Photo Credit: Flash 90
The Priestly blessing at the Western Wall, but no women priests - yet.

The Torah does not prohibit women from wearing a tallis,  and they should be allowed to do so at the Western Wall, President Shimon Peres pronounced in a meeting with 200 leaders of the New York UJA-Federation on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

“It is not written anywhere in the Torah that women cannot wear a tallis,” he said. “We are not a church or an organization. We are a religion and every one of us has a different way of speaking with God. All men and women are allowed to pray they choose.”


He also told the Jewish leaders what he would not have dared to say in Hebrew to Israelis: “Judaism has many faces, and it is anti-Jewish to choose only one of them.”

That statement is an outright rejection of the authority of learned rabbis and is a blatant adoption of the attitude of the rebellious Korach in the Torah, who complained to Moses that “all of us are holy” and therefore can be priests.

Peres’ remarkably shallow remarks relate to the Women of the Wall, who have successfully challenged the authority of orthodox Judaism by winning support from American Jewish organizations for their demand to allow women to have their own minyan at the Wall, wear a tallis – the prayer shawl traditionally worn by men –  and read from Torah scroll.

A compromise solution has been accepted in principle, allowing women to pray as they wish at the Western Wall but in an area that is at the other end from the Western Wall Plaza.

With all due respect to the president, and as good a Jew as he is, he is far from a Torah scholar. For him to state that to Jewish leaders that “it is not written in the Torah that women cannot wear a tallis” is simply incredibly dumb.

Of course it does not prohibit it. It also is not written in the Torah that a woman cannot be the Chief Rabbi of Israel.

It also is not written in the Torah that 10 people are needed for a minyan. It is not written that there should even be a minyan. It is not even written that people should pray three times day. It does not even mention the tallis at all.

President Peres is not so ignorant that he does not know that the Torah relates to the building of the Mishkan – the Tabernacle in the desert – and the laws of the Mishkan more than anything else?

He cannot be so boorish not to know there is something called the Oral Law, without which Judaism would have been a dead religion centuries ago.

It is the Oral law, as expounded in the Talmud by rabbinic sages, that has been the lifeblood of the development of Jewish thought and law, without which the Written Torah would be a museum piece.

Only Peres can explain why he saw it necessary to be so banal and declare to some of New York’s most important Jewish leaders that Judaism allows all men and women to speak with God as they wish.

The Book of Prophets does not lack examples of women praying, and no rabbi – whether Haredi, Modern Orthodox, Reform, Conservative or Reconstructionist – has declared a monopoly on prayer.

Peres may have scored points with some of the Jewish leaders, but he also showed himself to be a fool to other delegates who know that using the Torah to put a spin on issues for one’s convenience is, to use his own unfortunate term, anti-Jewish.


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Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu is a graduate in journalism and economics from The George Washington University. He has worked as a cub reporter in rural Virginia and as senior copy editor for major Canadian metropolitan dailies. Tzvi wrote for Arutz Sheva for several years before joining the Jewish Press.


  1. Why do these woman want to infringe on the will of the major majority of the those who pray at The Wall. In there relgion which is different than Judasim they can go on The Temple Mount. Let them go up there to pray. Most of the people who pray out The Wall belive they cannot go up The Mount.

  2. The Torah thing was badly worded, but this quote struck a chord with me: "We are not a church or an organization. We are a religion and every one of us has a different way of speaking with God. All men and women are allowed to pray they choose."

  3. Peres is correct….TORAH does NOT prohibit women from wearing a talis….RABBIS do. One can argue that rabbinic law is responsible for the longevity of Judaism…but that does not change the FACT…The technical FACT that Torah does not say women can't wear a talis. If I recall…, one is not to add or detract from, how is acknowledging that something is NOT in Torah a shanda?

  4. As the author states, the Oral law allows is, "the lifeblood of the development of Jewish thought and law." Yes, Jewish though and law are developing, and a significant development is toward the full inclusion of women. Old attitudes regarding religious practice grow and change and develop. Our Religion, thank God, is not frozen in time. Nor should the role of women today be determined by the role of women in 3567 BCE.

  5. 'President Peres showed off his lack of knowledge of Jewish law and told the NY UJA, “The Torah does not ban women from wearing a tallis.”'.

    The JP headline writer showed off his lack of knowledge of Jewish law and wrote this. JP is supposed to be an Orthodox publication, but you'd never know it from this.

  6. "it is discouraged because it can be seen as dressing in a mam's garment"

    It might even be halachically prohibited if it is a man's talit. But there is no question that if it does not look like a man's talit then it is permitted halachically. I have suggested pink and lavender for a woman's talit — no man would be caught dead in one.

  7. Charlie, Shmuel — I beg to differ. The issue is not what the Torah or midrashic tales are saying in this case, but the key line in Tzvi's story: "That statement is an outright rejection of the authority of learned rabbis." Anyone can bring cute citations about esoteric cases. I brought a whole bunch of them myself in my own article. But it comes down to obeying our legally appointed rabbinic authority. And Peres violated not just the essential point the Torah makes about legal authority (Deut. 17:8-10), but also the authority of an Israeli official in charge of the Kotel by power of the state — which Peres happens to lead.

