Saturday, 20 April 2013

Women of the Wall

I'm not sure why i think this is a good idea, but i'm going to share my thoughts on the current furore over the Women of the Wall.

So. I think that what they do is either unecessary or unexceptional. to daven with tallis and tefillin is unnecessary. The halachic truth (as i have heard it taught): it is not assur (forbidden) for women to wear either item. It is not required, and traditionally women never had worn them. Time has hallowed them to be men-only items, but that doesn;t mean that any woman who does wear them is breaking any laws. But it is not necessary.

So. i don't agree with the desire to wear a tallis and tefillin. i don;t think it adds anything. But nor am i going to get het up about someone else choosing to wear them. I will think her misguided, but not a sinner. she is someone who wishes to come close to Hashem, who thinks that this will increase her sense of spirituality and inspiration, and although in my opinion she is going about it in an erroneous way, she is not breaking any laws and is also not disturbing my ability to connect with Hashem.

I think that all these claims about the WoW causing disturbances and interfering with the ability of others to daven at the kotel are all spurious. Granted many (most) people there will not agree with it or like it. Granted, it may make them feel uncomfortable. But you know what? life is like that. it is full of things that make us feel uncomfortable. even when we daven. and as anyone who has ever davened at the kotel knows, it is an experience which is fraught with distractions and disturbances. Sephardi women hanging over the mechitzah at barmitzvahs, ululating and throwing sweets. Women asking for tzedakah. Christian tourists praying to Jesus the Messiah (i find that particularly disturbing). Women of all types pushing past you to touch the stones. Hot sun sizzling on your back. Women walking backwards to leave the prayer plaza and bumping into you or treading on your toes. Mobile phones going off. People sobbing loudly. If you want a peaceful, undisturbed prayer experience, the kotel is not the place to go.

I think that the complaints that the WoW davened too loudly or sang too loudly are also spurious. I accept that they might make it hard for men to daven (but see my point above). The men do have other places to move to to daven. They also could daven louder themselves, or join in, thus preventing themselves from hearing the women's voices. they could just wait a bit till they are finished. or they could be more consistent and request that barmitzvah groups at which the women sing (loudly) be evicted as well.

What is really going on is a part of the bigger debate about who defines Judaism in Israel, and who the kotel belongs to, anyway. A shul has every right to tell it's worshippers that it has certain rules, which preclude davening in this way, and so the worshippers concerned who want to continue in a way which is contrary to the rules will have to go elsewhere. If the kotel is a private shul, this is totally legitimate.

But. but the kotel is not a private shul. it is a public space. one of the most beautiful things about it is that everyone can attend, everyone can connect with Hashem in their way. So if some people are allowed to evict other people because they do not agree with the way they are doing what they are doing, that is contrary to the whole beautiful essence of the kotel. Furthermore, it is not the job of any individual to appoint themselves judge, jury and executioner over the way in which a person chooses to connect with God.

Personally, although i see the advantages of this egalitarian section proposed by Natan Sharansky, i would be sorry to see it come into existence. Because right now, there is a section for men and a section for women. this separation enables all jews to daven at the kotel plaza, at the same place under the same sky and same God, without divisions between one pray-er and the next. Once there would be an egalitarian section, then it would be 'us and them'. 'we' would look down on 'them', and 'they' would look down on 'us'. it would be a shame.

one last point though: i did read an article by a WoW-er. and i thought it was dreadful. it was the worst kind of fanatically feminist, man-hating cant, stating half-truths as established facts, and twisting facts into personal insults. It was poorly-educated attempt at at rabble-rousing rant, and it was just plain rude about anyone who might disagree with her. it did all women a dis-service, and especially those on her side.


  1. Amanda, Although I liked many of your points, I found the use of the word "meaningless" when describing the prayer practices of women other than yourself to be very unfortunate and unnecessarily disparaging. Also, the last paragraph is such a cheap shot-so what-you read one stupid article. I have a close friend who is one of the original WOW and she is thoughtful and deep, kind and lovely. And she happens to be frum and keep mitzvot aseh she'hazman grama, on her own, quietly. I only know that she wears tsitsit daily because I spotted them popping out of her skirt once. Be careful with your judgments...!

  2. Leah, i accept what you say about the word 'meaningless' yes, it my have a great deal of meaning to the one doing it. i shall stick to 'unnecessary'.

    the last paragraph - i in no way intend to say that all Wow-ers are as bitter and anti-rabbi as the one whose article i read. and i did not say that at all. i was criticising that article - and it's authoress - and anyone who, like her, choosese to turn her personal prayer choices into bullets to fire at anyone who oppposes her crusade. she was clearly someone who was not motivated by a personal desire to come closer to God (which what i believe and assume motivates most WOW-ers, including your friend), but by a desire to be in control of everything, not only including how she chooses to approach God (as though He has no say in the matter), but also how others choose to approach Him.


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