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April 15, 2013 1:24 am

“Women of the Wall”: As if we Don’t Have Enough Problems Already

avatar by Moshe Averick

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Women of the Wall wearing prayer shawls (tallit). Note the eye-catching stylish colors by Pierre Cardin

A group called “Women of the Wall” is in the news again. For some time now they have been demanding the “right” to conduct feminist prayer services in the women’s section of the Western Wall. This includes the wearing of tallit, tefillin, and reading from a Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll); all of which violate Orthodox Jewish standards and are contrary to normative Orthodox prayer practices. It seems that for these women it is not enough to reach out to God with other Jews at the Wall in a way that does not cause friction and controversy. They are under the delusion that they can best serve God by offending other Jews, engendering disunity and disharmony, and most important of all: getting their pictures in the newspaper and on the nightly news. Who can argue with that logic? Everyone knows that what God wants most of all is for his children is to get good press by kicking up dust and provoking others to anger.

I personally witnessed the following incident that occurred at the Wall late one night. A priest was leading a group of French tourists down to the Kotel. Emblazoned on the front of his cassock was a large, embroidered red cross. There were not that many people standing at the Kotel at such a late hour but slowly, one by one, everyone – including myself – turned around and stared at him. It was clear that at first he did not understand what was going on and then suddenly realized the problem; he nonchalantly crossed his arms over his chest and everyone went back to their business. How pathetic and perverse that these women use a place of worship – a place of worship that is precious and holy to all Jews – to advance their ideological agenda. What a shame that the Women of the Wall don’t have the understanding, decency, consideration, and manners of this priest. Allow me to elaborate further for those who still don’t understand.

This type of prayer does is not good enough for the Women of the Wall; after all what good is prayer that only connects you with God if it doesn't get you in the newspaper?

The Jewish Federation of Chicago is housed in a beautiful building on Wells St. in Chicago’s Downtown/Loop area. They also have their own kitchen and a full-time chef . Actually they have two kitchens; one meat and one dairy. This is because eating or cooking milk and meat products together is a violation of Jewish dietary laws. One member of the kitchen staff is a full-time working mashgiach (kosher supervisor) certified by the Chicago Rabbinical Council, which is the official body of Orthodox Rabbis in the city. The job of the mashgiach is to make sure that all the food served is kosher by Orthodox Jewish standards. 

Question: In light of the fact that there are only a small number of Orthodox Jews who work at the Federation, why must the kitchen be kosher by Orthodox standards?

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Obvious Answer: The Jewish Federation is for all Jews. Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Agnostic, and even Atheist/Humanist Jews can all eat kosher food. If the food was not kosher, Orthodox Jews would be excluded and it would mean that the Federation was not for all Jews.

When I was an independent trader in the S&P pit at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange I attended the Jewish United Fund/Commodities Traders Division dinner. Although I was only one of a handful of Orthodox Jews attending, it was understood that the food would be kosher and supervised by a mashgiach from the Chicago Rabbinical Council.

Question: In light of the fact that only a few Orthodox Jews were in attendance, why was the whole event kosher?

Obvious Answer : A Jewish United Fund dinner is for all Jews. All different types of Jews are allowed to eat kosher food; if the event were not kosher Orthodox Jews would be excluded.

Question: What simple principle can be derived from these examples?

Obvious Answer that only self-absorbed publicity-hounds like Women of the Wall do not understand: The Western Wall is a place of prayer for all Jews. That means that the protocols must be acceptable by Orthodox standards or Orthodox Jews are excluded. There is no reason why a Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Humanist, or Radical Feminist Jew cannot abide by these standards while praying at the Western Wall. In fact it is a golden opportunity for unity that seems to elude us in so many other spheres.

Perhaps we could find a priest who will teach the Women of the Wall basic human decency, manners, and consideration

If these women have a “right” to conduct prayer services in accordance with their personal preferences, why can’t Jews for Jesus do the same thing? What about the Jewish Nudist Society whose central dogma is that the only way to get close to God is to approach him “naturally?” Should we discriminate against them also?! In their self-righteous zeal the Women of the Wall have directly violated the prohibition in the Torah of “Thou shalt not be like Korach and his followers.” This is the commandment that forbids us from provoking unnecessary controversy.

Let us pray that all who provoke unnecessary controversy, strife, contentiousness, and discord among Jews either repent and change their ways to the “ways of peace” or disappear like Korach and his followers.

