Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Honour of the Community



Next Shabbat will mark the first time we will have held an egalitarian Shabbat morning service in the Synagogue at New London. A parallel non-egalitarian service will be taking place in the Kiddush Hall.


I feel it is important to understand the Halachic underpinnings of the decision to allow men and women, equally, to have aliyot, be it at New London or anywhere else in the traditional Jewish world.


The Talmud teaches, ‘All go up to make up the quorum of seven, even a minor and even a woman. But the Wise said don’t call a woman to read from the Torah because of Cavod Hatzibur – the honour of the congregation.’


The key question about this central text is this. Does the term Cavod Hatzibur  function as a technical absolute, or is it a description of a social reality? In other words, if a particular community would not feel dishonoured, or if in contemporary times no loss of honour would reasonably been seen to result from calling a woman to the Torah, does the statement of The Wise still hold? Those who would wish us only ever to offer aliyot to men would have to argue yes. And the Rabbi Yoel Sirkus is among the great legal commentators. While those who would wish us to offer aliyot to either men or women would find support in other places. Rabeinu Yerucham, for example, explicitly considers that when one cannot call seven men to the Torah, for example when the minyan is fully made up of Cohenim, one should call women. The Reivetz thinks that when there is no competent male reader, and a competent female reader, the female reader should be called instead it being more honourable to call a competent woman than an incompetent man.


Clearly in a community like New London there is no question that having women receive an aliyah represents any affront to our communal honour. Rather the test of honour in our community at this very particular time in our history is the test of respecting the differing desires and passions of our very special community.



A more detailed treatment of this issue is available at

The position of the Synagogue on these issues can be found at


Shabbat shalom


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