February 17, 2019

The Fear of Holding the Torah

“In Modern Orthodox minyanim today, it is increasingly common for women to carry the Torah through the women’s section. However, even in minyanim where this is allowed, there is a reluctance on the part of many women to accept this honor. A common refrain is a fear of dropping the Torah. However, I don’t think that this wariness toward carrying the Torah stems solely from a fear of dropping it; a combination of factors limits Orthodox women’s exposure to the Sefer Torah, creating an unspoken taboo and innate wariness.

I have never heard a man refuse to carry the Sefer Torah because he is afraid that he will drop it. The fear of holding the Torah is ingrained into Orthodox women throughout their lives, sustained by the rarity of such opportunities. Orthodox women’s lack of experience holding the Sefer Torah makes them feel nervous about interacting with it, unlike men who have these experiences all the time.

Reluctance to participate in rituals isn’t an issue solely on the female side of the mechitzah. On the men’s side, it’s not always easy to find volunteers to leyn or daven daily. Nonetheless, men’s reticence to lead davening isn’t an exact parallel to women’s reluctance to carry the Sefer Torah. Carrying the Torah requires neither expertise nor practice, whereas leading davening is more skill-based. Presumably, most of the men who decline to daven worry that they don’t know the tefillot well enough to lead; this issue shouldn’t apply to women who decline the honor of carrying the Torah.”

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