26 October 2005

Women, Simhat Torah, & Drew


1) I had lunch at a young lady’s apartment along with a couple dozen others today. Some guy made kiddush and the hostess made ‘hamozi’, prompting a guy sitting next to me, who had gone to Ohr Somayach with me a year and a half ago, to ask me if women making ‘hamozi’ was something my school promoted (I don’t know how well he knows YCT), and I promptly answered, “Sure.” He said, “Y’know, it’s a feminist thing.” I then noted a quandary of mine, “How come, in my experience, women seldom make kiddush, yet often make ‘hamozi’?” (I’m still not sure….) However, I realized this evening that I never responded to his problem about feminism. I suppose in more haredi circles, feminism is problematic (certainly with no regard to whether it’s second wave, third wave[, fourth wave (if such a thing exists, or is developing), or even post-feminism]), though I figured out a tentative understanding:

Feminism presents no ostensible problematic for Judaism. Rather, it does present problems for masculine hegemonic social structures. Thus, for those men who have strong masculine hegemonic understandings of Judaism, it certainly is problematic. However, the synthesis of the two enterprises necessitates for men (albeit uncomfortably, usually) a change in their attitudes, approaches, and actions in Judaism, while there is an amelioration of the position of women. Not only is the latter outcome beneficial for women’s experiences within Jewish activities, etc., it also serves to help not turn women away due to unhappiness with their station in Jewish society.

2) This was my first holiday I spent in the Heights (aside from my YU undergrad days) and attended services and celebrations at my new shul, Mt. Sinai congregation. It is a shul where there has been a resurgence in activity over the past year and half to two years, mainly with a huge influx of new young members. For the dancing with the Torahs, the men danced with Torah scrolls, while the women were dancing without said objects in the social hall. I thought this was unfortunate; I also imagine most of my peers – the majority of the constituency there – would also have found no problem with women dancing with the Torah scrolls. However, among the three options provided by the rabbi (1 - women do not dance, 2 – women dance in the social hall sans Torah scrolls, and 3 – women dance with Torah scrolls, but in the basement), this one seemed the one that garnered the most popularity. As to how come there wouldn’t be women dancing with Torah scrolls in the social hall, it seemed that it *may* have been to avoid the appearance of being too liberal or something like that. I’m not sure. Unfortunate. But as this was the first year of so many young people being around at Mt. Sinai in the Heights, it may change in the future.

3) When it came time this morning for every man in the congregation to get an עליה (saying the blessings over the Torah), which is, apparently, a custom – I was stunned. I suppose I hadn’t remembered or experienced such a thing – oh well. Nevertheless, I felt almost sickened by the total disregard towards the women, and sort of bad for taking part in the ceremony, perhaps implicating me in the masculine hegemony being exercised – I still took part, though. The first thing to pop into my mind was that if the whole צבור of males was taking part, then there would be no כבוד צבור (honor of a congregation) issues, as per the teaching of the rabbis (Megillah 23a), as the whole congregation is taking part. I mentioned it to a couple of people, who agreed. As the men had split up into three different places, each with a Torah scroll, a young lady who was visiting suggested that it could be done such that there be another room or two where there would be women עליות (saying the blessings over the Torah) taking place. I thought it a great idea, though everybody involved knew such a thing would not take place this year in the Heights.
The other person with whom I spoke, a YU מוסמך (rabbinic graduate), who had won the auctioning the honors of הגבה וגלילה (raising the Torah scroll and wrapping the Torah scroll), had mentioned to someone that he give the honor to a female. Apparently, he got an unpleasant reaction. But why not? Some good answers to the above questions, etc. might be to start a modern orthodox minyan for young people that is more inclusive of women’s participation, though facilities and a Torah scroll might be tough to acquire.

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Unrelated to women, I got to meet Rabbi Josh Yuter over the holiday at Mt. Sinai, as well as seeing fellow JBloggers LabRab and Mar Gavriel there.

