On women and Torah, Shalhevet should lead

The BP Editorial Board

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When disagreements arise, people generally look for the easiest solution and automatically assume it’s the best. When a disagreement arose in the Shalhevet community about whether women could carry the Torah, most people immediately assumed it would be best for everyone if the davening groups split. One minyan would permit women to carry the Torah while the other would (respectfully) deny women this opportunity.

It seems like an elegant solution: divide the groups and there will be no more dissent.

But the fact is that it is clearly halachically permissible for women to carry a Torah. In Boiling Point interviews, Jewish institutions across the country that forbid women from carrying the Torah did not deliver when it came to their rationale behind it. When asked to justify their policies, they provided mysterious answers, ranging from the fact that it is impossible the way their shuls are arranged to “There’s no why, we just don’t do it.”

Why force half of all Jews to separate themselves from the Torah for reasons that no one can seem to articulate? No minyans at Shalhevet, whether Ashkenazic or Sephardic, should prevent women from carrying the sacred scrolls. Everyone in every davening group uses a mechitzah, stands for the Amidah and prays in Hebrew, so every group should adopt a new, halachically valid tradition of women, too, carrying the Torah.

This week we learned that Rabbi Segal would make the final decision, after consulting with various members of the Shalhevet community.  One proposal being strongly considered would create a Sephardic minyan where the Torah would not be carried at all — meaning neither gender would have access to the Torah. We oppose this plan, because it forces Sephardic girls to choose between identifying ethnically as Sephardim and attending a minyan where they can participate in the ritual.

In Orthodox Judaism today, men are able to read from the Torah and lead services in all minyans, and women pray separately and do not lead – even in Modern Orthodox settings.  Just as some men find spiritual fulfillment in their ritual roles, a woman may feel that her only chance to truly connect with God is during the time she holds the scroll that has defined our people for so long.

This is the where the future of Modern Orthodox Judaism lies and this practice should be pioneered by Shalhevet’s community. Eventually, other Jewish institutions will be encouraged to embrace this practice, and thus a new tradition spreads. And just like that, change is made.

Related: New Sephardic minyan lets students feel at home 11/12/2011

VIDEO: Two problems solved at once as Sephardic minyan debuts 11/11/2011

Related: About 50 students attend school’s first Sephardic minyan 11/7/2011

EDITORIAL: On women and Torah, Shalhevet should lead  11/4/2011

Related: Shalhevet stands alone among Orthodox schools in letting girls carry Torah, survey finds 11/3/2011

Related: Tradition may rule, but law says girls may carry the Torah 11/3/2011

Related: Rabbi Segal okays first Sephardic minyan; no changes to Ashkenazic minyans  10/31/2011

 

Related: Meeting yesterday began process of minyan decisions, Rabbi Segal says 10-26-2011

Related: Blocking of girls from carrying Torah fails to materialize at first Sephardic-led junior-senior minyan 10/11/2011

 Related: Girls will no longer carry Torah at junior-senior minyan 10/7/2011


 

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