spirit of the Bible is perceived even now by the weightiest part of the world as leaning generally to the side of modesty, fearing any depravity which might come into the world by reason of human weakness with respect to the sexual impulse. The special feeling of respect towards woman is therein based, and [her role is] centered on domestic life, the improvement of inner life, and all the delicate human works branching out from them.
The enemies of Israel—both internal and external—make much use nowadays of the libel that the young Israel has lost its link to the Holy Book, and therefore has no right to the biblical land. Our duty is to take up sta- tions and demonstrate to the whole world that the soul of Israel is alive in its true character and that the biblical land is deserved by the biblical people, for with all its soul it lives in the spirit of the Holy Land and of the Holy Book.
So it is indeed the truth that in the inwardness of their spirit our sons are “God’s disciples” (following Isa. 54:13),and their life’s ideal is completely holy and biblical. Hence our holy duty is to see to it that the inception of our movement towards a measure of [autonomy based on] our own political-social character be properly marked by the sign of biblical integrity and purity with which our life has been imbued from time immemorial. This will be so only if we avoid the European novelty—alien to the biblical spirit and to the national tradition deriving from it—of women’s involvement in elections and public life, which is tumultuous and noisy and involves multitudes.
It is worth emphasizing that we are treading the path of our redemption not in order to be mere followers of European culture, which at least as to morality and the purity of virtues is defunct (as acknowledged by all pene- trating critics who are not awed by the appearance of its imposing stature), but in order to proclaim evermore unto the entire world our message, vigorous, holy and clear, just as it springs from our internal fountainhead. In any event, in the present context, we ought to walk upright at this time of great need to emphasize our national character in our social life upon our land. We can rest assured that this assertiveness will confer upon us in the world far more than we might attain by imitating oth- ers, a course of action that usually results from inner weakness.Finally, as to the ideal: Deeply imprinted in our soul is the ideal of being unblemished by any sin. When this ideal is realized, the world will be purified, and proper and safe ways will be found for the delicate and holy participation of Woman, the mother in Israel, in public life, both gen- erally and particularly, with wholesome influence and in accordance with her special inner worth, thus fulfilling the vision: “Every woman of worth is a crown unto her husband” (Prov. 12:4). But this future vision is as yet not even glimpsed in temporal cultural life, which, though outwardly well groomed, is rotten within. So any step we take in the course of our public life that carelessly disre- gards our outlook concerning Woman’s present and future worth—something that is deeply imprinted in our spirit— merely impedes this ideal course. Only Israel’s return to its land, to its setting and its kingdom, and to its holy spirit, its prophecy and its Temple, will eventual- ly bring into the world that sublime light, for which all noble souls of all humanity yearn.
And this will surely come about only through maintain- ing our true character, in accordance with all the laws and ordinances by which the Torah instructs us in the ways of life of exalted glory, of supreme freedom, and of redemp- tion.This is my inner conviction, which I convey to you, my beloved brothers, in the integrity of my heart, awaiting prompt liberation and with God’s blessing from Zion and Jerusalem. Respectfully,
Abraham Isaac Ha-Kohen Kook
“WOMEN’S RIGHTS IN THE HOUSE OF REPRE- SENTATIVES AND IN INSTITUTIONS OF PUBLIC AND YISHUV LEADERSHIP”
I wrote this responsum originally to clarify the halakhah for myself, not wishing to publicize and teach this respon- sum and this halakhah for implementation. However, now since this question has been resolved by itself, I deem it good to publicize it for the purposes of enhancing Torah.
A. Women’s Right to Vote
This issue became a central controversy in Erets Yisrael,
and the whole Land of Israel rocked with the debate.
Posters and warnings, pamphlets and newspaper articles appeared anew every morning, absolutely prohibiting women’s participation in the elections. Some based their argument on “Torah Law,” some on the need to preserve the boundaries of modesty and morals, and others on the wish to ensure the peace of the family home. All leaned upon the saying “The new is prohibited by Torah (hadash asur min ha-torah).”
...The issue can be subdivided into two headings: (a) the right to vote, and (b) the right to be elected.
Regarding the first, we find no clear ground to prohibit this, and it is inconceivable that women should be denied this personal right. For in these elections we elevate leaders upon us and empower our representatives to speak in our name, to organize the matters of our yishuv, and to levy taxes on our property. The women, whether directly or indirectly, accept the authority of these representatives and obey their public and national directives and laws. How then can one simultaneously “pull the rope from both ends”: lay upon them the duty to obey those elected by the people, yet deny them the right to vote in the elections?If anyone should tell us that women should be excluded from the voting public because “their minds are flighty (da`atan qalot)” (Shabbat 33b and Qiddushin 80b) and they know not how to choose who is worthy of leading the people, we reply: Well, then, let us exclude from the electorate also those men who are “of flighty minds” (and such are never lacking). However, reality confronts us clearly with the fact that, both in the past and in our times, women are equal to men in knowledge and wis- dom, dealing in commerce and trade and conducting all personal matters in the best possible way. Has it ever been known that a guardian is appointed to conduct the affairs of an adult woman, against her will?
