Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Women, Simchat Torah, and Censorship

Women, Simchat Torah, and Censorship

By: Eliezer Brodt

A recent book, Mi-pehem, (Bnei Brak,2008), collects interviews that were conducted with various Gedolim. One interview was conducted with Rebbetzin Ginsburg the daughter of R. Yechezel Levenstein. In the course of this interview she described the Simchat Torah celebration at the Mir in Europe:

אבל שמחת תורה בישיבה היה משהו
מיוחד. הנשים עמדו בפינת בית המדרש מאחורי מחיצה, ומחכות בהתרגשות לתחילת
ההקפות! (מפיהם, עמ' 199).


According to this interview, women in the Mir were behind the Mechetziah. But, I recall hearing from others that witnessed Simchat Torah in the Mir in Europe that the women were not behind a Mechetziah. Indeed, when, looking up this source of this interview I realized it was a Hebrew translation of an English article that appears in Daughters of Destiny published by Artscroll. The quote in the original reads: “The woman would stand in a corner of the bais medrash separated from the men and wait excitedly for the Hakofos to begin” (p.76). Thus, according to the original woman were not standing behind the Mechetziah during the ST celebration.

Avraham Ya-ari in his important work on ST, Toldos Chag Simchas Torah provides additional sources discussing woman's participation in ST celebration from various communities. These sources parallel the original interview of Rebbetzin Ginsburg that women were not behind a Mechetziah but they came in to the Beis hamedrash on this night to watch the dancing up close (pp.251-252).

Aside from woman entering the BM on ST woman participated in other parts of the celebration. For example, in Worms we find:

מנהג שמחת תורה... מנהג נשים
בין מנחה למעריב הנ"ל באים במלבושיהן היקרים והנאים הטובים שיש להם. ובאם
בחצר החיצון של בית הכנסת ולפני הפתח החיצון של בית הכנסת דנשים ורוב הנשים בפרט
נשים בחורות מחברי' יד ליד ובראשם נשי חתן תורה וחתן בראשית, והולכין בעיגול סביב
סביב ומשוררין יגדל, וזמירות שרגילין לשורר לכבוד החתן וכלה והכל לכבוד התורה ואחר
כך הולכין לבית הכנסת שלהם... (ר' יוזפא שמש, מנהגים דק"ק וורמיישא,
א, עמ' רכ).

In Baghdad R. Dovid Sasson describes another custom with woman on ST:

בכפור, בשמיני עצרת ובשמחת
תורה
מוציאם בכל בתי הכנסת את כל ספרי התורה ומניחים אותם בהיכל והאנשים
והנשים הולכים מבית כנסת לבית כנסת לנשק כל ספר וספר וקוראים זאת זייארה (מסע
בבל
, עמ' רכז)

In truth something similar to this (but not on ST only on HR and YK) is found earlier in the letters of R. Ovadia Bartenurah where he describes a custom that he saw:

גם ראיתי בליל יום הכיפורים
ובליל הושענא רבה אחר שסיימו הצבור תפלת ערבית, פותחים הנאמנים שני שערי ההיכל
צפונה ונגבה ויושבים שם כל הלילה עד הבוקר, ובאות הנשים משפחות מפחות למשתחוות
ולנשק הספרי תורה, ובפתח האחד תכנסנה ונכחו תצאנה. וכל הלילה, זו נכנסת וזו
יוצאת... (אגרת א"י, עמ' 106).

One other point regarding woman and Simchat Torah is Rivkah Tiktiner (died in 1605) composed a song for Simchat Torah in Yiddish. Tiktiner is famous for being the first Jewish woman who wrote a complete work called Minkes Rivkah. Yaari suggests that this song was song while the woman decorated the Sifrei torah (Toldos Chag Simchas Torah, p.464). This song was recently reprinted by Y. Levine with an introduction and a translation in Hebrew (Simchat Torah Leyad). On Rivkah Tiktiner, see Levine’s Introduction (ibid); Z. Gris, Hasefer Kesochen Tarbus, p.172 and here.

Another custom which women are involved in on Simchat Torah is the throwing of the fruit to the children. On this topic see also Y. Gibralter in his memoirs of Kovno who writes:

זלמן טרקניסקי הגבאי הראשי נהג לשבת לאחר הקידוש בשמחת תורה כששק מלא תפוחי עץ גדולים ויפים בידיו ולחלקם לילדים כפי שמבוא בהלכה בבית המוסר דקדקו בהלכה בתכלית הדקדוק (יסור
יסרוני
, עמ' 110).

This custom has been the subject of many articles see recently: Avraham Ya'ari, Toledot Chag Simchat Torah, 231-237; Daniel Sperber, Minhagei Yisrael 6:140-154; Shlomo Hamberger, Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz 4:430-461; Yechiel Goldhaber, Minhagei Hakehilos, 2:147-152; . Y. Tessler, Heichel ha-Besht 20:75-100; Ohr Yisrael 41:187.

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