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My problem with Women of the Wall is that I agree with both sides

51 comments

women daveningI’ve been hearing about the women of the wall thing for years now, the gut reaction of any frum Jew is to be outraged. These women are just picking a fight, how can they use the holiest place of the Jews to stage their public protest? Did they expect that we would just give up and let the kotel become just another free for all Reform Temple? I understand these reactions because I and almost all of friends feel exactly the same way. The problem is that I cannot ignore the fact that no one really owns Judaism, my mind is confused because I don’t “hold” that anyone should have a monopoly on prayer at the Kotel, it’s almost scary in the way that the Charedim try to provoke violence in the name of the Torah, when the women of the wall aren’t actually violating any halacha. They are merely violating social norms.

It’s a hard discussion to have because when you throw in religion, you usually get extreme point of views. Both views make perfect sense, the classic “why do you need to ruin our party” is all over this issue. The underlying fear is that this will lead to other violations of social norms within orthodoxy. Next thing you know it, the nudist of the wall may appear and why should we stop them. What about the transgender people of the wall who demand to daven without a mechitza? Then on the other side you have the fear that Charedim will begin to monopolize the wall, what happens when they start to ban birthright groups, Christians, and women not dressed according to their extreme standards from visiting and praying at the wall.

Who really knows what the proper way to pray is? Is there any halacha against women doing mitzvos they are not commanded in? Is a woman in talis and tefillin that offensive? Who decides what is offensive? Then again we have the slippery slope issue. Are these women merely demanding a once a month minyan or will it become daily? How can you have kavannah when you know that you are disturbing so many people?

I’m not sure it can be solved, the worst way to fuel the fire is what the Charedim are doing – giving it publicity and attention. It makes it look like a publicity stunt, when in reality it’s been going on for 25 years. The frum community may think these women are being spiteful, picking a fight, or not having true kavannah, but how can you say that. They are just as extreme in their views as you are, they want to pray just as much as you want to.

Of course, we’re now back at square one. The only issue is that everyone is judging everyone and no one will come to a conclusion anytime soon.

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  • Critic

    The problem is not that their exercising their right to pray at the wall.Their true motive in their own words is to “liberate Chareidi women from an oppressive male dominated life” as indicated here.
    http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/thank-you-very-much-but-im-in-love-with-my-life/

    • Anonymous

      You’re quoting an anti-WOW opinion writer’s summary, so that is not “in their own words,” to quote you accurately. Precision is a virtue.

      • Critic

        Here’s precision and in the the exact words of their manifesto.
        “The haredi authorities who maintain control over women, in marriage, in synagogue, in ritual.”
        “Rules enforced by a patriarchal system.”
        “WOW models to all Jewish women who pray at the Kotel that women can take control over their own religious lives. When haredi women, and haredi men, and haredi children see women leading services, wearing tallitot, and even handling and reading from Torah scrolls, their world view is changed. Like it or not, the sights and sounds of women leading services may initially shock them but then, when they get used to it, it will, it has to, change their world view. Women will no longer be seen as following men when it comes to communal prayer, allowing men to lead, but as individuals who are able to function religiously, on their own, without the “help” of men.”
        “This represents a revolution in haredi lives. That is why they fear and resist it. Their women will be influenced, strengthened, perhaps even demand change from their rabbis.”
        “We are part of WOW’s struggle to pray at the Kotel with a Torah. To help religious women lead better lives.”
        “A woman reading Torah at the Kotel represents an historic correction, a tikkun, for centuries of deprivation, of secondary status.”

        • Anonymous

          Wrong again—these quotes are from an op/ed written by one woman, a founder of WOW, on behalf of herself (NOT the organization). If you’d like to read their actual manifesto / mission statement, I’d suggest turning to their actual website. http://womenofthewall.org.il/about/mission-statement/

        • Anonymous

          Wrong again—you’re quoting an op/ed written by one woman (a founder of WOW) in her own name and NOT on behalf of any organization. If you want to read their actual manifesto / mission statement, I suggest checking out their actual website.

          • c

            Are you alleging that that the above quotes regarding WOW’s agenda were fabricated by the author of of the op-ed piece?

            • Critic

              For some reason the moniker Critic that I attempted to use for the above comment came out as “c”.

            • Anonymous

              No…they’re just not a manifesto. The woman you quote, Susan Aranoff, was writing only for herself. It’s not proper or correct to say that this represents the view of all members of WOW, or its leadership (of which Susan is not a part).

