As a girl growing up in a Conservative Jewish home in suburban New York, the closest I ever got to dancing with a Torah was marching with a flag around the sanctuary while the men got to touch, hold and dance with the real thing. I didn’t get to hold a Torah until I was an adult in a fully egalitarian synagogue.
Flash forward to Simhat Torah where I was able to experience the joy of women celebrating and dancing with the Torah together in a totally warm, welcoming, and encouraging way at Shira Hadasha in Jerusalem. I saw my best friend carry a Torah for the first time in her life because of the encouragement from the other women. We were a sisterhood of women of all ages celebrating our Judaism, celebrating the continuing saga of our ancestors; men and women.
Orthodox Halacha allows women’s hakafot, the seven processions of the Torah on Simhat Torah, and more synagogues are holding them as more women are asking, even begging, for it to happen.
In a blog in The Jerusalem Post, Rabbi Dov Lipman (and former MK) wrote about his synagogue’s decision to allow women to have hakafot this year. He described how a group of women approached the rabbi and how the congregation came to this decision. He said there will always be men who say, this is not how we have done things before and how he used to agree with them. But not anymore.
Lipman described what transpired: ” What I heard described was teenage girls [including his own daughter] holding the Torah tight while shining with pride; young mothers cradling the Torah with love, in the exact position they hold their babies; middle-aged women tearing up as they gave expression to their years of love for the Torah and Torah study, by dancing joyfully with that devotion in their arms; and senior citizens who never even considered kissing or holding a Torah as an option now given the opportunity to do so.”
Lipman was so inspired by the spiritually uplifting Simhat Torah in his synagogue that he now encourages all synagogues to have the halachic discussions and allow women access to the Torah on the chag. He wrote: after seeing my daughter shining with pride after she danced with the Torah, and after hearing other girls and women describe their hakafot experience, I have come to understand that we cannot teach our daughters to love the Torah and Torah study, and then relegate them to standing on the side watching while the men are given the opportunity to give physical expression to that love.”
But why stop at Simhat Torah. Women, according to Halacha can touch, carry, read, and dance with a Torah. Why are women not allowed to touch, carry, read and dance at the Kotel? It is not prohibited by Jewish law. The Sobel decision of 2013, states that this is not prohibited by Israeli law. Why is it prohibited by the administrator of the Kotel, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz and the Western Wall heritage foundation?
After the haredi riots following the Sobel decision, many came to the sad conclusion that this small percentage of Israel society would stop at nothing less than barring women from having equal access to the Kotel. The leadership of Women of the wall was amongst them and we partnered with the liberal movements, who are also being denied their rights, to negotiate an acceptable solution that the haredim have not allowed to be implemented.
Every month, we try to bring a Torah into the plaza. Sometimes we can and sometimes, the security at the entrance that is controlled by the WWHF, find our Torah and detain it. Wow, detaining a Torah reminds me of the sad times in our history when the church tried the Talmud. Only now, it is Jew against Jew.
Rosh Hodesh Cheshvan is almost here. Please join Women of the Wall and the Masorti movement at the Kotel at 6:30 am for Rosh Hodesh tefilah with a Sefer Torah and join me for dancing!