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Why don't women get called up to the Torah in Orthodox synagogues?

by Rabbi Shlomo Chein

  

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Question: How do I explain to my friend why girls don't have Aliyahs [get called up to the Torah] in Orthodox synagogues?

Thanks,
Beth

Answer: There are several technical/practical reasons for this1. Here are two of them:

Modesty: Putting a woman on a pedestal in front of a room full of men and having her chant aloud is utterly antithetical to Jewish modesty values. Although many women in today’s society might not find anything offensive with such a rite, Judaism does find this to be offensive to a woman, and therefore does not allow it. After all, whilst the secular idea of honor is exposure – the more exposure, the more honor – Judaism’s idea of honor is: “All honor [awaits] the King’s daughter who is within.”2

Courtesy for the men: The public Torah reading is primarily a man’s obligation3 (emphasis on obligation here, rather than privilege). If a woman were to go up to the Torah in place of a man it would give off the impression that none of the men present are capable of fulfilling their obligation.4

For many this question stems from a strong Jewish yearning to be connected with G-d and His Torah
This is analogous to a boss informing his executives that he is outsourcing a particular project. This automatically implies that the boss considers his own executives incapable of competently executing the project. Naturally this doesn’t leave the executives feeling too good.

The same concept is applicable with regard to the Mitzvah of Shabbat candle lighting. While the Mitzvah is a requirement for both men and woman, it is originally connected to the woman.5   It would thus be inappropriate for a man to light the Shabbat candles when a woman is present.

If this were simply an academic question these answers ought to be satisfactory… However, usually this is not an academic question, and therefore these answers don’t seem to resolve the issue.

For many this question stems from a strong Jewish yearning to be connected with G-d and His Torah.

After 2000 years of exile, many Jews do not know about Judaism from authentic Jewish sources, but rather from the cultures and religions of the world around them. The Jew looks at the religions of the majority population and mistakenly concludes that Judaism is a similar religion but with a few different details and core beliefs.

In our society, other religions are ceremonial. The focus of the religion is attending services. In fact, for many, the entire religion revolves around the Sunday church service. One who attends services is “religious”; one who can’t or doesn’t participate in services will feel left out of the religion to a large degree.

Footnotes

  • 1. It is essential to note that contrary to popular misconception getting called up to the Torah does not make you Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and nor is it required in any way for the "success" of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah. A girl (and a boy) become Bar/Bat Mitzvahed without getting called up to the Torah. (The concept of Bar/Bat Mitzvah is discussed under those headings in our Knowledgebase.) The explanations given in this article explain why women don’t get called up to the Torah in general.
  • 2. Psalm 45:14.
  • 3. The Torah reading is part of the “ceremony” aspect of synagogue service, from which women are exempt. See "Pray Like a Woman" (www.askmoses.com/article.html?h=181&o=2182598)
  • 4. Talmud tractate Megillah 23a and Maimonidies laws of Prayer 12:17
  • 5. See “Why is the mitzvah of candle-lighting primarily the domain of the woman?” . (http://www.askmoses.com/en/article/426,2074748/Why-dont-women-get-called-up-to-the-Torah-in-Orthodox-synagogues.html)

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Women & Judaism » Modesty
Shabbat » Reading of the Torah » Torah Reading

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Kashrut
Laws of Kosher (Jewish dietary laws).
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.
Family Purity
Laws relating to intimacy between husband and wife. The primary point of Family Purity is the woman's purifying immersion in a ritual bath which allows the couple to resume intimate relations after the woman's menstrual period.