        • Puzzled

          All of which sounds true and correct.

  • Yochanan

    What if I told you the Kotel is NOT the holiest Jewish place in the world.

    *Morpheus sunglasses*

    • Anonymous

      kotel hakatan is closer anyways…

    • Anonymous

      OK, so tell us what is.

      • avi

        Your heart is the holiest place.
        Making a place holy when your heart is filthy is idol worshipping.

  • Batman

    I also agree with both sides. I find it precarious WOW were subject to such severe harassment, however now various members of Israeli parliament are involved so the ‘movement’ has become largely politicized. While I contend if the women were allowed to daven in their own way from the beginning, 25 years ago, I doubt we would see the fervor we do today, though of course this cannot be proven. I feel women are drawn to davening with WOW because they perhaps experience a greater spiritual connection in this manner. Which is ironic because here the WOW are demanding their own davening as EXCLUSIVELY women whereas even the Haredim have mixed services (in that men and women are in the same building and participate in the same Shabbat etc. services, regardless of the respective location of women and men). Is it truly a progressive movement?

    I feel there is also a large misunderstanding between the Haredim and WOW. WOW seem to feel they are being subjected to a patriarchal system whereas the Haredim and other proponents of Orthodoxy would argue Judaism is not a patriarchal religion.

    • tesyaa

      I wonder where anyone would get the idea that Judaism is a patriarchal religion???

      <sarcasm off

    • Anonymous

      Judaism is not patriarchal but, the Haredim are have a lot invested in patriarchy. Just cause the Haredim don’t think they are subjugating others doesn’t mean they are not. Subjugators rarely think that’s what they are doing.

  • Anonymous

    I Thought reform Jews hated the temple because they sacrificed animals? all of a sudden they love the temple?

    • Yochanan

      1) Are the WOW necessarily Reform?

      2) Even if so, Reform today isn’t the same as Reform yesterday or 50, 100, or 200 years ago.

      3) Don’t act like us Orthodox Jews wouldn’t be weirded out by sacrifices.

  • Anonymous

    See ‘kooloytoyra’, Feb 13, 2013

  • Toldos Aron

    a woman in her non-clean days (till after mikva) should not be a WOW. How dare woman in her nida hold a sefer torah or don tefilin.
    a woman under 50 should not be e member of WOW

    • Rahel

      Wrong, TA. A woman who is niddah may touch and handle a sefer Torah. That is basic halakha. Your statement is false and misleading.

    • Devin

      True. Although Heshy raised some good points.

  • Micah T

    I too am on both sides of this one. The Kotel belongs to all Jews; why should the Haredim decide who is or isn’t allowed to pray there? On the other hand, I am put off by the way Anat Hofffman and her kind have turned this most holy site into a spectacle. And do women really need to wear tallis and tefillin, or is this just provocation? As for the Haredim throwing rocks and chairs, what can I say? It is highly inappropriate behavior to say the least, and will hurt their cause, and the image of religious Jews everywhere. Don’t Jews have enough enemies? Why all this denominational infighting?

    • Adena

      “And do women really need to wear tallis and tefillin, or is this just provocation?” Women from the liberal streams of Judaism in the U.S. have been wearing tallit and tefillin for years. This is not provocation. This is people praying in the way that they are accustomed.

    • Great Divider

      Good points. Because religion, Judiasm in particular which started it all with its obsession with separation of everything, is the great divider of people both in and out of our group.

  • Alter Cocker

    As in most cases, both sides are in the wrong here.

    This group doing it in a way that they knew would make a spectacle, and Chareidim making themselves look bad again with people throwing things.

    • Puzzled

      It is not wrong to make a spectacle when you are right. MLK was right in having his march in a public place, and a racist place. It wouldn’t have done much good if it were done quietly, in a black neighborhood. Those with the firehoses were wrong – those with the garbage are wrong today.

      • Alter Cocker

        Actually, it is wrong. The kotel is supposed to be a holy place, not a place to cause spectacles.

        I assume that group believes the kotel is holy, so why defile it with demonstrations?

        • Devin

          Agreed, if they want to protest do it ANYWHERE else.

