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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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And it was Rabbi Moshe Feinstein who ruled that women wishing to pray while wrapped in a talit did not do it for the sake of Heaven, but, to the contrary, because of their resentment towards Heaven.

Not nice? Not fair? Welcome to the harsh world of halachic rulings, a world with few sentiments and a great deal of long-term thinking regarding the fate of an entire nation, particularly the Orthodox community, wherever it may be.

THE MOST DANGEROUS WOMEN IN ISRAEL

We’re dealing with the politics of divinity, and in the case of the Kotel this is a bona fide territorial battle. Both sides—the women claiming their portion as well as the Kotel rabbi and the Haredi worshippers, are out every Rosh Chodesh to fight over a prized possession. The prize is not the ladies’ section in front of the Kotel. Rather, it is the very spiritual identity of the State of Israel.

Eretz Israel [Hebrew: The Land of Israel] was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and national identity were formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world. (First paragraph of Israel’s Declaration of Independence).

This is the very justification of our life here. Without it, we are merely a bunch of European colonialists, just as our pals the Palestinians are suggesting. And whoever gets to define the spiritual identity of the state will rule here.

Over the past decades there have been local skirmishes between foreign invaders from the Reform and Conservative movements and the various religious authorities, over the governing of the state of Israel. Due to the huge numeric difference that currently exists between the invaders and the Orthodox communities in Israel, there may be a tendency to downplay the danger the former impose on the rule of Rabbinic Judaism here.

I believe wholeheartedly that, despite the myriad cultural and social difficulties it presents before Israeli society, Rabbinic Judaism remains our authentic connection to the lofty intentions of the authors of our Declaration of Independence.

The challenge of the Reform and Conservatives against the Rabbinic identity of religion in Israel is also, necessarily, an attack on the Jewishness of the state. It can’t be helped. The moment we have religious pluralism in the state of Israel, we’ll lose our exclusive rights to rule this place. The rabbis understand it, as do, for certain, the Reform-Conservative. But the public doesn’t really get what all the fuss about, because, the way the media present it, it looks like a David and Goliath conflict, with the Orthodox in the role of Goliath.

I see the Women of the Wall as a fascinating media phenomenon, which reminds me a little of the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, when King Arthur’s knights attack a cave guarded by a cute, little bunny, but in the end the bunny bites their throats with its fangs.

The media show us pleasant women, who look just like me and you, and some among them even cover their hair with modest scarves, and all they want is just to pray once a month by the Kotel, like every Jew. Why should we care that they want to pray? So they feel like covering themselves with a talit and playing at being men—why should I bother?

On the other side, the media show a small, highly unattractive looking band of mostly Haredi men and women, who are (separately) cursing and yelling in their black uniform, as well as the Kotel Rabbi, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowich, who is screaming his head off about how these women are a threat to Judaism.

Today, on the first of Iyar, and last month, on the first of Nissan, 5773, the Women of the Wall were joined by female MKs from Labor and Meretz, a fact that raised the political bar by a couple yards. Those MKs certainly did not get there out of a yearning to commune with their father (or mother) in heaven. Those MKs were the realization of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s nightmare scenario of “alternative” Judaism taking over every good portion in the nation of Israel.

Rabbi Rabinowich did not spare the women and the MKs, warning: “The prayers of those female MKs could bring on a civil war.” But even the Haredi public isn’t convinced. Despite prominent posters that are pasted on the walls all over Jerusalem’s Haredi neighborhoods, few show up to protest.

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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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