Sunday, August 27, 2006

Study on sexuality in the Orthodox Jewish community

This is a recent article on a study on sexuality in the Orthodox Jewish community. (pdf file)

Excerpt from article below
• Sadly, we found the same statistics for sexual molestation and abuse of girls and teens as in the secular population. One quarter of our respondents reported sexual molestation as girls or teens.

While patterns of molestation varied somewhat from secular studies, we must face up to the fact that, contrary to popular belief, traditional religious life does not guarantee protection for girls and teens in this arena.

Beloved Words-Milin Havivin
A Student Journal Devoted to
Torah, Society and the Rabbinate
Published by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School
Volume Two Sivan 5766 – June 2006
Page 185

Michelle Friedman, M.D.

This unique yom iyyun was created in partnership between YCT Rabbinical
School and Congregation Ohab Zedek. The title itself conveys a great deal
about the ambitious agenda—we chose very specific words, and we encourage
you, the reader, just as we encouraged the participants on December 26, to
think about them, to pause and reflect on what they mean to you: “Intimacy,
Love, Kedushah and Sexuality.”

For me, these are words for powerful and different states of feeling and experience
that may or may not be experienced at the same time. However the
words resonate for each individual, the operative word for the yom iyyun and this
summary is kedushah, translated as “sanctity” and which should be accompanied
by respect and modesty. In that spirit, we understand that it is not only possible,
but necessary, to discuss these feelings and experiences associated with intimacy,
love and sexuality using clear and direct language.

We understand that attitudes, values and behaviors are fundamentally rooted in
the home. Children who come from loving homes where physicality is discussed
* This event took place at Congregation Ohab Zedek in New York City on December
26, 2005.

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have the best chance of themselves constructing emotionally and sexually
healthy relationships in marriage. At the same time, no matter the home, education
in schools and in other vehicles, such as hatan/kallah preparation classes,
plays a crucial role.

The yom iyyun takes a closer look at these opportunities. Rabbi Allen
Schwartz framed our inquiry in a Torah context. Our two panels of experts considered
the broad topics of education and intimacy in marriage. For the first
panel, Dr. Chaya Gorsetman, Professor of Education at Stern College, addressed
the development of trust—the necessary precursor to intimacy—and sexuality in
young children. She was followed by Rabbi Mark Gottlieb, Head of School at
Yeshiva University High School for Boys and Dr. Jerry Zeitchik, Director of
Guidance at the Ramaz Upper School, who explored issues of sexuality and education
in the yeshiva high school setting. In the second panel, Rabbi Yosef Blau,
Mashgiah Ruhani at Yeshiva University drew from his many years of experience
in framing his remarks about contemporary challenges in sexuality and marriage.
Shuli Sandler, an instructor at Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, and,
together with her husband Ben, a hatan/kallah educator, presented an overview
of their unique co-ed marriage preparation class. My own presentation was an
overview of points drawn from a recent data study I did with several colleagues
on the sexual life of observant Jewish women.

Besides chairing the department of pastoral counseling at YCT Rabbinical
School, I also practice psychiatry on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Clinical
involvement with observant Jews over the past 25 years in conjunction with a
1999 national secular report on sexual behavior led several colleagues and me to
conduct a questionnaire based study that explored emotional and sexual experience
of religiously observant Jewish women. We collected data from over 400
women in the United States and Israel and analyzed this material using statistical
methodology. We also encouraged respondents to write narrative accounts that
further enriched our research. The material in our study came from women who
scrupulously adhered to niddah laws. We look forward to publishing a full
description of our findings in the near future. Here are a few key observations
relevant to the yom iyyun inquiry:

• Women are not in the main learning about the basics of sex
from their mothers or other family members. More than 70%
of our respondents learned about sex from friends their own age,
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not generally the best source of accurate or appropriate information.
• While 90% of the women in our study took a kallah class prior to
marriage, most felt that this instruction did not adequately prepare
them for marital sexual life. They describe that their teachers’
emphasis was to insure that students not commit halakhic
errors, Teachers in general did not offer basic instruction that
women felt would have been very helpful. Topics that the women
repeatedly mentioned in which they wished they had instruction
were the differences between male and female sexuality, couple
communication, and basics of sexual practice.

