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TITLE: Concluding Responses to Qeri'at ha-Torah for Women
Author: Mendel Shapiro
Concluding Responses to Qeri'at ha-Torah for Women Concluding Responses to Qeri'at ha-Torah for Women
R. Shapiro responds to Rav Henkin:

I appreciate Rav Henkin's careful and fair reading of my article and I am encouraged that he agrees with "much" of what I wrote. His assessment that women's aliyyot are currently "outside the consensus" is obviously true, and for that reason, as I write, it would be wrong to create dissension by attempting to introduce the practice in existing synagogues. Like Rav Henkin, I see women's aliyyot as taking place in exceptional circumstances, some of which he himself describes.

So where, as Rav Henkin puts it, does all this leave us? We both agree, as Rav Henkin writes, that "if done without fanfare, an occasional aliyyah by a woman in a private minyan of men held on Shabbat in a home and not in a synagogue sanctuary or hall can perhaps be countenanced or at least overlooked." Also, Rav Henkin's willingness, based on Tosefta Megillah 3:5, to consider the possibility of women receiving aliyyot on Simhat Torah, where the number of aliyyot goes beyond the normative seven, is a convincing suggestion that did not occur to me, and it would appear that the argument in its support can be enlisted to permit women generally to receive the aliyyah of maftir.

Rav Henkin and I do seem to differ on whether women's aliyyot may be accepted as standard practice in congregations (conducting services in or outside synagogue sanctuaries) that do not regard them as violating kevod ha-tsibbur. Rav Henkin is flatly opposed to such an extension, declaring that "a congregation that institutes them is not Orthodox in name and will not long remain Orthodox in practice." I believe that women's aliyyot should be acceptable even in these circumstances, if their introduction does not cause mahloqet within the congregation. Practically, that means that newly organized congregations of like-minded persons that institute women's aliyyot should be acknowledged by the Orthodox community as being Orthodox synagogues.

If my halakhic analysis is tenable - and Rav Henkin seems to agree that it is - by what moral justification may women be denied a halakhic privilege if they exercise it in self selected groups without directly impinging on others' sensibilities? Why should the fact that women's aliyyot are outside of the Orthodox consensus be a complete explanation of why they may not be instituted? Part of my motivation in writing my article was to widen the Orthodox circle, to give practical application to what I termed the halakhic "inclusive bias." I believe strongly that the consensus-bearing majority should have the strength and self-confidence to embrace those halakhically committed persons who, in certain matters and for a variety of reasons, adopt halakhically defensible practices that place them outside the consensus.

In this regard, Rav Henkin's response, which he entitled "Qeri'at ha-Torah by Women: Where We stand Today," seems to hide as much as it reveals. Does Rav Henkin think we might stand elsewhere "tomorrow?" If the current consensus should shift, would women's aliyyot then be an acceptable Orthodox practice? And what about those who act to change the consensus? Are they ultimately to be judged by their success or failure - spiritual heroes or rogues depending on their persuasiveness and sense of timing and social climate? If this is the case, then halakhic change is by its nature a mean-spirited, opportunistic affair. Innovators may be denounced and ostracized, but developments are carefully monitored to sense which way the wind blows and where the new consensus settles.

Rav Henkin's prediction that a congregation that institutes women's aliyyot will deviate further from Orthodox practice is similarly opaque. Is Rav Henkin's prediction based on the "slippery slope" metaphor, or does he believe that such a congregation should be ushered out of the Orthodox fold? If the "slippery slope" is in play, what is the disastrous result to which women's aliyyot lead, and how will women's aliyyot set into motion that inexorable sequence of events that will culminate in that result? These are the issues that my paper ultimately raises, and I wish Rav Henkin had more to say about them.

My halakhic argument is simple: the only objection to women's aliyyot is kevod ha-tsibbur, and kevod ha-tsibbur is waivable or is by definition a relative concept. None of Rav Henkin's reservations about my discussion disturb this argument, a fact attested to by Rav Henkin's own willingness to consider women's aliyyot in limited circumstances. For the most part, Rav Henkin's comments reflect the type of disagreements that two reasonable people may have when considering a sugya. All of them are well taken, even those with which I do not agree. I will briefly discuss some of them, if only "lehagdil torah u-leha'adirah."

