An Overlooked View on Women’s Aliyyot

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aliyotby Yitzchak Kasdan

I pen this piece in reaction to Rabbis Aryeh and Dov Frimer’s brilliant essay on “Women, Kriat Ha-Torah, and Aliyyot  recently published in Tradition (Winter 2013, volume 46, no. 4).  As comprehensive as their article appears to be in covering the subject matter, it misses one overlooked, yet potentially important, explanation of the baraita in BT Megilla 23a regarding “hakol olin le-minyan shivah,” which is the primary text about calling women to the Torah.

The Seventh

The baraita states (Koren translation):

The Sages taught: All people count toward the quorum of seven readers (le-minyan shivah), even a minor and even a woman. However, the Sages said [that] a woman should not read, out of respect for the congregation.

The Frimers, like others including Koren, Artscroll, R. Mendel Shapiro, R. Yehuda Henkin, R. Avi Weiss, and R. Shlomo Riskin, interpret “le-minyan shivah” to refer to the seven aliyyot at the Torah reading on Shabbat.  However, another explanation is that “le-minyan shivah” means the “number seven aliyyahi.e., the seventh aliyyah only.  [1]See, e.g., the sources discussed by R. Gidon Rothstein in his “Womens  Aliyyot in Contemporary Synagogues, Tradition 39:2 (hereafter “Rothstein”), p. 52.  As discussed herein, that seventh aliyyah, in turn, has been understood specifically to refer to maftir, the aliyyah preceding the reading of the haftara, which was added after the conclusion of the requisite number of aliyyot for Shabbat.  According to some sources, the maftir was indeed the seventh and last aliyyah on Shabbat.

Rav Yitzhak b. Sheshet (the “Rivash”), in his Responsa(no. 326), cites a version of Rashi on the Mishna in BT Megilla 24a that interprets the Mishna’s allowance for a minor to read from the Torah as a reference to the reading of maftir. The Magen Avraham (OH 282) cites the Rivash (albeit the wrong chapter) and states that according to the Rivash, Rashi understood the baraita to mean that a woman may count “specifically to maftir,” given that a minor could only read the maftir portion.

Although we do not have the text version of Rashi that the Rivash cites, it is nonetheless consistent with another comment by Rashi,elsewhere in the Talmud.

On Brachot 53b, Rashi interprets the discussion there regarding when an adult may answer “amen” to a minor’s blessing to refer both to the brachot that a minor makes when called to the Torah for maftir and the subsequent brachot made on the reading of the haftara. The Raavad, as brought down by the Shita Mkubetzet, disagrees with Rashi’sinterpretation, asking why the Gemara would only single out the brachot of a minor when called to read the maftir and haftara — after all, the Mishna in Megilla 24a appears to allows a minor to read any portion of the Torah, and by extension (and, presumably per the baraita) to make the brachot when receiving an aliyyah for any of the seven aliyyot. The Meiri in Brachot defends Rashi, explaining that a minor may only read the maftir, and thus by implication recites a bracha only for the maftir aliyyah (and thereafter the haftara).

The D’risha on the Tur, OH 215, explains that according to Rashi we may respond “amen” to the brachot of a minor when he is part of the quorum of seven but that the custom later developed that a minor may not be part of the seven who are called to the Torah on Shabbat.  However, as we saw, the Magen Avraham understands the Rivash’s explanation of Rashi to mean that such always was the case, rather than a later practice.

Moreover, Tosafot (RH 33a d.h.Hah”) states that “le-minyan shivah” means “be-sof shivah”, specifically “at the end” or “the last” of the seven aliyyot.  R. Avraham Naftali Zvi Roth in a 1961 article about the haftara and kaddish yatom found in the Talpioth journal published by Yeshiva University [2]Azkarah ve-haftarah ve-kaddish yatom Talpioth 7, nos. 2-4 (Tishrei 5721 [1961], pp. 369-381 (hereafter “Roth”) interprets “be-sof shivah” in this Tosafot to refer to maftir only.  Additionally, the Aruch Hashulchan (OH 282:10) also brings a source that the baraita refers to the seventh aliyyah only.  See also generally Tzitz Eliezer 7:1 who discusses the Rivash and in particular at the end of section 13 where he brings down at least one source that also interprets “le-minyan shivah as a reference to maftir (albeit with a different explanation and rationale than what I suggest below).  Finally, it is interesting to note that the total blessings recited by the person receiving the maftir aliyyah, who then recites the blessings for the haftara, total seven; two for the Torah reading, one before the haftara and four after. [3]See Tosafot Pesachim 104b d.h. Chutz Perhaps the phrase “le-minyan shivah” refers to the person receiving maftir and the haftara who recites these seven brachot.

