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Orthodox Women May Stand to Lose Under Sharansky’s Proposal

If it is the sole solution to women's rights at the Kotel, an egalitarian section at the Kotel will ultimately make things harder for Orthodox feminists who are trying to assert their rights within a Halachic framework.
hasidic women

Natan Sharansky recently put forth a proposal to renovate and extend the Western Wall plaza to include Robinsons Arch, thereby creating an egalitarian prayer space alongside the ones currently designated for men and women. As an Orthodox woman I am not egalitarian, nevertheless, I think creating space to include all the denominations comfortably at the Kotel is a positive thing, nobody should feel excluded from Jerusalem’s holiest site. Despite that, I am very disappointed with what this proposal might mean for Orthodox women.

Though Kotel access and inclusion for the progressive denominations is an important issue, Sharansky was specifically charged with coming up with a solution in response to the escalating conflict surrounding the Women of the Wall. Though some people may conflate those two issues they are in fact separate and distinct and in this case it looks like the issue of denominational access has won out over women’s rights. And what is even worse is that it is the women’s hard work which enabled this victory and yet is coming at their own expense.

As an active Orthodox feminist I have invested years of my life to advancing women’s rights within the framework of Halachah, studying at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education instead of seeking ordination from one of the liberal movements, working at the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, serving as an intern at Congregation Ramath Orah on Manhattans’ Upper West Side, founding and leading various women’s tefillah groups where women could be represented and share their voices without having to abandon their communities to do so.

I was also a huge proponent of Women of the Wall (WOW) for many years. I saw WOW as my sisters in Israel struggling for women’s Halachic rights at the Kotel, the same way I was struggling for them here in America. Not a violation of Halachha, but a fight against patriarchal social norms that prevent me, and millions of other women, from actualizing our Halachically permitted potential. Anat Hoffman, in an opinion piece she wrote in the Forward in 2010 states

Simply put, our goal is to obtain the freedom to pray and to do everything that is Halachically permitted for women on the women’s side of the mechitzah (the barrier between men and women). This includes reciting prayers together that do not require a minyan, and, yes, most of all, it includes reading from the Torah. At a minimum, we want to be allowed to pray at the Wall for one hour each month, free of injury and fear. This should not be a provocative request. If I wanted to mount a provocation at the Wall, I certainly wouldn’t do so by inviting a group of modestly dressed women — most of them devoted Orthodox Jews — to show up early in the morning to pray in a manner entirely consistent with Halacha. That some are provoked does not make us provocative. We have been waking up early to pray every Rosh Hodesh for the past 21 years — this is no fad, no political act. It is done for the sake of prayer. Over the past week a number of people have questioned the premise that an egalitarian section at the Kotel does not address the needs of progressive Orthodox women. In response I would say firstly that I should not have to leave a space or community that I am an active part of in order to assert the rights afforded to me by Halachah, as an Orthodox women in a de facto Orthodox space shouldn’t my actions be a valid part of the greater whole that determines the status quo by which we set our norms? Secondly, davening in an egalitarian space is probably not seen as a Halachically viable option for most Orthodox women for whom an allegiance to Halachah is paramount to their other needs.

Thirdly, the proposed space is not a free for all space, even if a group of women wanted to get together within that proposed space and hold a women’s tefillah group, not a minyan, I question whether they would be able to. I have enough liberal friends and have been exposed to the progressive denominations sufficiently to see that they too have a bias and I question if such a group would be welcome.

About the Author: Shayna B. Finman is a graduate of the Drisha Scholars Circle, studied in the Pardes Kollel and at Yeshivat Simchat Shlomo in Jerusalem. She served as the first female Congregational Intern at Ramat Orah on Manhattan's UWS, taught Jewish Law in Israel and worked at JOFA and DOROT, both in Manhattan. Growing up she was a student of the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach z"l. She currently works as a personal chef and boutique caterer in NYC focusing on Farm to Table organic kosher cuisine.


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11 Responses to “Orthodox Women May Stand to Lose Under Sharansky’s Proposal”

  1. Charlie Hall says:

    I'm glad someone is finally pointing this out!

  2. Charlie Hall says:

    I'm glad someone is finally pointing this out!

  3. I feel as if the concerns of WOW are going unnoticed; these women want the right to daven as women, with other women, in tallitot and tefillin, which are mutar. I don't get it.

  4. Sadly, one is reminded of the old joke about the shipwrecked Jew found on an island who has built more than one shul so that he would have at least some synagogues he would never attend. One can almost picture more ways to slice the Kotel space. We Jews are oh so famous for divisiveness.

  5. WOW' agenda is very radical. Anat Hoffman, WOW leader says she wants the Mechiiza down and convert the Wall in to a National Monument. Does the write support this proposal.

  6. Charlie Hall says:

    The Kotel was not a place for communal prayer until 1967. Dismantle the mechitzah and return it to the status it had prior to 1948. If someone wants a minyan, let them go to one of the many synagogues in the Old City.

  7. Stephen Leavitt says:

    Or Har HaBayit

  8. Shayna, I was wondering if you wrote this post before the Jerusalem District Court decision on April 26, 2013? If so, would that decision change your opinion? Thank you.
    Joel Alan Katz.

    (See: Women of the Wall Win Major Victory in District Court.
    Police Appeal Rejected, Women’s Prayer Does Not Disturb Public Order, Does Not Violate Law http://ow.ly/kpzll ).

  9. Rachel Cohen says:

    well put. a sound and clear viewpoint. taking everyone into consideration.

  10. Ahron Ebert says:

    Why pray with a group? I would perfer to daven alone. What is this need you have to wear tafillon. My life would be easieer if I did not have to put them on every day. It is traditonall Orthodox who have made the Kosel a place to pray shouldn't they have a say in its rules? Also, you think it is good to associate with people who do not observes Judaism. Why don't you also invite Christion woman to come pray with you. Other than Orthodox you list of different religions are no diffirent than Christiany. You are williing to give up your frumkeit by associate with these deniers of Torah me Sinai so you can have a pray goup. I laugh at your describeing the moser nefesh these woman go throught to be at The Wall by 7am once a monthh.Miss feminist men do this every day and do not think it is a hardship.

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If it is the sole solution to women’s rights at the Kotel, an egalitarian section at the Kotel will ultimately make things harder for Orthodox feminists who are trying to assert their rights within a Halachic framework.

It’s fascinating to realize that the Ramah was so perturbed by the disconnect between his understanding of correct halachic practice and the reality he witnessed around him that he postulated a highly improbable sociological phenomenon.

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