Thursday, May 09, 2013

Doing the Right Thing for the Wrong Reason

WoW's Anat Hoffman being arrested at the Kotel - Photo credit - Ha'aretz
Most people who read this blog know my attitude about the Women of the Wall (WoW). Let’s just say I am not a fan.

That said, I don’t think there ought to be confrontation of any type with them when they show up once again at the Kotel tomorrow on their monthly Rosh Chodesh visit.  Many of their past visits ended up with arrests of some of these women. They violated a law forbidding a women to wear a Talis. This is not their only departure from traditional worship at the Kotel. They pray in the manner of men, by not only wearing a Talis, but by reading from a Torah… which is a requirement of the day if one Davens with a Minyan.

A Minyan can only be constituted by Jewish men. Women – no matter how religious or sincere cannot be counted towards that number. But WoW does it anyway.

I am not going to get into whether it is a Halachicly sanctioned practice to do so. For purposes of this essay, let us say that there is probably nothing technically wrong with women doing so. Nothing - that is -  other than breaking with millennia old tradition… and annoying others at the Kotel who find such innovations objectionable and distracting.

I am also not going to go into the motives of these women. I will stipulate that they are all sincere in wishing to use a male modality in worshipping God. Although I can’t help but believe that at some level there is a hint of feminism involved. At least among some of them. But… let us say they are sincere and do not have a hint of fighting the good fight for equal rights at the Kotel. And that they are all there once a month for the purpose of beseeching God for the welfare of their families etc.

In my view, these women should be left alone. Let them pray in peace any way they choose as long as it does not violate Halacha. Should there be a clear violation Halacha, protest would be justifiable. I don’t think that anyone would object for example to protesting a clear act of Avodah Zara at the Kotel. That is of course no where near the case here. Many of these women are observant and what they do at the Kotel may be strange to most observant Jews – but probably technically within the letter of the law.  And now it will be legal too. From Ha’aretz (via the Forward):
The protests are expected to grow even louder tomorrow, following the recent landmark ruling by the Jerusalem District Court that it is not a violation of “local custom” for women to wear prayer shawls at the Western Wall.
This brings me to an article in the Jewish Press. WoW leadership has urged their group to not do anything provocative and has even decided to forgo reading from a Torah this time - although they will be wearing Talesim (plural of Talis). But it seems that there are some people in Israel intent on making an issue out of this:
On Tuesday, as Kikar Hashabbat reported, United Torah Judaism MKs held a special meeting with the deans and principals of the major Orthodox women’s seminaries in Israel, and it was decided to initiate a central prayer service at the Kotel, with, possibly, thousands of seminary students, as they put it: in response to the provocation by the Women of the Wall.
This move is supported not only by Charedi rabbinic leaders but by Religious Zionist rabbinic leaders too. The idea being that there should be no confrontation. Just a sincere and traditional practice by women to recite Psalms and/or ‘heartfelt prayer at the plaza by the remnant of our Temple, the Western Wall’.

I don’t know what kind of reaction these rabbis were expecting. But I’ll bet this wasn’t it:
“We just want to pray quietly and with kavanah (deliberately),” Ronit Peskin, director of “Women for Wall,” told Srugim… She stressed that every woman must come with full intention of sanctifying God in every part of her manner and prayers.
Shira Pruce, Director of Public Relations for then original Women of the Wall told The Jewish Press that she was honored and delighted for having inspired so many thousands of women to come and pray at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh.
“If women of the Wall has inspired thousands of women to come to the Kotel, Amen V’amen,” she said.
Kol HaKavod for having this attitude. This could end up being a big Kiddush HaShem, but not in the way these religious leaders intended it to be… by showing them up!

Class of high school or seminary girls - Photo Credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90
Nonetheless, I am opposed to this. I think it is a big mistake. First of all you never know what will happen when two factions that are on opposites sides of a controversy come to the same place – each to make their own point. This is not conducive to a peaceful conclusion. There are always zealots around trying to make trouble. And in the process make a Chilul HaShem. At the Kotel, no less!

I would just as soon there would be no attention drawn to this event. Religious seminary woman showing up in droves in a counter protest – even a peaceful and prayerful one will surely draw the attention of the media.

I don’t see how this kind of publicity will benefit the cause of those who would like to see WoW disappear. It will in fact do the opposite. Publicity like this will only help to perpetuate this monthly event. Which is probably another reason WoW is so happy about this turn of events.

In my humble opinion if WoW is just ignored it will eventually peter out. I just don’t believe this kind of prayer service will catch on with the public. The vast majority of people who come to the Kotel to pray will continue to do so in traditional ways. Although tradition evolves over time, it is a slow process that changes ever so slightly over time. Radical changes rarely if ever become traditional except under special circumstances.

Although it is never a bad idea for a mass prayer rally, doing one for spite – seems like it is being done for the wrong reasons. My suggestion would be to go ahead with it but not on Rosh Chodesh. Let them wait for another auspicious occasion when WoW will not be there and there will be no possibility for conflict. Like on Erev Shavuos just a few days later. Now that would be an event that everyone would support. Including me.