          • Puzzled

            Or, here’s a crazy idea: if you want to throw garbage, do it anywhere else. I don’t believe in religion, but if I did, I’d say that fighting for your right to worship as you choose is a holy mission – throwing garbage on people is not. That this protest is a holy protest. That’s what I’d say if I were religious.

            • Devin

              Good point as well.

          • Puzzled

            See, this is not at all a unique argument. In fact, any time someone says or does something that others disagree with, they can count on many responses of the “wrong place, wrong time” variety. The only thing you’ve added here is a bit of a religious trump card.

  • http://shilohmusings.blogspot.com/ Batya
    • Anonymous

      I won’t dispute that some who associate with WOW are motivated by ulterior political motives rather than yirat shamayim. However, consider whether you would feel comfortable holding your songful rosh chodesh davenning at the kotel. Consider further how it must feel for a woman who wears tallit and tefillin every day to do so at the kotel. The fact that she might only be there for ‘an hour or two’ a month is entirely the point—she would like to be able to daven at the kotel everyday, but isn’t willing to sacrifice the mitzvah of tzitzit and tefillin in order to do so. Even if only a few women feel this way, they shouldn’t be made to feel unwelcome so that you can feel more comfortable in their absence.

  • Ploni Almoni

    Let’s look at it from a Halacha standpoint and then try to analyze it from the lens of WOW:

    The Halacha in it’s purest form is that all women are exempt from time-sensitive Mitzvos, such as wearing Tefillin and Tzitzit as they can be worn during the day but not at night. The exception is when a Pasuk in the Torah states otherwise that everyone must partake of, such as Seders on Pesach (Matzos U’Morrerim Tochluhu). The only time there might be an issue is when a woman does a time sensitive Mitzvah 3 times in a row, which would make it a Chazakah, thereby binding her to do it from then on.

    Many people say that Rashi’s daughters all wore Tefillin, some state that the “Tefillin” was in their attitude and piety, watching themselves at all times (private and public) as if they were bearing parchments with Gd’s name on it.

    From a communal standpoint, it’s impossible for women to make up a Minyan since the Shechina rests upon 10 men (source: Gemara).

    This all comes down to motive. The WOW seem to want to instigate a fight more than anything. Let’s say that there are some ultra-frum women that wear Tefillin. Fine. Let them do so at a corner without making a scene or Minyan. Clearly their motives are for something else besides doing Mitzvos Lishmah.

    Now to get nasty and opinionated :-) It seems as if they are all looking to be recognized. Perhaps each one was neglected and oppressed as a child and needs to feel recognized? Each one must have low self-esteem as there doesn’t seem to be ONE ATTRACTIVE WOMAN in their group! Each one looks homely!

    Their time admittedly would be better spent in doing items that Hashem reserved specially for women, such as getting married and raising children. Speaking of which, how many of them are in fact married? None? Could this be a part of the problem?

    This only adds to the pure Naarishkeit of the situation. The WOW are a joke group seeking attention for themselves, that’s it! Their being told “you can’t” gives their actions the forbidden fruit appeal such as a child not being allowed to watch a Rated R movie, then going “just because” he was told not to.

    • Puzzled

      I do appreciate these insights into what goes on in the haredi mind.

  • Anonymous

    I see WOW as troublemakers creating conflict where it does not exist. If they wanted religious freedom and egalitarianism, then they should go to America. This is what happens when we establish a secular state in the land of Israel. This kind of compromise is validated by many frum Jews who actually support such a state.

    • Anonymous

      If you want theocracy and religious coercion, then you should go to Iran or Saudi-Arabia.

      • Anonymous

        First of all, I want Torah, not any type of state. We shouldn’t make the land of Israel a joke by placing a secular puppet state. We’re in exile for a reason and we do not have the right to come back to that land as a nation (you may individually come back, come back with your family, or even come back with a community; but, the idea of coming back as a nation is an attempt to end the exile early). It’s okay when the Romans desecrate the Temple or the Muslims build a mosque on top of it because that is G-d’s problem. That is not us, acting on our will, this is an external force (driven by the force of G-d) to ruin our holy sites. If you don’t like Torah and the rabbinic establishment validated by Torah, then maybe this isn’t the correct belief system for you. Women shouldn’t wear tallit or tzitzit and proper tzniut is needed. Don’t like it, well no one is forcing you to be frum. You are free to leave our nation (opposed to what many Jews will say) and join the goyim. The modern invention created by today’s rabbis (not the rabbinic establishment, those are two different things) that you are still somehow Jewish even after committing every single aeirah imaginable is not reflective of G-d’s word. It’s a club and the door is right there if you don’t like it.

