Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I'll Carry YOUR Torah (that's what SHE said)

Before we get started here, a brief note on the Raven's MNF loss to the still undefeated Patriots. You know the feeling the Jews got when they left Egypt? I had the complete OPPOSITE feeling about 4 different times during the 4th quarter of the game. That's about all I can say on the issue. The Ravens played their hearts out, and left everything out on the field. Well, except for the penalty flag Bart Scott threw into the stands. Classy.
Women: can't live with them...can't procreate without them. No, this is not going to be my first ever post devoted entirely to fashion. Although, I am very intrigued by the "let's just wear leggings" phenomenon. Seems like it really caught on. Do they provide the same warmth as actual pants? Has anyone ever shown up to a job interview donning the long shirt-belt-leggings trio? I'd like to think that Kobe Bryant is somewhat responsible for this. In any case, I'm really here to talk more about the role of women in Judaism, or, as it seems to be in most Orthodox circles, the lack there of. Now, I'm not just writing this because the Official Blog Girl was president of the entire Orthodox community here at the U of MD for a year (and she did a fantastic job, might I add. Not that I'm biased). I truly think this is a huge issue and I'm about 78 percent sure I heard that Rabbi J.J. Schachter agrees with me. Whoever that is.
So there have been a few different programs about women and Judaism here on campus. Most recently there has been interest in having the Torah being carried back on the ladies' side of the room on Shabbat morning. Of course there is plenty of opposition, not from a Halakhic perspective, but from those who value the "tradition" of men carrying back the Torah, and those who are concerned with the overall weird feeling that many in the Minyan will feel. Personally, I think it's a great idea. There's a difference between tradition as mandated by a legitimate source and tradition of "this is how we've always done it, so this is how we should always do it." If we are doing something because of a specific reason or legitimate source, and now that reason no longer exists, it BECOMES just "something we've always done." Before anyone looks into this issue, or any issue that pertains to women in Judaism they should take a figurative step back.
There are sexist statements in all different kinds of Judaic writings. My personal favorite is roughly translated as "If you teach a woman Torah, it is as if you are teaching them nonesense". I don't blame these people for writing these things because these people actually believed these things. Women couldn't do ANYTHING back in those days. Women didn't learn trades like men did. They didn't go out in the field like men did. They raised their children, and ran the household. These are the facts. During the time that the Talmud was compiled, and then the Shulchan Aruch women were really seen as second class citizens. I am willing to bet that when the Mishna Brurah was written there was still an overwhelming number of people who really believed that women didn't have the same brain capacity as men. They couldn't vote until the 1900s. They didn't really enter the work force until WWII because all the men were off fighting.
(I made the following point in a comment, but that it was important enough to "edit" it into the actual body of the post. Enjoy.)
Until relatively recently, women didn't even GO to shul. For modesty reasons, for traditional reasons, for whatever reasons, it just didn't happen. Now they do. Interesting. So there must have been ONE shul out there that decided to start using that mechitza (partition) thing that they had for davening purposes. No doubt when they started letting women in the shul there was outrage. Now, we look back and to us it seems like it was something that "evolved". But at the time it was surely seems like something that happened in one place over night, after much thought, and then it started spreading, until now where it is looked at as common place. We can even say that "this is how its always been".
Eliezer Berkovits said in his essay entitled "Conversion and the Decline of the Oral Law" that we have become Karaites to the Shulchan Aruch. Perhaps that's a bit extreme, but he makes a good point, and it is something to be aware of. I am not calling for an overnight change in all of Orthodoxy, and I know these things take time. Change is scary, and it could be dangerous. And I know it may even lead to mixed dancing. But with something as important as feeling close to God maybe it's time to let the women out of the kitchen.
Yes, me, the same guy who once chanted "bare-foot and pregnant!" at a "Battle of the Genders" camp event (we weren't allowed to call it "Battle of the Sexes" because all the giggling could have attracted unwanted wildlife) is now advocating for women's rights in Judaism.
Fantasy Football update: The F***** O***** just barely squeaked into the playoffs after Brett Favre got hurt and provided me with less than one fantasy point. I'm hoping Ladainian rallys the troops and we beat the Tony Romo led S******* that H*


Dov L said...

I agree.

If something is halakhically acceptable (both according to Torah and rabbinic law), and yet it is still not done, the question should not be, "Why do this?", but rather, "Why not?"

Tradition is unbelievably important, yet we must understand every action that we do or do not take. If there is nothing legally wrong with passing the Torah, and if it will enhance the women's spirituality, then why not?

