I am truly saddened that this issue has blown up to such an extent. It appears that the fight between the Women of the Wall and their opponents has escalated.
It began as a few women who found the male modality of wearing a Talis and Teffilin the most meaningful form of prayer for themselves. They showed up at the Kotel one day on a Rosh Chodesh. Rosh Chodesh is the first day of every month on the lunar calendar. That day requires special prayers and a Torah reading. Their goal was to pray there once a month in their own way – peculiar and upsetting though it may be to traditionalists.
That spawned protests… which spawned arrests of some of these women who at the time technically violated the law (since overturned by the court)… which spawned increased numbers of women joining WoW on their monthly prayer service there. That spawned a call by rabbinic leaders for Charedi women – mostly from women’s seminaries – to show up by the hundreds if not thousands, flood the Kotel Plaza, and pray there quietly.
Their overflowing numbers beat WoW to the punch there and left them no space to pray. That event also brought out the worst in some of the male Charedi protestors who acted like a bunch of wild animals – yelling, screaming, and throwing things at these women. That spawned more determination than ever for WoW to achieve their goals of equal rights to the Kotel. From the Forward:
Jewish Voices Together, founded and headed by Iris Richman, a Conservative rabbi and attorney, has organized rallies in support of Women of the Wall at various locations around the U.S. The organization comprises female rabbis of all denominations.
The title of its latest campaign is “100 blasts of the shofar/100 rabbinic voices for justice! Speak out for religious tolerance in Israel and Women of the Wall” – and its goal is to get 100 rabbis in the U.S. to devote their sermons over the upcoming Jewish holidays to women’s prayer rights in Israel. According to Richman, the effort has already surpassed that milestone, with 127 rabbis, as of this writing, agreeing to participate. Among the participants are 64 Conservative rabbis, 38 Reform and two Orthodox.
As I have said many times, I am not a fan of WoW. Although I know that many of its members are sincere in their desire to pray in this unusual way; and simply want to be left alone to do so, I cannot say the same thing for WoW’s leadership. They have consistently been quoted as having the real goal of religious tolerance, pluralism, and mostly feminism. WoW is simply a clever means so get this done. They have found a way to technically not violate Halacha and thereby recruit the left wing segments of Orthodoxy to support them. And as this new development shows, they are gaining traction.
That feminism is at the core of this issue is not mere speculation. For these leaders this is a feminist issue. The New Republic has a lengthy article pointing to WoW as the “highest example of the renewed fighting feminist spirit in Israel”. They describe this as a new alliance between left wing Orthodox feminist groups like Kolech and the Reform movement’s IRAC (Israel Religious Action Center).
(I should add that such coalitions were bred by some of the more disgusting attacks by extremist Charedim against non Charedim. Attacks that seem to be coming with more frequency these days. Reading about the multiple attacks against Nili Philipp, a Dati Leumi religious woman living in Bet Shemesh, made my blood boil. And this happened a year after 8 year old Naama Margolese was attacked by the same kind of people! This is a far bigger problem in my view that has yet to be properly addressed – but it is beyond the scope of this post.)
The more public opposition WoW gets from the right, the more support it will gain from the left. Left Wing Orthodox organizations like Yeshivat Chovevei Torah whose founder and leaders have rejected the ruling by Rav Soloveitchik about joining heterodox movements on religious issues and now enthusiastically joins them – have added Orthodox legitimacy to WoW’s ranks. So a Rabbi on the far left of Orthodoxy will feel very comfortable joining WoW in their quest for equal rights at the Kotel.
About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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