• Women also described difficulty making the transition from niddah
to non-niddah (i.e. sexually available) times. We found that
when they do have sexual difficulties after marriage, they almost
never ask their kallah teachers for help.

• Our respondents strongly advocated for the positive impact of a
two week separation period in terms of reducing sexual boredom
and increasing desire. However, only a minority felt that niddah
observance improved their emotional relationship. Many women
described feeling estranged from their husbands when physical
touch was not available.

• We found that one of the most significant predictors of sexual
satisfaction in marriage was evenness of communication about
sex. Responses of women who felt that they could initiate sex or
express their preference for and response to specific activity was
highly correlated with positive ratings about their intimate marital

• Husbands’ sexual dysfunction also significantly contributes to
marital sexual dissatisfaction. Here, as well, communication
between the couple figures importantly. People are more likely to
get help if they can first acknowledge that they have a problem.

• Sadly, we found the same statistics for sexual molestation and
abuse of girls and teens as in the secular population. One quarter
of our respondents reported sexual molestation as girls or teens.
While patterns of molestation varied somewhat from secular stud-
Michelle Friedman 187

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ies, we must face up to the fact that, contrary to popular belief,
traditional religious life does not guarantee protection for girls
and teens in this arena.

• Whether a woman affiliates as Hassidic, Yeshivish/Agudah or
Modern Orthodox turned out to be statistically unimportant in
terms of marital sexual satisfaction. However, whether she is a
ba’alat teshuvah vs. being raised religious (frum from birth) is

• Women who became religious reported better marital sexual satisfaction.
Likely explanations for this are multi-faceted and will be
explored in our longer paper, but we suspect that less inhibited
attitudes towards sexuality among women who were not raised
religious play a major role.

• We found that while over 90% of our respondents ask rabbis
questions about Kashrut and Shabbat, a much smaller percentage
ask questions about sexual practice. This was not for lack of
curiosity—half of our respondents had such questions, but very
few ask for rabbinic guidance. Similarly, while the majority of
women answering the questionnaire used birth control at some
point, less than half reported asking for rabbinic guidance in
making those contraceptive decisions.

These findings leave the observant community with much to think about. Since
we are committed to the principle of kedushah guiding all major realms of life,
we must wonder why significant areas of sexual life seem to be hovering on the
outskirts of religious consciousness. We need to re-evaluate the place of relationship,
intimacy and sexuality education in the yeshiva day school system as well as
the curriculum and format of pre-marital preparation programs. Lastly, we must
educate our future rabbis and religious teachers so that they are knowledgeable
in and comfortable with this basic area of life. Only when these leaders model
appropriately modest yet clear familiarity with issues of sexual life, will the community
move forward in this regard.

188 Milin Havivin
MillinHavivinEng06 7/19/06 11:08 AM Page 188
William Friedman is a second-year student
at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.
William Friedman
I thank Dr. Koren for her response, and I am flattered that my modest article
merited such a learned study. She may rest assured that the limited scope of my
original piece was a conscious decision, motivated by a desire to use a relatively
uncontroversial example to open the conversation in this area (with the full
awareness that something truly comprehensive was needed, which I promised in
footnote 4 of my original piece). I also wished to demonstrate, implicitly, the
underlying assumptions of sifrei halakhah directed towards women that control
their readings of the sources, even when those readings are presented impartially.
Dr. Koren has anticipated a principal line of argumentation that I intended to
present in that fuller article1—barukh she-kivant, and as for me, mitzvah she-ba
le-yado al yahmitzenah. I wish to add a few notes and to fend off some potential
challenges to Dr. Koren’s analysis, but ultimately I am in full agreement with
her conclusion.

Dr. Koren is correct to point out that one limitation of the approach I presented2
is that there are disputed opinions regarding women’s obligations on
several of the days on which Hallel is recited, and that the mainstream pesak
regarding women’s obligations on Sukkot, Shavuot, and the first day of Pesah is
that they are exempt.3 However, the need to then explain the difference could
* See the Hebrew section of this volume of Milin Havivin.

1 And for which I intended to thank Michael Rosenberg and Josh Greenfield for pointing
out its cogency and utility.

2 Namely, examining the relative weight of the halakhic obligation of men and women
to recite Hallel on various occasions, and to claim that on those occasions when the
obligatory statuses are equal, women can and ought to serve as shelihot tzibur on an
equal basis with men.

