Q. Why does the Talmud say that women are not called to the Torah because of k’vod hatzibbur – “respect for the community”?
A. Theoretically it is quite permissible for women to be called to the Torah (Meg. 23a) and despite the k’vod hatzibbur argument this permission can, according to some authorities, be activated in a congregation where all the men are kohanim or where there are insufficient people able to read the texts. Me’iri says that this applies only where we need someone to complete the reading and say the second blessing, since originally only the first and last person called up said blessings.
K’vod hatzibbur occurs several times in the Talmud, which gives it as a reason, for example, for not appearing improperly dressed or naked, for wearing sandals whilst saying the priestly blessing, or for rolling the Torah scroll from place to place – a time-consuming task – in public. These are all examples of consideration for the community’s time or feelings.
In relation to women’s Torah reading during a synagogue service, k’vod hatzibbur may denote sensual distraction or social mores (e.g. not embarrassing the men). There are also halachic factors such as differences between men’s and women’s role in prayer and Torah reading. In places where there is a separate Torah reading by and for women, most authorities do not allow the recitation of the standard Torah b’rachot.