In my paper, I set forth six alternative interpretations of the baraita/Tosefta. Rav Henkin's comments are a valuable contribution to our understanding of this source, particularly his observations that that the Tosefta appears to support Sefer ha-Batim's opinion that women's aliyyot may be permitted in services held at home, and that paragraph 5 of the Tosefta passage suggests that women might receive optional aliyyot that come in addition to the required seven. In reviewing Or Zaru`a and Rid, I see that Rav Henkin's criticism that I read them through the eyes of R. Saul Lieberman is probably correct. However, unlike Rav Henkin, I find R. Lieberman's interpretation of the baraita/Tosefta as conflicting sources to be quite convincing. The formulation of the baraita presents an internal contradiction: an inclusory introduction ("All may be included...") followed by a blanket prohibition. Why not simply write that women may not receive aliyyot because of kevod ha-tsibbur? This would indicate, as R. Lieberman suggests, that the consideration of kevod ha-tsibbur was added to the baraita by the Bavli. R. Lieberman's suggestion is corroborated by R. Yehudah Leib Graubart's statement in Havalim ba-Ne`imim that many rishonim see kevod ha-tsibbur as a concept unique to the Bavli.

Rav Henkin believes that I am wrong to suggest that Rambam might generally regard kevod ha-tsibbur as applying only to services held in a synagogue. I do not believe that Rav Henkin's quick dismissal of my suggestion is warranted. As I point out, Rambam presents the rules of qeri'at ha-Torah in chapter 12 of Hilkhot Tefillah, only after first summarizing the rules of prayer generally in the first ten chapters, and laying down the duty of the community to maintain synagogues in chapter 12. This arrangement of the rules of prayer and qeri'at ha-Torah suggests that Rambam viewed the rules of qeri'at ha-Torah as revolving around the religious life of the synagogue. I also cited Hilkhot Tefillah 8:1 to show that Rambam, in the context of the prayer service, identified tsibbur with the synagogue. As for Rav Henkin's argument from the case of reading from a humash, as Rav Henkin himself notes, Rambam there was simply quoting from Gittin 60a, and arguably did not intend to suggest that kevod ha-tsibbur is a synagogue-based concern only in that one particular case.

Rav Henkin takes me to task for not giving sufficient prominence to Ritva's interpretation of kevod ha-tsibbur as protecting men from the shame of ignorance. He suggests that I prefer the view of Bah and Levush, who see women's aliyyot as intrinsically degrading and denigrating to the Torah or the congregation, in order to set up a straw man that will be easy to knock down. This is not the case. I believe that both interpretations are out of tune with Modern Orthodox sensibilities (one admittedly more grating than the other), and that kevod ha-tsibbur can be waived regardless of which interpretation we adopt. I prefer Bah's interpretation of kevod ha-tsibbur because I believe it makes more sense as peshat in the context of a synagogue service where there is a ba`al qeri'ah who reads for all olim. Ritva's theory of kevod ha-tsibbur as expressing solicitude for the illiterate male assumes circumstances where women perform mitsvot on behalf of illiterate men who have personal obligations with respect to those mitsvot, such as where women read Megillah or recite grace or hallel behalf of illiterate spouses. Rav Henkin actually appears to agree with me on this point. He finds it "odd" to read in my paper that "it is difficult to accept [Ritva's explanation] as the plain meaning of the term kevod ha-tsibbur [because] anyone who attends synagogue understands full well that aliyyot are not awarded based on a person's ability to read the Torah. This has been true for centuries, since the introduction of the ba`al qeri'ah..." According to Rav Henkin, my critique of the application of Ritva to contemporary qeri'at ha-Torah is out of place because Ritva meant only to explain the Talmudic concept of kevod ha-tsibbur, which, as Rav Henkin writes, "long preceded the introduction of the ba`al qeri'ah..." But if this is so, I cannot understand Rav Henkin's underlying criticism. On the one hand, he asserts that there is "no justification" for having recourse to theories of kevod ha-tsibbur other than those of Ritva and R. Avraham Min ha-Har, and on the other, he maintains that these theories are not relevant to contemporary services where there is a ba`al qeri'ah.

