In recent years, there has been an explosion of Torah learning all over the world. Men and women can be seen carrying sections of the Talmud and learning the daily Daf. In our times, because of the fact that the Talmud has been translated into English and a host of other languages, it has opened the availability of this heretofore secret text that was only studied by the elite students in days gone by to everyone who wishes to study it. Today, vast numbers of texts that were written originally in Aramaic or Hebrew are now available in English to everyone who wishes to immerse themselves in the study of the Torah.
All this seems good. However, in many cases, it also brings with it a feeling of arrogance that many women and men might develop in thinking that they truly know how to understand the Talmud and apply its principles and its messages properly just by studying a translation. It’s similar to studying the art of karate from a book. Though one can gain some knowledge, one can never really gain proficiency without learning from a teacher.
In a sense, it’s the same when people study Talmud only from the text and not under the guidance of a reputable teacher. They develop the attitude that they understand what is written when the opposite could be true. They often don’t fully comprehend the intent and the underlying message that our Sages wanted to impart.
From a personal point of view, I believe that anyone, woman or man, should have the opportunity to delve into and study our Torah and commentaries. The problem, however, develops when people use the limited understanding that they may have gleaned from the texts to question what has been around for centuries and then demand change.
On the one hand, I am impressed with the “Yoetzet Halacha” program in which women are trained in and available to deal with matters of halacha concerning women in an environment that makes women feel much more comfortable than if they had to deal with these personal issues and questions with a male rabbi. This kind of program is vital for women so that they can feel comfortable asking personal questions and getting answers that conform to Jewish Law.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, I am particularly discouraged and disappointed with the so-called “Women of the Wall” and their monthly actions which disturb the prayers at the Kotel, creating a chillul Hashem. Though I try to appreciate their point of view, each time I fall short in understanding their actions.
I recognize that they must be dedicated in their love for Judaism, but I don’t comprehend how anyone has a right to disturb an ongoing service to further their own personal agenda. It’s equivalent to my visiting a Conservative or Reform Synagogue and demanding that they construct a mechitza so I would be comfortable praying there. What would give me the right to do that?
The Women of the Wall only appear at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh. They seem to arrive merely to disrupt the tefillot of the hundreds of people – men, women, and children – who just want to daven and speak to Hashem all in their own way. Instead of uniting our people, these women divide them, causing strife and anger. Even when they were given a place to pray near the Kotel, they opted to make a scene at the area where vast amounts of people just wanted to pray. It is this arrogance that I object to – coming to an area that has rules set in place and demanding that there be a change simply because they want it. No one has this right! These actions divide our nation and create dissonance and hatred amongst our people.
While it is true that the Kotel belongs to all Am Yisrael, it nevertheless demands from us to adhere to the standards and practices that have been established since we recaptured the Wall in 1967 during the Six-Day War. No one has the right to disrupt this arrangement to achieve their own personal goals.
The Kotel belongs to everyone, no matter if they are Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or even non-Jewish. Everyone may pray there. All that is asked is that this is done with reverence and respect for the existing status of prayer at the Wall.
The Kotel is meant to unite, to bring shalom to our people. Unfortunately, the Women of the Wall do exactly the opposite.