Monday, November 09, 2009

Rabbi Yosef and the Women of the Wall

One of today’s true Gedolim is Rav Ovadia Yosef - former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel and author of many volumes of Halacha. His encyclopedic knowledge is undeniable. In fact I would venture to guess that he is perhaps the most knowledgeable Gadol alive in the world right now. If he were Ashkenazi rather than Sephardi I believe he would be the virtually indisputable Gadol HaDor.

That said - I recall having heard him make some comments on various issues in the past that troubled me and that I strongly disagreed with. But what he said in the current issue of Ynet - is not one of them. Although I do think he was unfair in his characterizations - with which I do not agree.

Here is an excerpt:

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef came out on Saturday night against the feminist lineup at the Western Wall and called for the condemnation of its members. According to him, the movement is made up of "stupid" women who do not act "for Heaven's sake," but merely because "they want equality."

I agree that what these women do - is at least in part motivated by feminist goals of equality. But I don’t think they are stupid nor do I believe that they are devoid of the L’Shma aspect. Nor do I think they should be condemned. In fact I believe that they are sincere. I wrote about this last March and one can see my exact views there. I haven’t changed my mind.

Unlike Rabbi Yosef, I do not think many of these women are doing it solely for feminist reasons. However - I do believe that if not for feminist influences these kinds of things would not exist at all, and I doubt that a single woman would be the worse off for it spiritually.

Bottom line is that those who would join the ‘Woman of the Wall’ must look in their hearts and ask themselves if their motives for doing the kinds of things done there is really entirely for the sake of heaven.

I realize of course that Orthodox feminists will jump all over that statement (as they have in the past) and ask, ‘Why do women need a test for their motives - and not men?’

This is a debate I have been having with the more strident Orthodox feminists who insist that the issue is about men denying women their rights to serve God in ways they see fit… In ways that most inspire them to holiness. This would apply to all such things that are technically Mutar but way out of the mainstream. Examples are ‘Women of the Wall’, ‘Women’s Teffilah Groups’, and women who seek to become rabbis.

I will answer as I always have. It is not about women. It is about altering tradition – even if it is technically within Halacha. It doesn’t matter to me if it is a man or a woman.

If one wants to do something odd and out of the mainstream one has to look at possible external influences and ask if they were a factor. It is for that reason that I am opposed to Carlebach Minyanim. Not that they are against Halacha. I love Shlomo Carlebach’s music. He was an incomparable musical genius. But I question what these Minyanim are really all about. Are they worshipping God or Shlomo Carlebach?

Same thing Meshichist Minyanim. Are they worshipping God or a dead Rebbe? There is no question in my mind that Lubavitcher Rebbe was a Gadol. But he was not a god and not to be worshipped in death - almost as though he were.

I ask the same kind of question here. Is it only because you believe this is the best way you can serve God that you wish to worship as the ‘Women of the Wall’ do? Or is there something else also at play? My motives are not anti feminist. I AM a feminist. But I am also not unaware of the negative side of feminism - and when it intersects with religious practices - I ask questions.