(c) 2000 Dr Hendel; 1st appeared in Torah Forum (c) Project Genesis
AUTHOR: Russell Hendel (firstname.lastname@example.org);
DATE: Wed, 12 Nov 1996
SUBJECT: Re: Class Distinction in Judaism
There are some obvious ways to show that the fact that only Cohanim (priests)
get the 1st Aliyah (being called to read from the Torah in the synagogue)
does not imply that "class distinctions exist in Judaism". For example
** Many important Aliyoth (like the 10 commandments) can NOT be given to
**Judaism assigns many people to many different 'posts' without implying
anything about their worth (Eg only Levites may wash priest's hands before
the priests give the priestly blessing).
It is possible to further strengthen these arguments by citing laws from
other domains which illustrate general principles about priorities:
** In preventing starvation, giving clothes, general redemptions,
shidduchim (Rambam, Gifts to Poor 8:15) and in court cases (Rambam, Laws of
Sanhedrin, 21:6) women are given preferential treatment over men
** Originally, the greatest scholars in the congregation (not the priests)
were given aliyahs first; similarly scholarship (not priest-levites)
determined priority for redemption from captivity (Gifts to Poor 8:16-17)
and for returning lost articles(Theft 12:1, Learning Torah 5:1). (NOTE:
This is not true if the priest and Israelite were equal in scholarship; for
the case where the Israelite is only a "little more of a scholar" than the
priest (instead of blatantly surpassing) see SHACH on Yoreh Dayah 251:9,
and RDBZ on Gifts to Poor 8:17-18).
** "Right of road laws" make no distinction betweeen Priest and Levites and
Israelites (Murder 13:11-12).
Returning to Aliyoth, the Mishnah Gittin 59a explicitly states that the
reason for the Priest-Levite hierarchy in Aliyoth is because the original
method of giving aliyoth - to the person who is greater in scholarship -
did not work out since people in shuls were fighting over who was smarter.
Thus to avoid fights Chazal based the Aliyah order on something external.
And if you are still unhappy with the situation, the solution is simple:
Simply encourage greater communal learning so that we can go back to the
old way of giving Aliyoth by scholarship.
Respectfully, Russell J Hendel,Ph.d.,ASA; email@example.com