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The Most Dangerous Women in Israel

WOW threaten our very right to the Land.
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Photo Credit: Sarah Schuman/ FLASH90

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Over the past few months, I’ve befriended Shira Pruce, Director of Public Relations for Women of the Wall. In our few phone conversations so far, we’ve agreed on many issues which she deems important, and in my opinion my articles about her organization’s activities, published in a right-wing, religious, Jewish American online magazine, present those activities in a fair manner. I don’t twist what Shira tells me, and I don’t show her and her partners in struggle in a negative light, as do other religious, right wing publications, when they even bother to acknowledge them.

To anyone who hasn’t yet been exposed to stories about the Women of the Wall, I’ll summarize that it’s a group of several hundred women, about a quarter of whom are Modern Orthodox and the rest Conservative (Massorti Judaism), or Reform, whose stated goal is to pray on Rosh Chodesh (first day of the Jewish month) and on other special days, such as Purim, in the women’s section of the Western Wall, while wearing talitot and tefillin.

Rosh Chodesh is a special day for women in Jewish tradition, a gift from God for the fact that women did not debase themselves by participating in the making of the golden calf in the wilderness (to remind you, the sin of the golden calf was secondary only to the sin of the spies, and both, according to our tradition, altered, each one in its turn, the Israelite nation’s relationship with its God):

Aaron was contemplating the matter, saying: If I tell the Israelites, Give me silver and gold (to smelt and create the calf), they’d bring them over right away. What I’ll do instead is tell them, Give me your wives’ rings, and the rings of your sons and daughters, and the whole thing will be annulled. When the women heard, they refused to give their rings to their husbands, telling them: You want to create an abomination that has no power to save us. They refused to listen and so God rewarded them in this world and the next, as it says (Psalms 103:5): He satisfies your body with precious things; your youth is renewed like the eagle renews its plume. (Pirkey d’Rabbi Eliezer, C. 44).

It’s important to recall, therefore, that in the discussion of the Women of the Wall’s 25-year struggle over the right to pray every Rosh Chodesh at the second holiest Jewish site (the holiest is situated a few meters above, on Temple Mount), it’s the women who enjoy the right of ownership over the marking of Rosh Chodesh. Religious women avoid menial labor on Rosh Chodesh, and dress up. The researcher Dr. Devorah Ushpizai of Bar Ilan even points to a Biblical source for this custom, in the story about the woman from Shunem who had a son through the blessing of the prophet Elisha. Her husband asks: Why go to him today? It’s not the New Moon or the Sabbath. Which means that, had that day been the new moon, the husband would have understood why his wife is going to seek out the prophet.

HALACHICALLY, THE WOMEN OF THE WALL MAY BE RIGHT

There are many examples in our traditional sources about women of valor who received the sages’ permission to keep commandments that were intended for men only. Why did they need the permission? Because for the most part, women are absolved of the commandments that are time-related. With your permission we’ll avoid here the feminist discussion and simply state that women in pre-industrial society had much more pressing obligations than to pray three times a day, which is why the halacha absolved them of praying on time, as it did wearing a talit and tefillin.

Says Maimonides (Laws of the fringes, Chapter 3):

Women, slaves and minors are absolved of the obligation of talit based on the Torah. But from the sages we learn that a minor who knows how to wrap himself in a talit must do so for the sake of teaching him the commandments. And women and slaves (who, like women, are not the masters of their time) who wish to wear a talit may do so without saying a blessing, and likewise for all the positive commandments that women are not obligated to keep, they may keep them if they wish, but without saying a blessing, and we don’t stop them.

If they want they can, if they don’t that’s fine, too.

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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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42 Responses to “The Most Dangerous Women in Israel”

  1. Charlie Hall says:

    Sorry, but if it is acceptable according to halachah, it is no threat to rabbinic Judaism or to our identity as a people. What IS a threat is trying to change halachah to permit the forbidden, or to forbid the permitted. The latter is happening here.

  2. I don't see how WOW or any other women who wear tallit and tefillin pose a threat to "our right to the Land." Likewise, I don't see how these women following halakhic sources threatens Judaism. His thesis is murky.

