Beth Din: Why women are not called to Torah

By Simon Rocker, April 26, 2012

The London Beth Din has finally offered reasons for not allowing women to be called to the Torah in Orthodox synagogues after an inquiry from the father of a forthcoming batmitzvah girl.

Hampstead Garden Synagogue member Alexis Brassey had asked last autumn whether it was possible to give an aliyah to women in certain circumstances.

Although the Beth Din flatly ruled out the idea months ago, Dr Brassey continued to press the rabbinic authorities for an explanation.

Writing to him this week, the Beth Din's registrar, David Frei, stated: "A long established custom practised by the majority of practising Orthodox Jews in itself creates Jewish law. By definition, therefore, any synagogue introducing women's aliyot is in contravention of Jewish law.

"Our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers all loved the Torah no less than ourselves but were never called up to the Torah. That practice of 'omission' hence dictates that it is forbidden to call women up."

Mr Frei wrote that, within Orthodoxy, change could come only through approval of the "greatest poskim of their generation"- rabbis who decide questions of Jewish law".

One reason for women not being called up was that it was thought contrary to kavod hatzibbur, the "dignity of the congregation". But Dr Brassey argued that modern notions of dignity differ from ancient times.

He also suggested that a girl might be called up for one of the optional aliyot on Shabbat morning. Traditionally, seven men are called to the Torah on Shabbat according to the requirements of Jewish law. But synagogues are free to call more.

Dr Brassey said the ruling was rooted "in a desire to ignore the changes that have taken place in society over the last 2,000 years".

He added: "We must, therefore, hope for a more understanding Beth Din in the future that recognises the damage of ignoring social change.

"In the meantime, I would encourage Orthodox Jews and pro-inclusive rabbis to find acceptable ways to increase female involvement in the services."

Last updated: 6:06pm, April 26 2012