Friday, October 24, 2008

Shadow Dancing

The recent Simchat Torah holiday has brought out some long-simmering resentment about the unequal treatment of men and women in Orthodox synagogues. (On Simchat Torah, the Torah scrolls are taken out and are held by the men as they dance around in celebration. Women are not generally permitted to hold the Torah in Orthodox synagogues, and do not usually dance either, although there are exceptions. In addition, every man and boy is called up to read from the Torah on this day. Women and girls are not called up. This leaves the women with nothing to do but watch passively as their husbands and sons celebrate.)
A number of female bloggers have posted about this in recent days. In The Pink wrote about how proud she felt watching her four sons dance and read from the Torah. I commented that I shared her pride vis-a-vis my own son, but that I wished that our daughters could participate as well. Ilana-Davita picked up on this in her own post and noted "what a shame it is that women and girls can’t share in what takes place in the synagogue during services. I wish ways could be found to respect a tradition I respect and love without excluding half of the congregation." Leora commented that her daughter had complained “how come it’s all about men, men, men.” Baila called it "a man's holiday". A Mother in Israel and Isramom have also discussed this.
In my house, this became an issue as well. My younger daughter, who's nine years old, could not understand why she would not be allowed to hold a Torah just like her friend Zvi could. "Do the men think that I don't love the Torah the way that they do?" she asked me.
So to the Orthodox men out there- Rabbis and shul machers alike-
What's the deal, dude? There is no halachic reason that women have to just sit around in the shadows while the men spend hours celebrating. Please don't talk to me about niddah and tumah- that's just nonsense. A woman in niddah does not spread tumah to a sefer torah (men who are tameh are not obligated to go to the mikvah before touching a Torah, are they?) And tzniut is not a barrier either- that's what the good Lord invented mechitzas for. A few Orthodox shuls do allow women to dance with sefer torahs. Chabad definitely does, and their beards are nice and long. So why is this not done in all shuls? I'll tell you why. Pure laziness. The women have not complained about this too much, so it's easier to just ignore the issue and do nothing about it. But it really is inexcusable that half of the shul's congregants are just excluded this way. And don't you want your own daughters to feel the joy of the holiday the way that your sons do? Please, bring this up in your own shuls. Talk about it, and find a solution. Spread the simcha around!


Anonymous said...

It is a good idea to have told us about your daughter's reaction too. Thanks for your contribution to the discussion on this issue.

Anonymous said...


And I repeat: {Sigh}

First of all, in my shul most of the guys stand around talking to the women who are standing around talking to each other. So there is an equality of sorts, I guess.

I think some of it has to do with the physical set up of the sanctuary. The shul I grew up in had no fixed seating so when it came time for hakafos, both sides moved their chairs over to the sides and set up dancing circles. Maybe that's the reason there's no dancing on the women's side in so many places.

Leora said...

In our shul, some women dance a little bit. And that little bit of dancing is frowned upon. Someone put a tallis on top of the mechitza, so as to block the few women who were dancing from view. It is not encouraged. It is more than just physical set up.

Unknown said...

I'm actually curious what the reasoning is in most shuls.

From what I've seen in the shuls I've davened in, there were always small areas for the women to dance. It's just that none did. I wouldn't be shocked if it simply isn't a big deal to most women, just as most men I see only dance for a short period of time anyway.

Melissa said...


I just found your blog. I have to tell you, I absolutely adore it.

I have been searching for jewish blogs to learn more about my heritage and yours truly is very inspiring.

I have joined Partners in Torah and am learning so much about my heritage.

Thank you for creating such a nice place to visit.


adena said...

So frustrating! I just wrote about this issue on my blog. Take a look if you have a chance.

Anonymous said...

inb my shul growing up the women always danced in a secluded hallway - but not with the torah, but we still had fun.
i actually suggested it this year, but was told by all the women i approached - "great idea, i just wouldnt feel comfortable participating." - i guess no one wants to rock the religious boat. there is no issur against it, and you are so right about the niddah issue.

no one wants to be the first to blaze this trail. its time we got rid of the old fuddy duddy notions of the division btw men and women.

ProfK said...

Just a little historical note. In Boro Park many years ago there was a large shul, Bnai Akiva type in nature, Machzike Talmud Torah. Simchas Torah night there were huge hakofos and a mechitzah down the middle. The women danced all night on their side. They weren't the only shul that had this dancing by women. Somehow it fell out of favor with someone and you really don't see it any more. I was there my first year in NY and I still remember it for the absolute joy that was present in the women's section.

A Living Nadneyda said...

This post might make you happy.... The times they are a-changin'.

Risa Tzohar said...

First of all thanks for linking to my post.
When I was younger I often felt like 'they'(in this case the men) were leaving 'us' out.
Now, with the weight of time (and, ahem, age) I realize that we (women) need to take ourselves more seriously in order to be taken seriously by others.
Don't kvetch and don't expect anyone to hand you anything on a silver platter.

Lion of Zion said...

"Don't kvetch and don't expect anyone to hand you anything on a silver platter."

i've been davening in a new shul that is pretty modern, including in certain women's issues (especially considering this is brooklyn). i was thus very surprised that nothing was going with the women on simhat torah. but the truth is there was plenty of room on their side for dancing and i can't believe anyone would have objected to it. so why did they just stand around looking at the men? were they waiting for the rav to come over and personally tell them to dance?

Pesky Settler said...

It's not laziness, it's Masorah - this is the way we do it because this is the way we've always done it and we teach our daughters in such a way that it is implied that it is Assur and Halacha.

I mean why don't girls' Yeshivot have mezuman before bentching?

I call it 'lies my Rebbe told me' and it's one of the biggest difficulties I've been facing as an adult, being out in the world and realizing that some of my Jewish education was based on nothing more than "because I said so"... And I went to one of the more central-leaning schools in Brooklyn.

Jewish Side of Babysitter said...

A few things, first of all I can understand how the woman are basically passive in the Simchas Torah holiday. But yet it really is a men's holiday because their the ones with the mitzvah to learn the torah day and night, so it makes sense that they should dance with joy when they are going to start the new cycle and have the just finished a cycle, it's an accomplishing feeling for them. Like those men that learn daf yomi and attended the dafyomi get together thing, woman didn't feel left out at that time.

Second, children can still hold their own little Torah no matter if they are boy or girl. I think my little sister used to go into the mens section and go on my fathers shoulders and dance with a Torah.

Third, for me it was always about the candy, and I don't like dancing so I didn't mind that the men did it all and I truly enjoyed watching them.

Anonymous said...

In our recently renovated shul in Pittsburgh (Shaare Torah), the chairs are all movable. This was for flexibility but also to allow for everyone to dance on Simchat Torah in the sanctuary. Before the renovation, we all danced in the social hall with tables serving as a mechitzah. But everyone dances and NO ONE dances with the Torah. We dance for the Torahs and in honor of the Torahs, which sit on the bimah. Additionally, during the countless rounds of aliyot, between the first one which we listen to and Kol HaNaarim, our Rabbi gives a class to the women. This has been going on for 10 years and it is wonderful!

Batya said...

Some years we dance and others we don't, but we have a different minhag to dance and sing for the "shut-ins."

... Is the Window to Our Soul said...

I guess I am lucky to belong to the orthodox shul that I do. Empowering young girls is a priority and there are many different outlets for women to partake in equally.

Just curious, it is common in most or many orthodox shuls to have women take the torah and walk up and down with it on their side so that any woman/girl who chooses to kiss it, can? (you may want to explain that better so those who are not familar with the custom don't have any tainted ideas and/or imagery.)