3 See, however, Ra’avyah, Hilkhot Lulav, 2:685, who holds that women are obligated
to recite Hallel on these days. He quotes the opinion that they are exempt because it is a
mitzvat aseh she-ha-zeman gerama in the name of his teacher R. Yitzhak ben R. Asher
Ha-Levi (see Aptowitzer, Mavo le-Sefer ha-Ra’avyah, pp. 23, 369), and disagrees, holding
that the point of the Mishnahh is to tell us the lowliness (geri’uta) of the unlearned
man who needs to rely on these people (slaves, women, and children) to recite Hallel.
Aptowitzer (Sefer Ra’avyah, pub. Hevrat Mekitzei Nirdamim, p. 391, n. 12) suggests
that Ra’avyah’s pesak is based on his version of the Mishnah (attested to in manuscripts
and other Rishonim), and adduces an additional proof from Rava’s statement on Sukah

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be seen as an advantage (minimally, as a chance for Talmud Torah; maximally, as
a chance to overcome the sociological barriers to women’s participation by
pointing out the opportunities for participation that are well-supported by standard
halakhic reasoning). Even granting its limitations, I would still contend
that this approach is useful for those congregations who will either end up disagreeing
with Koren’s argument, who will find the sociological or halakhic
implications troublesome, or who will not wish to change their minhag of
recitation to conform with her conclusions. In addition, my analysis is still necessary
for those who follow the custom of the Gr”a (to recite Psalm 118:1-4
responsively on days on which Hallel is minhag) cited by Dr. Koren (p. 9, and
nn. 21 and 28). (On a different note, it is also important to clarify this issue for
women themselves in order that they become aware of their obligations.)
Dr. Koren’s argument proceeds as follows: In order for someone to fulfill his or
her obligation to say Hallel through another (the makreh of Mishnah Sukah 3:10,
who would need to be identically mehuyav), one needs to respond “Haleluyah” to
each phrase read by the makreh. Already by the time of Rava, this had fallen out
of practice,4 and the customary recitation of Hallel was not in the manner of the
makreh of the Mishnah but had taken on a new form that consisted of a remembrance
of various earlier practices. Rashi, Tosafot, and Ritva all interpret Rava as
belonging to an era in which everyone was already expert (beki’in) in saying
Hallel and therefore were not relying on the shaliah tzibur, but rather only recalling
an earlier practice.5 Tosafot and Arukh La-Ner testify that in their communi-
38b which mentions only children but not women, suggesting that there is a distinction
between women and children’s reciting Hallel for adult men. Unfortunately, I have yet
to locate a single Rishon, even among the students of Ra’avyah, who decide in accordance
with, or even reference, his pesak. It was to this source that I was referring in my
somewhat cryptic footnote 4 when I wrote: “. . . nor will I dispute the underlying
assumption . . . that reciting Hallel on certain occasions is undisputably a mitzvah she-hazeman
gerama from which women are exempt . . . is the correct explanation of the
Mishnah.” The possibility remains that a posek, under appropriate conditions, could
decide like Ra’avyah or use him as part of a larger halakhic argument.
4 This is already noted, and the development from Tannaitic times traced, by Rabbi
Yosef Tzvi Ha-Levi Dünner, chief rabbi of Amsterdam from 1874-1914. See Hidushei
ha-Ritzad, Sukah 38a, s.v. sham be-dibbur hamathil mi shehayah eved ve-khulei, p. 281,
pub. Mossad haRav Kook.

