Women - Torah Reading: Women - Obligations & Exemptions Response on Ask the Rabbi
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Women - Torah Reading

I am curious why women are not called for an aliyah to the Torah on the same basis as men. Are women barred from reading from the Torah? Is the reason rooted in halacha or is it just tradition?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

When it comes to a public prayer service, there are two main reasons why a woman should not read from the Torah:

(1) Since a woman is not obligated to pray with a minyan, she cannot be the agent to fulfill others' obligations vis a vis the minyan. (Code of Jewish Law O.C. 88, with Mishnah Berurah 6)

Imagine, that one day, a wife comes down the stairs to light her Shabbos candles, only to see her husband lighting them for her. Wouldn't she be upset? He stole her mitzvah!

The same is true regarding the mitzvah of reading from the Torah. Ideally, every man should read the Torah for himself when called for an aliyah. In order to prevent the embarrassment of those who can't read, nowadays (in Ashkenazi shuls) one reader is appointed for all. Women are not appointed as this reader, as it would be a great embarrassment in showing that NO man can read for himself.

(2) It is regarded as improper decorum for a woman to take center stage and sing in public. (Talmud - Megilla 23a; Code of Jewish Law O.C. 282:3)

As far as women conducting a private Torah reading amongst themselves, the Code of Jewish Law (YD 282:9) states that this is permitted. In practice, however, this is discouraged, as often these prayer groups are used in order to make a political statement of women's rights, as opposed to the desire to serve the Almighty. In that case these actions do not constitute a mitzvah. It is preferable to maintain the synagogue as a house of spiritual worship, not a forum for making "statements."

Further, we are careful to maintain tradition in the form and place of prayer. Once change sets in, the boundary and limits are endless. (source: "Chatam Sofer" 6:84-96; "Sridei Aish" 2:40; "Minchat Yitzchak" 5:97)

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