Tuesday October 6th it will be Simchat Torah. On that day we complete the reading of the Torah and, without a break, immediately begin reading Bereshis. There are many meanings to this – amongst them that the Torah has neither beginning nor end. The cycle continues uninterrupted and has done so for over 3,000 years.
Which brings me to one of the biggest elephants in the room: dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah.
In Orthodox shuls, women do not dance with the Torah. There it is. I decided to bring this (for some a very contentious) issue up because it’s much better to talk about things than bury them with a ‘nothing’s going to change’ attitude.
I searched for articles about women and Simchat Torah and found all carried the same tone. Angry. Then I went searching for the essence of Simchat Torah and why I do not have an angry feeling. I do not in any way feel deprived because I can’t dance holding a Torah. I don’t feel deprived because the men are singing and dancing and I’m not. Lest you think I’m a dolt, think again. I may not be a genius and my memory could use some improvement, but I’m out there and very cognizant of my surroundings.
What I will share with you should not be taken as solace or as an apology for what is seemingly a one-sided holiday. The next few words, penned by the late Jay Litvin are real. He was and is where I go when I need to read something by a person who was sincere and truthful. Tragically he passed away in 2004. I had a correspondence with him that I treasure. He just got it right.
…Just as I was to become intimate with the Torah, so it was to become intimate with me. As I began to study, I discovered the Torah’s relevance in every area of my life. As its deeper meanings were laid open to me through the study of Chassidic teaching, I found that I could turn to the Torah for guidance in every circumstance. Regardless of my mood or frame of mind, I could approach the Torah and find it waiting for me. Even in times of anger or rebellion, the Torah showed forgiveness and guidance. In times of sadness and depression, I would find hope and encouragement. In times of joy and celebration, I would find words of thanksgiving and praise for the One who provides all goodness. There was not an aspect of my life that the Torah did not enter. Slowly it penetrated my inner life, my career, my relationship with my children and parents, my marriage. When first introduced to the Torah, I felt I was coming to know a distant relative of whom I was aware but had never before met; with the passing of years I began to feel that my learning and observance revealed that the Torah had always existed within me. The Torah became deeply embedded into my life, part of the weave and warp of my being.
Whether or not I can dance with a Torah on one day of the year is a non-issue. I am not negating other people’s opinion of the day. I am saying that the Torah is much bigger than one day.
I am also saying that I am comfortable in my role as an observant Jewish woman. I have much to accomplish in the years with which Hashem will in His kindness grace me. There are hundreds of thousands of Jewish women who, through no fault of their own, do not know of the beauty of Judaism. I would much rather spend my energy seeking them out and sharing with them the gifts they were bequeathed then bemoan the fact that, for one day a year, I cannot dance with the Torah.
There are other issues vis-a-vis women’s equality I support and agree need fixing. Simchat Torah is not one of those issues.
It is a day in which I will thank G-d I was born of Jewish mother and celebrate, as Jay Litvin so eloquently said, that the Torah has become deeply embedded into my life, part of the weave and warp of my being.