21 comments:

Karen said...

Drew, I would just like to commend you for bringing up such an important discussion. With the education and fearlessness of change that our generation has, I, along with so many others, can only hope for a brighter future for women's participation in Judaism, and a re-examination of tradition.

Drew_Kaplan said...

Thank you, Karen. I hope, as well, that there can be a "brighter future for not only women's participation in Judaism," but also experience(s) and general enfranchisement.

Apparently, Gil Student has also commented on women and Simhat Torah, with many comments on that.

Also, someone had remarked to me that when he had asked a gal about holidays, she had responded that she has a connection to the other holidays, but little, if any, connection to Simhat Torah. Clearly unfortunate, and I doubt she's unique with such a view.

uncle moishy said...

You said:
When it came time this morning for every man in the congregation to get an עליה (saying the blessings over the Torah), which is, apparently, a custom – I was stunned. I suppose I hadn’t remembered or experienced such a thing

Huh? Could that not have been the tradition where you came from? And if not, then where do you come from?

Anonymous said...

hi buddy. i spent simchat torah at penn this week. one of my major reasons was that last year when i attended, i got to dance with the torah. thats something i hadn't done since 10th grade in my reform shul. i replied to mt. sinai's survey saying i wished to dance with the torah, even if we were shunned to the basement. it stinks women in the ortho community miss out on this kavod. nevertheless, mt. sinai never replied to my remarks so i went elsewhere. in addition, the rabbi there signed off on women's kriat hatorah, so women in the congregation were allowed to get aliyahs. at first i was really wary about this. i had planned to only sit in the room since my hostess was one of the baal korehs but after a few minutes i was like, heck, i date chovevei boys, they would all tell me to get an aliyah. so when i was asked by the gabbai if i wanted a turn i was totally reluctant (mostly cause i cannot read hebrew very well) but decided to do it. it meant a lot to me to get the kavod and shake the hand of the baal koreh, gabbai, and previous aliyah, something i see guys doing every week. being raised not religious and without the ability to get aliyahs any longer is one of the things that saddens me about orthodoxy. but i totally understand it. for instance, when the women gave the torah back to be returned to the ark after the last hakafa yesterday, i almost teared up thinking, i probably won't kiss, let alone hold a torah until next year when i plan to attend the festivities at penn once again. thanks drew for bringing up such an important topic.

Drew_Kaplan said...

Uncle Moishy,
Although I come from Columbus, OH, I am a BT. So, most of my ST experiences have not been there (I can break it down where I've been each of those years, but not important right now.) and they probably do have that custom in the shuls in Columbus.

Anonymous,
Thank you for your comments. I also didn't get any response back from my response to Mt. Sinai, so it's not just you. What's interesting is that there's a certain ingrained-ness of not having an aliyah for you, which is something probably also felt by other women. Interestingly, it is probably also weird to guys for women to be approaching the Torah.

Sister said...

I'm so glad that you see this and brought this stuff up! This year I made a comment to someone that this was my best Simchas Torah, but that it was still probably my least favorite holiday. Here at Cornell they did, indeed, allow the women to dance with a Torah, both in the evening and daytime Hakafos - I reflected that it was the second time I'd ever held a Torah, the first being in the spring when I visited you at Chovevei and had the honor of taking the Torah out of the aron and then putting it back after the kriah. It really meant a lot to me to be able to hold the Torah, and I think that it gave all of the women extra spirit in dancing. I'm not sure that I completely realized last year that each man was called up for an aliyah, but I do know that that may have qualified for the only time that I ever just finished davening on my own and left shul on a Shabbos/Yontif - and it was 2 or 3 in the afternoon! All I knew was that they just kept reading the Torah over and over and I was just sitting there bored out of my mind and certainly not connected to the Torah or anything else going on. Here they also split the readings up into three groups, though I found myself going next door, changing clothes, and sitting around talking with some people for at least 20 minutes before I decided to go back... I was dreading that it might be ages of just sitting there again (thank G-d it wasn't because they'd split it up and the community isn't exactly large). Anyway... that's a long response, but I hope that you had a good yontif, and I want to wish you a Good Shabbos!

