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Women reading from the Torah

Why don’t Orthodox women read from the Torah?

Thank you for your question. The Talmud, in Megillah 23a states that “even a woman may read from the Torah, but the Rabbis said that a woman should not do so because of Kovod HaTzibbur- the honor of the congregation.” To understand this properly we have to be aware of the following background information:

When a person is called to the Torah, it is not because we wish to honor them, as many people think. The reason a person is called to the Torah is because they are being asked to teach that section of Torah to the congregation. This is why he says the Beracha on learning and teaching Torah when he is called up. Originally, the person who was called up actually read (“lained”) the portion that he was called up for out loud. However, the practice developed to have a Baal Koreh (reader), since many people who were called up were not proficient enough to properly read it themselves. Even so, the person who is called up reads along with the Baal Koreh- since really he is the one who is supposed to be teaching Torah to the congregation.

The Talmud is stating that although there is technically nothing wrong with a woman teaching Torah to men, since men have a Mitzvah to study Torah and not women, by calling up a woman you are essentially making a statement that there are no men present capable of teaching the Torah- despite the fact that it is their Mitzvah, and here is a woman who does not have this Mitzvah and she is more proficient in reading and teaching the Torah. This reflects badly on the congregation who is present and their level of Mitzvah observance and Torah proficiency. Therefore, our Rabbis said that this is inappropriate.

Although today people are totally unaware of what the real purpose of being called up is, and think that it is merely an opportunity to honor people and make a few dollars from their Mi Shebeirach*, if we understand what is really going on it makes much more sense in understanding why this is considered inappropriate according to Jewish law.

Take care,
Rabbi Aaron Tendler

* a blessing given to people in honor of their aliyah. The person receiving the aliyah often gives money to the synagogue for this.

2 Follow-ups »

  1. Why are women separated from the men in temple?

    In order to avoid any and all frivolity, socializing, etc. and help everyone focus on the serious spiritual, meditative task at hand.

    Comment by ATR — April 23, 2006 @ 5:59 am

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