Rabbi Moshe Averick is an orthodox rabbi, a regular columnist for the Algemeiner Journal, and author of Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist. It is available on Amazon.com and Kindle. Rabbi Averick can be reached via his website. If you wish to be informed when new articles appear, send an email to moe.david@hotmail.com with the email address and the word “Subscribe” in the subject line.

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  • Nabi

    It is very selfish of Orthodox Jews to control the wall. Their explanation of Torah is for them and them alone and they cannot by human rights, monopolize the wall. The wall is not like any other synagogue, it the only piece of the old temple still standing and many faiths have a right to it because many sects of Judaism (not just orthodox) abide by what it signifies. Let Orthodox Jews monopolize their own synagogues, but not the wall. Enough said!

  • Bracha D’vora

    I’m a Jewish Christian. Here is my opinion. One does not have a right to barge into the presence of HaShem anyway one wants and demand a hearing. He is an Elohim of order. We are also bidden to love our neighbour. Is disrupting their prayer love? (This goes for both sides). Our focus in prayer should be on our Father, not those around us. One should not draw attention to oneself that would distract others. He is not deaf that we need to shout for Him to hear us. There are no rights before HaShem, only responsibilities. He, also, has given different duties to Kohanim, Levites, to men and to women. To claim that is injustice is rebellion. We are bidden to be humble. There is much in feminism that pushes against this and against the quiet and gentle spirit that He honours. In private prayer, if a woman wants to take on obligations she is not required such as prayers at set times, this is fine, but to do it as a show only in public is not for the sake of Heaven. We are never to concoct our own worship and think it will be acceptable. No one can approach Him to worship with enmity in their heart but must make peace insofar as possible with their brother and sister. We show our love for Him in the way we love each other. All that we do should be for His honour and glory, not for our own. B”H.

  • Micah

    If this rabbi wants to know what indecency is then he should see the Haredim thrown chairs and feces at women who simply put on a tallit or read from the Torah. How can a Jewish service be conducted without reading from the Torah? Why should women not be allowed to practice basic tenets of Judaism, such as wearing a tallit or tefilin or even praying out loud, just because the orthodox Jews don’t agree with it? These women aren’t looking for the approval of the ultra-orthodox Jews, and the Kotel was not built specifically for them, either. The Kashrut laws in Israeli government buildings exist because they are supposed to affect all Jews, but how does a women’s service affect the men? Judaism is about God and the Torah’s standard, not the Haredim’s standard. As Rabbi Laura Geller said, “This movement began because women want a relationship to God and a relationship to Jewish tradition.” What makes men more entitled to this than women?

    • Moshe Averick

      Micah,

      The story about throwing feces was a complete fabrication to demonize haredi Jews, which is a favorite pastime of secular journalists. How can a Jewish service be conducted without the reading of the Torah? Very simple. The same way it has been done for thousands of years; our mothers Sara, Rivkah, Rachel, Leah, Hannah, etc. all prayed to God without reading from the Torah.

      Like most of the commenters who disagreed with me, you did not read the article with any type of care. If these women want to violate orthodox practice and wear tefillin or read from the Torah that is up to them, just not at the Kotel where it offends other Jews. If they really cared about devotion to God that would be uppermost on their minds. It is not. Most important is to create a ruckus and get their picture in the newspaper. I will be charitable and not tell you what I think about Laura Geller.

      • Micah

        First of all, I read the article several times and I did not read it “without any care,” I just disagreed with your delusions. It seems pretty cynical to assume that all women who pray out loud at the Kotel just want to defy orthodox laws and get in the newspaper. Laura Geller doesn’t represent all liberal Jewish women; there are women who aren’t involved with Women of the Wall and who are indifferent to it for the most part. But if they come from America or Canada, for example, where they are used to wearing a tallit and praying out loud, and if they actually do want a spiritual connection with God, they will most likely eventually come to the Kotel to pray. And this connection IS uppermost on their minds, but if the orthodox interrupt this connection and if the law supports this interruption, then the women are going to try to change this law.
        Secondly, what does the Talmud say about women praying? It says that women should be modest, that we all know, but it does not forbid women from observing the Torah’s Mitzvot, such as wearing a tallit; it simply does not obligate them to do so. It is understandable that the orthodox would be uncomfortable with this because it is not the norm, but seeing how it technically does not violate Jewish law, just orthodox concerns, it should be allowed. In my own opinion, women should want to fulfill the mitzvot, and silencing this just to satisfy the orthodox is like replacing Halakhic standards with orthodox standards. And even so, the Wall is holy for all Jews and therefore all Jewish customs should be respected. The women respect the orthodox by praying in their own section, but that means that the men should also respect non-orthodox traditions that may take place in the women’s section. The Kotel is not a de facto orthodox synagogue just because many orthodox pray there.
        Thirdly, haredim actually do throw rocks at women. Maybe not feces, that may have been exaggerated, but there are photographs of orthodox men throwing rocks at women. Not just at the wall, but at random women they deem to be “immodest.” And yesterday, on Rosh Chodesh, thousands of men protested the women’s service. They claim that the women are disrupting their prayer, but really they are interrupting their own prayers to try to stop something that doesn’t even affect them. Like I said, the Wall is public Jewish land, so haredim should not be able to control every single action of prayer that goes on there.

