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November 22, 2014 / 29 Heshvan, 5775
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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

Where did Maimonides find his liberal stance regarding women and talitot (and, necessarily, tefillin as well)? In tractate Eruvin, 96 a:

Michal the daughter of King Saul wore tefillin and the Sages did not attempt to prevent her, and the wife of Jonah attended the festival pilgrimage and the Sages did not prevent her. Now, since the Sages did not prevent her, it is clearly evident that they hold the view that it is a positive precept, the performance of which is not limited to a particular time. But is it not possible that they hold the same view as R. Jose who ruled: It is optional for women to lay their hands upon an offering? For were you not to say so, how is it that Jonah’s wife attended the festival pilgrimage and the Sages did not prevent her, seeing that there is no one who contends that the observance of a festival is not a positive precept the performance of which is limited to a particular time? You must consequently admit that he holds it to be optional; could it not then the case here also be said to be optional?

So we already have the nice custom of women’s “ownership” of the days of Rosh Chodesh, and the views of the Talmud and Maimonides that they have permission to wrap themselves in talitot and put on tefillin – what’s the problem, then? Why is it that each time the Women of the Wall try to keep the explicit halacha according to the Jewish sages, the police come and arrest them and stick them in the Russian Compound in Jerusalem for the duration of the day?

Those who object to the prayers of the Women of the Wall rely on a ruling by Rabbi Yaakov Halevi ben Moshe Molin, the Maharil (1360-1427), who is considered the earliest authority on the customs of Ashkenazi Jews. He ruled that women who wear a Talit Katan which must have corner fringes do so out of haughtiness, which is a negative quality. Based on that, the Rama, who is the primary Ashkenazi commentator of the Sephardi Rabbi Yosef Karo’s fundamental halachic text, the Shulchan Aruch, rules that it’s better for women not to wear a talit – and of course not tefillin, which must be kept clean and 15th century women where not the most hygienic persons.

So, for the concern regarding haughtiness, Ashkenazi women were forbidden to wear talit. The problem is that there are several opinions regarding cases in which men are permitted to keep commandments that may be rooted in haughtiness just the same:

A bridegroom is exempt from the recital of the Shema from the [wedding] night until the end of the Shabbat, if he has not consummated the marriage. It happened with Rabban Gamaliel that when he married he recited the Shema on the first night. So his disciples said to him: Our Master, you have taught us that a bridegroom is exempt from the recital of the Shema. He replied: I will not listen to you to remove from myself the Kingship of Heaven even for one hour.

Sounds to me like a classic case of haughtiness: Rabban Gamliel decides he’s above the law, and even though he is about to undergo his first sexual experience with his new wife, he insists on saying the Shema, because his head is clear of improper thoughts even on such a tense night. And yet, our rabbi receives the approval of the sages of the Mishna, possibly because they realize that he knows himself well enough, and if Rabban Gamliel says his mind is clean, it must be clean.

Likewise in the area of wearing the talit katan with the fringes hanging outside the pants. According to all the greatest cabalists, this is a sign of haughtiness, and they much prefer that people keep their tziztis from flying all about (even the late Lubaitcher Rebbe objected to wearing the tzitzis on the outside.) But try and explain it to the hundreds of thousands of religious men who let their tzitzis fly as if they were the gold fringes on either side of Napoleon’s shoulders. And they’re forgiven. So why can’t we forgive the Women of the Wall?

Because they threaten the very spiritual identity of the State of Israel.

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.

  29. Rahel Jaskow says:

    Wowee. Such power he gives WOW. (And he needs to close that italics tag, too.) Seriously: yet another conflation. WOW=Reform Judaism. And we all know that "Reformi" is probably the worst thing one religious Jew here can call another.

  30. Charlie Hall says:

    " stimulated and distracted "

    I find the nearly constant chatter of talking in the mens' sections of synagogues to be far more distracting.

  31. Abby Caplin says:

    You won! You won!

  32. Dan Silagi says:

    Israel needs more women who are equally dangerous. To the rabbinicali version of Talibanic Shiria law, that is.

  33. Wear your title with pride, dear coz.

  34. Yehuda Cohen says:

    I don’t get it. Islam wants to destroy the Jews and control the world. This is recorded in their religion by their insane prophet. Islam has already taken over the Temple Mount on which we hear their daily calls to destroy the Jews and occasionally the Islamists thrown down rocks from the Temple Mount on our heads while we’re praying at the Kotel. Women of the Wall, Jewish for the most part, want to take over the Kotel which is a symbolic portion of a wall adjacent to the Temple Mount and they want to change Judaism to suit their Reform beliefs such as wearing Tallit and Teffilin. The Jewish Press editor supports and defends the Islamic women but rejects the Jewish women. What happened to you Yori when you wrote this article? Did your cat bite you or something? :-)

  35. Yehuda Cohen says:

    Women of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman has revealed her long term intentions in a BBC interview:

  36. Regardless of whether he is right or wrong, the author's logic is horrible and his respect for the sages is shameful. I am troubled by the movement but I wouldn't start grasping for straws to back up my feelings. I hate when people misuse the Torah to back up flawed arguments.

  37. Bonnie Stark Ras says:

    You look so innocent in that photo. Do we threaten them that much?

  38. Brian Kent says:

    Right on sister!

  39. Really, Bonnie I AM innocent. You're the criminal. State of Israel vs. Ras et al!!

  40. Michael says:

    Really, Yuri? With everything going on today in the Israeli rabbinate, these women are the dangerous ones?

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