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The Talmud Bavli (Megillah 23a) says that while, if a woman read from the Torah it counts towards the required 7 aliyot, the chachamim disallowed it because of kavod hatzibbur - the respect for the congregation.

What is this kavod hatzibbur? Is it a concern of men seeing women during prayers, or that mean will be distracted by viewing a woman on the men's side? We already use a mechitza for that concern. Also, that concern seems to be more of an "individual" concern, not a tzibbur concern.

I've read that public Torah reading is an obligation only for the tzibbur. I.e., when there is a tzibbur - i.e. a minyan - the Torah must be read publicly. So, it seems that having a woman read the Torah is considered disrespectful in some way to the congregation meaning the group unit. What exactly is disrespectful, here? What's the concern?

  • I have written on this topic extensively here. – tcdw Jun 11 at 20:09
  • @tcdw B"N, I will view this tonight. I spoke a bit about this in my shul during Shavuot. At least, "locally", it's a hot topic. – DanF Jun 11 at 20:27
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This article offers an interesting interpretation of the concern. Excerpts:

Rav Ben-Zion Uziel understands the expression “kevod ha-tzibbur” in a different manner. In the course of a discussion of the right of women to vote in elections and to be elected into office, Rav Uziel rejects the assertion that the mixed seating of men and women in government offices constitutes immodest behavior (Mishpetei Uziel, IV, Choshen Mishpat, no. 6). Among other sources, he mentions our passage. According to him, Chazal did not forbid calling women to the Torah because of immodesty, but only because of kevod ha-tzibbur. From this Rav Uziel concludes that when people assemble for a serious purpose, there is no concern about immodesty, even if the participants include both men and women.

According to Rav Uziel, the prohibition against women reading from the Torah is not connected to the issue of modesty. Why then did Chazal forbid them to be called to read from the Torah? He answers: “So that people not say that there is nobody among the men who knows how to read from the Torah.” This explanation is based on the practice that was current in the days of Chazal, that each person called to the Torah would read his portion out loud. Were women to be called to the Torah and read from it, the impression would be created that the men are incapable of doing so, and therefore they require the assistance of the women.

Chazal apparently based their concerns on the simple assumption that it is men who regularly participate in communal prayer services. It is men who are obligated in communal prayer, and it is men who can form the required quorum. Even had Chazal not barred women from active participation in public Torah reading, it may be assumed that most of the Torah readers would have been men, as it is they who go more often to synagogue, and it is they who are required for a quorum. Furthermore, according to many authorities, the majority of the readers must be adult males even if women and minors are included (Rema, Orach Chayyim 282:3). According to most of the Posekim, as well as according to accepted practice, women are not obligated to participate in public Torah reading, and therefore nobody would expect them to acquire the necessary expertise; this obligation is cast upon men. In such circumstances, were women to be called to the Torah, it would give the impression that the men – who are obligated to conduct the Torah reading and to hear it – are not fit to do this. When the men of a community are perceived as negligent in fulfilling their religious duties, this is a stain on the community.

The article offers various angles on this issue. I have viewed some other articles on this topic, and, this is just one take - the one I feel is the most substantive and "intelligent". There is a separate paper that discusses whether kavod hatzibbur may be waived by the congregation regarding women reading Torah. There seems to be varying opinions. When, I can, I will update this answer with a link or two to the various articles.

  • Why appeal to Rav Uziel? This is explicitly the Ritva’s opinion on the cited Gemara (at least the part defining Kavod Hatzibbur). – DonielF Jun 5 at 2:47
  • @DonielF Please add that to the above answer or write your own. You've obviously found something that I didn't. – DanF Jun 5 at 14:23

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