  • Julie

    I completely agree with the rabbi.

    Black men should have the decency not to talk to white women in front of skinheads.

    Jews should have the decency not to wear kippot in front of antisemites.

    Women should have the decency not to wear talit in front of moshe.

  • Moshe Averick

    Here is an interesting article from the Times of Israel on this same subject:

    The misogyny of the Women of the Wall
    The Times of Israel

    Leah AharoniApril 19, 2013

    I was born in the most feminist of societies – the Soviet Russia. For the past 100 years, it has enabled, encouraged, even pushed women to take their equal place alongside men. Russia might have been hellish as far as human rights went, but it was a mecca of women’s lib.

    My grandmothers and great aunts, educated in the 30s and 40s, worked as chemists, lawyers, and accountants. The women of my mother’s generation became doctors, researchers, and engineers. From tractor drivers to construction workers, from professors to judges, this was one big leveled playing field for us girls.

    The result was a mangled society of miserable women, emasculated men, and neglected children. A society with dismal marriage rates and the highest divorce rate in the world.

    The Women of the Wall would have us believe that true equality cannot be achieved unless they conquer the Kotel by praying there the way men have been praying for the past two millennia. Ironically, this rejection of the feminine Jewish experience is the epitome of misogyny. There is nothing more demeaning to women than positioning the traditionally male experience as the only one worth living and setting up women for an ongoing game of catch-up.

    I have a hunch that this is the reason that MK Dr. Aliza Lavie, a card-carrying feminist and the author of A Jewish Woman’s Prayer Book has rebuffed the Women of the Wall’s advances.

    So, dear Women of the Wall, please don’t try to liberate me. Empowerment and victimhood are a choice, not a circumstance. Please don’t project the victim mentality on me and others like me.

    I have liberated myself from the need to predicate my identity on becoming “one of the boys.” I have liberated myself from needing to feel like a victim of male oppression.

    I have tapped into a 3,000-year old tradition, which validates women. I have chosen to focus on the side of Judaism that empowers women to become the agents of change. For it is in the merit of the righteous women that we have been delivered in every generation and it is in the merit of righteous women that we will be delivered in the future.

    I am profoundly grateful to have the privilege, denied to generations of my foremothers, to visit the Kotel, touch its stones, and pour my heart out to the One Above. He hears me, alright. No paraphernalia necessary.

    • Toni Harte Bell

      When such discrimination against women, whether it is from a religious, social or employment aspect I am horrified.
      There will never be peace among peoples of the world unless there is freedom of thought and expression for everyone in all areas of life.How can people say they believe in God and consider themselves religious and engage in such archaic behavior that causes inequality between men and women, violence and suppression towards those who express different religious, social, political beliefs. It seems to be overlooked that all the rules that the various religions have are made that their members are expected to abide have been made by man not God or Allah. I acknowledge that we are expected to believe that God/Allah gave many tenets to the various prophets which have been allocated as ‘the word of God/Allah. If this is true how can one be sure that ‘the word of God/Allah’ to a human was accurately reported. My belief of God/Allah is that he is all loving, compassionate and forgiving: so unlike mankind.

  • Daniel P

    “Let us pray that all who provoke unnecessary controversy, strife, contentiousness, and discord among Jews either repent and change their ways to the ‘ways of peace’ or disappear like Korach and his followers.”

    Are you saying that we should pray that Anat Hoffman and the rest of the Women of the Wall be swallowed by the Earth and/or be burned alive by a heavenly fire?

  • Julie

    I completely agree with the Rabbi. When legal behavior in a public place in a free country is deemed offensive by a group of people, it should be stopped in the name of decency.