The implications of the above with respect to a Partnership Minyan are obvious. Even before the limitation on aliyyot for women due to the concern of “kevod ha-tzibbur,” women never received any of the first six aliyyot. Therefore, even if “kevod ha-tzibbur” no longer is an issue (which the Frimers disprove anyway), to the extent that the baraita of “ha-kol olin” supports women’s aliyyot, it could be no more than for maftir[4]See also  Rothstein, id., who makes this similar point.  R. Shapiro also apparently concedes this point according to the Rivash. See his “Qeri’at ha-Torah by Women: A Halakhic Analysis,” The … Continue reading

Challenges

What remains to be answered, however, are two questions: first, what is the source to say that maftir was the seventh and not, as today, the post-seventh or eighth aliyyah (assuming no additional aliyyot), and second, why would Chazal allow women and minors to receive the maftir aliyyah to begin with?

The answer to the first question is found on the same page in Megilla as the baraita.  Earlier, the Gemara relates a dispute between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yishmael as to the number of people required to be called to the Torah on Shabbat.  According to Rabbi Yishmael, and as we hold, that number is seven.  However, according to Rabbi Akiva, it is only six.  Therefore, any aliyyah beyond seven, according to Rabbi Yishmael, and beyond six, according to Rabbi Akiva, was not part of the mandated number of aliyyot for Shabbat.  Consequently, according to Rabbi Yishmael, maftir was the non-obligatory eighth aliyyah, while the additional non-obligatory maftir, according to Rabbi Akiva was the seventh aliyyah. In the end, the baraita of “ha-kol olin” can also be understood in accordance with Rabbi Akiva, i.e. the seventh aliyyah that a woman or a minor could (only) receive was the maftir.

Moreover, the Gemara, immediately following the baraita of “ha-kol olin,” raises the question whether maftir can be part of the seven aliyyot. This passage can be interpreted as asking whether maftir was intended to be part of the seven aliyyot, i.e., whether it could be the seventh aliyyah specifically.  Understood that way, this sugyah possibly could be another source for the fact that, according to some sources, the seventh aliyyah indeed was the maftir aliyyah.

That maftir originally was an added, non-obligatory aliyyah  clearly comports with Rashi’s comments on the Mishna of Megilla 24a which states that a minor cannot poreis al shema (which consists of leading the congregation) because (per Rashi) he cannot fulfill an adult’s obligation.  By contrast, according to the Rivash’s version of Rashi on the same Mishna, a minor can read the maftir portion from the Torah, because, as explained above, the maftir reading originally was not obligatory.  [5]See also Meiri, Megilla 24a to the effect that the reading of the maftir portion is not a “mitzvah gemurah.” See also Tzitz Eliezer 7:1 who notes that the reading of the maftir portion from the … Continue reading

Because the maftir originally was not obligatory, we can now understand why even women originally were allowed to receive the maftir aliyyah and read from the Torah even though they could not fulfill a male adult’s obligation: there was nothing for the adult to fulfill because maftir was not obligatory.

As to why maftir originally was not an obligatory, thus allowing women and minors to receive this aliyyah, the answer may be based on one understanding of the underlying reason for Chazals enactment of a maftir aliyyah and the recitation of the haftara in the first place.

Reasons for Maftir

The origin of, and the rationale for, the haftara is unclear.  As one author, Shlomo Katz, has written in the introduction to his book The Haftarah (hereafter “Katz”) at p. 3: “The beginnings of the haftarah is shrouded in mystery.  Although the practice of reading a selection from the Neviim/Prophets following the Torah reading is discussed in the Talmud, no explanation is offered why the haftarah is read.  Neither does the Talmud tell us when or where the practice first started.” [Emphasis in original.]  [6]See also Rav Dovid Cohen’s Massat Kapai vol. 5 p. 134 who notes that no rationale or source for the haftara is brought down in the Talmud, and that while the Rishonim had understandings and … Continue reading.

One explanation for the maftir relates to its role in offering consolation.  In this regard, the haftara and its blessings are viewed as a vehicle of consolation to the Jewish people’s suffering over the generations.  As Katz (p. 10) concisely summarized, in citing Divrei Hashkafah (pp. 30, 93): “  . . . R’ Soloveitchik [the “Rav’”] suggests that the purpose of the haftara is primarily to strengthen our belief in the final redemption and in the coming of mashiach. We see this in the berachot of the haftara, in which the redemption is a recurring theme.  This also may be seen in the fact that virtually all haftorot end with words of consolation.”

One can take this view of maftir and haftara one step further and suggest that they are connected to consolation of aveilim, mourners.  In this regard, it is noteworthy that the words haftara and maftir have the same root (“ptr”) as the word “niftar”– a deceased person – and the maftir and haftara have been associated throughout the generations with mourners.  [7]See for example R. Chaim David Halevy’s M’kor Baruch Hashalem, vol. 3 pp. 161-63.  See also R. Yehudah Avidah, “P’rakim B’inyanei Haazkeret,” Sinai, no. 28 (Yerushalyim 1951) (hereafter … Continue reading    Indeed, it used to be that a mourner within the first twelve months of his close relative’s death would be called to the maftir aliyyah and recite the haftara weekly.  [8]See for example Responsa Rivash no. 115; Bet Yosef, YD 36; Rema YD 376:4.  More recently, the maftir aliyyah and the recitation of the haftara have become reserved for someone observing the “yom ha-petirah” or “yahrzeit of a mother or father.  [9]Mkor Baruch, id; Katz, pp. 61-62. It well could be, therefore, that mourners were given the right to recite the maftir in order to console them by affording them the hope contained in the brachot of the haftara, as well as the actual verses of the haftara which deal with redemption, of one day seeing their departed relatives in the times of mashiach when the dead will return to life.

Another connection between the maftir and mourners relates to the kaddish that is recited after the seventh aliyyah, before the maftir.  R. Roth in his Talpioth article cites Orchot Chaim, who connects an agadah about Rabbi Akiva’s [10]According to other versions Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai search for a young orphaned boy to recite barchu and kaddish to redeem his father from gehenom, with the specific maftir aliyyah. This aliyyah begins with the recitation of barchu like all other aliyyot but, unlike other aliyyot, is preceded by the recitation of kaddish.  [11]See also Katz, pp. 59-61, quoting a different version of the Rabbi Akiva agadah which specifically mentions the need for the deceased’s son to recite the haftara. R. Avidah also brings a source to the effect that people paid the most for the maftir aliyyah due to its precedingkaddish. [12]See Avidah, p. 339, note 10.

Maftir Implications

Given the links between the maftir and mourners, one could hypothesize that because the maftir aliyyah originally was not obligatory as part of the Torah reading on Shabbat, minors and women initially were allowed by Chazal to receive that aliyyah as part of an affirmative outreach to them – perhaps particularly when they became mourners – since they could not participate as a leader of services and recite barchu in that capacity. [13]However, see Roth, p. 380, preferring the view that the custom for mourners to obtain the maftir aliyyah was not from the time of the Mishna, and rejecting this thesis which apparently was proposed … Continue reading  Being able to recite the barchu of the maftir aliyyah, as well perhaps the kaddish preceding it, would provide a measure of comfort, much as the optional Mourner’s Kaddish was added to the services as an outreach to orphans to bring them to shul. [14]See Joel Wolowelsky’s Women, Jewish Law, and Modernity (Ktav 1997), p. 85: “ . . . the early authorities enacted the saying of Kaddish after the recitation of Psalms, which is outside the formal … Continue reading

Today, of course, the maftir and haftara indeed are “obligatory” parts of the services so that, apart from the kavod hatzibbur problem as related in the baraita, women should not be able to obtain a maftir aliyyah or recite the haftara.  Indeed, I would argue that for the same reason, and despite some customs and holdings to the contrary, a minor should not be allowed to obtain the maftir aliyyah either.

