Ha’aretz reported that a group of activists from the Women of the Wall organization are opposed to an Israeli governmental proposal to permit Reform Jewish congregants to have their own area to pray, independent from where both Orthodox Jewish men and women pray. In other words, these activists rejected a compromise proposal that designates an area of the Kotel where they are permitted to pray as they desire, in order to insist that Orthodox Jewish men and women be forced to conduct their prayers surrounded by individuals who don’t respect their religious customs.
As a modern orthodox Jewish feminist, I am outraged by the behavior of these activists, who dirt the name of feminism by their actions. Just as Reform Jews feel that they should have the right to pray as they are used to at one of the holiest sites in the Jewish religion, Orthodox Jews feel the exact same way. Furthermore, while Reform Jews are religiously permitted to pray in accordance with the Orthodox tradition, Orthodox Jews aren’t permitted to pray in a Reform manner, since their prayer services must follow a certain format according to Jewish law.
Even though nothing bars a Reform Jew from praying at the Kotel in an Orthodox manner, the Israeli government was respectful enough to offer Reform Jews their own location at one of the holiest sites in Judaism in order to pray as they please, without disturbing others. But instead of jumping on the opportunity and saying thank you to the Israeli government, activists from the Women of the Wall organization aren’t content. Why? Because the compromise proposal permits Orthodox Jews to continue praying as they have for thousands of years and this bothers them. While they demand religious toleration from others, they refuse to give others the same favor in return.
While Women of the Wall claims that it is not egalitarian to pray in an Orthodox manner, I would like to remind them that Jews have been praying for thousands of years a certain way and changing the religion is not in the hands of men. We cannot decide in the place of G-d what is Jewish law, based upon modern trends. Even if we don’t understand everything in Judaism, G-d always makes things a certain way for a reason and humans should never question G-d.
Nevertheless, Judaism remains to be one of the most egalitarian religions today, as women are believed to be at a spiritually higher level than men and countless Jewish women have held prominent positions both in the Tanakh and throughout Jewish history. Moses granted Jewish women the right to inherit at a time when women having such rights were unheard of. Even if one doesn’t desire to obey Jewish law due to ones own Reform belief system, the bare minimum that one should be able to do is to respect others that wish to and to do as one likes in a location that won’t disturb others.
I also would like to point out to these individuals that there are many more pressing issues facing feminists today than whether or not Jewish women will be able to wear a Tallit like the men and host a so-called “egalitarian” prayer service at the Kotel. I call upon any one who believes that having “egalitarian” prayer services at the Kotel is the most pressing issue facing women today to take a look at the world that we live in.
Women are getting raped en masse in Syria, either by government forces or by Islamist rebels as part of their sexual jihad. Around 50 percent of Yemen’s brides are under the age of 18. The UN stated that over 5,000 women are murdered each year in honor crimes. 2,500 brides in India are burnt to death each year, primarily due to dissatisfaction over the dowry. One young Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, was almost murdered by the Pakistani Taliban for insisting on young girls in her country having the right to have an education. Around 125,000,000 girls in Africa and the Middle East are victims of female genital mutilation.
Closer to home, hundreds of young underage Jewish girls are seduced by Arab men each year. Many of these cases evolve into abduction, rape, and abusive marriages. This problem is especially acute in Southern Israel, where sexual harassment by Bedouin men is a major issue. Furthermore, according to the OECD statistics, the Israeli police recorded 17.5 cases of rape within the country per 100,000 people within the Israeli population in 2012. There were only 9 OECD members who had worst statistics than these in regards to rape, one of them naturally being the United States. Recently, Jerusalem Online News reported that only two female mayors were elected to serve in the 2013 municipal elections. This means that out of all of the Israeli municipalities, there are only 4 female mayors in the entire country.