5 One might note that the custom described by Rava on Sukah 38b does not lead
directly to the conclusion that in Rava’s time the sha”tz was not relied upon at all. The
GemaraGemara there says: “He says barukh ha-ba and they say be-shem Hashem. From
here [one learns that] hearing is like responding (shomei’a ke-oneh).” The Yerushalmi
(Sukah 3:10, Megilah 1:8) makes the same point: “They asked before Rabbi Hiyya bar
Ba: whence [do we learn that] if one heard but did not respond he has fulfilled his obligation?
He said to them: From that which we observed: great rabbis were standing in a
congregation and these were saying barukh ha-ba and these were saying be-shem Hashem.
And both were fulfilling their obligations.” In addition to revealing a split between the
custom of Eretz Yisrael (where the congregation was engaging in a responsive communal
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ties all were experts and did not rely on the shaliah tzibur. In addition, Dr. Koren
cites Meiri that a baki may only rely on the principle of shomei’a ke-oneh after the
fact (bedei’avad) and not le-khathilah as evidence that it is preferable for a baki
not to rely on the shaliah tzibur at all.6 Finally, Dr. Koren contends that nowadays,
in an era of ubiquitous siddurim with translations and with halakhic permission
to say Hallel in any language, we are all considered experts.

Dr. Koren then considers whether current practices of saying Hallel require
one to rely on the shaliah tzibur to fulfill one’s obligation. She points out the
widespread practice of reciting the first four verses of psalm 118 responsively
with the sha”tz, with the congregation reciting only the first verse in response.
Tosafot hold that one has nonetheless fulfilled his obligation because of shomei’a
ke-oneh, a principle that only applies if the mashmi’a is obligated to the same
level as (or a higher level than) the shomei’a. Instead of responding directly to
this point7, Dr. Koren cites Magen Avraham, the Gr”a, Mishnah Berurah, and
Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam, all of whom recommend that one not rely
on the sha”tz, but rather say the entirety of Hallel him or herself. She concludes
that in those places that follow the custom of reciting all of Hallel, including
Psalm 118:1-4, as individuals with the sha”tz, a non-obligated person may
“lead” a congregation of obligated people.

recitation) and the custom of Babylonia, it indicates that at least in Rava’s community the
congregation was relying on the sha”tz himself. Of those who claim that in Rava’s generation
the sha”tz was no longer fulfilling anyone’s obligation, none respond to this point.
The most obvious suggestion is to say that the language of the Rishonim when they said
that “no one is relying on the sha”tz at all” was imprecise. Nevertheless, Dr. Koren still
has the clear statements of the Rishonim and Aharonim she cites to support her contention
that at various times, according to various minhagim, the sha”tz’s role when reciting
Hallel was not to fulfill the obligation of the individuals in the congregation.
6 The Yerushalmi, cited above in note 5, reveals an important point about shomei’a keoneh:
that one can fulfill one’s obligation through an agent even if that agent is not the
formal shaliah tzibur and even (at least regarding Hallel) if one hears it from a group of
people. This responds to a potential criticism of Dr. Koren’s argument: Even if Dr. Koren
is technically correct, perhaps one ought to worry about the minority who would need to
rely on the sha”tz? (Such a situation would itself be extremely rare—the sha”tz would have
to be reciting exactly the words that such a person is unable to recite himself, and the person
must be able to understand them). Based on the Yerushalmi, in those congregations
in which people sing Hallel together, such an obligated person could rely on hearing the
recitation of the congregation, provided it included at least one other obligated person.
7 It would be extremely tempting, based on the silence of the Rishonim to the point I
raised in note 5, to say that somehow, for some reason, in such a limited case of call and
response, one is not “relying” on the sha”tz. Without a plausible conceptual or explanatory
framework, however, one would be hard-pressed to do so. (One extremely farfetched
explanation: perhaps both the sha”tz and the congregation said the words being
recited by the other silently, so that it merely sounded like a responsive recitation.
Neither this explanation nor the one I offer in the aforementioned footnote would support
the aforementioned tempting claim.)