The meaning of our Rabbis’ statement, “da`atan qalot,” is entirely different. Also, the statement “women have no wisdom except with regard to the spindle” (Yoma 66b), is only flowery wording intended to circumvent a question posed by a woman. Indeed, the Talmud itself states that the woman who asked the question was a wise person, as it says: “A wise woman posed a question to Rabbi Eliezer.” And our Rabbis expressly stated: “‘And God constructedthe rib’—this teaches us, that more insight was granted to woman” (Niddah 45b).
But perhaps this should be prohibited because of licen- tiousness? But what licentiousness can there be in this, that each person goes to the poll and enters his voting slip? If we start considering such activities as licentious, no creature would be able to survive! Women and men would be prohibited from walking in the street, or from entering a shop together; it would be forbidden to nego- tiate in commerce with a woman, lest this encourage closeness and lead to licentiousness. Such ideas have never been suggested by anyone.
Or, perhaps, it should be prohibited for the sake of pre- serving peace in the home (shalom bayit)? The author, being a great rabbi, has answered this well: If so, we must also deny the right to vote of adult sons and daughters still living at their fathers home. For in all cases where our rabbis concerned themselves with ensuring tranquility, they gave equal treatment to the wife and to adult sons living at home (see Bava Metsi`a12b). It might still be objected, that denying this right to adult children should indeed have been proposed, but since it wasn’t, let us at least not increase friction even more by allowing women to vote! But the truth is, that dIfferences of political opin- ions and attitudes will surface in some form or another, for no one can suppress completely his outlook and opin- ions.A great innovation was advanced by Rabbi Dr. Ritter, who advocates denying suffrage to women because they are not qahal, and were not counted in the census of the people of Israel nor subsumed into the genealogical account of the families of Israel.Well, let us assume that they are neither qahal nor edah, and were counted neither in census nor as “family” or anything. But are they not creatures, created in the Divine Image and endowed with intelligence? And do they not
have concerns that the representative assembly, or the committee it will choose, will be dealing with? And will they not be called upon to obey these bodies regarding their property as well as the education of their sons and daughters?
In conclusion: having found not the slightest grounds for this prohibition, I find that no one has the slightest right to oppose or to deny the wishes of part of the public on this matter. Regarding a similar situation, it has been said: “Even if ninety-nine request imposed distribution, and only one demands outright competition, that one should be followed, for his demand is legally right”(Mishnah Pe’ah 4:1). Over and above this, it has been stated: “Women were allowed to lay hands [on their sacrifice] for the sake of giving them a feeling of gratification” (Hagigah 16b), even though such an act appeared to the public as prohibited; how much more so in our case, where there is no aspect of prohibition at all, and where preventing their participation will be for them insulting and deceitful. Most certainly, in this case we should grant them their right.
B. May Women be Elected?
The second issue is whether a woman can be elected to public office. Now, it seems prima facie that we have come up against an explicit prohibition. For in the Sifre on Deut. 29:16 it is written:
“Thou shall appoint—and if he dies, another is appoint- ed in his stead, [i.e.] a king and not a queen.”
From this source Maimonides derived the rule:
A woman may not be appointed to the throne, as it is written: “‘A king’—and not a queen.” And like- wise, all public appointments in Israel are to be made from amongst the men and not the women. Therefore a woman should not be appointed as head of a community (Hilkhot Melakhim 1:5).
But I myself am in doubt whether this rule stems from (a) women being basically ineligible to function as judges, or from (b) the principle of dignity of the com- munity. The effective significance of each alternative would be seen in a situation where it is not the beit din which appoints her, but rather a part of the public that chooses her as its representative and its proxy.
Under theory (a), such a public choice would be invalid, just as no individual can voluntarily decide to acknowl- edge a woman’s evidence in matters of marriage and divorce, etc., since the Torah has deemed her ineligible. But under theory (b), we would say that their choice is valid, and that only the unanimous public or the dayyan- im are prohibited from electing her to public office, but a part of the public may choose her as their representative and proxy.