Michael said...

Interestingly enough, this past summer this issue of allowing the woman to carry the Torah came up. There were many people who were passionately against it and many for it. The director of the camp, a true torah Great, was very much for it and made it part of our monday, thursday and shabbat services.
Woman, in general, feel very disconnected to judaism and the Torah. Most woman do not even know what the inside of a Torah looks like. What does that say about us? We should be doing whatever necessary, within the halachik boundaries of course, to accommodate the woman.
Hats off to you Gadi, great work.

AlanLaz said...

Terms like "role equality" and "level playing field" aren't inherently Jewish ones. The rise of feminism in America, and perhaps in the world, has led women to feel disconnected from Yiddishkeit. It isn't that they're participating any less than they were 100 years ago; it's simply that now there's this idea, which is now rampant in Modern Orthodox circles, that "role equality" should now exist in Judaism.

Commenter above noted that the question shouldn't be, "Why, but, why not?" I would argue that when attempting to institute a historically non-Jewish mindset into Judaism, the question should be "Why?". Let's be honest: the percentage of women that want to carry the Torah because they want to feel a connection to G-d pales in comparison to those that want to carry it so that they can be equal to men. Sorry ladies; the roles of women and men are different in Judaism.

Further, while it may be easy for you and I to distinguish between traditions that exist because "it's something we've always done", and those that have a legitimate source, this distinction isn't as clear to all. You start out changing those in door #1, and before you know it, you're changing things in door #2.

It's a slippery slope when we raise children to think that we can change customs that have been practiced for thousands of years because those practices don't fall in line with a movement that is arguably about 50 years old.

I imagine that if you did a case study in a few generations; to see the percentage of children that aren't frum, or have intermarried - the numbers would be much higher for those who have subscribed to this theory of "change", than for those who have stuck with the way things have been for thousands of years.

Finding meaning in Yiddishkeit, because of the rote of it all, is by nature, difficult. This is a problem that should be addressed. If the problem is easily solved by giving women a Torah to carry, then we must be able to come up with something that isn't in direct violation of millenia-old tradition.

Like you said, change is dangerous. We're talking about the furtherance of Torah Judaism, not whether our children are Orioles and Ravens fans.

Call me "Gadi" said...

Wow. Laz. Amazing. Still honored that you're a part of my ever so small reader population.
I am not advocating changing things that have been around for a thousand years in one night. But, I think that Judaism HAS changed a lot, even in what is now known as Orthodoxy. Women didn't even GO to shul until relatively recently. Now they do.
I have a hard time believing that Moshe's Judaism was the same as Ezra's Judaism, or Ezra's was like Rashi's or that Rashi's was like the Vilna Gaon's, and so on and so on. The Torah was given to the people, "its not in the heavens." Change happens.

AlanLaz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ely said...

Gadi, you must be getting awfully excited that this debate of yours has turned into quite the little conversation. In addition, this is my first ever blog posting and please excuse the lack of jokes as I am quite nervous to say something offensive to the entire world wide web. But Laz asked my opinion on the article and his response so I figured I'd give it.

Firstly, while I'm all for change within Judaism, it must be made with much caution and from a "why vs. why not" perpective. keep in mind, regardless of how archaic, these traditions do have great stature and significance and although at times change is preferred and necessary, it should only be done after the proper consideration by the proper people.

As for the feminist movement, I think it's great. I wholeheartedly believe in the cause and there is no doubt in my mind that woman are equals when it comes to potential, intellegience, etc, etc. however, that is just my opinion and it is based on the society i grew up in. let's remember the feminist movement is about 100 years old, whereas the Orthodox movement has been going on for thousands of years. i've heard many sociologists opinions - outside of the religious spectrum - that the feminist movement is no more than a "passing fad". while i disagree, i still take caution in making too quick of changes to orthodoxy, a movement and tradiiton from which lives are rooted.

however, i think we've strayed from the point. bottom line is that there are many ways to include woman into orthodoxy without violating halacha. although that also has to be done very carefully, as often times the "slippery slope" takes over.

as for the specific topic at hand, women holding the torah. now for starters, i've been fortunate enough in my lifetime to hold the torah, and i can say with complete honestly (and this will be confirmed by any male you ask) that it is not some unimaginable experience. girls, you feel anything when holding a chumash?? so multiply that by like 6 and you've got the experiece of holding a torah....i promise, it's really not that special. but to be fair, there is something to be said for wanting the right to do something (ie, i dont really care about voting, but i'd fight if someone took away my vote to do so). but let's at least be honest and say that asking to have torah on womens side is 99% political argument and at most 1% about finding a spiritual connection.