    Blacks should have the decency not to talk to white women in front of skinheads.

    Jews should have the decency not to wear kippot in front of antisemites.

    Women should have the decency not to wear talit at the kotel in front of rabbi Averick.

    • Julie,

      Comparing appropriate behavior in a place of Jewish worship with Blacks and skinheads reflects such a disconnect in your thinking that no reply is going to help.

      • Julie

        Comparing women wearing talit to Jews for Paganism reflects such a disconnect in your thinking that no reply is going to help.

  • Adam

    “”Inclusiveness” would also mean that Jews for Jesus or Jews for Paganism be allowed to conduct their own prayer services.”

    That’s right. The kotel is a public place in a democratic country. If you don’t want to pray there for whatever reason, you don’t have to.

  • duh

    I am offended by the masogyny of orthodox judaism. Orthodox jews should have the decency not to practice their offensive religious practices at the kotel or any other public place.

    • Moshe Averick

      Duh,

      You really are a duh; it’s MISOGYNY

      • Duh

        Oh, snap!

    • Duh,

      PS – There is a special name for a Jew who does not have any practicing orthodox ancestors within three previous generations: A Gentile.

      • Duh

        So you don’t think that third generation reform or conservative jews are jews. Noted.

        • Moshe Averick

          Duh,

          3rd and fourth gen. reform and cons. jews are almost non-existent

          • Duh

            You’re either lying or ignorant, because that is simply not true.

          • Naches

            So there’s no such thing as am yisroel?
            All the related verses in the Torah and the Talmud and the Siddur – nothing but lies, Rabbi Averick? Nice little mirror of the Nuremburg Laws you have there, Rabbi.

            Careful, Rabbi. You’re sounding a bit ignorant, here.
            Especially with your comment about “3rd & 4th generation reform and cons. jews” being “almost non-existent.” You must not get out of the house much.

  • Duh

    My favorite part of the article is the caption making fun of the women’s talit. Classy.

  • duh

    Lisa – when you start wearing a burqa so as not to offend religious muslims, then you’ll have some credibility.

    • Moshe Averick

      Duh,

      If Lisa walked into a Mosque dressed in a way that offended Muslims then she would be guilty of doing the same thing as the Women of the Wall do at the Kotel.

      • Duh

        So the kotel is to eastern Afghanistan, as the orthodox are to the Taliban.

        Good point.

  • Mark

    Excellent piece. Ben Gurion z”l understood the point, which is why he ordained that IDF would follow laws of Kashrut — even tho DBG, himself, and
    many ( if not most) Israelis did not keep Kosher. They could nevertheless eat Kosher. No harm. But huge benefit to national service- where all Israelis were needed. Today, as well. And not just Israeli Jews. All of us are One.

  • Barbara Pancoast

    Let me say, I am not a Jew, however, I have great reverence for Judaism. Excuse my expressions here, if it is possible.
    What is a holy site? It is owned by G-d, no one else, no matter what any earthly being states. It would be good if the site in discussion were not marred by the sight of men appearing to be Orthodox jeering at others. Can that be pleasing to the eyes of the Creator?
    A holy site requires containment and respect for G-d, no angry exclamations of ownership seem appropriate in the circumstance of another human wanting to pray, and that does, to me, allow prayer at the site by any person of any religion, aren’t they by their action indicating respect Judaism, that they seek Him there?

    • Moshe Averick

      Barbara,

      Your comments are appreciated. However, service of God is not a free-for-all. The Torah and Jewish Tradition teach us the paradigms for Jewish prayer and service of God. When in a Jewish holy site these paradigms define what is acceptable and what is not. For example: Jewish law forbids someone from praying so loud that it disturbs the other worshipers. One might think that this is common sense, however, the argument could be made that by preventing me from praying loudly you are interfering with my “sincere” devotion and service of God. The Jewish answer is that in this case your “sincerity” and “devotion” is misplaced and you are actually not showing your devotion but your lack of consideration and decency. The same applies to the Women of the Wall.