  3. Yori Yanover says:

    Charlie Hall — I'm not sure we agree on the definition of "halacha." Maimonides defines the three crucial components of becoming a Jew as being two trivial and one primary. The trivial ones are the circumcision and the dipping in a mikveh. The primary is adherence to the yoke of the sages.

    Ruling halacha on a national level requires considerations beyond whether something has been permitted previously, but it must consider the current conditions, socially and otherwise.

    On countless occasions, our sages have ruled in ways that seem completely counter-indicated by the law. That's what they do, that's why we appointed them. Et la'asot l'Hashem, heferu toratecha.

  4. Yossie Bloch says:

    Really, "yoke of the sages". I don't remember that being part of my Shema. Do you have a fourth paragraph?

  5. Yossie Bloch says:

    Yori Yanover But don't take my word for it. Since you brought up Maimonides, here's Issurei Bia 13:4 and 14:2 (trans. E. Touger):

    Similarly, for [all] future generations, when a gentile desires to enter into the covenant, take shelter under the wings of the Divine presence, and accept the yoke of the Torah, he must undergo circumcision, immersion, and the offering of a sacrifice. A woman [who converts] must undergo immersion and bring a sacrifice.

    We inform him of the fundamentals of the faith… We inform him about some of the easy mitzvot and some of the more severe ones… We do not teach him all the particulars lest this cause him concern and turn him away from a good path to a bad path.

  6. Shlomo Pill says:

    Charlie, that is clearly not true as a matter of halachik jurisprudence. There are numerous instances in the Talmud about Chazal punishing technically legal acts because they perceived them to be some sort of threat to Judaism, legitimate authority, social order, ect. There is an entire siman of Choshen Mishpat devoted to this issue (siman 2, as well as the last half of siman 1). I always find it strange how Jews on the MO left like to view the concept of halacha in a narrow technical sense when they want to use it to find a leniency, tend to invoke all of the broad principles when such are needed in order to direct halacha in the way they want it to go, but ignore those broad principles when they can be leigtimately used to urge stringency or concersvatsim in halachic practice.

  7. Cathy Sherman says:

    Yori, I'm concerned that in your entire discussion, there is no mention of the Sephardim. Why are they not part of this argument? They predate the Ashkenazim in Israel and certainly must have a position on this conflict.

  8. Yori Yanover says:

    Maimonides and Rabbi Yosef Karo are two of the most important Sephardim in history.

  9. Jacob Alperin-Sheriff says:

    Off-topic: I went to day school with WOW's PR director's younger brother.

  10. Charlie Hall says:

    "leigtimately used to urge stringency or concersvatsim in halachic practice."

    Forbidding what previous sages have not permitted is NOT conservativism.

    The Rabbinate is perfectly willing to innovate in halachah, such as when it pasuled thousands of conversions without investigating each case and insisted that all must accept that decision. Fortunately the religious judge on the Israeli Supreme Court overturned that ruling. Another example is the declaration that believing that the universe is <6000 years old is now in ikkar of faith, despite the fact that no previous source insists on that and it is clear from rishonim that it is NOT necessary to accept the literal truth of midrashic sources.

    It is ironic that as a result of the rabbinate's insistence on forbidding what is arguably permitted we will now get mixed gender prayer services at the Kotel, which are forbidden according to all halachic opinions.

  11. Charlie Hall says:

    My rabbi once tried to lead an ordinary orthodox Friday night service at the Kotel, with women on one side of the mechitzah and men on the other. People dressed as charedim pelted him with stones. The police did nothing. This is not about halachah or tradition.

  12. Yori Yanover says:

    Charlie Hall — It's about who owns this country. I want my Jewish Homeland to be run according to Rabbinic tradition. I certainly want the Jewish holy sites to be run according to Rabbinic law, under the rulings of Rabbinic leaders. It's my home and I get to say how it will be run.

  13. I read the article – unlike some commentators here! It's remarkably comprehensive and thoughtful. I appreciate the author, Yori Yanover's, point that, without spiritual/religious justification for our Jewish presence in the land we're just "a bunch of European colonialists, just as our pals the Palestinians are suggesting." But then he leaps to this conclusion: "the moment we have religious pluralism in the state of Israel, we'll lose our exclusive rights to rule this place." Me, I figure that tussling and wrestling over G'd's will is precisely who and what we are, so it would be extremely weird if we DIDN'T fight with each other like this over proper procedures in the holy places.