William Friedman 191
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Two points, I believe, deserve further discussion. In her footnote 28, Dr.
Koren says that no one objects to the suggestion of saying each verse by itself, as
opposed to repeating “hodu” in addition to each verse.8 R. Moshe Sternbuch, in
Teshuvot ve-Hanhagot (Orah Hayim 119), does seem to object to this suggestion,
after quoting the custom of the Gr”a: “But [it is] from the essence of the
law of Hallel (me-ikar din Hallel) to hear from the shaliah tzibur and to fulfill
[one’s obligation] from him when he says each time ‘yomeru na’ and one
responds ‘hodu,’ and it is appropriate on yamim tovim and Hanukkah that the
shaliah tzibbur alone should say ‘yomar na’ and the congregation should only
sing [in reponse] to this ‘hodu.’”9 Although R. Sternbuch’s point is well-taken,
it is surprising that he would prioritize what is at best a minhag (acting as a
zekher) over the negative consequences of maintaining the current practice
(potentially not fulfilling one’s obligation by missing the words of the sha”tz).
This is particularly strange given the elegance with which the solution of the
Gr”a and Mishnah Berurah mitigates against that consequence.
This question opens the door to a more sweeping practical criticism of Dr.
Koren’s argument: Why should a congregation choose a practice (appointing a
non-obligated “sha”tz”) that leaves open the possibility of anyone not fulfilling
his obligation? The response to this, I believe, is three-fold. First, we are already
in such a situation, according to the Gr”a—in fact, retaining our current custom
of recitation is the halakhically dubious option, and once we have remedied that
situation, appointing a non-obligated sha”tz is a non-issue! Second, Be’ur
Halakhah (Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayim 422 s.v. Hallel) records a mahloket over
8 One of these is the Nezirut Shimshon (R. Samson [the Hasid] ben Moses Bloch,
Hamburg, d. 1737), who comments on Magen Avraham 422:8: “And it is better that
they should say them [the verses of Psalm 118:1-4] to themselves—This does not appear right
to me, for if so, how will one [be able to] say hodu three times, for this is not part of the
decree (takanah) and is considered an interruption.” While Dr. Koren is right that this
only applies in the latter case, I would imagine, as a practical issue, that many congregations
would want to retain their current practice as much as possible, and therefore
deserves addressing. This argument was clearly not accepted by the Gr”a or Mishnah
Berurah. Assuming they were aware of it, two possible legal explanations present themselves:
1) Unlike Nezirut Shimshon, who describes the Hallel practices as a takanah (and
one wonders when such a takanah was established, given the changes and flexibility of
recitation practices of Hallel, as articluated by Tosafot), these authorities might view it in
the realm of minhag (in line with the simple sense of the Mishnah), with that category’s
attendant flexibility; 2) they might take a more flexible view of repeating words in tefilot
and disagree that it would constitute a hefsek. There is no practical difference between
these two explanations for our issue.

9 Similarly, Peri Hadash (R. Hezekiah di Silva, 1659-1697, Jerusalem) Hilkhot Rosh
Hodesh 422:3 (towards the end), claims that for those whose custom is not to recite
barukh ha-ba be-shem Hashem responsively, the responsive repetition of Psalm 118:1-4
teaches shomei’a ke-oneh in its stead. Unlike R. Sternbuch, Peri Hadash offers this not as
halakhah le-ma’aseh but rather as a theoretical solution to solve a problem in Rambam.
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whether a baki may fulfill his obligation, even bedei’avad, through an agent. This
could be formulated as a safek de-oraita, according to those who hold that Hallel
is an obligation with Biblical force. Again, once this problem is remedied, there is
no problem with a non-obligated sha”tz. Finally, and this is a practical response,
implementing this change would actually force congregations to face the issues
raised by their current repetitions.10 As a practical suggestion, it might make
sense, on those holidays on which there is significant doubt whether women have
any obligation at all, for the shelihei tzibur to be male for the first year when
introducing this change in custom (such as, e.g., creating new melodies to sing
all four verses without repetition), to avoid any potential confusion.

The second point concerns Dr. Koren’s dismissal of the question of the curse
(me’eira) as applicable only when the sha”tz is in the role of makrei, which she
denies is the role of the sha”tz in her model. That role, based on Magen Avraham,
is as a guide for the congregation in singing, a person who either cannot fulfill the
obligation of the individuals in the tzibur since they are beki’in or will not because
all are reciting every word together—is this not extremely close to, if not identical
with, the role being fulfilled by those in the first clause of the Mishnah? Therefore,
I think, it might be useful to examine the various reasons attributed to the curse
and whether they might serve as impediments or cautions for our case.

Rashi gives a two-pronged explanation. First, he claims that one who is unlearned
is cursed for his ignorance. This is clearly inapplicable to us since we
have the status of beki’in. Rashi’s reason for why learned men are cursed is that
they disgrace their Creator by appointing agents such as these (sometimes quoted
as “lowly” agents)—which is inapplicable in a social circumstance in which
such people are not considered disgraceful. Tosafot disagree that the Mishnah
can be referring to a learned person at all; they read the curse as applicable only
to the unlearned person, and attribute the curse not to his ignorance, but rather
to his disgracing his Creator by appointing an non-obligated person. Since this
is entirely within the context of the unlearned person, it is similarly inapplicable
in our all-baki situation.