Now, according to one explanation offered by Tosafot (Niddah 50a, s.v. kol ha-kasher), i.e., that Deborah was a judge in virtue of her having been accepted by the public, it is plain that their acceptance is valid even when unani- mous....This can also be proved from the text of the holy Zohar on Leviticus, 19b. Thus we learn that there is no prohibi- tion against appointing a woman to public office, and that she may be appointed in case of need; but that it is considered an insult to the community that they could find no one to judge them except a female. (MEANING, THEY FAILED THE MEN TO RAISE THEM TO BE BNEI TORAH)
It is clear then that the text of the Sifre is to be explained accordingly: A queen should not be appointed over Israel by a beit din appointment, because of the dignity of the public. Therefore, a person—or persons—may with full right vote for her, and by virtue of her voters’ support she
may join the representative body.
Similarly, a woman may rule as queen if she is the only scion of the royal house, or by virtue of her actions and the need of the hour, as Deborah in her times.
Rabbi Pinhas Estersohn searched and found in our Talmud an explicit reference to this: “If he did not say ‘covenant (berit)’, ‘Torah’, or ‘kingdom’, he nevertheless fulfilled his obligation [to recite the blessing after a meal (birkat ha-mazon). ‘Covenant’—because it does not relate to women; ‘Torah’ and ‘kingdom’—because it relates nei- ther to women nor to slaves.” Thus it is explicitly stated that kingship does not relate to women. Indeed, these proofs seem very strong and convincing. .. (BUT, PERHAPS) It signifies that if a king dies, a new king must be appointed in his stead, but if a queen dies, there is no positive injunction that she be replaced. He sought to support his view by pointing out that the text says “a queen (malkah)” and not “a ruling woman (molekhet).” One of the conclusions of his argument was that Maimonides emerged as having misread an elementary source, by relying upon his memory and not having the chance to recheck the text, or possibly by hasty reliance upon the custom of his time and place, which led him to conclude that it [womanly rule] must have been prohib- ited.
With all respect to the author, I believe that he erred in hastily writing such things about our master, Maimonides. For, while we may indeed take issue with his position, we may not characterize him as having com- mitted [elementary] errors in understanding the text, or as having been misled by custom and historical context. (In passing, I would like to remark that halakhic signifi- cance derives not from the antiquity of a text but from the personality of the author, and a manuscript whose author or source is unknown may as well not exist; of such a case should we say, “It is not signed by Mar the son of Rabbina.”) ...
And our master Hida (R. Hayyim David Azulai) quotes from the book Zikhron Devarim, by our teacher R. Aharon Ha-Kohen Perahia, who quotes from an unpub- lished manuscript that “Deborah was a leader, as if queen,” and identifies this as consonant with Rashba’s opinion (Birkei Yosef on Hoshen Mishpat 7:11).
You see then that the prohibition of placing women in public office relates only to an appointment made by authority of the Sanhedrin.
In conclusion, it is clear that even according to the Sifre she may be accepted as judge, that is, leader, and she may make decisions just as one can accept a relative [as judge]. Therefore, in appointment by election, which is the pub- lic’s acceptance of those elected as their representatives and leaders, the law is that they can also elect women, even according to the positions of the Sifre and Maimonides. And in the writings of the rishonim in gen- eral no dissenting opinion has been found.
... Daily, men meet and negotiate with women in commercial transactions, and
yet all is peace and quiet. Even those inclined to sexual licentiousness will not contemplate the forbidden while seriously transacting business. Our rabbis did not say “Do not engage in much conversation with a woman” (Avot 1:5) except as regards idle, needless chatter; for that sort of conversation leads to sin, but not so debate over impor- tant, communal issues. Meeting in the same enclosed area for the sake of public service—which is tantamount to service of the Divine—does not habituate people to sin or cause levity; for all Jews, men and women alike, are holy, and not suspected of violating conventions of mod- esty or morality. Nor should you object on the basis of that which the sages taught (Sukkah 51b): “Originally the women were within [the Temple’s court of the women] and the men without, but as this caused levity, it was instituted that the women should sit above and the men below.” For that was said only concerning a mass assem- bly of proper and immodest people together, and in such circumstances one suspects the licentious minority, par- ticularly when they are engaged in celebration and the evil inclination exerts control over them. But this was not said regarding a gathering of officials, which would stigmatize those elected by the people as sexually licentious. Such may not be done in Israel!
Further proof can be brought from the teaching (Megillah 23a): “All may ascend to reading of the Torah [to the quo- rum of seven], even a child, even a woman, but the sages ruled that a woman should not read the Torah in public out of respect for the community” (kevod ha-tsibbur), that is in order to preclude the inference that there are no men in the community who can read from the Torah. But they did not rule in this way out of concern over licen- tiousness. Conclusions:
1) A woman has an absolute right of participation in elec- tions so that she be bound by the collective obligation to obey the elected officials who govern the nation.
2) A woman may also be elected to public office by the consent and ordinance of the community.