Shalhevet stands alone among Orthodox high schools in letting girls carry Torah, survey finds

BP Photo by Ariela Feitelberg

Rachel Lester, Managing Editor

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At least in mixed minyans, nine other Modern Orthodox high schools hand the Torah scrolls to either nobody or just the boys

It’s no secret that the topic of women carrying the Torah has been in heated discussion since the beginning of the school year. But Shalhevet students might be the only ones who care.

A Boiling Point survey of nine other Modern Orthodox or Orthodox high schools around the country reveal that when it comes to this policy, Shalhevet seems to be one-of-a-kind.

Every single administrator interviewed claimed that no girl had ever come forward at his or her school with a request to hold or carry a Torah. With the exception of Ramaz in New York, all the schools – Yeshiva of Flatbush, HAFTR, Ida Crown, Beren Academy, Kushner, Yavneh of Dallas, Maimonides of Boston and Frisch – keep their Torahs in male hands only.

Three of the nine allow girls to kiss the Torah from their side of the mechitzah. Three Judaic Studies principals said that girls are unable to reach the Torah at their schools, not for any religious reasons but because of the configuration of the rooms where davening is held.

Yeshivat Ramaz in Manhattan – alma mater of Student Activities Director Raizie Weissman and former employer of Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal – is the only other departure from the norm.

“We have a number of miyanim, and when the Torah is brought out, it stays in the men’s section,” said Ramaz Headmaster Rabbi Jay Golbmintz. “It depends on the minyan — sometimes the boys inadvertently bring the Torah back to the Bima and then the girls complain, so the boys are instructed to bring the Torah closer to the mechitzah so that the girls have the opportunity to kiss it.

“We do, however, have a women’s tefillah on Tuesdays,” Rabbi Golbmintz added. “When kriat haTorah falls on that day, like on Rosh Chodesh, the women lain” — that is, they chant directly from a Torah scroll themselves, in a minyan for girls only.  He said about 30 out of Ramaz’ approximately 400 students attend the optional women’s tefillah group there.

At the other seven schools, however, only boys may read from the Torah or hold it at all. Yavneh of Dallas divides girls and boys into separate rooms for davening most days, an exception being Friday when the Torah might be read if it were Rosh Chodesh or a holiday.

“When we are together for Torah reading, everything is done by the males,” said Yavneh’s Director of Judaic Programming, Naomi Schrager. “Theoretically if the girls wanted to [kiss it over the mechitzah], we might bring it up.”

Ms. Schrager was one of several administrators who thought their schools might reevaluate their policy if girls requested it.  A similar statement was made by leaders at Yeshiva of Flatbush in Queens, New York, although a man who answered the phone as Judaic Studies principal would not give his name because he did not want to be quoted.

Rabbi Dr. Leonard Matanky, Dean of Ida Crown Jewish Academy, brought the issue to the Beit Din of Chicago, which suggested that they keep the Torah on the men’s side.

In some schools, though, it is logistically impossible for the Torah to reach the girls’ side or even get passed around at all. This applies to HAFTR, the Hebrew Academy of Five Towns and Rockaway in New York, where Shalhevet Facilities Director Eli Schiff went to school.

“It’s not that it’s not allowed for the girls to carry the Torah,” said Rabbi Gedaliah Oppen, HAFTR’s principal of Judaic Studies. “I wouldn’t prevent girls from dancing with the Torah [on Simchat Torah]. They can kiss the Torah, they can touch the Torah, so carrying the Torah, what’s the difference?”

Rabbi Oppen was the only one to say that he didn’t have a problem with girls carrying the Torah in mixed minyans, but no girls at other Modern Orthodox schools have even requested increased Torah access, according to their adminstrators.

This was also the case with Shalhevet until last year. For the first 18 years of its existence, Shalhevet ran its davening most similarly to that of Robert M. Beren Academy in Houston — coincidentally, where Rabbi Ari Segal served as Head of School until this year.  There, a boy carries the Torah the whole time and girls who want to can kiss it.

At Shalhevet, however, boys even took the Torah onto the other side of the mechitza so it would be easier for the girls to reach it.

Then, at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year, Judaic Studies teacher Mr. Noam Weissman went to Judaic Studies Principal Rabbi Leubitz to change the tradition, and Rabbi Leubitz approved the request.

Since then, when the Torah is brought out of the aron (ark) by a male student, who then brings it to the back of the room and hands it over to a girl, who carries it through the girls’ side until it gets back to the male ba’al kria, or Torah reader.

“There was no set reason… I didn’t really think much about it,” said Mr. Weissman. “I knew it was halachically appropriate and I thought it was a nice way to get the girls involved.”

VIDEO: Two problems solved at once as Sephardic minyan debuts 11/10/2011

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

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

Related: Sephardic minyan approved; no change to Ashkenazic minyans 10/28/2011

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 the Torah at junior-senior minyan 10/7/2011

 

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