Lab Rab said...

Hi Drew,

I'll respond to first things first and to second things second.

I then noted a quandary of mine, “How come, in my experience, women seldom make kiddush, yet often make ‘hamozi’?”

The reason is that the ability of women to fulfill the obligation of men is less clear cut in Kiddush than in Hamotzi.

Hamotzi is a simple birchos hanehenin. Everyone who intends to eat bread needs to recite the bracha, or hear it from somebody else. Since there is no difference between men and women in this regard, women can fulfill the obligation for men.

Both men and women are obligated in Kiddush on Shabbat. Women might have been exempt, since it's a mitzvat aseh shehazeman grama, except the analogy of shamor to zachor renders them obligated. So in theory women could exempt men. Indeed, most authorities rule this way in Shulchan Aruch, including Taz 271:2 and Mishna Berura 271:4. However, there are three camps of minority opinions who disagree/limit: (1) Bach compares to Megillah reading, in which women don't read for men, and concludes that women never fulfill the obligation for men. Taz, however, shows that the comparison is faulty. (2) There may be an embarrassment or tznius issue. Eliyahu Rabbah cited in Mishna Berurah says that women should say kiddush only for their family members. (3) Some believe that a woman who has davened maariv or otherwise verbalized her acceptance of shabbos cannot fulfill the obligation of a man, based on the conjunction of two minority opinions. First, Mogen Avraham and many others believe that one fulfills the Torah requirement of kiddush through any verbal acknowledgment that the day is Shabbos. And second, Rosh (Brachot 3:13) seems to indicate that women aren't included in the principle of ar'vut, which enables a person to fulfill another person's obligation even after he/she has already fulfilled his/her personal obligation. However, both assumptions, and especially the second, are questionable. R. Akiva Eger (cited in Shaar Hatziyun 271:9) argues at length that women are included in arevut, especially in Mitzvot that they are obligated in De'oraita.

The bottom line is that if I were in a woman's home, and she made kiddush Friday night for me, I would consider myself fulfilled of the obligation, and I would not desire to make my own kiddush. I also think that the concern for embarrassment doesn't really apply in a singles community where the woman has no family but is hosting many people. Nonetheless, due to the perhaps controversial issues, many have chosen to refrain from having women make kiddush.

On Yom Tov the issue of women making kiddush is far more serious, since, unlike Shabbos, they may not be obligated in Kiddush at all on Yom Tov. See Minchas Chinuch 31:18, and Shut R' Akiva Eger Siman 1, and elsewhere. Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchasah has an excellent summary in Chelek Bet, page 93, Chapter 47 footnote 26. On Yom Tov I would insist on hearing Kiddush specifically from a man.

I also think that symbolically, since the owner of the home traditionally makes Hamotzi (as recorded in the Talmud (Brachot 46a), בעל הבית בוצע ואורח מברך, when a woman is hosting she should make Hamotzi.

Drew_Kaplan said...

Sister,
Thanks for checking out my blog again and commenting on it.

Lab Rab,
Hello there. I was thinking along the same lines regarding the bread, though thank you for the gm' in berakhos.

I also agree that it sounds a little shaky why women should not be able to make kiddush for others and thank you for the sources.

However, I had never given thought to yom tov being different for kiddush. Although I will surely have to look into those sources to have a better grasp of the situation, I'm unclear as to how/why women might not be obligated in kiddush. But I will have to look that up.

Lab Rab said...

Drew,

I was also surprised when I saw the Yom Tov sources. They're really fascinating since they deal with the essence of the mitzvat aseh of Simchat Yom Tov, and whether that is similar or different to the Aseh of Shabbat. Enjoy the learning!