  14. Yori Yanover says:

    Michael Dallen — Obviously, you're right on the tussling and wrestling (is there a professional tussling circuit? I'll bet they fake it). I'm not in favor of police arresting women, but I want my country to be rabbinically-Jewish. I still want it to be democratic, so it's a tough nut to crack. Still, if I made it appear that things were simple over this issue, my profound apologies…

  15. Charlie Hall says:

    "broad principles when they can be leigtimately used"

    You may have just convinced me of the legitimacy of Conservative Judaism.

  16. Charlie Hall says:

    " I'm not in favor of police arresting women, but I want my country to be rabbinically-Jewish."

    I'm not Israeli so I'm not sure I get a vote here, but it does seem weird that the only public place in the entire free world that one can get arrested for praying as a Jew is in the Kotel plaza and the Temple Mount. Even the US State Department has taken note of this lack of religious freedom.

    "I only wonder, on a practical level, what would have happened if, starting 25 years ago, instead of cursing them out and arresting them and schlepping them to court and humiliating them, we would have just tolerated those women coming once a month to sing before the Kotel an hour or two, and go home."

    A really good question, Yori Yanoveri. At least the orthodox members of WOTW would have been quite satisfied with this.

  17. Yori Yanover says:

    Charlie Hall — You're wrong. You're forgetting that ANY Jew who dares to pray on Temple Mount gets arrested.

  18. I can't imagine davening/praying at the kotel, the holiest place in the world where one can devote oneself to HaShem, trying to focus on the ineffable with perfect kavanah/devotion, while being stimulated and distracted by kol isha/woman's voice. I'm just a man, not particularly over-sexed, I don't think, but it's the nature of my kind – human males – to alert to the sound and sight of women. Just saying….

  19. I can't imagine davening/praying at the kotel, the holiest place in the world where one can currently worship HaShem, trying to focus on the ineffable with perfect kavanah/devotion, while being stimulated and distracted by kol isha/woman's voice. I'm just a man, not particularly over-sexed, I don't think, but it's the nature of my kind – human males – to alert to the sound and sight of women. So… Just saying….

  20. Noting that the essence of this article is not around the halacha, but rather the impact of the decision, consider the following.
    Those firmly in favour of Rabbinic Judaism will remain in favour.
    Those against will remain against.
    It is those wavering in the middle we must consider.
    I postulate that saying no will drive them towards those against.
    By saying yes we take the wind out of the sails of those against and show that Rabbinic Judaism can be forward thinking and thereby claim the moral highground.I follow his argument, I disagree with the conclusion.

  21. Yori Yanover says:

    Michael Dallen — The holiest place is not the Kotel, it's about ten feet above the Kotel, where God's REAL home is. Enough with the Kotel already, Jews should daven on Temple Mount, where we belong.

  22. robertmartin1 says:

    nice article. it is fair what the women are doing. it does not take away from Orthodoxy. WOW should be congratulated even if they pray in the new area. maybe in the future the Haredim will understand their message.

  23. Mike Esses says:

    Israel Needs To Have A Sanhedrin…To Settle All Religious Matters… If We Leave It To Modern Women Libers…We Would Have No Religion…

  24. Charlie Hall says:

    " while being stimulated and distracted by kol isha/woman's voice"

    Except that the sources do not apply kol isha to tefillah, and if you are in the men's section of the Kotel plaza, you would not even be able to see the women.

  25. Charlie Hall says:

    " You're forgetting that ANY Jew who dares to pray on Temple Mount gets arrested."

    I certainly did not forget that! (I know people who have managed to pray on the Temple Mount and avoid arrest, but I won't say whom because I don't want to cause trouble for them.)

  26. I'm the most dangerous woman in Israel!

  27. Yori, I thought it was clear enough, the holiest place "where one can currently worship." We're subject to too much persecution and related tsorus, I'd say, to worship properly atop har habayit.

  28. Yori, I thought it was clear enough, the holiest place "where one can currently worship." We're subject to so much tsorus and persecution that we can't worship as we should atop atop har habayit.

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