Q. Why does the Talmud say that women are not called to the Torah because of “k’vod hatzibbur” – “respect for the community”?
A. Theoretically it is quite permissible for women to be called to the Torah (Meg. 23a) and despite the “k’vod hatzibbur” argument this permission can, according to some authorities, be activated in a congregation where all the men are kohanim or where there are insufficient people able to read the texts.
Me’iri says that this applies only where we need someone to complete the reading and say the second blessing, since originally only the first and last person called up said blessings.
“K’vod hatzibbur” occurs several times in the Talmud, which gives it as a reason, for example, for not appearing improperly dressed or naked, for wearing sandals whilst saying the priestly blessing, or for rolling the Torah scroll from place to place – a time-consuming task – in public. These are all examples of consideration for the community’s time or feelings.
In relation to women’s Torah reading during a synagogue service, k’vod hatzibbur may denote sensual distraction or social mores (e.g. not embarrassing the men). There are also halachic factors such as differences between men’s and women’s role in prayer and Torah reading.
In places where there is a separate Torah reading by and for women, most authorities do not allow the recitation of the standard Torah b’rachot.
LEAVING A SIDDUR OPEN
Q. Is it right for people to leave their Siddur open after a service?
A. Definitely not. One should not walk away leaving a holy book open, even upside down (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 277). It is an insult to the book, like walking away from a person while they are still talking to you (Minhagei Y’shurun, p.103).
Further, if the book is left open something might fall on the open page and make it dirty.
Some say there is an angel called Shed, the initials of Shomer Dappin – “he who guards the pages”. He shows his displeasure with a person who leaves a holy book open by causing them to forget their knowledge! (Shach to Yoreh De’ah 277).
DRAMATISING YOUR OWN STORY
Because of Pesach, our history can never recede into the past and become merely a page in a history book.
The Haggadah says, “In every generation a person must regard him- or herself as if they emerged from Egypt”.
We are all there amongst the Israelites who yearned for freedom, departed from the House of Bondage, crossed the Sea, and set off through the wilderness for the Promised Land. We are with Moses and Miriam. We groaned under the taskmasters, we sang as we started our new life.
There is no family that does not have its own historical memory of countless later events, no family that has not had its own experiences, no family that does not have a tale to tell.
Once upon a time our children were too impatient to have time for their grandparents’ and parents’ memories, but we now live in a new generation when history is an intrinsic part of self-identity.
So a suggestion – as you sit at Seder, chat with the people you know about their own personal memories; create your own individual Pesach at a date that links with your own story, and re-live the events that made you what you are.