Five Reasons Women of the Wall Must Stop Now
Owning a PR Firm, I must tip my hat to the “Women of The Wall” for their continued brilliant Public Relations efforts and their ability to repeatedly generate top-tier media coverage. From their features in The New York Times and the Huffington Post to wall-to-wall coverage in the Jewish media, they have attracted massive amounts of media attention.
After all, these are women fighting for their so-called “right to pray” with the great visual of the Western Wall as a backdrop – throw in Sarah Silverman’s (rabbi) sister and niece, sefer torahs and some other elements, and it becomes worldwide news. But that doesn’t make it right.
When I was growing up, I was a congregant of Rabbi Avi Weiss’ shul, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, and my mother, of blessed memory, was a devoted member of the women’s prayer group of the shul for as long as I can remember. As a father of daughters who attend Orthodox yeshivas, I would like my children to have bat mitzvahs where they deliver words of Torah at an Orthodox institution.
In Jewish life, there are undoubtedly some issues where the status of women must be improved, and few will dispute that. In Israel, a new governing coalition has been formed which will aim to address many of the issues that the ultra-orthodox have jammed down the throat of the people of Israel. Across the political spectrum, it has been acknowledged that changes must be made. But change cannot be made by offending the vast majority, and liberal extremists cannot keep pressing this dangerous campaign.
While it may be a great publicity gimmick, here are five reasons the Women of the Wall should stop their campaign immediately as it is wrong and harmful for the Jewish people:
The ranks of reform and conservative American Jews who might support this battle are rapidly declining, as American Jewry sees a 60% or more assimilation rate. Should the focus of Jewish identity be a fight against your brothers and sisters? Don’t identify with your Jewishness in order to fight other Jews – do good for Am Israel. This campaign isn’t attracting any wayward Jews to Judaism. (Surely, this is the only place in the world reform Jews are fighting to pray.)
The people of Israel simply don’t agree with these extremists who operate well outside of the religious and political consensus. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation is run according to the traditions of Jewish Law – people show up wearing goofy fanny packs, taking hundreds of pictures and dressed in any which way. Unlike anywhere else in the Middle East it’s open to people of all religions. The choice of religious observance isn’t to be forced – not by the Taliban, not by the Ultra-Orthodox and not by liberal extremists. As Israel’s Minister of Pensioner Affairs, Member of Knesset Uri Orbach said: “Until [they] manage to bring to Israel half a million Jews, they will remain an organization that makes its impact by petitioning the Supreme Court and by publicizing provocative press releases…” He is completely right. Ask Israelis about this and nearly universally they will condemn it – it is simply wrong and bad for Israel.
The extreme behavior of these women is harmful and can lead to danger. The head Rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz said: “They hurt us, the Jewish people, by distorting the truth.” Habayit Hayehudi MK Uri Ariel said that Women of the Wall’s “growing extremism” is what will “bring all of us to a ‘civil war,’ God forbid, in the Kotel plaza.” Likud MK Miri Regev condemned the liberal MKs’ who protested with Women of the Wall, saying they “hurt the feelings of the Jewish people and the public in Israel,” and called the gathering a “provocation.”
Jews need to respect Jewish rules: Mosques and churches have rules, and with apologies to my reform Jewish brothers and sisters so do shuls. I have visited St. Peter’s Square and noted that women can’t wear tank tops. Even in the year 2013, there are rules for Judaism. Jews in Israel have the right to police their areas of worship.
The Supreme Court of the State of Israel has ruled on this case and designated a discreet part of the wall for coed prayer with full regalia as the protesters wish. They are able to pray at the Wall (inside Davidson Park) in an area designated for them. They can do so without offending others.
Women of the Wall’s religious extremists may be masters at publicity stunts, but they aren’t doing any good for the Jewish people. It is time for the leaders of the Jewish community to call for an end to this radical behavior.
Ronn Torossian resides with his family in Manhattan.