Active women in my shul are demanding the right to dance with a Torah on Simchas Torah, behind the mechitza. They are saying that it is not something forbidden, and that it is religiously healthy.

Should we not let them? [ and what excuse (reason) can we give them for not letting them? ]

  • 3
    I move to reframe this question as "What issues are there with this practice?" or "What authorities have spoken about the practice explicitly?" or both. Trying to make the question more objective. – Double AA Sep 16 '14 at 16:58
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. It sounds like some of you have answers; please post them as answers, not as comments. – Monica Cellio Sep 18 '14 at 1:37
  • see judaism.stackexchange.com/a/69317/11501 for a related question showing sources that show both sides of the issue (e.g., allowing women to dance in women-only services or refusing it) – mbloch Mar 14 '16 at 11:35

R. Nachum Rabinovitch (Siach Nachum, no. 40) addresses this question. Assuming that the congregation and the rabbi do not object, he says there is no halakhic problem with this, as long as the sefer Torah is treated with the respect due to it (from both men and women). However, it is also forbidden to cause machloket, such that if this will do so it would be prohibited.

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Not voicing an opinion, just providing sources that it's impractical to allow women to dance with the Sefer Torah.

See the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch סימן קנג - הלכות נדה that says:

סעיף טז' אִשָּׁה נִדָּה, בִּימֵי רְאִיָתָהּ קֹדֶם יְמֵי לִבּוּנָהּ, נוֹהֲגִין שֶׁאֵינָהּ נִכְנֶסֶת לְבֵית הַכְּנֶסֶת וְאֵינָהּ מִתְפַּלֶּלֶת. אַךְ בַּיָמִים הַנּוֹרָאִים, דְּהַיְנוּ מִיּוֹם רִאשׁוֹן דִּסְלִיחוֹת וּלְהַלָּן שֶׁרַבִּים מִתְאַסְּפִים בְּבֵית הַכְּנֶסֶת, וְיִהְיֶה לָּהּ עִצָּבוֹן גָּדוֹל אִם לֹא תֵלֵךְ, מֻתֶּרֶת לָלֶכֶת וּלְהִתְפַּלֵל. וְכֵן כְּשֶׁהִיא מַשִׂיאָה אֶת בְּנָהּ אוֹ אֶת בִּתָּה, אוֹ כְּשֶׁהִיא יוֹלֶדֶת שֶהִגִּיעַ זְמַנָּה לָלֶכֶת לְבֵית הַכְּנֶסֶת, וְכַיוֹצֵא בָזֶה, מֻתֶּרֶת. ‏

Roughly translated as: The custom is that as long as she's menstruating, she doesn't enter a Shul and doesn't pray. However, during the High Holidays - starting from the first day of Selichot - she may go to Shul. The same applies for family affairs where not being in Shul would upset her.

Obviously holding a Sefer Torah would be forbidden according to this custom. Having to separate the women into 2 groups would be religiously unhealthy.

Imagine the embarrassment of those women who would have to decline holding the Sefer Torah!

Similarly in the Rema on Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim סימן פח - בעל קרי מתר בקריאת שמע

הגה: יֵשׁ שֶׁכָּתְבוּ שֶׁאֵין לְאִשָּׁה נִדָּה בִּימֵי רְאִיָּתָהּ לִכָּנֵס לְבֵית הַכְּנֶסֶת אוֹ לְהִתְפַּלֵּל אוֹ לְהַזְכִּיר הַשֵּׁם אוֹ לִגֹּעַ בְּסֵפֶר (הַגָּהוֹת מַיְמוֹנִי פֶּרֶק ד') וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים שֶׁמֻּתֶּרֶת בַּכֹּל, וְכֵן עִקָּר (רַשִׁ''י הִלְכוֹת נִדָּה) אֲבָל הַמִּנְהָג בִּמְדִינוֹת אֵלּוּ כַּסְּבָרָא הָרִאשׁוֹנָה. וּבִימֵי לִבּוּן נָהֲגוּ הֶתֵּר, וַאֲפִלּוּ בְּמָקוֹם שֶׁנָּהֲגוּ לְהַחְמִיר, בְּיָמִים נוֹרָאִים וּכְהַאי גַּוְנָא שֶׁרַבִּים מִתְאַסְּפִים לֵילֵךְ לְבֵית הַכְּנֶסֶת, מֻתָּרִין לֵילֵךְ לְבֵית הַכְּנֶסֶת כִּשְׁאָר נָשִׁים, כִּי הוּא לָהֶן עִצָּבוֹן גָּדוֹל, שֶׁהַכֹּל מִתְאַסְּפִין וְהֵן יַעַמְדוּ חוּץ (פִּסְקֵי מַהֲרִי''א סי' קל''ב): ‏

He explicitly mentions that some have the custom that they don't touch Seforim; so obviously holding a Sefer Torah would be an issue.

The Taz (brought down in the Aruch HaShulchan) says that they (i.e. menstruating women) shouldn't even look inside the Sefer Torah during Hagbah.

ולא תביט בספר תורה בשעת הגבהה (ט''ז). ‏

The Yalkut Yosef also mentions this custom - so it's not only an Ashkenazi custom:

ג יש נשים שנוהגות להחמיר על עצמן שלא להכנס לבית הכנסת בימי טומאתן, ושלא להסתכל בספר תורה בעת שמגביהים אותו, ואף על פי שמעיקר הדין הכל מותר להן, מכל מקום רשאות הן להחמיר על עצמן בזה. אולם בימים נוראים שנשים רבות מתאספות ובאות לבית הכנסת, לא נהגו להחמיר, כי עלבון גדול הוא להן, שהכל נכנסות לעזרת נשים והן ישארו בחוץ. [שארית יוסף חלק ב' עמוד רל]‏

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    Do you have any evidence that this custom is widely practiced today? – Double AA Sep 16 '14 at 8:14
  • -1 Your sources imply that there is no custom to avoid holding the Torah in a context where it would be embarrassing. – Double AA Sep 16 '14 at 8:16
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    Don't conflate his points! The Rama does not say that even when in Shul on Yamim Noraim that they can't touch any Sefer. He says וכהאי גוונא specifically to include other cases where it would be embarrassing. Not looking at Hagbah is ordinarily not embarrassing because no one would notice, but if it were, then the custom would lose. Why do you claim that not touching a Sefer would already be mildly embarrassing? What women then were touching any Sefer in public? Why would that matter anyway when in the OP's case we are talking about major embarrassment? – Double AA Sep 16 '14 at 8:35
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    "Do you have any evidence that this custom is widely practiced today?" Not at all - but the OP wanted an "excuse (reason) can we give them for not letting them". – Danny Schoemann Sep 16 '14 at 8:44
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    Perhaps. Or we could understand "excuse" to mean "excuse which makes sense". – Double AA Sep 18 '14 at 12:12

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