to try and conclude my rambling attempt at compromise, i'd say that i'm all for passing torah on womens side, but be very careful of the mindset taken to the change (i recall when it was debated 4 yrs ago at maryland, one of the main issues was that of the "hand-off" with shomer nigeyah issues). gadi, i'd say your overall approach to the issue of change is WAY too lenient. Laz, i'd say your approach to a womans role within judaism falls victim to a simpler times and MUST be examined and updated.

i love both of you.

is this considered too long of a blog posting? should i just be starting my own blog??

Call me "Gadi" said...

Ely. I thought i made it when Laz was reading. But I dont even think I can comment.
Ok, i will.
You say, and I will quote, "bottom line is that there are many ways to include woman into orthodoxy without violating halacha."
That's perfect. This is it. This is the way to include women in orthodoxy without violating any halakha. There is no halakhic problem with this, aside from the negiyah issue, which could easily be avoided. Passing a Torah between two people does not REQUIRE touching. As long as they are both competent.
Also, allow me to clarify. I am not saying that this is a move that EVERY orthodox congregation should make. I am not even saying that this is necessarily right for the MD community. Change IS a part of Judaism, we've been changing things for years. Yes they need to be done carefully, and with proper timing. I personally think that in the right situation, this could be done carefully, and without a single Halakha being broken.
And a large population of people could feel closer to the Torah. If it hurts more people then it helps, then I agree, it's not the right time. But if it's just a little discomfort, maybe they can get over it.

Rivka said...

I, too, have never commented on a blog before. To tell you the truth, I hate blogs. But this one happens to be occasionally entertaining, and so when I hear of updates, I read. Safe to say, this most recent one was my favorite.

The issue at hand isn't really one that I am passionate about. I'm a feminist in a loose and non-radical translation of the term, but the whole "egalitarian" issue within Judaism never really struck a chord with me. If you're a big believer, go to a shul where you can participate. If not, don't. Simple.

But, reading some of the responses above has made me think a little harder. I must admit that I really hate how all the guys are playing down what it feels like to hold a Torah. I never got anything out of it when holding one either, but who are we to say that someone else won't? My experience while saying the Shema, from reading a book, from dancing on Rosh Chodesh, are all possibly entirely different from yours. Possibly not. Who is to know?

It is so easy to say that something is "not some unimaginable experience" when you have had the opportunity to actually experience it. Whether multiplied by 6 or 6 billion, it isn't possible to quantify someone's religious experience in such a manner.

Remaining the same simply because of a paralyzing fear of change is not a healthy attitude. Without change, without growth, nothing can survive. Not even Judaism.

AlanLaz said...

I'd have a hard time defending a claim that Moshe's Judaism was the same as Ezra's, etc. The question is whether that change just sort of "happened" or whether it happened by deciding to chuck tradition out the window? I don't know the history well enough, but I'd imgine that it's the former.

All I know is that the Reform movement's first changes was to have mixed seating, so that women could get more out of the service. While here we're dealing with an issue that isn't "halachic" at its core, to me, it smells the same.

Do you really think it will stop with women carrying the Torah?

#2 said...

Mr. Divac, despite what you think, I indeed have read your fantasy posts as well as the blogging ones. Read 2 before and 2 now.. I am not (in this post at least) going to get into the issues (which I align myself with the Laz- and I'm not just trying to get some good scotch.) My only problem is this: If I had started a blog about why women in THE UNIVERSITY OF MD should NOT carry the Torah I would've been tarred and feathered. Conservative views are so "close minded" and "overstepping bounds" but liberal ones are "progressive thinkers" and "sTuperly open minded". This is getting off topic and I should start my own blog. Nah, too pretentious... A novel it shall be...

Call me "Gadi" said...

First of all, #2, id like to respond to your comment on my Locke blog. In my first draft I did include the Mitchell David award in that paragraph, but it mustve not made it past the editors desk. Ill have my secretary check it out.
In regards to this post, I never once called anyone closed minded or anything of that sort. I'm only saying that change has happened, and will continue to happen. Laz said that theres a difference between things that "just happen" and "chucking tradition out the window". I think that in hindsight it is easy to say that things just happen, but when they happen, it seems like things are being chucked. I could be wrong, I have not done all the proper research.
There must have been one shul to first allow women into the shul to begin with, albeit with a mechitza. That tradition has not been around forever. Was that chucking?
Also, sure seems like there's plenty of tarring and feathering coming from both direction. Just to clarify again, I respect everyone's opinion. I am not calling anyone closedminded or anything of that sort.
#2...i look forward to reading your novel. I'm sure itll be a best seller, much like Joan of Arc.

