Sisterhood Blog

On Women Reading Torah and Drinking Beer

By Rebecca Honig Friedman

  • Print
  • Share Share

Jews all over the Diaspora loosened their belts and let out a collective sigh of relief Sunday evening as the holiday of Simchat Torah came to a close, marking the end of the fall Jewish holiday season — or as I like to call it, gefilte-fest. (The verdict is still out on whether it or the concurrently running Oktobefest causes more bloat.) With all of the Torah being read on this particular holiday, it’s surprising that the passage including the injunction ‘Thou shalt stuff oneself to the bursting point’ is omitted, so I guess we can chalk the practice up to tradition.

But speaking of Torah and tradition, I’m glad that Nathan Jeffay brought up what’s become a new tradition of women’s Torah readings on Simchat Torah. Though I disagree with his analysis that boredom is at the bottom of their popularity. Rather, the practice has more to do with the spirit of inclusion that’s become integral to the holiday — and women’s insistence on being included in that inclusiveness.

While it certainly can be boring for women to wait around for all the men to get called up to the Torah, I imagine it is just as boring for men waiting their turn for an aliyah, or, especially, for men who’ve already had their turn at the bimah and are waiting for others to have theirs. (That’s why many shuls put out a special kiddush, so people can sneak out for a snack, and even a beer — a rare instance of gefilte-fest meets Oktoberfest). In short, boredom is an equal opportunity offender on this particular holiday.

What is not equal opportunity in Orthodox shuls that have not yet adopted the women’s Torah reading phenomenon, however, is the free-for-all getting of aliyahs that causes the service to be long and boring. Simchat Torah is the one day of the year when everyone is supposed to have the opportunity to be called up to the Torah. Even in shuls where that honor is usually reserved only for the biggest donors, on this one day, even the poorest man is supposed to get his turn. Stress on his. This spirit of inclusiveness does not extend to Orthodox women, who, even on this day, are still not allowed to get an aliyah in an Orthodox minyan. It’s no wonder, then, that, while waiting around and watching over the mechitzah (if they can even see over the mechitzah), as one by one every single man — no matter how lowly, infirm, irreligious, unstable or inept — gets called up to the Torah, even those women who might not usually care much about Feminism with a capital F tend to feel a tad left out, if not downright alienated from their religion.

And so, if a synagogue chooses one occasion on which to have a women’s Torah reading, if there’s one occasion on which women demand their own Torah reading, it makes sense it would be Simchat Torah, so that all the women — no matter how lowly, infirm, irreligious, unstable or inept — have their opportunity to get called up to the Torah, too.

Because beer might take care of the boredom, but no amount of nosh can repair a wounded neshama.

Especially not gefilte fish.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Simchat Torah, Oktoberfest, Feminism, Torah

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.


Comments
Sephardiman Wed. Oct 14, 2009

Like Rav Chaim David HaLevi, the late Israeli Sephardi Posak, I'm not comfortable with giving everyone an aliyah on Simchat Torah, male or female. It's disruptive and frankly tedious. A better way is to do what Rav HaLevi did. Make use of Chodesh Tishri to call everyone in the kahal to the Torah.




Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.