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I am interested to know, despite the "political agendas" involved, if the "women of the wall" are in breach of halacha and if so, which one(s). As a part of that, I ask: Are women explicitly forbidden from handling and reading the Torah?

In his answer regarding tzitzit, R' Moshe Feinstein z"l mentions political agendas which render the wearing posul.

I have been led to believe that women may read and handle Torah scrolls whilst in a "minyan" of women.

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    Perhaps Bittul Zeman? Just because you can touch a Torah doesn't mean doing so is productive. I rarely eat turnips, though I am definitely allowed to. – Double AA Mar 13 '16 at 22:54
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    Yerachmiel welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for the interesting question! If you haven’t done so already, you should take a look at the tour. I hope you'll look around and find other Q&A of interest and stay learning with us. – mbloch Mar 14 '16 at 3:24
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You are asking two related but different questions. One about touching the Torah, one about reading it.

Regarding touching a sefer Torah there is an explicit Rambam (Laws of Sefer Torah 10:8 based on Berakhot 22a) which explicitly mentions niddot (i.e., women)

Any impure person, even [a woman in] a niddah state or a gentile, may hold a Torah scroll and read it.

SA YD 282:9 rules the same (for a resolution of the contradiction with the Rema on SA OH 88:1, see R Avraham Weiss here).

Some poskim disagree based on minhag, e.g., here but see the end of R Weiss article showing many Acharonim who write this minhag has no basis.

This has relevance in the context of kissing the Torah on Simhat Torah and dancing with a sefer Torah in women-only areas.


Regarding reading a sefer Torah, especially in the context of women's prayer services, there are multiple issues and it is nearly impossible to separate halachic from what you call "political issues".

A large amount of gedolei Israel have written against women's prayer groups when they include a full prayer service. Some poskim (incl. R Shlomo Goren, R Avraham Elkana Shapiro, R Moshe Feinstein) are more inclined to allow women's reading of a sefer Torah (without public blessings before/after) in certain circumstances (e.g., "pious women whose considerations are solely for the sake of Heaven and are without questioning of God's Torah and Jewish custom").

I can only refer to you to an in-depth magnificent survey of sources by R Aryeh Frimer and R Dov Frimer in Tradition which concludes that the issue is much more one of public policy than one of halacha.

I have often heard that, even if allowed halachically, one should not advance an agenda of equivalency between men and women (which is not the Torah's perspective). So as always CYLOR for practical applications of the above.

  • The issue isn't one of equality (which could be construed as "ok," even according to Torah) but equivalency (which is most definitely not acceptable). – Isaac Kotlicky Mar 14 '16 at 11:40
  • @IsaacKotlicky thanks, I edited, quite subtle but I like the change – mbloch Mar 14 '16 at 11:42
  • Thank you for your very in depth answer. I have always believed that in terms of halacha or "חוק יבש" as one might say, the "women of the wall" are o.k. Unfortunately, their's is clearly a political agenda, not based in love of Hashem but in furthering a political ideology that is alien to mainstream Yiddishkeit. It is this (hidden agenda) that has lead me to disagree with what they do. Thanks again. – Yerachmiel Mar 15 '16 at 15:43
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I believe that the answer is NO, they are not forbidden and my reasoning follows. Thank you Eliezer for enlightening me !

The Rambam states: “All tameh people, even niddot, even a gentile, are permitted to hold a Torah scroll and read from it, for the words of Torah are not susceptible to tumah.”(Hilchot Sefer Torah 10:8) Not only may people in the status of tumah recite the words of Torah, but they may also physically touch and hold the sefer Torah provided their hands are clean. Both the Tur (Yoreh De'ah 282) and the Shulchan Arukh (282:9) accept the Rambam as halachah.

The Talmud, in Megillah 23a states that “even a woman may read from the Torah if there are no men that know how to read, but the Rabbis said that a woman should not do so because of Kovod HaTzibbur - the honor of the congregation. The halacha also reflects that view.

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