Sunday, 29 September 2013

simchat torah, act 2: sefer torah

in the wake of simchat torah, and the almost-inevitable wave of feminine regret over the hollowness of what i have to again describe as a 24-hour-kiddush, i've been thinking more about women dancing with the sefer torah.

now i'm not a posek nor the daughter of a posek, though i know a man who is. i try to remind myself (and when i forget, my husband is happy to do it for me) that rabbis are human too. even the ones i disagree with. and i try to remember that everyone has their red lines which, when crossed, just make them feel too, too uncomfortable. and so i have never had a problem with having as the rav of my community someone who takes a different position to me on women and ... issues. women and learning mishnah. women and learning gemarah. women and dancing on simchat torah. we don;t all need to agree, and if i want to be given the space to follow the opinions which i follow, then i have to give others the same space and respect to be uncomfortable with it.

but this is where i get a bit stuck. honestly, i am not sure of the answer here. if you are the rav of a community, and there is an issue which you, personally, find makes you so uncomfortable that you would find it hard to daven in the shul if it were to occur, and yet it's non-occurence makes so many of your community feel disenfranchised, bored with judaism, unwanted in the communal religious framework which you strive to make open and welcoming for both men and women - well, what would you do? what should you do? i accept the difficulty of this problem, and i don;t know what the answer would be. i know  that i would respect the struggle of any rav who told me that this was what faced him. i do not remember ever hearing it phrased in this way, though.

this is part of why i realise that i have been trying not to demand or ask too much for the opportunity to dance with a sefer torah. although i disagree with any reason against it i have yet heard, i do accept (well, try to accept) that some - many - rabbonim might be so unfamiliar with it (and with any similar halachically-permissible female inclusions) that they simply feel very very uncomfortable at the thought of davening in a shul where it occurs, let alone being the one to permit it. i suppose this is me being an emotionally-driven woman again, but i would appreciate it if halachic objections were put to one side, when they truly are spurious, and instead people spoke a bit more candidly about how they feel about it.

all that being said, i do not think that men - of rabbinical and non-rabbinical stripes - realise how potent the sefer torah is. when women do get the opportunity to dance with the sefer torah, they handle it so reverently. there is so much awe at being entrusted with something so precious; fear at possibly doing something wrong; amazement at how heavy and alive it is. actually, it is most similar to the way many men react on holding a baby, especialy those unfamiliar to it. i am sure that many men respond to the sefer torah in a similar way, yet for men, there is a familiarity to the sefer torah which breeds - not, chas v'shalom, contempt, but...casualness. correction: which can breed casualness.

one time, i taught the torah l'am course. in the first of the six weeks of the course, i brought with a sefer torah. my memory may be deceiving me, but i think it was a pasul sefer torah (i brought it to show the layout of the torah, the columns, paragraphs, petuchot and stumot, in case you were wondering). the men were pretty unfazed by it - it's jsut a sefer torah, oh yes, i never noticed those petuchot and stumot before, but it's something i'm familiar with. the women, however; wow. they were blown away by seeing a sefer torah up close, able to lean in, look at the words, carry it and hold it. they kept taking it in turns to hold it. (and yes, we did have to debunk that menstruation myth again.) they were so excited. there was an energy to the way they interacted with it. and that night that the sefer torah lay on my kitchen table until i returned it the next day, i moved differently, kissed it when i passed, thought and acted differently, because i had a sefer torah in my home.

i do not think that men know how women feel about the sefer torah. if they did, i'd like to think, they would share it a little bit more.

1 comment:

  1. i wonder: perhaps men don't want to share.... for many so much is competitive that they fear someone on their patch playing by different rules. to explain: with another man, they can out-quote, out-comment, out-meforash, out-dance, trump one rabbi's view with that of another older, greater, or more dead but a woman's torah might be different, coming from another angle, using other methodology, different disciplines (psychology or sociology for example) and men don't know how to deal with that. So they don't want to play on the same field as it were and pick up their ball (sefer torah as it were) and refuse to let women participate because they don't play the same way-- because they're afraid we'd be better at it than they are and Hashem might give more Torah to the women. Alternatively, they reckon their simchah is authentic and that of women is tinged with negativity, compare shir and shirah


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