Women And Aliyot
As they have embraced the egalitarian ethos vis a vis gender roles over the last several decades, the more liberal streams within Judaism have been allowing women to have aliyot (plural for aliyahs) to the Torah. "K'vod haTzibbur," the honor of the congregation, was the basis on which women were historically disallowed from having them or reading from the Torah. They flipped the notion of k'vod haTzibbur on its head, whereby, owing to the exingencies of the new egalitarian ethos of the times, the honor of the congregation would now demand that women be allowed them, should they want them. And now there are even voices from those educated and socialized in the traditional Orthodox world who see the value of women being called to the Torah. Most famous of these are the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who argued twenty five years ago that while we will still need the traditional shuls where women do not receive aliyot, we absolutely have a crying need today for traditional synagogues that do offer aliyot, that also offer women aliyot because of the emotional valence and sense of connection to tradition and the sense of belonging that it engenders. Below is an excerpt from an article in Connections Magazine where Rabbi Carlebach explains his feelings on the subject:
PURIM: the Role of Women in Judaism;
(Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach on the need to give Torah aliyot to women who need them):
What about giving aliyot (being called to the Torah) to women? I’ll tell you an unbelievable story. I gave a concert in Paris. After the concert, a beautiful young lady came up to me and said, “I want to tell you my story, I come from a Chassidic home in Boston. I like to paint, to draw. I managed to get to college, despite my father, and I got a scholarship to Paris. I left and didn’t write to my parents. I had no money, so when a non-Jewish man asked me to move into his house I did. I lived with him for four years, and he asked me to marry him.
This fellow asked me to marry him, and I was overjoyed. Sunday morning, I was supposed to be baptized, and Sunday night, the wedding. For me, Shabbos didn’t exist anymore, so the Shabbos before, I went shopping. Crazily enough, I passed by the Reform Synagogue, the same Reform Synagogue that, three years ago, was bombed by the P.L.O. I passed by that synagogue and, I don’t know why, I walked in. They were just reading the Torah. Suddenly, the shammos (beadle) came to me and offered me an aliyah. I want you to know, I was religious when I was young. Nobody ever gave me an aliyah.
When they called up my name to the Torah, it was clear to me that God was calling me. When I made the bracha (blessing) over the Torah, I swore to God that I’ll be a Jewish daughter again. I came out from shul, I called up my boyfriend, and I told him that I was just in shul, and I heard a voice from heaven tell me that I shouldn’t do it. And I didn’t.”
It’s all very beautiful to say that we should not give women aliyot. The Satmar Rebbitzen doesn’t need an aliyah. But, there are a lot of holy women today who need an aliyah.
-From Connections Magazine; volume 1, number 1. 1985.