        • Michael McG

          The whole point of a secular state is that no single religion or particular religious tradition is favored over any other. Reserving the right for the Charedim to determine who is allowed to worship in what fashion violates the principle that there is no religious favoritism in a secular state.

          • Anonymous

            And I don’t want a secular state (I don’t want a state either, but that’s more of a political view than a religious one) in the land of Israel. Or at least, I don’t want a secular state under the guise of being a Jewish one. If you want a secular establishment in the land of Israel, then do it. But don’t put a Star of David on its flag and affiliate us with that monster. That’s a chillul hashem.

        • Puzzled

          Hey, religious zionists who oppose Wow: Meet your allies.

          • Anonymous

            What’s funny is that I’m not even a Zionist. I oppose any attempt to put a state in that land under any Jewish name.

            • Puzzled

              I know. That’s why I invited the religious zionists to see who they’ll need to work with in their opposition to religious freedom.

        • Anonymous

          So you don’t recognize the state, but still want the state to enforce your religious rules at the Kotel. Interesting logic.

          • Anonymous

            I don’t want a state at all, but on a more religious note I don’t want a Jewish state in the land of Israel. These are the kind of consequences we face when a secular state is linked with Judaism. Secular groups and individuals commit sins and sometimes do awful things and the entire Jewish community suffers from it.

  • Avi

    I do wonder if God at all is interested in the prayers of either site or if he thinks that the Kotel is a holy place at all.
    I do recall that he burnt the last Temple because Jews were not willing to get there act together and worship him in brethrenly love.
    Until we can stand in front of him and put aside all our beliefs, whatever they may be. We will have in essence no place in front of him at all.

    • Devin

      Great point

  • Critic

    I recently read an interview with Anat Friedman,head of the WOW movement,
    but don’t give much credence to her pronouncements because talk is always cheap.
    Actions, however, speak volumes.
    A photo with the lady from meretz (oh yes religion is at the top of THEIR agenda) and Stav, the girl who was head of the Rothschild squatters association and who is a known left wing rabble rouser, indicates just where what’s her face’s priorities lie.
    End of story.
    Let them do what they want and they will fade away, as, is often the case with liberal activists, getting there (no matter where “there” is) is all the fun.

  • Israelit Disagrees with Both Sides

    I went to WOW once in 2004 because in theory I agree totally that women should be allowed to pray with a pseudo-minyan at the Kotel if they want to, but I found while I was there that the attitude of many of the other women (especially the leaders) was so antagonistic and non-spiritual that I could not davven with kavannah there at all. The atmosphere was too angry. (And this was at the point when only 1 or 2 people threw chairs and garbage, and WOW was still less than 50 people). In theory I like the idea of women davening together, but WOW just keeps asking for more and more every month. First it was to pray at the Kotel in a group, great, second, to pray at the kotel in a group and lein the parshah out loud from a book, great, third it was to blow a shofar at the kotel, ok I guess, fourth to have and read from a Torah scroll at the Kotel (ok by me if they bring their own so no one else has to feel theirs got violated), then they started adding all this other stuff like bat mitzvas there, insisting on wearing a tallit and tefillin, and wanting to pray louder and doing stuff that the police arrested them for until this past month. This gives them the appearance of being never satisfied and just wanting to push boundaries for the sake of pushing them. So my question is: what is next? taking over the men’s section? forcing all the women at the kotel to participate, dressing like men at the kotel (oh, wait they already did that at Purim), demanding more _______? I mean, really what is next, and how far is far enough? This is the essence of the problem in my mind.
    On the other side, we have charedim with obvious sinat chinam and hillul hashem at the holiest place in the world- enough said.
    Whatever happened to sane Judaism?

  • Micah

    Allow me to be the elephant in the room. Women of the wall IS NOT an organization out to destroy tradition. In fact, I recommend that you watch their main video to realize that these religious Jews want to be religious without being beet up and called a slut/prostitute. Many of these women put on Tallis and refilling EVERY DAY, even WHEN TRAVELING, and yet Jews call these people reformists. I want all Orthodox Jews to hold a Torah and begin to say the shema, while women stand in a circle calling you a gay rapist. How will you feel about the holiness of Judaism at that moment?