Thoughts on Simchat Torah  

Posted by inkstainedhands in , ,

In general, I am pretty thankful to G-d for having been born a girl. But there is one day a year that for some reason I always become intensely jealous of my male counterparts and wish I could switch places with them just for once. And that day is Simchat Torah.

In this day and age, women have many opportunities that were not available to them before. Perhaps these opportunities are not as complete or varied as the ones men receive, but it is nevertheless an improvement on the situation we had a century or two ago. One example that comes to mind (and it is an important one) is education, and if we are talking about it from a Jewish religious perspective, I can go even further by mentioning study of the Talmud. For a long time, Talmud study belonged solely to men. Boys would grow up immersed in it, while the most girls might get is hearing parts of it from their fathers and brothers at home. Even now, most Orthodox girls are not exposed to Gemara in a school setting, unless they attend a more 'modern' school. But at least those girls who truly want to learn it have the opportunity. They can choose to attend schools where such classes are being offered -- and it is not difficult to find such a school. Now that I'm Stern, I'm taking an Intro to Talmud class. There are plenty of further classes in Gemara, and Stern also has chavruta programs and night seder, so that any girl who is interested in it can learn. Of course, it is nearly impossible to catch up on all the material they could have covered if they had been learning it from childhood like boys do, but I suppose you can't have everything.

Another thing I experienced in Stern for the first time was an all-girls Kabbalat Shabbat, the welcoming of the Shabbat on Friday evening. It was so perfectly beautiful and spiritual -- the singing, the dancing. I had never seen anything like it before. There were no men so we were able to sing the Kabbalat Shabbat and be involved in ushering in the holy day.

Even the night of learning that is customary for men on Shavuot is now an option for girls too. Last Shavuot, I went with my friend to a lecture program organized by Ohr Naava for girls on Shavuot night. It was the most exhilirating feeling, being able to learn and be involved instead of just going to sleep like on any ordinary night. We returned home in the very early hours of the morning, satisfied and happy. There should be more programs and opportunities like that for girls, and I am looking forward to next Shavuot to see what it brings. Lectures, groups, perhaps private chavruta learning.

And that brings me to something I have not yet seen -- a Simchat Torah celebration where girls can do more than just look at the men dancing with the Torah scrolls. I don't mean an event where men and women mix and celebrate together, for I'm sure I can find that in non-Orthodox circles. I'm talking about an Orthodox environment that is in the spirit of the Torah and the holiness of the holiday, but where women can be active participants in the joy instead of merely sitting and passively watching the proceedings. Look at weddings -- there is celebration on both sides of the mechitza. Why can we not have a similar arrangement for holidays such as Simchat Torah? Are there places that do this perhaps and I am just not aware of it?

I always watch the dancing in shul on Simchat Torah and every year it makes me wish that just for one day I could be one of the guys and be on the other side of the barrier, dancing. That is why it always frustrates me when I see men who are somewhat lackluster in their 'simcha,' who -- instead of dancing with joy and looking like they mean it -- shuffle along as though they are fulfilling an obligation and just following the tide. I suppose that it is easy to take something like dancing on Simchat Torah for granted when you do the same thing year after year, but from my side of the shul, it's upsetting. It makes me happy though when I see men being enthusiastic about it and singing loudly and putting all their energy into the dancing as they dance before the Torah or hold it tightly themselves.

So I am thankful for Gemara, I am thankful for Kabbalat Shabbat, I am thankful for Shavuot. L'shana haba Simchat Torah?

This entry was posted on Sunday, October 3, 2010 at Sunday, October 03, 2010 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

6 comments

I wrote a post on this a while back (the forum i attended was at YU btw) http://ayeshivishharry.blogspot.com/2009/05/sympathy-for-devil.html
But to explain what i meant over there is that the catch-22 of women learning gemara is that they are allowed to learn if they want to, and nothing will be denied. Except that because they have so little background many become frustrated and do not continue with it. So our choice is to "force" them to learn it at a younger age like the males (which many would consider against Halacha) and thereby they would be more likely to continue, or to keep the current status-quo where a female if she enjoys it will continue and the ones who don't will drop out.

Another thought: About feeling spiritual- i understand that it is an emotion which could lead to greater commitment, but feeling spiritual has nothing to do with being more spiritual. Anybody who believes that praying without a minyan IS closer to G-d because they have more Kavana is likely to be wrong. They feel closer but ChaZaL tell us that one must daven with a minyan. True Kabbalas Shabbos is not something which requires a minyan but something to think about.

October 4, 2010 at 3:06 PM

Also there are places where women do dance on their own on simchas torah, but many congregations which have it, do not allow the women to hold a Sefer Torah. There was a break-off just last year from R' Shmuel Hain's shul in north riverdale (who is also the head of GPAT's) over him allowing women to dance with the Torah (R' Twerski I believe used to daven there before this incident)

October 4, 2010 at 3:10 PM

That's very interesting about the shul in Riverdale; I never heard about that but I completely understand how women wouldn't be allowed to hold the Sefer Torah. Which shuls do you know of that have women dancing in general, behind a mechitza and without a Sefer Torah?

As for gemara learning, it's not something you can force on a class of girls. I can see how many girls would view it as a burden, and I think that it is much better this way, where girls learn only if they are so inclined.

And yes, I do understand that feeling spiritual does not equal being spiritual, but it is still a good feeling and who am I to say no to feeling good?

October 10, 2010 at 1:00 AM

I don't know of specific places but I'm sure from people around stern you could find out. I'm not really so in that world to know.
And nothing wrong with wanting a feeling or experience as long as the feeling vs. Being are not confused. The thing is that you recognize the feeling is about you and not g-d

October 10, 2010 at 10:52 AM
Anonymous  

Quick comment on women not being allowed to hold the Sefer Torah: There's absolutely nothing wrong with it. Simply put: A Sefer Torah is not mekabel tumah. That's why there are shuls in which on a regular Shabbos, the Sefer Torah is passed through the Ezras Noshim, that's why there are women's Torah reading groups, that's why it's perfectly acceptable to have women's hakafos with a Sefer Torah. If anything, it's more problematic to teach gemara to women because of the tradition of "teaching them tiflus".

As far as perfectly acceptable Orthodox shuls (RCA and OU members, etc), they're in a bunch of places in the NY area, and there are many in Jerusalem. If it IS something you really feel a connection to, you can certainly seek them out. And don't worry about the Sefer itself. NOT MEKABEL TUMAH.

October 20, 2010 at 11:51 PM

you MUST take rabbi j.j.schacter's class on women and modern Jewish problems he addresses a lot of these issues. you'll love the class! It's usually once a week class, 2 credits, but you can do if you are in core.

December 26, 2010 at 1:44 AM

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