    Shame on him.

  8. Neither is it written in Torah that one should not use Lashon HaRah or demean/ ridicule/ embarrass another publicly. Yet it is commonly known and accepted as proper Jewish behaviour, except apparently by you. As for the Tallis: the blue threaded fringes are written about. However we no longer have kosher blue threads, so I guess we no longer have any kosher tallis. We do have plenty of accepted practices about not being discriminatory or defamatory towards other Jews, being inclusive of all in the community, etc. That, too, apparently has escaped you. I pity you for your incapacity to be compassionate and love all others without trying to mold them in your own image. Only HaShem has that right to mold people – not you, not me, not anyone mortal. B'vrachot oo'v'Shalom

  9. I thank Jewish Press editor Yori Yanover for commenting, "The issue is not what the Torah or midrashic tales are saying in this case," and I add that there was no implication in the article that it is forbidden for women to wear a tallis. The focus of the article clearly was President Peres' usurping his position and the Torah as a soapbox and delving into an area that is beyond his realm. I repeat what I wrote: He would not have dared such things in Hebrew to an Israeli audience.

  10. Yori Yanover,

    I was complaining about the headline, not the content of the article.

    But in any case, the statement, "That statement is an outright rejection of the authority of learned rabbis." is not true as there are learned rabbis today who permit women to wear a talit (certainly one that does not look like a man's talit). You yourself objected to the recent decision by the Kotel rabbi, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, to permit mixed gender services in the Robinson's Arch area. If that isn't acceptance of "many faces", what is? (Yes, that was a major point of your article!) As implying that this as a halachic issue rather than a policy issue, this presents a misleading picture of the actual halacha.

    And this defames Peres, who of all the secular religious leaders in Israel's history may be the single one most interested in and supportive of Orthodox institutions. That isn't what I expect from an orthodox publication. Criticize Peres for speaking out on a public policy issue on which a President of Israel is supposed to be silent if you want — and I might even agree with you, although I'm not sure I get a vote on that — but don't pretend that this is about halacha or respect for rabbinic authority.

  11. Charlie Hall — But it is a matter of public policy, and by criticizing an official of the state without due process, the president is being a bully and eradicating the religious foundations of the state (yes, we believe in the total merging of religion and state over here, it's a Jewish State). And Shimon Preres never performed an altruistic act in his entire life. Not one. Look up the popular song by the late Chaim Chefer "how did the flea rise up" — it's a song for Shimon.

  12. " But it is a matter of public policy, and by criticizing an official of the state without due process, the president is being a bully and eradicating the religious foundations of the state"

    Had the headline and the article said that, and not tried to pull a bogus halachic argument, I would have had no objection.

    " total merging of religion and state over here"

    Not well known is that several of the colonies here in what became the United States had that. It was a mess. Fortunately Israel has not engaged in the wholesale suppression of religious freedom that characterized that period in American history, a suppression that has been to a great extent expunged from our history books. Israel has done much better and doesn't need to expunge anything. 🙂

  13. I've a better idea. If and when this "expanded" Western Wall ever comes into being, let the ultra-orthodox move to the far part, and let the original Western Wall, which was liberated for all Jews at the cost of much secular Jewish IDF blood, be a place where Jews (and non-Jews) of both sexes and of all degrees of observance pray together and in peace.

  14. Charlie Hall "expunged from our history books"? Not in Rhode Island. Except for New York and Georgia, many colonies were created because of or in spite of religious conflict. Roger Williams was kicked out of Mass, by the very people who had been kicked out of England for their (annoying) beliefs. Maryland was a haven for Catholics, and so on.

    But Israel was established explicitly as a homeland for the Jews. And the state has answered, by law, who is a Jew. The rest is simple.

  15. Women's voices was not at issue here, rather it was women putting on a tallit and tefillin, a custom reserved to men at least according to Ashkenazi custom. And all the customs frown on women praying clad in talit in public.

  16. "Maryland was a haven for Catholics, and so on."

    In the 1690s the Protestants took over. Every single Catholic Church in Maryland was destroyed. I grew up in Maryland and never heard that in my "History of Maryland" courses.

    Massachusetts and Connecticut were intolerant theocracies, and Virginia wasn't much better. Jews could not practice our religion openly in any of the colonies mentioned here. But today the only place where a Jew gets arrested for praying is Israel. Are you really ok with that?

  17. Michael, it seems that the Rabbis of the 15th through 19th centuries have added strictures not endured by the Jewish women of 3567 BCE. They used to wear tsitsit, which now are forbidden to them, and be given aliyot to read the Torah (provided they were ritually clean), something unheard in the "orthodox" congregations nowadays. I don't own a tallit and have no intention of setting myself up to become the target of the haredi competitive garbage throwing monthly ritual at the wall, but that doesn't mean I'm not aware of what place the torah gave women, or how the Rabbis have restricted it through the centuries.

  18. When a Rabbi is wrong, should our respect for him lead us to follow him anyway? If that's the case, the Kairites who followed Sabetai Tsvi should be considered good Jews despite following a false prophet? The respect we owe learned Rabbis doesn't dispense us from using the brain G-d gave us.

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