Women can dance with Torah scroll on Simhat Torah, says national-religious group

By
October 12, 2014 19:41

Beit Hillel's director says the holiday, one of the high-points of every community, has become a day of happiness for men and a nightmare for many women who can only watch dancing from the sidelines.

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Pray at the Western Wall.

A religious woman and a female soldier pray at the Western Wall.. (photo credit:MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The Beit Hillel national-religious rabbinical association issued a ruling on Sunday permitting and encouraging women to dance with Torah scrolls on Simhat Torah, which falls on Wednesday night and Thursday this week.

The festival celebrates the completion of the annual cycle of reading the Torah, or the first Five Books of Moses, and synagogues take out the Torah scrolls for the members of the congregations to dance with.

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Although Conservative and Reform Jewish denominations have long allowed women to fully participate in ceremonies and parts of the prayer services involving the Torah, such practices are generally not approved under Orthodox law.

In non-Orthodox practice, women may read from the Torah, get called up to the Torah and dance with the Torah on Simhat Torah, but even dancing with the Torah in Orthodox communities is controversial and most communities and rabbis do not permit it.

However, Beit Hillel, a liberally inclined national-religious group, said women who so desired should be included in all the celebrations.

“In our generation, many women are active partners in prayers and [Torah] classes as they are in other parts of community life,” the organization wrote in a halachic ruling posted on its website.

“If women’s participation on Simhat Torah amounts to watching from the women’s section or arranging the tables for kiddush then this is regrettable. In a place where it is important to be partners in Simhat Torah [celebrations], communities should examine the possibility to include them in a variety of ways.

“Women who see this as important are permitted to dance with a Torah scroll or around a Torah which is on a table in the middle of the dancing,” the Beit Hillel rabbis wrote.

The organization said other ideas could be promoted for women to be able to take part more fully in Simhat Torah, including appropriate preparation of dance space for women, and designating two women, or Kalot Torah, to lead the celebrations similar to the two men, or Hatan Torah, who do so in Orthodox synagogues.

“Simhat Torah, which is one of the high-points of every community, has become a day of happiness for men and a nightmare of a day for many women, who watch the men dancing for hours from the women’s section without being able to take part,” Beit Hillel director Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth said. “Communities must allow and encourage women to take an active part in Simhat Torah. This must grow organically and cannot be done by coercion from above, and it is the mission of communal leadership of a community to allow the participation of women if they are interested in doing so.”

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