Is there an issur of kol isha for leining?
1. In TB M'ghila 23a a B'raytha is quoted that all may be called to read from the Torah, including a minor or a woman. It should be pointed out that the intention was that a person called to the Tora was expected to read himself. At the present time only the Temanim (Yemenite Jews) read from the Tora in the way originally intended. Both S’pharadhim and Ashk’nazim appoint a “reader” who reads for everyone – a most unfortunate practice. But I digress.
2. In the same B’raytha it goes on to say that the Hakhamim taught that a woman should nevertheless not read because of "K'vodh Ssibur". However we understand this statement - the Rishonim do not elucidate this concept - it is clear that we are not dealing with an issur but rather with something to be avoided, and that Qol Isha was not an issue. The t'shuva of MaHaRam of Rottenburg z'l (T’shuvoth Maharam, Mosadh HaRav Kook, Vol. I no. 47, quoted in Mord’khai Gittin 404) in which he recommends that women read from the Tora in a schul where there are only male Kohanim is proof positive of this understanding. (It should be noted that Maharam z’l referred to a case where there is no choice, for not doing so would mean not reading from the Tora altogether. Normally, Maharam z’l did not allow women to read – but not because of Qol Isha.)
3. One might still wonder why Qol Isha is not an issue. To me it seems clear that a woman reading from the Tora in schul is most unlikely to cause even the most red-blooded male to have licentious thoughts.
4. In spite of the above, "K'vodh Ssibur" is still an issue. It seems that Hazal considered it unseemly for a woman to be the centre of attention. One can extrapolate from this to a woman speaking in front of a male or mixed audience. It might be argued that in this regard standards and sensibilities have changed, and this is undoubtedly true.
5. I must admit, however, that I would feel uncomfortable with a woman reading from the Tora, and I suspect that I am not alone. Even if something is in principle mutar, the fact that part of the community feels uncomfortable with it is sufficient reason to refrain from doing it.
Sunday, 27 February 2011