Benedict Roth, an informal Jewish educator based at Kol Rina in London has put together a brilliant resource on the subject of women and Torah reading.
"Many members of orthodox synagogues believe that women's Torah reading is forbidden. But the traditional rabbinic sources are more nuanced: they give plenty of room for a community either to permit or to forbid as it chooses. Most rabbis don't teach these sources, but they are outlined in this podcast by Benedict Roth.
All six episodes on the podcase are on Apple here:
as well as on most of the other usual platforms.
1. Anyone may read the Torah for the community!
The Talmud makes clear that anyone can read from the Torah for the community, even a slave, a child or a woman. This makes public Torah reading completely different from any other "mitzvah".
Although the Talmud makes clear that, in principle, anyone can read from the Torah for the community, it also states that a woman's Torah reading infringes "respect for the public". In this episode we will look at other examples of "respect for the public" in the world of the Talmud.
The Talmud states that a woman's Torah reading infringes "respect for the public", apparently because a community which relied on women was considered to be made up of men who were illiterate. In this episode we will look at the classic sources and ask whether this factor is still relevant today, when everyone is considered to be "illiterate" for the purpose of public Torah reading.
The Talmud asserts that Torah reading by women infringes the "respect" due to the community. But, today, a member of the community who is called to the Torah does not need to read. The ba'al koreh, the communal Torah reader, will read for them. As such the Shulhan Arukh, the authoritative code of Jewish law, suggests that up to six of the seven community members called to the Torah on shabbat could be women.
If Torah reading by women infringes the "respect" due to the community, might the community have the right to waive its "respect" to allow women to read? Rabbi Josef Karo, the author of the Shulhan Arukh, rules as such and Rabbi Joel Sirkis, the author of the Bayit Hadash, disagrees.
Rabbi Eliezer disagrees with Ben Azzai as to whether women should be included in the community of those who study Torah. Echoes of their dispute can still be seen in today's Jewish communities.
There is one source-sheet for each podcast episode, which can be found here: