Women reading Torah: Empowerment in Photos

Earlier this week, a post on The Sisterhood blog (with whom JWA regularly cross-posts) publicized a call from Women of the Wall for photographs of women with Torahs as part of a solidarity movement with WOW, who have been subject to harassment and arrest over the past several months in their attempts to hold egalitarian Rosh Chodesh services at Robinson’s Arch in Jerusalem. The Sisterhood has posted a sampling of photographs received so far, and viewing them is an inspiring experience. The women range from babies to bubbies and from newly bat mitzvahed to having rabbinical status. The photographs come from Los Angeles to Germany, and the earliest date is 1968. I suspect one might even be a JWA-profiled feminist!

When I read from the Torah during the celebration of my bat mitzvah, it was one of the rare occasions when women at my synagogue were able to have the honour of reading from the Torah (and even then, only during the final “additional” aliyah, and only after those words had already been read by a male Torah reader). I wore a terrible black hat and a gold and black checked suit with velvet buttons – was that cool in the late nineties? Doubtful. It was a meaningful experience for me, and for my family. It was also the start of both a continuing love affair with chanting Jewish texts and a lucrative high school career in preparing preteens for their own coming-of-age celebrations.

That being said, it wasn’t until long after my bat mitzvah that I began to regularly see other young women read Torah, at camp and in my youth group. Older women involved in Jewish religious ritual, like the grandmothers holding and reading from the Torah in this slide show, were completely absent from my Jewish life. Had I been exposed to egalitarian takes on Jewish life earlier, my Jewish education would have been different. Perhaps I would have felt more comfortable challenging masculinist perspectives in my classes on Jewish law or biblical interpretation, or even just asking for more attention to be paid to those topics and figures that were of particular relevance to women. Maybe I would have signed on to egalitarianism earlier.  Maybe I would even wear tefillin.

In Alma’s most recent blog post, she thinks through the symbolism involved in dressing dolls with religious clothing. Tefillin Barbie is one way of empowering women, but for me, the real women of all ages profiled in this slideshow, who care enough to read Torah, and care enough about women reading Torah to submit their photographs, are a stronger and more meaningful source of empowerment.

View the slideshow at the Sisterhood.

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How to cite this page

Jackson, Leora. "Women reading Torah: Empowerment in Photos." 25 August 2010. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 3, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/women-reading-torah>.

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