Tuvia Book
Author, educator, Tour-Guide, artist

Women, the Torah and Modern Orthodoxy

This Simchat Torah my nine-year-old daughter asked me why only the men were allowed to dance with the Torah scroll whilst the women just watched at our Modern-Orthodox synagogue.  Similarly, on the requisite visit to the holiest site in Judaism, the Western Wall, on Friday nights my Birthright participants routinely question the minuscule size of the women’s section and the passive behavior of the women.

Indeed, the women attendees have absolutely no public role whatsoever in the Orthodox service.  The whole spectacle is viewed as if one is at a play or at the opera, that is – passively.  The women can watch as men receive honours and lead the service and read from the Torah.  Women in most Orthodox Batei Knesset are not even allowed to deliver a D’var Torah (even if the women have a PhD in Talmud), or open the Holy Ark, which is a non-vocal honour.  One rarely finds women in lay leadership roles even in the “Modern”-Orthodox world.  There seems to be a dissonance between Modern-Orthodoxy’s claims of inclusion and its actual practices and attitudes.

This is clearly at variance with the rise of the professional woman in the Modern-Orthodox world.  Women are now astronauts, doctors, lawyers, Talmud Scholars, Poskei Nidah, even Israeli Supreme Court Presidents and Prime Ministers, but once they set foot inside an Orthodox synagogue there is no active role for them to fill.

One increasingly popular Modern-Orthodox alternative that started in Israel in the past decade, inspired by the teachings of world-renowned Talmud scholar at Bar-Ilan University and Israel Prize recipient, Rabbi Daniel Sperber, is the phenomenon of the “halachic egalitarian minyan” such as the Shira Chadasha model in Jerusalem and the Darchei Noam model in Modiin, which has spread slowly to other locations in Israel and around the world.

The philosophy behind this type of institution is an attempt to create a religious community that embraces a commitment to halacha, prayer and feminism in response to the growing need of many Modern-Orthodox women and men to readdress the role of women in the synagogue.   The mission statement of Shira Chadasha states that the community, “embraces as a religious value the inclusion of both men and women in leadership and ritual participation within the framework of halacha.”  I truly believe there is a generation of young Modern-Orthodox Jews who see this as the way of the future.

About the Author
Dr. Tuvia Book was born in London and raised in both the UK and South Africa. After making Aliya at the age of 17 and studying in Yeshiva he volunteered for the IDF, where he served in an elite combat unit. Upon his discharge he completed his BA at Bar-Ilan University, as well as certification in graphic design. He then served as the Information Officer at the Israeli Consulate of Philadelphia, while earning a graduate degree in Jewish Studies. Upon his return to Israel, Dr. Book graduated from a course of study with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, and is a licensed tour guide. Tuvia has been working in the field of Jewish Education, both formal and informal, for many years. He has guided and taught Jewish students and educators from around the English-speaking world for some of Israel’s premier educational institutions and programs. Tuvia has been guiding groups for Birthright Israel since its inception and, in addition, has lectured throughout North America, Australia, Europe and South Africa. Tuvia served as a Shaliach (emissary) for the Jewish Agency for Israel as the Director of Israel and Zionist Education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York (Jewish Education Project). He was a lecturer/educational guide at the Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education (AMIIE) in Israel for a decade. Tuvia has lectured at both Bar Ilan University and Hebrew University. He was a Senior Editor and Teaching Fellow at the Tikvah Fund. He is a research associate at the Hudson Institute. Tuvia is the author and illustrator the internationally acclaimed Israel education curriculum; "For the Sake of Zion; A Curriculum of Israel Studies" (Fifth edition, Koren 2017), and "Moral Dilemmas of the Modern Israeli Soldier" (Rama, 2011) and has a doctorate in Israel Education. His latest book, "Jewish Journeys, The Second Temple Period to the Bar Kokhba Revolt – 536 BCE-136 CE," was published by Koren this year. To order:
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