In sum, I recognize that the above interpretation of the baraita to refer only to the seventh aliyyah / maftir is not the majority view of how to interpret those words.  However, I believe that this explanation, which limits the baraita to the maftir aliyyah only, based on the suggestion that the maftir aliyyah was uniquely made available to minors and women because of its connection to consolation and mourners and its original “non-obligatory” part of the Torah on Shabbat, is worthy of attention and further analysis by scholars. I raise it in the spirit of yagdil Torah ve-ya’adir.

 

[Coming tomorrow… a response from Rabbis Aryeh and Dov Frimer and Mr. Kasdan’s response in turn]

 

 

Endnotes

Endnotes
1See, e.g., the sources discussed by R. Gidon Rothstein in his “Womens  Aliyyot in Contemporary Synagogues, Tradition 39:2 (hereafter “Rothstein”), p. 52.
2Azkarah ve-haftarah ve-kaddish yatom Talpioth 7, nos. 2-4 (Tishrei 5721 [1961], pp. 369-381 (hereafter “Roth”)
3See Tosafot Pesachim 104b d.h. Chutz
4See also  Rothstein, id., who makes this similar point.  R. Shapiro also apparently concedes this point according to the Rivash. See his “Qeri’at ha-Torah by Women: A Halakhic Analysis,” The Edah Journal 1:2, p. 32.
5See also Meiri, Megilla 24a to the effect that the reading of the maftir portion is not a “mitzvah gemurah.” See also Tzitz Eliezer 7:1 who notes that the reading of the maftir portion from the Torah was “not such a great chiyuv.”
6See also Rav Dovid Cohen’s Massat Kapai vol. 5 p. 134 who notes that no rationale or source for the haftara is brought down in the Talmud, and that while the Rishonim had understandings and traditions about the haftara, it appears to remain a matter of secret (“sod”)
7See for example R. Chaim David Halevy’s Mkor Baruch Hashalem, vol. 3 pp. 161-63.  See also R. Yehudah Avidah, “Prakim Binyanei Haazkeret,Sinai, no. 28 (Yerushalyim 1951) (hereafter “Avidah”), p. 348.
8See for example Responsa Rivash no. 115; Bet Yosef, YD 36; Rema YD 376:4.
9Mkor Baruch, id; Katz, pp. 61-62.
10According to other versions Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai
11See also Katz, pp. 59-61, quoting a different version of the Rabbi Akiva agadah which specifically mentions the need for the deceased’s son to recite the haftara.
12See Avidah, p. 339, note 10.
13However, see Roth, p. 380, preferring the view that the custom for mourners to obtain the maftir aliyyah was not from the time of the Mishna, and rejecting this thesis which apparently was proposed by R. Avidah.  In that last regard, see Avidah, p. 348.
14See Joel Wolowelsky’s Women, Jewish Law, and Modernity (Ktav 1997), p. 85: “ . . . the early authorities enacted the saying of Kaddish after the recitation of Psalms, which is outside the formal prayer service, to provide an opportunity for those who would be excluded from acting as hazzan,” citing Roth, p. 375. See also Responsa Maharil, no. 28; Mishnah Berurah 55:20. As to whether a minor can also lead the barchu at the end of services, see Sefer Iyunai Halachot by R. D. Y. Tzvi Rabinowitz (Bnei B’rak), ch. 12, “Din Yatom Katan b’Kaddish u’Barchu” wherein he cites some authorities who would uphold the practice provided that the adults present had already heard barchu (and thus fulfilled their obligation through the sh’liach tzibbur) earlier.

About Yitzchak Kasdan

Yitzchak Kasdan is an attorney in private practice in Washington, DC. He resides in Silver Spring, MD.

One comment

  1. I believe the top 3 reasons given for the haftara are:
    ^remnant of practice of learning after kriah/tfila
    ^remnant of substitution when krait hatorah was banned
    ^takanat ezra

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