Q & A - WITH RABBI RISKIN
Question:At one of the minyanim in Efrat on Simhat Torah, a woman came to the area where the men were dancing and threatened that she would not leave unless she was given a Sefer Torah that she could take to dance with in the women's section. What is Rav Riskin's response to this?
Answer:Without any shadow of a doubt, there is no justification for anyone - man or woman - to demand a Sefer Torah by force or threat.
With regard to the actual issue of dancing with a Sefer Torah on Simhat Torah, the following is my position: The Jewish custom of dancing with Torah scrolls on Simhat Torah is an ancient one - but the ancient custom concerns specifically men, and not women. This custom is certainly an important element to be considered in an halakhic ruling, as we are taught: "Ask your father and he will tell you; your elders - and they will say to you."
The Gemara rules (Berakhot 22) that a Sefer Torah cannot become impure, and that even people considered ritually impure may read from it. This is the ruling of the Rif, the Rosh, the Shulhan Arukh and the Rama (end of Laws of Keriat Shema.)
The Rama mentions a custom that was prevalent in his country, according to which a woman did not enter a synagogue or gaze at a Sefer Torah during her menstrual period; clearly, this is not our custom.
Therefore from a halakhic perspective there is no reason for women not to dance with a Sefer Torah in the women's section, on condition that there is a proper "mechitzah" (division) between the men's and women's sections.
In practical terms, in every synagogue where having women dancing with a Sefer Torah on Simhat Torah will not arouse controversy and conflict, in my opinion it is permissible. The same applies to a synagogue where such a practice existed in the past, and a new member who opposes this joins the synagogue. The custom of that synagogue based on previous years may be maintained, based on the halakhic license outlined above. If a synagogue proposes to introduce women's dancing with a Sefer Torah as a new custom, and some members - even if they are a minority -oppose this, then I believe that the accepted custom should prevail and should not be changed.
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