This question is really not directed to a Reform concern: The Reform movement believes in and practices gender equality in worship and ritual matters (as I think do the Reconstructionist, Renewal, and to a large degree, Conservative movements). In all of these groupings women participate fully in worship rituals (quite often as the majority of those involved); it is not a matter for comment or concern. This issue is really only a challenge to certain persons in the more traditionally restricted segments of the Jewish world.
The furor is not about violating the principle of the image of G-d, but rather about the gender of the person carrying the Torah. Consequently, I think that your question is slightly off the mark as it is phrased. It is not the sight of a woman holding a Torah that enrages these people, but the challenge that image poses to their limited and rigid view of the world and Judaism. Those who are offended by it are upset, I believe, because it violates their very stringent idea of gender role assignments and strict separation of the genders. Such an image shows a woman taking on a role that is required of a/every man (engaging with the Torah), but only permissible to a/any woman (according to Halachah - Jewish law as they understand it). When a woman takes on that role, by definition a man does not (or perhaps, is prevented from doing so).
This concern is further exacerbated by a completely erroneous but widely held myth that a woman is forbidden to touch a Torah because she would render it ritually impure if she were in the midst of her menstrual cycle (and since no one can/will ask her, it is assumed she is always in that state). As I have learned about it, this idea is false on the face of it even within the most extreme understanding of Halachah, simply because a Torah cannot be rendered ritually impure: once written, essentially no matter who touches it or what is done to it; it can only be rendered unfit for use and in need of repair or burial, and that would certainly not be because someone touched it.
The very sad and destructive images we see broadcast of the “Orthodox” "Jewish" men who shout hateful things, disrupt the prayers of other Jews, and even engage in violence towards these women (Women of the Wall, for example) who only wish to pray to G-d is utterly incompatible with Judaism’s history, ethics, and system of Mitzvoth (commandments). In fact, it is these men who are desecrating the name of G-d by taking the name in vain, imposing their rules and claiming they know better than G-d. So far as I can find, nowhere does it say in the Torah (five books of Moses), Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures/Bible), or Halachah (Jewish law), specifically that a woman cannot read from the Torah; that is an imposition that has no basis in the text; it is entirely borne of man, and seems to me to be a violation of the principle of Be’Tzelem Elohim (in the image of G-d), denigrating the value of women as human beings, and denying that they too are formed in that image.
I would perfectly agree with the right of those who wish to hold minyanim (congregations) where no women are permitted to participate in the rituals to do so; but that does not mean that I agree in any way that these persons can dictate what other minyanim choose to do, nor does it give them any right to dictate what is permissible in any public location. Most essentially, they have absolutely no right to engage in violence towards anyone, and if they do, they should be arrested and tried and convicted, with severe sentences imposed to teach that no one is above the law, no matter how religious they may claim to be. Further, any police persons who fail or refuse to follow the law and the rulings of the duly established legislature and courts of Israel (or where ever they may be) should also be subject to disciplinary action, removal from their position, and civil and criminal penalties for abuse of office.
This question is a bit of a red herring. It assumes that people get outraged when a woman holds the Torah and that Orthodox Jews consider women to be second class citizens.
Judaism believes in equal status of men and women. Each has unique responsibilities. Women establish the tone of the family and therefore the tone of society. That there are Jews today is the result of Jewish women assuring our culture, religion, ethnic pride and very existence. This is not the doctrine of separate but equal but a realization of strengths and talents.
Men need to slay dragons and are therefore relegated to synagogues and public forums where their testosterone can be put to hopefully, good use. Women are by nature nurturing. There is nothing that says a woman cannot be part of communal life.
One who is outraged by a woman holding a Torah would most likely be outraged by a man lighting Shabbos Candles.
The questioner is absolutely correct: We are all created in God’s image! No Biblical, Mishnaic or Talmudic source restricts a woman from holding a Torah. Customs did arise in many communities that did not allow women to touch the Torah, but such customs (minhag) are not law (halacha).
So why are some people so offended? Unfortunately because some people are resistant to any change. In some cases, tragically, I believe, Jewish Law is being misused to exercise power and control over women. We should all remember that the Torah was given to all of us; men and women created in God’s image.
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