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I have attended a shiur about Shavuot and the giving of the Torah. We read the text where the people of Israel gets ready to receive the Torah (Exodus 19 and 20). In there, it has a sentence about how the people should "refrain from coming near women". Now one (pretty straightforward) interpretation is that the "people" here refers to men only. So women were not there to receive the Torah??? The most important point in Jewish history, and women were not a part of it? What does Judaism has to say about that?

One answer is, that this is just a general reference to making the people holy, it is just one specific part of preparation, but not the only one and of course women were included in giving the Torah. Some may see that as apologetics or re-interpreting the Torah in ways that "feel good" for us today.

A different answer is given by Rashi. Seminal emission makes women tameh (ritually unclean) for up to three days and if the women were to be tameh, they would not have been able to attend. So the men were forbidden to go near them for the benefit of the women. (I haven’t really researched this, but I think seminal emission also makes men tameh?) This is also some sort of re-interpretation, but maybe a bit more technical one.

Another answer is to set the Torah into historic context. In ancient Greece, only free men were "people" and the Torah is a product of a similar time. So maybe they really didn’t think of women as "people" and women really were not there at the time – but now of course we include women. This sort of assumes that Judaism changes with times and that the Torah is not perfect, so some people may be unhappy with this answer.

I don’t really want to get hang up on the different answers and I am sure there are many more interpretations. What inspired me to write this post is the closing sentence of the rabbi:

The question is not what is written in the Torah. The question is how do I need to read the Torah today, in my specific situation, to enable me to stay Jewish.

It may sound heretical for some of you, but in the end, this is what matters. How can I deal with the difficult passages in the Torah (and there are some for everybody, even if this specific one does not bother you personally) and still stay Jewish. How can I be authentic and Jewish.

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