Meromei Sadeh (R. Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, 1817-1893, Volozhin)
attempts to reconcile Tosafot and Rashi by claiming the former are discussing a
person in the home and the latter a person in the synagogue. That is to say, in
the home only an unlearned person would appoint a makrei; in the synagogue,
even a learned person would appoint a sha”tz—and in that case, appointing a
non-obligated person out of his own laziness is a disgrace. This would be inapplicable
when the decision to appoint an non-obligated sha”tz comes out of
motivations other than laziness (such as, e.g., choosing a sha”tz with the best
voice). Tiferet Yisrael (R. Israel Lipschitz, 1782-1860, Danzig) on Sukah 3:61
attributes the reason for the curse to the person’s need for the learning of these
10 There is, of course, a fourth argument, based on principles of kavod ha-beriyot and
merutzeh le-kahal—but such arguments would do little to convince nay-sayers, and so I
have presented technical responses which all would have to admit have compelling force.
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people and not going to beit ha-keneset. Since the very context of our discussion
is the synagogue, this reason similarly falls away. All of the reasons proffered for
the curse are therefore inapplicable to our situation, even without resorting to
Dr. Koren’s entirely defensible dismissal.

I will close with a few general comments. It seems absolutely clear to me that
in a congregation that follows the custom of reciting all of Hallel with the
sha”tz, in line with the posekim that recommend this practice,11 Dr. Koren’s
approach is a readily acceptable way to allow women to lead the recitation.12 It
should also be noted that the line of argumentation advanced by Dr. Koren has
potentially vast ramifications for women leading all parts of the service.13 The
halakha she cites (p.10) in the name of Magen Avraham (Shulhan Arukh Orah
Hayim 53:20) is brought in the general context of describing an appropriate
shaliah tzibur, minimally for the Amidah, and probably for keri’at shema u-virkhoteha
as well. This is not a criticism; however, even if all halakhic problems were
to be overcome, many women (and men) would still feel cheated being allowed
to lead because of a devaluing of the position of shaliah tzibur.14
Finally, while I appreciate Dr. Koren’s concern that my approach requires
making fine distinctions between different occasions on which Hallel is recited,
her approach also requires making distinctions, this time between different customs
of reciting Hallel. I can’t say for sure which distinction is harder for congregations
to make, although I suspect that changing a widespread practice, particularly
when it is, as she points out, beloved, will be at least as challenging.
The ideal solution, I fear, has yet to be formulated.

11 This is also the practice recorded in the widespread Artscroll siddur. See R. Nosson
Scherman and R. Meir Zlotowitz (ed.), The Complete Artscroll Siddur (Brooklyn, NY,
1987), p. 638-9: “Each of the following four verses [of Psalm 118] is recited aloud by the
chazzan. After each verse, the congregation responds, ‘Give thanks to Hashem for He is
good; His kindness endures forever,’ and then recites the succeeding verse [emphasis added].”
12 Presuming the issues to which I alluded in the introductory footnote to my original
article have been addressed.

13 A short analysis was already offered by R. Mayer Rabinowitz in a paper written in support
of ordaining women as rabbis in the Conservative movement. See Simon
Greenberg, ed., On the Ordination of Women as Rabbis, pp. 115-117. See also the critical
response of R. Joel Roth, ibid., p. 179, n. 69.

14 I wish to thank Jenny Labendz for pointing this out (in a different context); it has
also been suggested by R. Roth, ad. loc. and in personal communication. I do not think
this is a reasonable criticism to level at one using this reasoning to justify women leading
Hallel, since already Rishonim were aware that the sha”tz for Hallel was no longer serving
in the role of fulfilling the obligations of the individuals in the community; nevertheless,
the position has remained respected, no doubt in part because of the havivut of
Hallel and the need for a highly competent sha”tz to lead it in a beautiful and pleasing
way. Certainly Magen Avraham could not have meant to debase the role of sha”tz!


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