  • Moshe Averick

    Dear Readers,

    Before commenting I respectfully ask you to please read the article carefully. This article is not an analysis of the halachic (jewish law) issues regarding women’s prayer groups or wearing tefillin, it is not about which streams of Judaism are more or less valid than any other, it is simply about basic human consideration and decency. I think we all agree that it would be grossly inappropriate to barge into someone’s house or interrupt their meal at a restaurant in order to harangue someone about a cause, no matter what it is and no matter how passionate your commitment. The kotel is such a space. It is a place for prayer, not a place to showcase your ideological agenda. It would be just as inappropriate and offensive if a group of orthodox Jews chose the Kotel as a place to march with signs saying “Women should not wear tefillin”

    The point of the article is very simple: The Kotel is a synagogue. Orthodox Jews are FORBIDDEN to engage in certain types of practices in a synagogue just as they are FORBIDDEN to eat non-kosher food. Non-Orthodox Jews are not FORBIDDEN to eat kosher food nor are Non-Orthodox Women FORBIDDEN to pray without tefillin or without reading from a Torah Scroll, therefore they should have the common decency not to offend their fellow Jews at the Kotel. It seems to me to be a simple and self-evident point.

    • J Thiem

      Rabbi Averick:

      I agree with you that Jews (actually all people) should have the decency not to offend other Jews at the Kotel. That is, in my opinion, tantamount to my faith as a Jew. And yes, there are other ways to show one’s dedication to one’s beliefs than perhaps some of the steps that have been chosen by some advocates of Women of the Wall. But that unfortunately, can be said of all sides in this issue.

      Until each side commits to respecting the other’s right to pray at the Kotel in the manner chosen, I don’t see this controversy ending. The members of Women of the Wall obviously feel disrespected themselves by the way they have been treated, and the extent they have had to go to in order to pray in their way at the Kotel.

      I would like therefore, to add one note to what you said above, and then to ask a question:

      Conservative Jews feel just as obligated to follow the rules of Kashrut as Orthodox. Respectfully, I think it is an oversimplification to say it is a matter of whether non-Orthodox Jews feel they aren’t forbidden from not doing so. Their feeling of obligation may be just as strong, as may be their effort to adhere to laws of Kashrut. I have known some Orthodox Jews who don’t feel obligated to eat Kosher, and Conservative and Reform Jews who do, and maintain their adherence to keeping a kosher kitchen. The distinction, if there really is one that can be stated so simply, may be that Conservative (and Reform to some extent, though I am not as versed in Reform) believe that each individual is responsible for doing the very best he or she can do to adhere to Jewish law. But then, my impression is that Orthodox view an individual’s human efforts the same way. We’re all human, and we all (as Jews) hold a pride in upholding the tenets of Judaism. So our commonality is what is important in my opinion.

      My question is what can be done *on both sides* to ease the tension and make it easier for those they feel they are in opposition with to be able to pray at the Kotel? In short, what can those who oppose the Women of the Wall do to reach out to them and ease this tension? Someone must bridge the gap for both sides to reach consensus.

      • Moshe Averick

        Dear J. Thiem,

        I think you make a fundamental mistake. Their is no “right” to pray at the Kotel in the particular manner that one has chosen. There is instead an “obligation” to behave in such a way that keeps the peace whether you are praying or not. The Torah never talks about “rights”, only “obligations.” If the Women of the Wall would as themselves “What does God want from me, How does God want me to conduct myself in this situation?” – the whole problem would disappear. The problem is that all they can think about is their “rights.” In this case it is a sign of narcissistic self-absorption.

        If all parties involved would ask themselves: How does God want me to behave? – I think that would solve the problem.

        As far as Kashrut: Reform Judaism has no concept of Kashrut at all – at best it is some sort of quaint custom. While the official policy of the Conservative movement is to keep kosher – their standards are certainly different than Orthodox and practically speaking most Jews who belong to Conservative congregations do not keep kosher. A Jew who does not feel obligated to keep kosher, by definition cannot be an orthodox Jew. This is something that needs to elaboration but the only reason the Conservative movement officially keeps kosher is because it does not offend liberal/progressive sensibilities. If the liberal/progressive establishment would embrace PETA fully and shechitah (ritual slaughter) would be declared cruelty to animals, then the Conservative movement would abandon Kashrut the same way they abandoned the separation between men and women in the synagogue, accepted the ordination of women rabbis, tacit approval of homosexual marriage, etc. If you want to see where the Conservative movement is heading look at Reform; Conservative will be 15-20 years behind. If you want to know where Reform is heading, read Rolling Stone magazine and the Village Voice.

