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March 20, 2013 9:52 am

Five Reasons Women of the Wall Must Stop Now

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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The Western Wall in Jerusalem. Photo: Wayne McLean.

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.

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  • Micah

    What do you think attracts more media attention: women having a normal prayer service on Rosh Chodesh at the wall or thousands of Haredim mobbing the women’s section while yelling and throwing rocks at them?
    Similar, but not as dramatic, events happen at the Kotel whenever women open their mouths to pray. There was a parliamentary bill that passed that said that women can be jailed for up to seven years just for wearing a tallit or reading from the Torah. I can’t imagine any non-orthodox Jewish woman accepting this.
    Please tell me how WoW is worse than Hamas and Hezbollah.
    These are Jewish women having Jewish services; how does that possibly pose a threat to Judaism? Just like Rahel said, if you leave the women alone, the women will leave you alone. The women are already in their own section, what more do you want?

    • A Woman of the Mall

      Micah — I think you have fulfilled your own request (“Please tell me how Wow is worse than…”) — it is because these are Jews pitting themselves against other Jews – get it ? We are too small to behave in such petty ways. And just so you are very clear — this petty behavior needs to stop in every aspect of Judaism – not just the WoW – as it is only the latest distraction from the much bigger picture that we all seem to be losing sight of here and now.

      • Micah

        In 1989, during the Intifada, the police were heavily guarding the Kotel due to possible attacks. An orthodox man threw an officer’s gas canister into the women’s section, which is what started the Women of the Wall movement in the first place. Back then, the women did not pray out loud to provoke or anger anyone or to make a statement. By treating the women like the enemy, this man “pitted Jews against each other.” The Haredim are the ones that are doing most of the fighting in this conflict, and just so you know, WoW is made up of women ranging from modern orthodox to secular Jews. I’ll admit that over time, the women have started provoking the Orthodox into anger, but they are only openly stating that women’s prayer services are authentic Jewish prayer services, something Hamas and Hezbollah despise. WoW is definitely flawed, and I don’t justify all of its actions, but it is not the only cause of this division amongst Jews. There is petty behavior coming from both sides. Once the overreactions to the WoW stop, everyone will go back to having normal services without disruption, which is what most people, including them, want. And to focus on the bigger picture- that orthodox man who attacked the women first symbolizes how divisions within Judaism are caused by an opposition to what the orthodox see as traditional. The orthodox may not agree with the reform, but they still have to recognize them as fellow Jews and should not make angry statements against them. Their core beliefs are the same, so they can live with their differences if they work with what they have in common.

  • A Woman of the Mall

    Mr. Torossian – Thank you for being an articulate voice of reason in a swarm of mis-information/distortion. I have visited the WoW website, and there is absolutely no dissenting opinion allowed there.

    Your PR angle is spot on, and it is a pity that WoW are choosing to exploit the Kotel and the Tallis – poor Tallis … for what appears to be a collective venting of very unfulfilled and unhappy emotions by those seeking this lowest common denominator unity.

    WE have real problems to face. No need to contrive problems to distract from facing the real ones.

    I think that the following 2-linked articles illustrate the dichotomy of this situation very well. The 2nd link (written by a revious commenter) is actually in response to the 1st link posted in an op-ed blog.

    1st =>

    2nd ==>

    As we move toward Shavuot, G-d help us all to chill out and use the good brains we have been endowed with to navigate peacefully, productively and in good health.

    Shavua Tov

    === kindly delete this request AND my previous post as I have made the necessary edits and corrections ===

  • Shoshana

    So you approve of the saintly men who behave like arabs and attack innocent Jewish women?

    It seems you are the one who needs a course in how to be a Jew. Do you actually imagine that you speak for G-d about how to pray? I have news for you, you don’t.

  • Rachel Yeshurun

    Hi, I see written at the top of this article that there are 9 comments, but I don’t see the comments themselves. My own comment has been ‘awaiting moderation’ for 3 days now. Is there some technical glitch?

  • calum

    that awkward moment when you find yourself condoning gender segregation.

    • Jonathan H.

      Yes, that “gender seperation”. Its called Judaism. And by the way, women of the wall also want “gender seperation.” Fool.

  • Once again, an opponent of Women of the Wall thinks he can see into the hearts of Jewish women who come to the Kotel to pray as they have been doing for more than 24 years. They have done so mostly without incident until fairly recently. If the police (or whoever is sending them) would simply stop harassing WOW, their prayer services would return to being quiet and uneventful, as they were for two decades.

    The willingness of WOW’s opponents to attribute the worst possible motives to the group reminds me of the midrash about the women who refused to donate their gold to the Golden Calf construction project. How did their husbands respond, I wonder, when they said no? I’m sure they didn’t say, “Yes, dear, whatever you say; this Golden Calf is just nonsense anyway, and I’m only donating my own gold to get along with the guys.” No — I’m sure their reactions were more like, “What do you mean, you won’t give your gold for our god? Do you want to destroy our good name and bring his wrath down on us as well?! You hand that gold over this instant!” We praise the women now, but I’m sure they weren’t praised at the time. It must have taken tremendous strength of character for them to withstand the pressure they were under.