A few quick words on Simchat Torah Hakafot for women, specifically in WH. Many keystrokes were tapped out in the discussion on Hirhurim, and I have very little to add.

I thought this was unfortunate; I also imagine most of my peers – the majority of the constituency there – would also have found no problem with women dancing with the Torah scrolls.

True; but at the same time, some people (both men and women) would have had a problem (justified or not). Why make people uncomfortable? That's probably why the option of having women dance with the Torah would have taken place downstairs.

As I see it (admittedly as an outsider), Mount Sinai has been engaged in an identity crisis over the last 7-8, as the Washington Heights Singles Renaissance has descended upon it. It is thus simultaneously an older shul and a newer shul. At OZ, where I usually daven on Shabbos, interaction between the two groups is good, but not excellent. People from both groups serve on the board and coordinate shul activities. They do split on Shabbos mornings between a families minyan and a young professionals minyan. However, the strong rabbinic and lay leadership ensures that the shul remains one.

I'm not sure that Mount Sinai has really found its identity or successfully melded its disparate elements, however. Your friends would support women dancing with the Torah - but would the older families? Would all the singles? [Remember, many of the singles can afford to live on the UWS but choose WH because it is "frummer."]The answer has to come from within the shul - and it has to make sense to everybody. And ultimately, the shul rabbi is the final arbiter, whether or not it makes sense to individual community members.

Until Mount Sinai figures out what it wants to be, people who want to have women dance with the Torah should daven somewhere else. Here in Manhattan there are so many options that everybody should be able to find the style of service that suits him/her.

I think you're right on when you comment, Some good answers to the above questions, etc. might be to start a modern orthodox minyan for young people that is more inclusive of women’s participation, though facilities and a Torah scroll might be tough to acquire. How about 666 Wadsworth? You already have your nucleus of like-minded folks there. :)

As a second point, I disagree with your contention that kevod hatzibbur does not apply when all men receive honors. The source you mention merely states that women and minors are not called to read the Torah because of kevod hatzibbur. As long as a communal service is still taking place (and certainly Kriat HaTorah in shul on Yom Tov counts), the need for kevod hatzibbur remains.

Of course, your suggestion that the women read for themselves in another room would not require the suspension of Kevod Hatzibbur.

Matthew said...

Just to add fuel... KOE down here in the UWS has one of the longest simchat torah's around.

A) We actually have hakafot. We clear the chairs, and dance, for more than one rotation, with the torahs. Leading the Hakafah alternates between men & women, and torahs are on both sides. Interestingly, at Ramot Orah, on ST night, they also have torah's on the women's side, in all parts of the dancing. Only men lead there, however.

B) We have an interesting method of reading torah. Because it's ST, we read the five aliyot in front of the whole shul, then split up to give aliyot to all who want as a kavod to the torah. They aren't really *real* aliyot, on some level that I'm sure you folks can clarify, but we have a men's reading, a women's reading, and a mixed reading, (with the mechitzah being maintained, and only men reading for men and women for women, and associated gabiyim & gabiyot.

This is when Kiddush is, too- so once you've had your aliyah, or before, you can talk, and do something other than wait.

Then they have a Challot Torah & Challot Breshit, in the main shul, but with some folks that stay out until it's done, depending on preference.

After that.... Then they call everyone else that's out back in, to do Chatan Torah & Chatan Breshit, and then go on to mussaf..

We ended about 2:40 this year, even with a smaller number of folks than in the past.

Sister said...

LR-
You say
"True; but at the same time, some people (both men and women) would have had a problem (justified or not). Why make people uncomfortable?"
But for some of us, it is very uncomfortable to spend Simchas Torah in an environment with few (and at times no) other women dancing, and a general feeling of just not being included or having it matter a whit if you're there or not, or wherever. While some women may not feel comfortable holding the Torah (saying that they wouldn't like to fast if G-d forbid they dropped it), the Torah can definitely make the situation a lot more comfortable for women to dance and celebrate rather than to sit around talking and feeling left out. I, personally, have felt uncomfortable in the past without dancing with a Torah (yes, this was my first Simchas STorah with one, and that helped make it so much better).

shanna said...