    • Louis Lipsky

      Rabbi Averick,
      I think it is you who should read your own article, and your reader’s comments, more carefully. You say above “This article is not an analysis of the halachic (Jewish law) issues regarding women’s prayer groups or wearing tefillin…” But it is.
      Your article states that “wearing of tallit, tefillin, and reading from a Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll); all of which violate Orthodox Jewish standards and are contrary to normative Orthodox prayer practices.” What do you mean when you say “standards”? It is a rather cryptic concept in the discussion of Jewish practice. Does Orthodox Judaism prohibit women from wearing tefillin? A Tallit? A kipa or other form of head covering? I must say that anyone who is not aware of the vast multiplicity within Orthodox Judaism’s understanding and application of halacha would assume from your words that these are undeniably prohibited. This is not the opinion of all Orthodox.
      The fact that these acts have not, to the best of our knowledge, been practiced until now (if that is what you mean in when you write “standards”) does not make them prohibited. So, while you may deny it, you most definitely are analyzing the halachic issues of women’s prayer practices.
      You say “I think we all agree that it would be grossly inappropriate to barge into someone’s house or interrupt their meal at a restaurant in order to harangue someone about a cause, no matter what it is and no matter how passionate your commitment.” The whites in Montgomery and other southern US cities felt that “sit-ins”, and even the very presence of Blacks, in certain restaurants was an interruption of their meal in order to harangue about a cause. So much so that some whites attacked the blacks, much as some (seemingly Orthodox) Jews attack the women wearing tallitot at the Kotel. Were the Blacks guilty, as you convict the Kotel women, of not having “the understanding, decency, consideration, and manners of this priest”?
      You state that “It would be just as inappropriate and offensive if a group of orthodox Jews chose the Kotel as a place to march with signs saying ‘Women should not wear tefillin’.” However, the fact that other (seemingly Orthodox) Jews’ physical attacks, including spitting and swiping the tallitot off the women’s shoulders, goes unreprimanded in your piece. If it’s just as inappropriate, why does it not rate the same vehement criticism as the women?
      You claim that your article “is not about which streams of Judaism are more or less valid than any other” yet you insist that everyone who prays at the Kotel adhere to Orthodox practice.
      Your comparison of the Kotel to someone’s home is ludicrous, and of Tallit to kosher food is invalid. The comparison to a Federation or UJA dinner is also a distortion. A better comparison would have been an El-Al jet on which one can order standard kosher, vegetarian, glatt, kids’ meals or others. The desire at UJA evens for uniformity is great, thus the insistence on all receiving the same meals, which clearly dictates accommodating the limitations of kashrut. Even if that desire was ignored, the suspicion that the pots and dishes might have been used for non-kosher would bring about a decision in favor of uniform kashrut. That’s when everyone is eating the same food. Praying at the kotel is like flying on an airplane. Do your own thing, in your seat.
      Isaiah the prophet, certainly more knowledgeable on Jewish prayer than either of us, informs us that God’s “house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” Not “by” all the nations, but “for” all the nations. If that’s the case for His House, then surely the yard of the adjacent property, which is what the Kotel pavillion really is, could not be Divinely Restricted to Orthodox only.
      You disagree with me. Masked as a need which, unaccommodated, would preclude Orthodox prayer, you insist that the Kotel it is for Orthodox only and find fault with all disagreement. I’m back on the plane, where slim stewardesses weave through Borough Park travelers in prayer to serve the plane’s other passengers. Somehow this anti-mechitza reality does not stop them from praying nor from continued patronage.
      You write in answer to J. Thiem’s first comment: “There is no “right” to pray at the Kotel in the particular manner that one has chosen. There is instead an “obligation” to behave in such a way that keeps the peace whether you are praying or not.” Upon whose shoulders is the obligation to keep the peace? Are Orthodox Jewish Men less obliged to keep the peace? And does keeping the peace mean not donning a tallit but not mean don’t tell other people what not to do?? Is this not clearly a value judgment of which “streams of Judaism are more or less valid than any other”???
      You, a Rabbi, assert: “The Torah never talks about “rights”, only “obligations.”” “Never”. Check again. The Torah is the greatest bill of rights the world has ever seen. When the Torah prohibits entering a debtor’s home to take what is yours, is that not the right of the debtor? When the Torah prohibits muzzling an animal when it is stomping on the grain, is that not a right? It’s the right of an animal! When a rabbi says the Torah doesn’t talk about rights, it’s a sad day for Jews.
      You state that “If the Women of the Wall would ask themselves “What does God want from me, How does God want me to conduct myself in this situation?” – the whole problem would disappear.” The thing is that the Women of the Wall do ask themselves just that. Only they don’t come with same answer as you. You can’t handle that. The whole problem could, indeed, disappear. It’s really easy: I agree with Lisa’s factual conviction that “Most of the Women at the Wall aren’t observant. Few if any wear tallis and tefillin any other day of the week if they aren’t participating in this group.” So here’s the solution: the Orthodox stop making an issue of it and these women would give up the practice, even at the Kotel.
      Rabbi Averick, you sum up the whole issue by finding these women’s acts to be “a sign of narcissistic self-absorption”. The key word there is “self”. They are not restricting others, they are tending to themselves. You, on the other hand, are guilty not of self-absorption but of self-aggrandizement. Despite denials, you have crowned yourself Interpretor of God’s Will and, as the Moslems call it, Keeper of the Holy Sites in Jerusalem.
      It shall be interesting to read how you will dismiss my arguments out of hand as you did your other critics. Have I not read your piece carefully? Am I fundamentally wrong? Most likely you will determine that I know nothing of halacha, nor of Torah, but not trouble yourself to demonstrate contradictory understanding or to substantiate your point.
      Glenda Urmacher is right: “it is a pity that orthodox men feel so inferior…”

