Thursday, November 15, 2012

Praying at the Kotel

Six of the so called Women of the Wall (WOW - a movement headed by Reform Rabbi Anat Hoffman who was not there for this particular service) were arrested for their monthly Rosh Chodesh excursion to pray at the Kotel.

Should these women have been arrested? I don’t know. Certainly there should never be any physical mistreatment of them by the police or anyone else. Furthermore arresting them gives them the publicity they want.  And I doubt it will stop them. They will certainly be back next Rosh Chodesh.  But that is a side issue as far as I am concerned. I am very opposed to what they are doing.

What - one might ask - is so terrible about women praying at the Kotel? Nothing. In fact that is what is done there. People pray. People of all Jewish denominations and all faiths. And of both sexes.

The reason these particular women were arrested was not because they prayed, but because of how they did it. They violated the conditions given to them by the Israeli government for praying in their unique way at the Kotel. Conditions which included not being disruptive of the decorum of the place. In short they held what might be called a Women’s Teffilah Group there where a women wear Talesim, Teffilin, and read from a Sefer Torah. While each of these activities may not be an actual violation of Halacha, it is definitely not a mainstream activity.  

Not that WTGs are in and of itself a problem. They may or may not be. But in the context of normal Kotel activity it is a very disruptive sight. A great distraction to those men and women who come there to pray in the traditional way – quietly and to themselves.

That is the way most people come to the Kotel. They pray quietly. Although one can find an occasional Minyan or two there on the ‘outside’ Kotel, that is not the way most people utilize it. (The ‘inside’ part of the Kotel looks more like a Shul and is used that way. Women have a section behind a Mechitza there just like any other Shul.)

The fact is, however, that those male Minyanim at the ‘outside’ Kotel do not have any protesters.  But that’s because a Minyan for men is normative and has Halachic value.  There is no Halachic value to a Minyan of women. To the best of my knowledge - until recent times such a gathering was unheard of.   It is therefore very disruptive to see and hear women behaving like men by having a female Chazanit who repeats parts of the prayer out loud and reads from the Torah.

I understand why some women feel they must have a more meaningful way to express their religious devotion to God and therefore  look to the male modality as the way to do so - since that is already an established way to do it. What better way to enhance their prayer experience than to utilize an already established practice – albeit one that was heretofore only utilized by men?  

One can debate the wisdom of that.  Although I am opposed to Women’s Tefilah Groups for reasons I stated elsewhere - I do not believe that there is any technical violation of Halacha. So I do not actively protest them. Except in cases like these at the Kotel.

The cry of Anat Hoffman that all WOW wants is to do is pray by the Kotel (and that they are being denied that basic right) is completely disingenuous to me. I do not believe for a moment that this is about denying a woman’s right to pray in a way that she sees fit. This is nothing more than an attempt to assert the feminist doctrine of full equality of the sexes into Judaism at one of its holiest places.

The Reform leadership of WOW is very clever in how they go about that. They found a way to claim that there is no violation of Halacha and then cry bloody murder when they are arrested for it. “How dare the government deny our religious rights” they ask. So they come back every month to defy that “unjust” law and assert their Halachic right to do as they wish.

Now I’m sure that many of these women are sincere. I have been told that some of them are even Orthodox. They actually believe that they are being denied their God given right to pray as the please.

The problem with that attitude is it is not a God given right to pray as one pleases if it is disruptive to others. Which is exactly what that is.

Let’s be honest. They are there for one primary reason:  To make a statement about female equality. This has little to do with the desire to pray in a Woman’s Tefilah Group at the Kotel since they have already been granted that right at another location of the Kotel: Robinson’s Arch. That is just a few feet away from the Kotel Plaza “tourist attraction” site - where most people who come to the Kotel congregate… or come to Daven in normal non disruptive ways

What about their argument that it is so meaningful to these women to do what they do and they should be allowed to do it anywhere at the Kotel they choose? I don’t buy it. They choose that site precisely because it is a tourist attraction which will gain them the most publicity for their cause. I believe that the leadership of WOW welcomes being arrested so as to make a statement.

But for argument’s sake let us say that most of those women are very sincere about Davening at the traditional Kotel site because that is the site used for many centuries as the Makom Tefilah – the place of prayer. And that doing it the WTG way gives them the most “bang for their buck”.

I am still opposed to it because of the disruption it causes even if there are no technical violations of Halacha. Their perceived rights do not trump the rights of others not to be disrupted by the commotion such activities cause.

At the risk of reasoning by analogy, let me give another example a meaningful and even motivational act to some - that some might argue should be tolerated at the Kotel.

I believe that the movie Exodus is a profoundly important movie that every Jew should see. It is a fictionalized story about the Birth of the State of Israel after the Holocaust. I believe that in watching that movie people will understand why the restoration of Eretz Yisroel into Jewish hands at that moment in time is so important. That movie shows what we as a people went though after the Holocaust in re- establishing our ownership of the land given to us by God.

Knowing the tremendous growth of Judaism in Israel that came out of the ashes of Auschwitz –  now over sixty years later - wouldn’t it be a tremendous enhancement for many in our expression of Hakoras HaTov (gratitude) to God to see this movie at the Kotel?  Why not have continuous showings of this movie projected onto small segment of the Kotel wall? For those who might object, let them just look away!

Is there anyone who thinks this is a good idea? After all - I don’t think there would be any technical violation of Halacha by projecting the movie Exodus onto the Kotel wall. Why not allow those who want to be motivated by it to watch it on a small section of the wall?

I doubt that there is anyone who thinks this is a good idea. It would definitely be disruptive and inappropriate in the extreme. No matter how much benefit some people may get out of it Exodus should not be projected onto Kotel. One can see that movie elsewhere if it is they want that kind of motivation. Of course some would argue that movie should not be seen at all. For many reasons. But that is another discussion.

The point here is that just because something is motivational to some people and is not technically a violation of Halacha - doesn’t mean it should be done. Especially when doing so is disruptive to others. And even more so when the point of doing it is to make a political statement about feminism.