Sunday, October 20, 2019

Getting--and missing--the point: Women's shiurim for women on Simchat Torah

A recent minhag (custom) among some Orthodox Jewish women (encouraged by the OU) is to have women give shiurim (lessons on Jewish religious texts) to other women while the men are doing hakafot, getting aliyot, etc., on Simchat Torah.

This solves the problem that, for women in many, if not most, Orthodox synagogues, the festivities of Simchat Torah are reserved for the men, leaving the women as spectators.  I've been told that some Orthodox women who, due to circumstances, have no man (father, brother, husband, son, etc.) to watch during the Simchat Torah services simply stay home from synagogue.

Whoever came up with the idea of women giving shiurim to other women gets the point--they realize that some woman want something that they can do on Simchat Torah, independent of the men.

That said, I'm not quite sure that this minhag suits the occasion.

Having the women give and listen to shiurim while the men are doing hakafot, having aliyot, and enjoying, perhaps, a nip of scotch is rather like having a teacher reward female students for doing well in their lessons by offering them more lessons, while rewarding male students for doing well in their lessons by letting them go out to the school yard and enjoy themselves.

In other words, the men are enjoying Simchat Torah while the women are, essentially, having something resembling a Tikkun Yom Shavuot.

Where's the simchah for women?

Update, 10:03 AM
We got home so late from a delightful Sukkot sing-along/kumzits with Deborah Sacks Mintz and Sam Weisenberg (and an opportunity to make a b'rachah/blessing in a sukkah) at Beloved Brooklyn that I was too tired to search my e-mail for the link to the Lehrhaus article/d'var Torah "The Inverted Halakhah of Simchat Torah," by Chaim Saiman, which I should have included in this post.  (Thanks to Beloved Brooklyn's co-founder Rabbi Sara Luria for encouraging me to write down and publish this post post-haste, after I told her that I'd been "writing it in my head" all Shabbat.)  This is what I'm talking about:

". . . for all the minhagim developed over the centuries, Torah study was never one of them. Whereas Shavuot commemorates Torah as an idea that is celebrated by scholars engaging in its study, on Simhat Torah the Torah is democratized and treated as a thing—a heftza (in the pre-Brisker sense) that is held, touched, paraded around, danced with, hugged, and kissed, but not learned. The teachings of the Hasidic masters as well as the Vilna Gaon and R. Soloveitchik add that we dance in a circle to emphasize how every participant is equidistant from the spiritual center,[33] and another ma’amar explains that Torah scrolls remain closed to demonstrate that scholars and am ha-aratzim share equally in the Torah. To the extent formalized learning takes place, it is primarily through the very recent minhag of instituting shiurim by and for women designed to recognize women and offer appropriate programing during the holiday’s largely male-centric activities. The net result is that while men are functionally patur [exempt from their obligations?], women are encouraged to learn Torah: an inversion indeed!

In addition to offering a release, Simhat Torah reaffirms the community’s dominant values. The celebrations, whatever their excesses, literally and figuratively revolve around Torah."

Essentially, unless the women also get to dance with a Torah scroll before or after a shiur, the women get the Torah, but not what Chaim Saiman calls the "release."

I, personally, don't feel that a study session is the same thing as a celebration.  That said, if a shiur is the only activity that your synagogue offers you on Simchat Torah, I certainly hope that you'll take advantage of the opportunity.

Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday)!


Blogger David Staum said...

In the Modern Orthodox community, at least, most women dance hakafot these days.

Wed Oct 23, 10:14:00 AM 2019  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

David, that's certainly a wonderful thing!

Wed Oct 23, 11:37:00 PM 2019  

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