      • Moshe Averick

        Dear Louis Lipsky,

        I appreciate that you took the trouble to compose such an elaborate comment. I will try to respond as best as I can.

        1. What the women of the wall propose is not normative Orthodox practice. I find it hard to believe that this is one of the points you disagree with. If there is anyone who disagrees it is a fringe group of far-left wing “Orthodox” rabbis. They are not “normative”. What I said is the simple truth, there really isn’t anything to argue about.

        2.You fall back on the standard liberal/progressive tactic of comparing any point of view with which you disagree to the civil-rights movement of the 60’s and Jim Crow Laws. Nobody really cares if these women buy a building somewhere and practice whatever rituals they would like. In fact they do, in a number of different places in Jerusalem. Jews for Jesus, Conservative and Reform Jews also have places in Jerusalem where they practice their versions of Judaism. The inescapable point of the article – inescapable that is, unless you are only interested in pushing your own agenda – is that just like in Jewish Community Centers or Jewish Federation buildings the kitchens and cafeterias are kosher by orthodox standards, (as they are in Israeli government buildings) so the religious practices at the Kotel must be “kosher” for ALL
        Jews. The priest that I mentioned in the article understood this simple point. Nobody was upset at him for being Catholic, everyone knew he was a priest in a cassock, nobody cared that he was visiting the Kotel and nobody cares that these women want to practice their rituals in their own way. However, just as we all understand (including the priest) that the Kotel is not the place to display a large red cross, The kotel is not the place to display a feminist religious agenda that offends other Jews. that is all. It is simple and in my opinion undeniable.

        3. I emphatically agree that just because the Women of the Wall act in an obnoxious and inconsiderate manner it does not give license to anyone else to react to them in an obnoxious and inconsiderate manner. Anyone man or woman who reacts with violence whether on a low or high level is also guilty of violating Torah precepts, that goes without saying. However, The fact that people react to the Women of the Wall in an inappropriate manner has absolutely no relevance in assessing whether the behavior of the Women of the Wall is proper or not. You and others have mistakenly conflated these two issues.

        3. When I said that the Torah does not talk about rights, I obviously did not mean that nobody has rights in the Torah. Anytime I have an obligation to someone it implicitly means that someone has a right to what I owe them. What I said was that the Torah leaves the concept of “rights” as an implicit one, the explicit reference is always to the “obligation.” The difference is between one end of the galaxy and the other. It is the difference between a society where everybody is focused on asking themselves “What is my obligation?” – “What do I have to do for others and how do I have to behave towards others”? and a society where everyone is whining and complaining: “You aren’t giving me my rights!” The women of the wall are a bunch of whiny adolescents narcissistically focused on their “rights.” The men (and women) who react to them inappropriately are the same. If everyone was focused on their “obligations” and “duties” we wouldn’t have these problems in the first place. Protests against the Women of the Wall must be done with dignity and within the torah guidelines of proper behavior.

        • Adam

          “just like in Jewish Community Centers or Jewish Federation buildings the kitchens and cafeterias are kosher by orthodox standards, (as they are in Israeli government buildings) so the religious practices at the Kotel must be “kosher” for ALL Jews.”

          And Louis explained in his last post why this is a false analogy. Did you read that part? Did it register at all?