Interestingly, at Ramot Orah, on ST night, they also have torah's on the women's side, in all parts of the dancing. Only men lead there, however.

This must have changed, since when I was living on the UWS and went to R.O. for simcaht Torah night, everyone holding sifrei Torah at the start of a hakafa - men and women- would lead that hakafa together. Except, of course, for the time when I had that kibud, and some operatic-voiced bigshot on the men's side took over as a soloist.

In the Lee of the Wind said...

Well, I just danced with a torah for the first time in my university this year.

I managed to also lead one of the songs at one point..

it was defiantely one of the mpore incredible momenets. You can feel the reason why you learn when doing hakafot for the first time. it was the closest I had been to a torah scroll since first grade, and it was absolutely icredible, becuase for a moment I knew why I was actively jewish.

This of course, in my mind, presents some problems. The fact that it was something so signifigant to me makes me perceive a lack of education about why these things should be signifigant in gerenal education (definately women's, I can not comment on the men's) I shouldn't need to hold a sefer torah in order to get an unclear understanding (again, sonsidering my year in Israel was the start of that) of why learning is so important.

While I highly reccomend this expereince to any female, i still got to wonder if hakol beseder if I need the expereince. the expereince should be nice and joyus for the holiday, not some really overwhleming event, becuase it makes its value (for what is actually happening) kind of overblown...

Drew_Kaplan said...

Lab Rab,
It is true that not all of the singles would be okay with women reading from the Torah, but I imagine few would have problems with women carrying Torahs (I don't know about the older members, though). It's also true that the rabbi is the final arbiter and I thank you for pointing that out to me. It is true that "there are so many options in Manhattan", but not a lot of people are going to go walking up and down Manhattan, they'll pick a place for a holiday and stay there. Granted, there are people, like Mar Gavriel, who will walk to the UWS or WH, or even further, but certainly not a lot of people.
It's true that we have a nucleus of people in 666 Wadsworth and it's further true that they're building a little shtiebel-shul in our basement, which would be a perfect opportunity, but I believe the Soloveitchik minyan is moving there, so, though I know next to nothing about them, I doubt they are so open Orthodox.
Regarding your disagreement with me, the beraisa I pointed out says "kevod zibbur," not "kevod hazibbur" (unless there are manuscripts pointing to the opposite), and it only bars women, not women and children. It would seem that since every man is receiving an aliyah in the congregation, there is no slighting of honor to the men, as they have all received an opportunity, versus a woman being granted an aliyah ahead of a man, where there could exist an honor issue (unless, he is mokhel on his kevod).

Matthew,
That three minyan method sounds really neat.

ITLOTW,
While I agree with what you said that the expereince should be nice and joyus for the holiday, not some really overwhleming event, becuase it makes its value (for what is actually happening) kind of overblown..., how might you propose doing that?

On shabbas, a young lady who I know came up to me and mentioned that some women may not be comfortable with getting aliyos, as it is not to what they're accustomed. I think that practically, women should be given the opportunity for aliyos, but not thrust upon them. I thank her for her comment to me.

Anonymous said...

Drew, you are an amazing scholar and you should only go further in your attempts to open the world to many beautiful pieces of Torah, however, the issue of kavod tzibur or kavod ha'tzibor is might be larger than just the kehillah in which you are dovenning. Tzibor could very well apply to klal yisroel, and if not that then at least the neighboorhood of WH. Even if it was the tzibur, you would still need a MANyin, 10 men, in order for a women to say the brachot over the Torah. So, if you are reading the tizbur as just one kehillah, then shov a bunch of open jews into an appartment and borrow the sefer torah from YCT...yes you would have to either read from it 3 times or take the tsuevah of a tzorech godel, and in my opinoin it might just be that.

