Women, Song and Dance

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Q: Dear Rabbi Simon,

In this week’s Torah reading, Miriam leads the women in song (and dance), and in the haftarah Devora near enough leads them in battle as well. She definitely sings about the victory which followed. Against this backdrop, I don't understand the problem concerning women parading with the Sefer Torah on Shabbat or dancing with it on Simchat Torah. Another rabbi I know has quoted the following passages, in response to a query on this subject.

The Talmud states, “Words of Torah are not susceptible to tumah (ritual impurity)” (Ber. 22a). Maimonides says, “All who are tamei (ritually impure) and even niddot… may hold the scroll of the Torah and even read from it, because the words of Torah are not susceptible to tumah. All this is permissible with the proviso that one’s hands should not be unclean…in which case one should wash his hands and afterwards touch it” (Hilkhot Sefer Torah 10:8).

Sounds okay to me. What do you think? I need your guidance on this women stuff – it's an increasingly hot potato and one which I'm ill equipped to assess.



A: Dear Shmuel

Thank you for your question on a topical, not to say controversial, issue.

I agree with those who seek to expand women’s role in Jewish life, including synagogue ritual and participation – up to a point. The problem is that one has to take a broader view of such socio-religious trends than just to cite the opinion of the Rambam, as above.

In the 1920’s, the Chofetz Chaim and the Belzer Rebbe supported Sara Schneirer, founder of the Beis Yaakov movement (Torah education for women and girls, a radical innovation in its day) because they recognised the problem she sought to address/ameliorate and they respected her G-d-fearing nature and impeccable motives. Within a single generation she brought about a bloodless revolution in Orthodox Jewish life which continues until this day. However much of contemporary (Orthodox) Jewish feminist aspiration (agitation?) is more a product of a “me-too” impulse and general cultural animus to any and all gender distinctions (including, increasingly, biological and even anatomical ones) than a desire to deepen a woman’s relationship with Hashem. While this characterisation is necessarily a generalisation which inevitably impugns the pure motivation of some individual women, matters of communal policy in the public sphere must take account of widespread perception and implications as much as the specific intent of exceptional individuals. (This is essentially the thrust of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s 1976 responsum on “Women’s Liberation” OH 4:49.)

rabbi rashi simon

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Ask the Rabbi: Easy as א-ב-ג?
Dear Rabbi Simon,
I hope you fasted well yesterday.
Thank you for the insights into the Kinnot, making them easier to understand.
In the afternoon, I was listening to a shiur on Eichah on Torahanytime.  As an aside, the speaker mentioned that the 1st perek of Eichah is the source for the order of the alef bet as we know it.  Other chapters also follow the alef bet chronology but with ayin en peh interchanged.
He quoted Rabbi Shimon Schwab as his source.
Although he did not elaborate on this, surely Sefer Tehillim predates Megillat Eichah by centuries.  Several psalms are written in the alef bet order (e.g.
psalm 119).
Can you please clarify?
Thank you & best wishes.
PhilippeHi Philippe
TY for your sophisticated Q.
I have also heard that the question of the sequence of samekh and 'ayin is subject to dispute. It seems that there are indications that in Paleo-Hebrew the order is reversed from what we know. It is alleged that chapters 2, 3 and 4 of Eichah (chapter 5 is not alphabetical) reflect the original order. Of course, as you say, ch 1 conforms to the order with which we are family.
You are right that Tehillim predates Eichah, however a critic can claim that the order was redacted to bring it in line with the accepted/preferred sequence. This is particularly true for ch. 119, where each of the 8 vv per letter are their own group, and each set of 8 vv. can easily be repositioned. The question is in Ps. 34 or 145, if the internal logic of the passage sheds light on the correct sequence. In Ps. 34, some claim that the v. starting with the letter peh makes more sense to follow the verse starting with samekh (due to the common appearance of the word ra'). I am not convinced that this argument is compelling.
I will stick with the mesorah, that 'ayin belongs before peh. Best to look before speaking.
Rabbi Rashi Simon
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