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Somebody told me the following story: Shabat morning service at a festival, a crowd of people who usually pray in different (orthodox) settings, in a small room with a mechitza. The Torah is brought out, passed among the men, and is read. During the reading of the women asks whether the Torah can be passed around the women as well when it is brought back. One of the rabbis says yes. One of the rabbis says no. In the end, it’s not done.

I don’t want to talk about the halachic aspects here. Some say that it’s perfectly fine halachically that women kiss the Torah. Some say it shames G-d. I don’t know. Let’s assume the second rabbi sincerely thought it would be a big shame for G-d and it completely forbidden. But what not passing it to the women certainly does is shame people. The women who want to express their love of Torah and are deprived of an opportunity to do so. And not after a private discussion, but they are rejected in public, during the service.

And there are other examples of similar behaviours that in the end come down to following (that person’s very strict interpretation of) G-d’s law and shaming other people, or doing something that shames G-d (by disobeying his commandments). Refusing to sit next to a woman in a plane. Refusing to shake a woman’s hand. Insulting women who wear the wrong clothing or soldiers. Refusing to eat kosher meat because it doesn’t have the right hechsher or doesn’t follow some chumra.

So, what is more important? That shame is not brought to G-d or to other people? The Talmud talks about the severity of shaming others: "He who publicly shames his neighbour is as though he shed blood" (Talmud, Bava metzia 58b)? Isn’t it as much required by Torah to prevent shame for your fellows as following the ritual laws? For all the mitzvot you do, don’t forget to be a mentch!

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