Drew_Kaplan said...

Anonymous,
First of all, thank you for your compliment. I am aware that kevod zibbur (unless a manuscript search finds some that say kevod HAzibbur - it's important to keep this wording in mind) is a concept that is debated among the rishonim and is not something to which there is a consensus. And, thus, various areas, rabbis, congregations, and communities may understand it in various ways, and some would, of course, not permit women ever to go up to have an aliyah.
Another thing I discussed with a young lady after I had my aliyah was the requirement of a minyan for the berakhos. If one says the standard 'Barkhu' and 'Bahar banu, etc' is something which requires a minyan, one could just say Tehillim (Psalms) 119.12. Alternatively, you cold also have a minyan. However, if one says they are not things which require a minyan, then they could say the standard formulation even without a minyan.

Anonymous said...

For another side of the story...

I was working NCSY over Simchat Torah, where women and men were both allowed, encouraged, forced, and tortured to dance with the Torah. For the men, they clung to it like a spouse, and for the women, they let it rest on a tallit draped table. The holy sefer Torah rested on the table, while wild and crazy teenagers screamed and wooo'd like it was a hot man. This, I have a problem with.
364 days of the year, women are not allowed near the Torah, except maybe for a siddur-aided kiss over the mechitza. Why should this day be different? And if it is, aren't we sending a skewed message?
I, for one, do not enjoy dancing with the Torah, as the experience is purely emotionally charged and I don't feel the need to have such an emotional experience with the Torah through such an act as dancing.
I felt that the dancing and screaming and all around craziness was not an appropriate way of expressing kavod for a sefer Torah. In fact, I feel it is the opposite.

Anonymous said...

I like your idea of a Modern Orthodox (or "Open Orthodox"?) minyan in the Heights that encourages/allows women's participation. I live on the UWS even though it's not affordable because I like my davening options here (KOE, Ramath Orah, Darkhei Noam). I've thought about moving to the Heights, but don't know where I'd daven. It's nice to know that there are people thinking about these things up there.

Aliza said...

Thank you for the discussion of women and simhat torah. I am a bit suprised that a rabbinical student at YCT would not be familiar with the halakhic ins and outs of women making kiddush. It seems to me that YCT should have a course that covers such "women and halakha" issues. Drew, is this topic addressed specifically anywhere in the YCT curriculum?

Drew_Kaplan said...

Anonymous (1),
I have a problem with.
364 days of the year, women are not allowed near the Torah, except maybe for a siddur-aided kiss over the mechitza. Why should this day be different? And if it is, aren't we sending a skewed message?

I agree - women should definitely be in close proximity to sifre Torah - they are also part of am Yisrael. You are correct - it is a skewed message.
I felt that the dancing and screaming and all around craziness was not an appropriate way of expressing kavod for a sefer Torah. In fact, I feel it is the opposite.
I wonder how they related to it. Granted, the issue of "kevod" is socio-culturally relative....

Anonymous (2),
I think it would be great if there were an open Orthodox minyan here, even if only for shabbas. It's not my idea, actually, so I shouldn't take credit for it, but it would definitely be something that could attract a good dozen or two young people, if not more. The only problem is that so many people attend Mt. Sinai. Who know? Maybe if we got a sefer Torah and a location, we could pull it off.

Aliza,
To the best of my imagination, YCT does not offer a women and halakhah course, though it wouldn't be a bad idea. We do, however, bring up issues relating to women, here and there. I imagine that even if there are no classes devoted to women's halakhah, it is (and has been my experience so far) incorporated into what we learn in our halakhah curriculum.

Anonymous said...

How can I find the Darchei Noam minyan on the UWS? I see that you have some familiarity with it. Am I spelling it wrong?

E