Monday, March 02, 2009

The Women of the Wall

I am not supportive what they did. But I am also not angry at the majority of them. I just feel sorry for them. They have been indoctrinated by a strident form of feminism that has warped their common sense and skewed their purported purpose – that of devout prayer at the Kotel.

According to an article in Ynet, over 100 women went last week to the Kotel to Daven – to pray. Some wore a Talis; some Kipot; some both. They call themselves Women of the Wall (WOW). They do this every Rosh Chodesh. Usually there are not that many women but this time there was enough to cause a commotion.

Normally I am a firm believer in live and let live as long as they to not infringe upon the rights of others - or try to establish non normative practices in Israel. But in this case I think they crossed both lines.

Most women who pray at the Kotel have norms by which they abide. Their entire purpose is beseeching God for whatever in their lives is important to them, their families, or all of Klal Yisroel. That is their entire purpose. Many tears have been shed in prayer at the Kotel. The Gemarah tells us that God ‘collects’ those tears and puts them in a ‘jug’. He considers them very precious.

Most of the rest of the world – even non Jews - understand or at least respects our traditions and customs. But apparently not the Women of the Wall. They have to know that this kind of radical behavior which consists of a group of women singing loudly and wearing religious artifacts normally worn only be men is going to be disruptive.

One might say – So what? Let them do what they believe is right! Who gives the Orthodox rabbis who oversee the Kotel the right to determine practices at the Kotel? The Kotel belongs to all Jews – they will claim.

The answer is that while the Kotel does indeed ‘belong’ to all Jews, behavior there is guided by Torah principles. And those principles include respecting the traditions that have evolved there over time. Trying to disrupt the norms of the vast majority of the Jews who frequent it - is not the Jewish way.

Lest someone might say, let the Israeli courts decide… they already have:

The High Court barred them from acting in a way that is not in line with local custom

They realize that this area is frequented by mostly mainstream Orthodox Jews and they are sensitive to their concerns. So much for the Israeli courts being anti religious.

The majority of women who belong to WOW are Orthodox feminists. And I can’t help but believe that feminism motivates them more than Orthodoxy.

That is not to say that many or even most of them aren’t sincere about their prayers. I'm sure they are. But that isn’t enough. I think sincerity motivates most people who come to pray at the Kotel – even non Jews. But one has to combine sincerity with common courtesy. And these women did not do that. They were disruptive. And there was no reason to do that other than to make a political statement. Anat Hoffman, is the executive director of the Israeli Religious Action Center (IRAC), the public and legal advocacy arm of Reform Judaism in Israel. She took part in the prayer. Here is how she put it:

"We feel that there is a great deal of hypocrisy here: On the one hand, the Western Wall symbolizes the unity of the Jewish people, and on the other hand women, who comprise half of this nation, are being silenced, along with the traditions of the biggest Jewish community in the world (American Jewry),"

As soon as I hear one of their prominent members say that policies at the Kotel are interpreted in ‘a way that silences half of the Jewish people’ – I know she is either purposely being deceptive or totally fooling herself. She does not represent half the Jewish people - meaning all Jewish women – nor does she represent the traditions of American Jewry. That is clear.

I don’t blame most of these women. They have been captivated by the spirit of egalitarian feminism and indoctrinated by those types of feminist mentors. But they are a very tiny minority. I doubt that any of vast majority of women who go to the Kotel to Daven have even the slightest thought about egalitarianism when they pray.

The Women of the Wall represent a small minority who have been drawn in by a version of the feminist argument that would change the very fabric of Jewish life. They truly believe that the Torah endorses egalitarianism and that it therefore over-rides normative Jewish practice. But that they join forces with Reform feminists shows exactly what their priorities are. They want radical change. And in this they will ultimately fail.