Aliyot for women in an orthodox setting?

Last year, members of many orthodox synagogues in the UK created “partnership minyanim” in which women as well as men read from the Torah and were called up.

Surprisingly, the classic rabbinic sources are more open to this practice than are many of today’s rabbis. One article, opposing the introduction of aliyot for women, complained that these women were following “text-based tradition” rather than simply copying what their mothers had done.

In order to shed more light on this debate, and in order to honour a dear friend, I have translated and posted some relevant rabbinic sources here. I hope that these will be of use to the public and will encourage informed debate on this important issue.

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On Israel’s 65th Birthday

Soon after the creation of the state, Rav Soloveitchik wrote an essay called Kol Dodi Dofek.  The title means “The voice of my lover knocks”.  The Rav is referring to the beloved of Shir HaShirim, the Song of Songs.  The beloved is lying alone in bed and the lover knocks on the door, waking her up.  The Rav wants us to understand that history is knocking at the door and that we are in the presence of miracles.  Continue reading

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Innovation and Change in Jewish Thought, from an 18th Century Rabbinic Leader

Innovation.  Development.  Human intelligence.  Human error.

How important are these to Jewish thought and practice?  According to Rabbi Arieh Leib Heller, one of the foremost rabbinic authorities of 18th century Poland, they are essential:  intrinsic to the Jewish people and the Jewish religion.  He explains that the written Torah is public property, accessible both to Jews and to others.  But the verbal Torah, innovated and refined over successive generations, ‘is ours’.  It is uniquely Jewish.   Continue reading

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Relations with the enemy

Jewish thought usually takes care not to demonize enemies. But Purim might be an exception.  The rabbis connect Haman, the villain, with Amalek, a destructive nation whom we are commanded to exterminate.  Our relationship with Amalek is close to a tribal feud.  Continue reading

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May Anyone Serve?

What kind of person is qualified to serve in the army?  What qualities should a soldier have? Rabbi Yossi the Galilean, writing nearly two thousand years ago on this week’s Torah portion, gives us a surprising answer to this question.  And his words are still relevant today.   Continue reading

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Jewish Rights to the Land of Israel?

Many people believe that Jews have a right to the land of Israel.  Much ink and blood have been spilled on this claim.  So it might surprise us to learn that our last two Torah readings teach the opposite: the tighter we hold onto ownership of the Land the more we risk losing it entirely.

The core of last week’s Torah reading is the commandment of “shemita”, leaving the land alone every seventh year.  Continue reading

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Four Songs

A poem by Rav Avraham Yitzhak Kook

There is one who sings the song of his own life, and in himself he finds everything, his full spiritual satisfaction.

There is another who sings the song of his peopleContinue reading

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Slaves or Slave-Owners?

An extraordinary comment in the Jerusalem Talmud over-turns our self-image as “slaves in Egypt” and reminds us that we might have been slave-owners too in Egypt.  It suggests that Passover commemorates not only the day when we became a free people but also the day when we freed our own slaves.

And, more disturbingly, it connects our subsequent exile from the Land of Israel, hundreds of years later, to our ancestors’ failure to free their slaves at a later time.

Today our minds have become so focused on habitual, historic narratives and self-images that we find it difficult to listen to others’ narratives and to see others’ images of us.  So, as we celebrate Passover again, the festival of our freedom, this comment from the Jerusalem Talmud deserves a closer look.  Continue reading

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