Talia said...

If Ely meant "multiply it by 6" and thats how heavy the Torah is to actually carry, then I think he should have written "multiply by 100"...
Look, I am neither a feminist nor am I looking for anymore work or obligations... however, I do believe that as times change, there are things we can do to bring our now "modern" lives closer to our Judaism- and that is what we have always done.
That said, let us ask ourselves "is this issue HONESTLY about spirituality"? if you answer yes, that this is about perfecting your spirituality, then I challenge to ask what have you (myself included) done to become a higher spiritual person? I know this will sound very seminary-esc, but what actual, real-time halachos have we perfected lately?
(and if you answered no, that this is not about spirituality but rather about equality, then I suggest you take out an anatomy text to realize that the male and female species are VERY different, so let's not even pretend to be equal. TRUST ME: I deliver babies. In terms of brain capacity on the other hand, I'm all for equality... even tho I scored the lowest on the SATs compared to the siblings...)
Perhaps we should ensure that we have already done everything we can with respect to what we already know, before we start looking for innovative (dare i say controversial?) ways to expand. I personally don't believe that carrying the Torah will be a quick-fix to our spiritual suffering. But each to his/her own...

El Ocho said...

Love the blog. Long time reader, second time commenter.
Do you really think it will stop with women carrying the Torah?
Why should the possibilty of one group crossing the halachik line prevent another group from acting within halachah?
And why does the concern over the "slippery slope" only go one way? Shouldn't there be just as much concern that disallowing women to carry a Torah will lead people to think it's prohibited. And if that itself isn't bad enough (although it should be), people will then start to think all sorts of other things are prohibited for women to do, and so on.
feminist movement is no more than a "passing fad"
What relevance does the sustainability of the feminist movement have to do with whether of not a minyan tomorrow should allow women to carry the Torah? If in 20 years no one wants to, they won't. If they do, they will. And if it just becomes a tradition that people think is a requirement, it'll join the club.

AlanLaz said...

Why does the fact that children may cross a halachic line because their parents laid the groundwork for them to do so matter? I think the answer is in the question. As for the slippery slope the other way...we should get rid of millenia old tradition lest people think it's PROHIBITED instead of a custom? You can't be serious.

What if homosexuality is the norm in 20 years? Would it be okay for boys to make out with boys? I don't think you'll find an explicit prohibition there. Heck, maybe we should FORCE our boys to make out with other boys, lest people think that it's actually FORBIDDEN.

El Ocho said...

While I recognize that acting within halacha can lay the groundwork for children violating halacha, I don't think women carrying the Torah, or any out-of-the-mainstream act, does this. I think what leads to this is having the wrong attitude towards halachic acts, be they mainstream or not. Think 19th and early 20th century Jews going from job to job every week just to keep Shabbos because "that's our tradition", while complaining the whole time about how difficult it is to keep Shabbos. And while I believe the wrong motivation for why women should carry the Torah would have the same effect, I don't think we should assume that a congregation internally deciding to pursue such a course has the wrong motivations (an external movement/organization that tries to get congregations to change may be different).
And I didn't say we should get rid of a millenia old tradition lest people think it prohibited. I said we shouldn't ban breaking a non-halachic tradition any more than we should say that a tradition is halachic. Ergo I don't wear a borsalino.
(Actually, not ergo. As far I know, none of my ancestors have ever worn a boralino so I don't have that tradition anyways.)
Additionally I contest this would be "ridding" of a tradition any more than a Rav giving a speech between shacarit and musaf is "ridding" of a tradition to go straight from shacarit to musaf. Adding on to a "tradition", however that's defined, does not necessarily rid of a tradition.
Bottom line: To many parentheticals make an incoherent post.

D said...

