Proofreading, part 29

I summarised my attitude towards women writing Torahs by saying that the full citizen, the adult male in good standing, may participate in the transmission of the community’s symbolic centre, and the adjunct classes of women, children, and slaves, may not; today, it is a matter of principle that women not be an adjunct class and therefore may participate on the same basis as men.

This is not how the language of halakha expresses itself, naturally. Halakhically, the issue is framed in terms of the mitzvah of tefillin – those who are Biblically-commanded and socially-accepted as tefillin-wearers may write the sacred scrolls; others may not. Women are not Biblically commanded to wear tefillin, therefore they may not write the scrolls.

It seems simplistic to say that in communities where halakhic validity and gender equality are equally indispensable, women do wear tefillin, and that said wearing is held by said communities to be equivalent to men’s. Simplistic, but when an immutable principle meets an overwhelming imperative, on some level the answer is simple. The community says in its actions “this is what we do, this is what we expect of people, this is how it’s going to stay” – and once that sentiment is in the heart of a community, we don’t wrench it out, so the halakha must perforce adjust to accept it.

You can’t run a religion like that, changing the rules of the society every time you sniff hurt feelings. This is a halakhic sledgehammer, and swinging it too freely will destroy the halakhic structure. But societies where gender equality is well-grounded and gaining demonstrate that gender equality does not render a society inherently unstable (on a century of evidence; give it another five centuries and we’ll be better placed to tell), and thus one may say with a fair amount of certainty that applying the halakhic sledgehammer to the principle of gender equality will not render the halakhic structure inherently unstable either.

We’ve got off the topic of proofreading rather, but there again, proofreading is the process that ensures the stability of the Torah text, which itself is symbolically the stability of the Jewish people, so it’s vaguely associated. Anyway, that’s about all I’ve got to say concerning proofreading at the moment.


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