    Likewise, women who are passionate enough about their Judaism to pray with tallit and tefillin despite the tremendous disapproval and pressure they undoubtedly encounter from some quarters are hardly candidates for assimilation.

    (Full disclosure: I was a member of WOW for 18 years and one of its prayer leaders for some years as well.)

  • Ericid

    Robinson’s Arch is not, in its current arrangement, an acceptable alternative. It is not open 24/7, as the Kotel is, and is not wheelchair-accessible.

  • Cheryl Birkner Mack

    I am board member of Women of the Wall and your article shows some significant misunderstandings of what happens at the Kotel on Rosh Hodesh mornings.

    In your first point you state that this is a “fight” by Reform and Conservative Jews. This is wrong: We’re not fighting–we’re coming to pray. Others do fight us, and we take up the challenge. and WE are Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Orthodox, Renewal Jews. When we came to daven Shaharit on a morning when it was not Rosh Hodesh (and therefore nobody anticipated us), there was no commotion, no interference. We prayed (with tallitot) and we went home.

    Your second point that Israelis condemn us is not true. Some do, some don’t and many don’t know who we are. You also write that “the choice of religious observance isn’t to be forced” by the ultra Orthodox, but that’s exactly what is happening.

    Your third point is about our extreme behavior. Do you mean prayer? talitot? being women?

    In your fourth point you apologize to Reform Jews who don’t know how to follow the rules. I think the extremists who vocally oppose us are the ones who don’t know how to follow the rules.
    Your fifth point states that Robinson’s Arch has been set aside for egalitarian prayer. Exactly. We’re not egalitarian. And unlike the Haredi extremists, we are certainly doing a lot of good for the Jewish world.

  • Jon Garfunkel

    Why do you say that nonviolent actions would lead to danger? Are you suggesting that normative Jewish behavior sanctions violent reactions to nonviolent actors?

  • I agree with you, Mr. Torossian. But the issue of praying at the Wall is only one small front in the Left’s battle against Orthodox Jewish traditions and the character of Israel as a Jewish, not European, state. Whatever motivates these liberal, mostly secular, Jews one thing is clear; they do a grave disservice to the welfare and survival of this Ancient Tribe. That they do their work from within our ranks poses a greater danger than all the rest of our enemies, Hezbollah included.

    • Micah

      I don’t know what battle against orthodox Judaism you are talking about. For one thing, Women of the Wall includes women from all streams of Judaism, including modern orthodox. Secondly, the Haredi men are the ones who first attacked the women, so this is really the ultra-orthodox war on women praying out loud. And the reform Jews don’t try to implement their alternative views on Judaism in orthodox circles the way the orthodox spread their views to the reform. Thirdly, Hezbollah, along with the other terrorist groups, are made up of radical Muslims who oppose feminism and women’s rights with the same fervor as the Haredim. And the only thing “anti-Jewish” about the WoW is that they are praying the same prayers with the same garments and the same Torah as the orthodox, but out loud. It’s not like they’re waving Palestinian flags with shirts that say ‘Intifada’ while praying for the destruction of Israel in Arabic. Lastly, Anat Hoffman asks, “How can there be national unity if half the population is silenced?”, and various other women rabbis see the wall as a symbol of Jewish unity and survival. The Kotel contains Jewish history and Jewish prayers, so keeping these from Jewish women is tantamount to denying their Jewishness. In my opinion, that poses a much greater danger to Jews and Judaism.

  • Rachel Yeshurun

    Women of the Wall is a pluralistic women’s-only prayer group who seek to obtain the social and legal right to pray out loud and chant from a Torah scroll in the women’s section of the Western Wall.

    Women of the Wall are from all the denominations of the Jewish people: Orthodox, Renewal, Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative and non affiliated. As such, we are inclusive and respectful of the many ways to pray and the many paths to G-d.

    We are not extreme in any way. Our struggle is modest and sincere which is exact why the media have picked up on it.

    We see a shift in Israeli public opinion from apathy to our cause, to admiration for our bravery.

    Please note also that we are not agitating for coed prayer at the Kotel, but rather for the right of women to pray in their own way in the women’s section at the Kotel.

    This right was secured for men in 1967, and we hope and pray that the same rights will be accorded to women in this 21st century.

  • Rivka

    Glad to hear that there are people who aren’t too brainwashed by political correctness to give this mishegoss the unequivocal condemnation it deserves. There is no religion in the world without some standards. People who can’t accept that are rejecting Judaism.

  • b.wise

    “Jews need to respect Jewish rules”+”Even in the year 2013, there are rules for Judaism”=”issues that the ultra-orthodox have jammed down the throat of the people of Israel.”