Rav Henkin is obviously interested in my argument that Shulhan Arukh (Orah Hayyim 282:2) be read as permitting women's aliyyot where the Torah is read by a ba`al qeri'ah. He finds the underlying reasoning "highly plausible, but not in itself proven." The proof that I adduce from Perishah is a "good point, but not enough" to clinch my interpretation of the Shulhan Arukh. Also, Rav Henkin believes that attributing to Shulhan Arukh a "conscious intention" that "women may be included, they just may not read," is "anachronistic ... lacks credibility" and reflects a "distinction ... suggested only recently, when women's Torah readings became an issue."

My interpretation of Shulhan Arukh as permitting women to receive aliyyot but not to read is a hiddush that is not essential to my basic halakhic argument. I am pleased that it finds some favor in Rav Henkin's eyes, and I wish it found more. I would only point out that my interpretation is based on a literal reading of Shulhan Arukh, i.e., I read Shulhan Arukh as meaning what it says: "All may be included ... but a women may not read..." This is usually not taken to be an exaggerated position, and poseqim are not expected to punctuate their writings with statements that they "really" mean what they write. Indeed, if we accept Rav Henkin's argument that the only tenable definition of kevod ha-tsibbur is that of the Ritva (concern for the illiterate male), I don't see how any other interpretation of Shulhan Arukh is possible: what violation of kevod ha-tsibbur can there be if a ba`al qeri'ah reads for all?

I agree with Rav Henkin that Shulhan Arukh and its commentators did not contemplate that women would actually receive aliyyot, but I do believe that they accepted it as a legitimate, hypothetical possibility, much as we raise all sorts of unlikely but nonetheless legitimate halakhic possibilities in our own studies. Perishah was the first to highlight what is explicit in Shulhan Arukh but, as I point out in my paper, other authorities, including Rema, Ran, and R. Akiva Eiger, discuss the issue in ways that indicate that they too found women's aliyyot a halakhic possibility.

I have difficulty with Rav Henkin's description of my argument as "anachronistic," an attempt to read modern-day sensitivities into classical texts. Perhaps what is anachronistic is the tendency to read the sources in light of modern-day Orthodox truisms. My interpretation of Shulhan Arukh would certainly not be the first time that contemporary students found guidance on novel issues in the classical sources. It is not unusual for sources to assume fresh significance and meaning as new demands are made on them. In previous generations, no one asked whether women might receive aliyyot if they do not read. We do ask the question and should be grateful that Shulhan Arukh seems to provide an answer.

Rav Henkin and I agree that there is no minhag prohibiting women's aliyyot. However, Rav Henkin points out that such a "totalitarian" minhag could theoretically exist, and that I do not give sufficient credence to minhagim she-nohagu kol yisrael. I would agree that my passing reference to such minhagim (I refer to them as ha-minhag ha-pashut bekhol maqom) is insufficient and that I should have recognized them as a special class of minhagim. Nonetheless, I don't believe that this observation detracts from the view of minhagim generally as a halakhic concept intended to allow for nuance and dimension in religious life, and provide relief for demands of uniformity (nahara nahara u-pashtei).

Rav Henkin responds to R. Shapiro:

I, in turn, am grateful to R. Shapiro for highlighting the differences between us. He writes, "it would appear that the argument in its support can be enlisted to permit women generally to receive the aliyyah of maftir." No. Maftir retains two key disabilities: First, although maftir repeats part of what was already read, it is not a voluntary hosafah. It has long since become an obligatory aliyyah, in spite of being in addition to the original seven. As such, it remains within the purview of kevod ha-tsibbur. Second, maftir involves going up to the reading desk in the men's section, something I was careful to avoid with regard to Simhat Torah. Regular entrance of women into the ezrat gevarim is a line a synagogue cannot cross and remain Orthodox. I see no point in arguing about this, either.

For the record, my comment "highly plausible, [but] not in itself proven" refers to my interpretation of the baraita, not to R. Shapiro's interpretation of the Shulhan Arukh.
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