I gotta admit that I only became aware of this apparently "controversial" post at my shabbat lunch today, so Gadi- you've officially made it big.
I also have to say from the outset that I cannot argue for myself that I deserve to be holding the Torah on the women's side because I do not regularly attend minyan. However, I do agree very much with what has been said about each individual finding meaning in his/her own actions. I, for example, find a lot of meaning in partaking in ritual aspects of the Shabbat service (Kiddush, Motzi, Havdalah) because it provides a connection for me to Shabbat and its purpose, one that I do not think I would feel if I were just a passive onlooker. Now, I do not (read: do) want this to turn into a discussion on women's role in ritual life of Orthodoxy, but I think it is important to note that just because most men don't feel anything special when they hold a Torah, get an Aliyah, or lead davening, does not mean that women, on an individual level, will not feel the same thing.
I also think that the post about how if we let homosexuality be permitted then in 20 years our sons will be kissing each other, is a bit of an exaggeration. We are talking about a completely non-halachik issue here: I have been to several Orthodox synagogues in which the Torah is passed over to the women's side, and it is specifically at these minyanim that I feel most welcome as a member of the community, not simply as someone who comes in, davens to herself, and leaves with no one noticing. I had an interesting experience one time in a very small (~5 people on the women's side) minyan. The torah was passed over to our side, and I did not go up to kiss it because I'm not used to that happening at my shul. Needless to say, I proceeded to get extremely dirty looks from old, scary Sephardi women and was traumatized for a long time. The point of this little (still stomach-butterfly-evoking) anecdote is that I was convinced for a long time that I could NOT touch the torah during the service, that it was not my place to try to kiss it when it was clearly a part of the service for the men to carry, read, bless, and touch. I now realize, and strongly believe, that women should carry the Torah to teach members of our community, our children, and our guests, that everyone, both men and women, are valued members of the community—not just as benefactors or as committee leaders, but as actively involved in as much of the ritual and spiritual aspects as we can be.
I guess my points have drifted slightly from the initial question of what should be done in this particular case at UMD. Let me just say that I think nothing that is not at a halachik-level is necessarily worth tearing the community apart for. I guess I am advocating "shalom-kehillah," especially because as I understand it the issue has been *somewhat* resolved, for now. However, I also think that we have the opportunity here to send a strong message to the incoming students to our totally awesome community, and that is that there is a place for you, whether you are a boy or a girl, not just in leading shiurim and in planning learning programs (which is also, awesome), but in the actual service of, well, the service.
I would also like to congratulate myself on writing almost a page-long blog post as my inaugural world-wide-web comment—well done, D, now start studying for finals.

d said...

One more thing-
A good friend of mine once said:
just because i am a nice person and a good friend and i looove to help in procrastination endeavors.... i am posting a comment. but alas, please disregard it as a comment, because i want my first critique of gadi's blog to be something spectacular; a comment that will be something that people will be talking about for days saying- i cant believe she actually wrote that!
i think in this case- if no one is going to bring up anything inherently wrong with the Torah passing (and i see that everyone knows better than to bring up nida and questions of purity) that you should let the feminists have their passing. while a member of the supposed weaker sex, i will be uncomfortable if someone hands me the holy scrolls. yet i am in full support of those kippah wearing ladies who want to feel involved.
so to some of you chauvenist pigs out there (i notice only males commenting) just let it go. fight intermarriage and support mikvas, make sure everyone puts on tefillin once a day. help solve the problems in apathetic Jewry surrounding our 'modern orthodox' schools today. dont squash those who are taking an interest, even if it is 99% for political reasons.
Bottom line: whatever Y.Rothner says is ok by me.

Disclaimer: This really was a friend, so don't start calling me a kippah-wearing b****

Rebbe Nachman said...

It is a beautiful thing to see holy Jews discussing holy Judaism.

I must say that we must ask ourselves to look within and see if we approach this with the Ayin Tova. When women want to do more, we must say, "We should all do more." When women want to carry the Torah, we must all run to greet the Torah from the Ark and escort it to the holy Bimah, much like we escort the Shabbat Queen, the Shechina to her Holy Bridegroom.

While the hand-off from men's side to women's side could clearly lead to forbidden touching, we could maybe come up with a compromise of having a koton make the transition.

best regards,
Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman

The Rabbinate said...

you were pretty quick to gloss over the halachic issues involved-if women are in niddah they cant even touch the torah and since everyone is in that chazakah, passing the torah to their side is completely prohibited.

Michael G said...

I prefer the Rambam's interpretation:
"…All of Israel are already accustomed to read in the Torah and to recite the Shema while they are ba'al keri, because the words of Torah are not susceptible to Tumah." (Rambam, Code, Laws of Keri'at Shema 4:8)

See this source - impurity is addressed in the third section: