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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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How I Lost My Liberal View of Reform Jews and Started to Fear Them

When I began covering the Women of the Wall, the flagship of the Reform insurgency in Israel, my initial take was sympathetic.

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He, my boss, obviously saw no hope for the Reform. And having on staff a senior editor who felt that way was not going to make him friends in Borough Park.

He and I engaged in a furious email shouting match that lasted about a week, following which I saw the writing on the wall, concluded our affairs in America and set out for a new life in Israel. So I should be thankful to the man—and, in hindsight, I would have been miserable working for Haredim.

When I began covering the Women of the Wall, which is, like it or not, kind of the flagship of the Reform insurgency in Israel, my initial take was sympathetic. Go back through the archives and you’ll see that my reports from a year ago were not just respectful, but I also belittled the extent of the damage they could possibly cause.

I no longer feel that way. I fear that the Women of the Wall may be symptomatic of a serious turn in the relationship between observant Jews and the state. And the fact that this is taking place at a time when a National Religious political party, Jewish Home, is a major player in a government that supports the eradication of Orthodoxy in Israel, is even more terrifying.

I had an exchange of comments with a reader named Dan Silagi (I admire readers who use their real name in online discussions—I do it as well) on my Sunday’s report, Women of the Wall Searching for Next ‘Struggle.’

In my article I cited the WOW complaints that the police separated them from their Haredi adversaries by “caging” them (behind simple barricades) and argued that a revolution is like a shark – if it stops struggling it dies. And so, if the courts are now permitting the WOW prayer, they must find someone against whom they can struggle, and a bunch of Haredim with signs 200 yards away just won’t do.

Dan Silagi wrote:

“Boohoo, Yori, I guess you’re disappointed that there weren’t massive demonstrations against WOW which you could blame on WOW rather than your Haredi buddies. In three months’ time, give or take a couple, I predict that the Women of the Wall praying, singing, and reading from the Torah will become routine. You and your newspaper will need to find another target at which to tilt your windmills.”

First, thanks to our reader Avraham Bronstein (another real name!) who commented:

“For the record, the phrase is ’tilting at windmills.’”

My own response was a great deal less technical (I bring it almost raw, with minor post-posting improvements):

Dan Silagi · I’m not sure what point you’re making. I also predict that the WOW will be singing and reading from the Torah and playing guitar on Shabbat and davening in mixed minyanim — I just think it’ll be another nail in the coffin of our legitimacy in the land of Israel.Our entire justification for having conquered the land from the former inhabitants, which we have done, is that it was God given to us. Otherwise, we’re just European colonialists who pushed out the indigenous people for no good reason other than the power of the gun.

If we believe that God gave us the land, we must ask, what is our relationship with God? Do we bring anything into the relationship, or is the Gift from God argument, essentially, an empty slogan we don’t really believe in?

If we believe in it, then we must accept that our relationship with God is through the commandments, more accurately through our adherence to His commandments — because that’s what He, in his eternal wisdom, told us.

So that our adherence to halacha and our right to the land are inseparable, and if we don’t adhere to halacha, we have no rights here.

Now, the most essential, most central, most crucial part of halacha is submitting to the yoke of our sages. In this case, there is one sage who is the state appointed administrator at the Kotel, and he laid down the law — only to be defied both by the WOW and by two lower courts. Incidentally — the high court still sides with the Rabbi of the Kotel.

So, Dan Silagi, while I agree that your predictions are true, I also say that they make you and your ilk nothing better than the British and French oppressors of the black tribes of Africa, and that you, as a secular European invader devoid of justification for your occupation, must at once relinquish authority over the land to its rightful Arab owners.

I know, it’s a bit rough, and I could have made a more subtle and nuanced connection between our right to the land and our halachic obligations — you don’t always get to be subtle in a talkback format. But I now have shed completely any sympathy I harbored in the past for the Women of the Wall. I now believe that they are but the vanguard of an all out attempt on the part of anti-halachic organizations to attack and weaken the religious aspect of Zionism.

They’ve already done away with secular Zionism ages ago.

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About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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108 Responses to “How I Lost My Liberal View of Reform Jews and Started to Fear Them”

  1. Noah Farbstein says:

    Yori – I am a traditionalist and agree that the true justification for the Jews presence in Israel is that "G-d gave us the land," but I strongly disagree with your interpretation that otherwise we merely are European colonists. Not to delve into the history, but the Jewish presence in Israel (Gaza, J&S, etc.) never truly dissapeared, nor did it diminish, especially in regard to that of the Arabs, who never truly settled the land, and certainly not to any permanent extent, as is evidenced by the fact that they never maintained a government there nor did they maintain the land. For them, Jerusalem truly means nothing!

  2. Noah Farbstein says:

    Yori – I am a traditionalist and agree that the true justification for the Jews presence in Israel is that "G-d gave us the land," but I strongly disagree with your interpretation that otherwise we merely are European colonists. Not to delve into the history nor legalities, but the Jewish presence in Israel (Gaza, J&S, etc.) never truly dissapeared, nor did it diminish, especially in regard to that of the Arabs, who never truly settled the land, and certainly not to any permanent extent, as is evidenced by the fact that they never maintained a government there nor did they maintain the land. For them, Jerusalem truly means nothing.

  3. its amazing how these stupid women are busy with mens mitzvoth versus getting their own right and by the position of these head tefilin, they are not really good at the mens mitzvoth either…its all pretty pathetic…what a lack of self esteem these women suffer from!

  4. Noah Farbstein says:

    Yori – I am a traditionalist and agree that the true justification for the Jews presence in Israel is that "G-d gave us the land," but I strongly disagree with your interpretation that otherwise we merely are European colonists. Not to delve into the history nor legalities, but the Jewish presence in Israel (Gaza, J&S, etc.) never truly dissapeared, nor did it diminish, especially in regard to that of the Arabs, who never truly settled the land, and certainly not to any permanent extent, as is evidenced by the fact that they neither have ever maintained a government there nor the land (e.g. the land was in ruins when we returned in mass). For them, Jerusalem truly means nothing.

  5. Yori Yanover says:

    Noah Farbstein · Like it or not, while secular Zionism is a puppy, nurtured by major Jewish organizations mainly as a fund raising tool, while very few secular Jews are truly interested in it — religious Zionism is still very much the tiger it has always been, and getting more so.

    This point may be proven by the fact that in the past, secular and religious Zionists used to be allies, albeit uneasy allies, while today secular Jews in Israel, especially the militants, are more likely to be enemies of the religion.

    The first thing the new, secular, Interior Minister did in office was to extend the summer clock by 2 months, which would mess with my life and the lives of millions of faithful Jews who won't be able to daven in shul weekday mornings. It's pathological. Never mind the Lapid onslaught against Haredi children's stipends — the hatred is in countless, powerful details.

    This is, by the way, why I believe Naftali Bennett is the worst thing that has happened to political religious Judaism, maybe ever. He severed our ties to the Haredim, in favor of new, dubious ties with many haters of the religion. I know he has religious guys in his party — but he also has staunch foes of the faith, too.

  6. Noah Farbstein says:

    Yori – I am a traditionalist and agree that the true justification for the Jews presence in Israel is that "G-d gave us the land," but I strongly disagree with your interpretation that otherwise we merely are European colonists. Not to delve too far into the history nor the our legal title, but the Jewish presence in Israel (Gaza, J&S, etc.) never truly dissapeared, nor did it diminish, especially in regard to that of the Arabs, who never truly settled the land, and certainly not to any permanent extent, as is evidenced by the fact that they neither have ever maintained a government there nor the land (e.g. the land was in ruins when we returned in mass). For them, Jerusalem truly means nothing.

  7. Noah Farbstein says:

    Yori – I am a traditionalist and agree that the true justification for the Jews presence in Israel is that "G-d gave us the land," but I strongly disagree with your interpretation that otherwise we merely are European colonists. Not to delve too far into the history nor the our legal title, but the Jewish presence in Israel (Gaza, J&S, etc.) never truly dissapeared, nor did it diminish, especially in regard to that of the Arabs, who never truly settled the land, and certainly not to any permanent extent, as is evidenced by the fact that they neither have ever maintained a government there nor the land itself (e.g. the land was in ruins when we returned in mass). For them, Jerusalem truly means nothing.

  8. Noah Farbstein says:

    Yori – I am a traditionalist and agree that the true justification for the Jews presence in Israel is that "G-d gave us the land," but I strongly disagree with your interpretation that otherwise we merely are "European colonists." Not to delve too far into the history nor the our legal title, but the Jewish presence in Israel (Gaza, J&S, etc.) never truly dissapeared, nor did it diminish, especially in regard to that of the Arabs, who never truly settled the land, and certainly not to any permanent extent, as is evidenced by the fact that they neither have ever maintained a government there nor the land itself (e.g. the land was in ruins when we returned in mass). For them, Jerusalem truly means nothing.

  9. Noah Farbstein says:

    Yori – I am a traditionalist and agree that the true justification for the Jews presence in Israel is that "G-d gave us the land," but I strongly disagree with your interpretation that otherwise we merely are "European colonists." Not to delve too far into the history nor our legal title, but the Jewish presence in Israel (Gaza, J&S, etc.) never truly dissapeared, nor did it diminish, especially in regard to that of the Arabs, who never truly settled the land, and certainly not to any permanent extent, as is evidenced by the fact that they neither have ever maintained a government there nor the land itself (e.g. the land was in ruins when we returned in mass). For them, Jerusalem truly means nothing.

  10. Yossie Bloch says:

    WOW consists of women of all denominations, so you start out by mischaracterizing them, and then the root of your animus comes down to one commenter?

  11. Allen Stern says:

    Not even on straight to begin with.

  12. Liad Bar-el says:

    Yori against WOW (women of the Wall) but supports IOW (Islam on the Wall). No doubt you will block this talkback as you have with all of my previous ones but who knows, maybe this one you'll let through just to show to others that I am wrong and you are right when it comes to freedom of speech.

  13. Yehuda Cohen says:

    "gvie the land back to the Arabs"? IMO, you're still connect to the reform way of thinking.

  14. William T. Langley says:

    Yori – Before you worry about and spend so much time on Reform Jews, worry about all the Jews who don't Pray at all. The vast Secular Jewish Population in Israel is the real threat to Israels existence. To me it sounds like you have an all or nothing approach to Judaism but Judaism isn't an all or nothing Religion. I worry less about someone who wants to Pray than someone who doesn't!

  15. Yori Yanover says:

    William T. Langley – I'm not sure what in my tale of personal search and detailed development of my thinking regarding the Reform gave you the impression my Judaism is all or nothing. Do you know what it takes to be the only guy with a yarmilke in an editorial meeting of the CCAR, with everyone assuming they know who you are and essentially talking to your hat?

    But in the realm of national, as opposed to personal, religion, in the realm of state law, ambivalence is a bad thing. It is OK for a person to have inner conflicts and a nuanced approach to absolutely everything — but the law comes out terrible and causes a lot of damage if it takes on the conflicts of an individual. The law IS all or nothing. And the Kotel is governed by state law, which two lower courts and the WOW have collaborated to defy and demolish.

  16. Chaiya Eitan says:

    I have no problem with the way they want to pray within a synagoguge of their own making. Plus, I thought that a place called Robinson's Arch had been set aside for them. But concerning the Kotel, it's like having a dinner and a Reform Jew demanding that there be some food that others would not consider kosher. What I do think isn't right at the Kotel, though, is the very small area assigned to the women. Now, concerning Jewish law, I understand that it had been codified with the writing of the Shulchan Aruch. But what if the Talmud had continued to grow?? Maybe someone would have come along and said that there is absolutely nothing wrong with listening to the voice of a woman singing. This – and other things – really upset me. This is – to me – not the Judaism that G-d gave to us.

  17. Mark Bernstein says:

    These WOW women (not such a wow, actually) are SO concerned about wearing tefillin, that both of the women pictured with tefillin are wearing them totally incorrectly (if they even were men): one very crooked, and one with an interruption between herself and the box. These are very silly, foolish, immature people. This is not about true, thoughtful, sensitive, humble spirituality in the least, it's all about loud, ego-driven, left-wing political activism by people who have an agenda to subvert Jewish tradition in public and tell the liberal media world how sincere and important they are, and how the black hats must all be defeated for the sake of their great enlightened progress (actually, TOTAL ignorance). Just wait, they will want to hold a gay service at the Kotel next, or maybe an interfaith-service with their Palestinian brothers against oppression. This is the tyranny of the fringe minority against the vast majority of the sincere status quo.

  18. Brian Kent says:

    What does it say about democracy in Israel when Jews are actually prevented from worship at the Western Wall.Yes. Somebody can scream about a lack of Charedim coming out when you rig the system and block those en route from coming..Excellent article, Yori.

  19. Ingeborg Oppenheimer says:

    yori, I have a question or two: where, anywhere in wow's expressed goals does "the eradication of Orthodoxy in Israel" show up? the eradication of orthodox law as controlling every aspect of the lives of all jews in the land is not the same as eradication of orthodoxy. the orthodox would lose only their right to use law as control over all aspects of the lives of all jewish citizens, not their right to coexist as orthodox jews with other israeli jews. such distortion does not add validity to your argument. and to state that "the most crucial part of halacha is submitting to the yoke of our sages" is to claim that god decreed that sages are not human, because if they were they would be as much at risk of error as are the rest of us. finally, as someone else has pointed out, wow and its supporters include women of all forms of judaism, including some haredi. so your argument is flawed in several ways.

  20. Charlie Hall says:

    "I thought that a place called Robinson's Arch had been set aside for them"

    The Robinson's Arch area has NOT been set aside; it is not set up for public prayer. It is possible that it might be made available in the future but the Israeli archeology community is strongly against it.

    "But concerning the Kotel, it's like having a dinner and a Reform Jew demanding that there be some food that others would not consider kosher."

    Actually, there is a decent case to be made that the WOTW are not violating any halachah at all: Women reading from a sefer torah is clearly mutar; women can clearly wear tzitzit, and there are opinions that women can even wear tefillin. Come to Daf Yomi on Wednesday and you will hear a three thousand year old precedent.

    "Maybe someone would have come along and said that there is absolutely nothing wrong with listening to the voice of a woman singing"

    The halachah IS that there is nothing wrong with a woman singing holy material. For example, the Shulchan Aruch rules in accordance with the Mishnah, Gemara, and the overwhelming majority of rishonim that a woman may chant Megillat Esther for a man. And the dissenting opinions — the BeHaG and the Rema — dissent for unrelated reasons (based on a Tosefta). In many Orthodox communities women sing in shul and at Shabat tables, with the full approval of the rabbis. Unfortunatley, this halachah is not well known and women in many communities are not sufficiently educated in Torah to be able to stand up for themselves.

    "This is – to me – not the Judaism that G-d gave to us. "

    The prohibition on hearing a woman sing NON-holy material is NOT someething G-d gave us; it is by all opinions a decree of the rabbis. The actual halachah is actually much more favorable towards women than is much of contemporary practice, and WOTW are trying to push that concept. It is interesting that the opponents of WOTW are avoiding halachic arguments.

  21. Charlie Hall says:

    Yori really messed up this one. Many of the WOTW are Orthodox; it is clearly NOT a Reform activity. A real Reform movement activity would be pushing to eliminate the mechitzah entirely.

  22. Yori – “my very good friend, Rabbi Judi Abrams” … “offered me an interesting fig leaf” sounds sexy then pops in Adnan Oktar’s 12 women models and Yori is in Islamic heaven to give the whole temple mount to Islam but not to the Jewish Women of the Wall. Ain’t thet jest dandy?!

  23. Cody Flecker says:

    There is no doubt that there is a cancer that resides within Judaism. This is but one example of this malady.

  24. "Then one of the editors, a female clergy, suggested we add a special shmoneh-esreh blessing for our suffering LGBT brothers and sisters.'

  25. Yori, the justification for Israel's existence is not exclusively a matter of accepting the proposition that we have a divinely-given deed and then submitting to the yoke of the Sages (and by the way, the WOW submit to it, albeit selectively, more than many if not most Israelis, who are true-blue seculars). Rather, it is a matter of the historical connection of the Jewish people to the land, and of the people's historical experience as a sovereign community in that land, irrespective of Jews' behavior and convictions (same goes for the Greeks in Greece, the Irish in Ireland, etc). That relationship is acknowledged in international law. If Jews maintain that Israel exists solely because "God gave it to us" then they are saying that they know what God wants–a position to which you, I or anyone is entitled. But then that is the same position held by, say, the Muslim Brotherhood: the Bros think they know exxactly what is in God's mind. And since we cannot empirically prove that Halakhah-observant Jews and not the MB are right about God's wishes (in the sense that there is no proof or likelihood that God has appeared or will appear to both simultaneously to declare one side the eternal winner), all that is left is a sterile "we said, they said" debate–one zealous primitive against another. The historical basis of Jews' claim to the land offers surer footing, I think, because of its empirical and legal foundations.

  26. Yori Yanover says:

    Charlie Hall – I'm going to sound self righteous, but I'll say it anyway — yours is a typical galusdike Yid's answer. You eamine the issue as an individual, because you are alien to the concept of living in a Jewish country. It's not enough to visit, you need to live here to get it.

    I wrote at length in the past that halachically, at least according to the Shulchan Aruch (as opposed to the Ramah) there is strong support for some kind of women's reading the Torah together, and even davening with talit and tefillin. But that's not the issue.

    There is a ba'al habait to the Kotekl, he is the official decider, empowered by the state to decide halachic issues related to the use of the Kotel. His views have been embraced by the high court, that prohibited WOW davening in their current manner.

    Two lower courts, relating not to the Supreme Court but rather to a strange claim made by the police, as if the WOW pose a threat to the public order, decided that they didn't look threatening, basically. The cops appealed and lost.

    At that point, the AG should have gone to the high court to argue that the official, government bestowed decider at the Kotel was being ignored, as was the High Court's ruling from 2003. But the AG, who is anti-Orthodox in so many other ways, and a seriously unethical individual, based on how he let his wife be tried for employing an illegal worker, while giving himself the benefit of the doubt — he, the AG, is yet to appeal.

    Yesterday, Egged buses going to the Kotel did not stop in haredi neighborhoods. Hundreds of Haredim who are too poor to own cars, were left waiting for hours. These women are not victims — they are powerful, and they are supported by a cabal of anti-Orthodox government officials. It really, really stinks.

    Above any discussion of should a woman daven in public with talit and tefillin (which I'm not sure was the intent of the Shulchan Aruch), and any discussion of whether a woman should lain Torah in public — there's the fundamental issue of obeying the rabbinic authority of a place. No concept is more important in our tradition. If you don't have that, then we're no different from a bunch of Protestants who run a personal dialogue with God without a national component. That's not Jewish.

    I couldn't possibly have understood this in America, I admit.

  27. Yori Yanover says:

    Ingeborg Oppenheimer ·I wrote you a long entry and then the stupid page refreshed and all got lost. essentially, we do have a concept of the infallibility of our rabbis, except that we, as indivduals pick our chosen teachers. Then, when they only respond to our inquiries, we believe that they are divinely inspired.

    But the relationship is initiated and controlled by teh student, not the master.

  28. Yori Yanover says:

    Cody Flecker · i have no idea what you mean. If you suggest that millenia of life in exile have damaged us as a nation — I agree. But if you're saying that there's something inherently cancerous in Judaism, I couldn't disagree more.

  29. Yori Yanover says:

    David Graizbord – I believe that the Muslim Brothers are entitled to a notion of knowing what God wants, because they live by a book they accept which teaches them a moral code of behavior. We, likewise, have a book that teaches us a code of moral behavior, and a wealthy tradition accompanying this book, which we follow. I'm not sure why comparing the devout Muslims to us is a problem.

    I'm a s terrified as you are by the aggression and brutality and hatred of so many millions of Muslims, it scares me as it does you, and I don't believe it's a minority. Nevertheless, Islam is the recommended religion for gentiles who don't wish to follow Noahaide Law directly. It is certainly preferable to Christianity.

  30. Ofer Maimon says:

    I think the picture says all that there is two say. One woman's tefillin shel rosh is hanging halfway to her ear, the others is put ON her head scarf.These are not women who put on tefillin regularly, nor have they even bothered to check up how it is done. These are women who come with the sole purpose of seeking confrontation. WOW are seeking a bridgehead for the Anti-Tora religion of Reform. They want their kids to go to mass, celebrate xmas and marry out, fine by me, but this they can teach them in the privacy of their temples.

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