Monday, February 27, 2017

Extremism and Protesting WoW

Women of the Wall leader, Anat Hoffman
I have been opposed to the Women of the Wall (WoW) ever since I first heard about them. For those who have somehow missed this phenomenon, Let me explain it. WoW is a group of women led by Anat Hoffman, a Reform Jewish activist, that has taken it upon herself to change the traditional way Jewish women pray at the Kotel – the Western Wall.

She has successfully enlisted the support of women in other denominations to join her. Including women from an Orthodox background. She has designed a service that respects their Orthodox sensibilities. At least those women on the far left of Orthodoxy. That’s why for example heir services are for women only. But many of the practices her group has adopted are controversial and not accepted by the vast majority of mainstream Orthodoxy. The goal of WoW is much the same as the goal of Open Orthodoxy.

Why have they done this? Depending on who you talk to, it is either to give women a more meaningful prayer experience or to advance the cause of feminism. Some would say it is both and that there is nothing wrong with that. Adding that there is everything right with it.

Why not - they will argue - give women additional avenues to express their devotion to God? If it helps them spiritually to read from the Torah at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh  (the beginning of every lunar month), why not simply let them do it? Live and let live! What’s wrong with being a feminist if it does not contradict Halacha?

Taken by itself I would agree with that. But it isn’t that simple. Leaving out possible halachic objections - to the vast majority of women that go to the Kotel for prayer, they do it the way it has traditionally done by women, quietly praying at the Kotel with tremendous fervor.

That is what happens to many people that go to the Kotel to pray. It is a deeply moving spiritual experience for them. It is for them a private moment with to speak to God in the place closest to the where the Shechina (God’s Divine presence here on earth) rested in the Beis HaMikdash. When this mood is disrupted by a group of women that insist on publicly bucking tradition by doing what men usually do -  it creates a feeling of disruption. While there may be women that can ignore it, there are clearly women that can’t.

So it isn’t about live and let live after all. It is about forwarding an agenda. Something Mrs. Hoffman has clearly said is her goal. Which is to advance the cause of women. The problem is that it does not advance the cause of women. Just those women that agree with her. And in Orthodoxy they reside mostly in the fringes of the far left. She has also stated that her goal is to make Israel pluralistic by accepting all Jewish denominations as legitimate.  Which is the same goal as the movement to which she belongs, to force her movement to be recognized. Something Orthodoxy could never accept.

I am obviously opposed to those goals. As I have said many times, Judaism and feminism have different goals. While the egalitarian goal of 21st century feminism is a noble one, it is incompatible with the goals of Judaism. God gave men and women different roles to fulfill which are represented by different sets of Mitzvos. And while most of those Mitzvos overlap, there are clearly those which do not. Fully imposing the egalitarian ideal is therefore an impossibility.

This is not to impugn the motives of all of WoW. I’m sure that many of them are sincere in wanting to serve God by using traditionally male modalities. But good intentions alone are not enough. Even when required Mitzvos for men are seen as optional behavior for women – if  practicing them disturbs the mainstream, it ought not be pursued. That they may be technically permitted is not enough. There is a certain degree of selfishness and even Chutzpah in doing something that is so widely opposed by mainstream.

Once again at the Kotel, WoW did their monthly thing at the Kotel. A group of women went into the middle of the women’s side of the Mechitza at the Kotel  and decided to hold the kind of prayer service similar to those that men have in synagogues all over the world. (This can be seen in the video below albeit a bit difficult considering the size of the crowd.)

But this time they were outnumbered and outshouted by perhaps thousands of protesting young Orthodox women many from the religious Zionist camp (Bnei Akiva) bused there to disrupt them. They danced while singing loudly at the top of their lungs – overpowering not only the voices of WoW, but the din of the entire crowd there. Clearly outnumbering WoW many times over.

I am happy to see so many young women celebrating joyously at the Kotel in traditional ways. Even if they were bused in for the purpose of protesting and disrupting  WoW, they surely have the same right to be there and do their own thing as WoW does. The difference being that they are not challenging the system. They are embracing it. These young women are behaving in mainstream ways.  And they object to the break with tradition that WoW seeks and expresses. (There were men dancing on the other side of the Mechitza too. With just as much fervor.)

But none of that excuses the bad behavior of the extremist Charedi protesters that showed up. From Ha’aretz
Outside the women’s section, a large group of ultra-Orthodox male protestors congregated, cursing members of Women of the Wall as they entered the holy site. “Wicked women,” they shouted. “You are not Jewish. You are Christian.” 
To say they were obnoxious is an understatement. They were yelling and screaming; pushing and shoving; even kicking one Woman of the Wall,  Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman. They were acting like ‘Vilde Chayes’ wild animals. It is one thing to protest. It’s another to act like a Behaima ( an animal).

As much as I oppose WoW and their agenda, I oppose these Charedi extremists even more. They do as much harm to traditional Judaism as WoW does. Their behavior takes them out of simple protest and into Chilul HaShem territory. By their behavior they undermine their own cause. That they wear black hats only makes matters worse.  WoW becomes the victim. It generates sympathy for them and their cause.  And in my view, these animals ought to all be thrown in jail.