Dr. Pinchasi's Response to Rabbi Ariel

The train has already left the station | Response to Rabbi Yaakov Ariel

Many Orthodox rabbis permit women to carry the Torah scroll. Every year, there are more and more Orthodox minyanim (prayer quorums) where both men and women participate, and women dance with the Torah, ascend to the Torah, and read from it

(Photo: Noam Feiner)

We are in a time when the question of the Judaism's image in the public sphere is being debated. Will it be pluralistic and inclusive, or restrictive and stringent? At this juncture, as a religious and feminist woman, I choose to distance myself from the words of Rabbi Ariel, the Rabbi of the city of Ramat Gan, which push us many years backwards.

The booklet "Joy in Torah" deals with the place of women in the joy of Torah and reveals (once again) the discrimination against women, the implications of which we see in today's political and public reality.

"The booklet begins with a starting point of recognizing the traditional role of men in Torah study compared to women, who are expected to be alongside them in taking care of the children. It continues with an apology that religious feminists have grown tired of, claiming that the psychological structure of women exempts them from commandments, and therefore they bear the responsibility for the home. This is their 'unique role in childbearing and building the family.'"

Added to this is an intense preoccupation with the question of 'purity of motive' while accusing feminists of not being religious, not loyal to the Sovereign of the world but "serving themselves and not the Almighty", and there are also arguments about a different kind of intellect that makes female studies unique.

But all of this is a prelude to the discussion on Simchat Torah, which centers around dancing in a circle with Torah scrolls. So, what about women? Well, here, the booklet recommends substituting women's dances with study. In other words, it is preferable to prevent women from having a religious experience that involves physical presence, certainly in the public domain.

In the end, Rabbi Ariel's words are presented: "I suggest that women altogether refrain from taking a Torah scroll, because a significant portion of them are not dressed appropriately according to halacha (Jewish law)." And even though it is clear from a halachic perspective that there is no problem with women carrying a Torah scroll (it is more similar to the question of whether women are allowed to hold a bible), Rabbi Ariel states that such dancing "does not honor the Torah... the Torah is not pleased with it, in veiled language," and once again, women are reduced to their bodies, this time with the assertion that the Torah is not pleased with them. Is it true?!

Rabbi Ariel distinguishes between 'good' and 'bad' women based on their attire, and during the 'separation and distinction,' he imagines these women pitted against each other. Therefore, in order to avoid "quarrels among women," regardless of whether their attire is appropriate or not, he advises preventing all women from dancing with a Torah scroll in their hands. Rabbi Ariel cannot envision a world where women in the public sphere are not reduced to their bodies. He does not entertain the possibility that women could embrace one another with love and see each other's souls in their fellow women.

There is no escape from stating the well-known facts: many halachic authorities permit women to carry the Torah scroll, and every year, there are more and more Orthodox minyanim (prayer quorums) where both men and women participate, with women dancing with the Torah, ascending to the Torah, and reading from it. Rabbi Ariel's views are detached from the broader reality. The train has already left the station, and he is fighting a losing battle, seeking to define his community against the winds of change that have been blowing in the religious world for several decades. In his official role as a rabbi of a traditional and liberal city, he strives to influence Israeli society as a whole.

It's unfortunate that these things are being said specifically about Simchat Torah, which is a holiday that invites the creation of a soft, welcoming, and pluralistic public space. It's not a holiday of study and scholarly inquiry, of nitpicking and sharpening disagreements, but rather a holiday that invites us to be filled with the joy of our connection to the Torah and the Torah's connection to us. Its interpretation can be: halachic or cultural, traditional or modern, inclusive or compassionate. All the worshippers go out of the synagogue to dance and celebrate in the city streets, and I recall the words with which the Torah concludes at the end of the book of Deuteronomy, "before the eyes of all Israel," as if to say, "Turn around, look and see – this is the Torah given to everyone who stands around it."

It's unfortunate that these things are being said specifically about the joy of Torah, which is a holiday that invites the creation of a soft, welcoming, and pluralistic public space. It's not a holiday of study and scholarly inquiry, of nitpicking and sharpening disagreements, but rather a holiday that invites us to be filled with the joy of our connection to the Torah and the Torah's connection to us. Its interpretation can be: halachic or cultural, traditional or modern, confrontational or compassionate. All the worshippers go out of the synagogue to dance and celebrate in the city streets, and I recall the words with which the Torah concludes at the end of the book of Dvarim, "before the eyes of all Israel," as if to say, "Turn around, look and see – this is the Torah given to everyone who stands around it."

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Dr. Channa Pinchasi, Research Associate at the Kogod Center for Jewish Thought and Contemporary Thought at the Hartman Institute

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