          Are you going to just keep repeating your false analogy and just ignore the following that Louis wrote:

          “Your comparison of the Kotel to someone’s home is ludicrous, and of Tallit to kosher food is invalid. The comparison to a Federation or UJA dinner is also a distortion. A better comparison would have been an El-Al jet on which one can order standard kosher, vegetarian, glatt, kids’ meals or others. The desire at UJA evens for uniformity is great, thus the insistence on all receiving the same meals, which clearly dictates accommodating the limitations of kashrut. Even if that desire was ignored, the suspicion that the pots and dishes might have been used for non-kosher would bring about a decision in favor of uniform kashrut. That’s when everyone is eating the same food. Praying at the kotel is like flying on an airplane. Do your own thing, in your seat.”

      • Adam

        Louis – thanks for taking the time to spell out what should be obvious points.

  • Aron Yonah

    As a follow up to my previous post I would like to share a Quote I just came across from Rabbi Avigdor Miller OB”M;

    The ideals of Judaism were not to be shaped by the changing fashions of the times, but would be as eternal and immutable as the sun and the stars.

    Moses, as the prototype of Israel’s leaders, did not bow to the populace and stoop to the level of public opinions; but he elevated the people to the standards of eternal Torah. (Hen Am)

  • Aron Yonah

    The Kotel does indeed belong to all Jews.
    Having said that one must wonder what are the motives of these “women of the wall”. If their intention is truly to serve Hashem, how can they accomplish that by flouting His law as it has been accepted throughout the ages? One of the 13 principles of faith as taught by Maimonides is that the Torah does not change. These women are not smarter or holier than the women who lived in the times of the Beit Hamikdash or in the times that the Talmud was written, or in the times that Rabbi Yosef Karo wrote the Code of Jewish law.
    There is a dictum that is repeated many times in the Talmud “כל המשנה ידו על התחתונה” which translates loosely as “the one who is changing must prove his point”. These women cannot prove their position with any acceptable source in Rabbinic literature other than to say that they “feel” that this the way that they want to pray. Jewish law is not based on feelings, rather it is based on what Hashem wants us to do. The guidelines for what He wants us to do are stated in the Torah and explained in the Talmud.
    If the intention of these women is to serve Hashem, they should do so using the guidelines of the Torah. If they want to write their own rules or use their own interpretations they have that right, however, they should do so in their own place of worship , not at the Kotel and not at the expense of the other people praying there who try their hardest to properly follow the rules of the Torah.
    The holiness of the Kotel demands that we defend its honor by not allowing G-d’s word to be desecrated there. If the feelings of a fringe group whose intention is to poke a finger in the eye of traditional Judaism is hurt, so be it.

  • J Thiem

    Excuse me: This was an article? What happened to Algemeiner’s editorial standards? Is the editor afraid to note an attack like this as commentary? This lowers Algemeiner’s reputation, and I am deeply disappointed in the lack of balance offered in this “article.” The newspaper should be ashamed for taking advantage of their readers’ trust in its professional standards.

    • Moshe Averick

      Dear J. Thiem,
      Don’t understand your objection. This article is listed under “Spirituality, Beliefs and Concepts”. What is bothering you?

      • J Thiem

        As a journalist who writes on such topics, my issue is that Spirituality doesn’t mean commentary. If it’s commentary, it should be noted as such under Algemeiner’s well-highlighted “Commentary” section. This was put across as if it was an article, which it certainly isn’t. Algemeiner should be ashamed of crossing that boundary. Its editors are capable of knowing better.

  • Moshe

    The tall it is a rabbinic innovation meant to take advantage of the commandment of tzitzit. If a Jew wears a 4 cornered garment, he must affix tzitzit to the 4 corners. If he doesn’t wear a 4 cornered garment he doesn’t have to wear tzitzit. It’s a voluntary mitzvah. The rabbis fashion, for liturgical purpose, the tall it so Jewish men could take advantage of this mitzvah. Pious women who are wearing tzitzit on their scarfs, pashminas, kerchiefs, sarongs and other 4 cornered garments are more than entitled to petition for a liturgical tallit for women. No rabbi in the world would deny such pious women. While tephilin are also optional for women, there is a process through which they can wear them but they cannot do it in public according to the current poskin. However, for a woman to wear a tallit and tephilin in public is tantamount to a man wearing drag to synagogue or church. Jews cannot pray whatever way they want. We are a holy people governed by laws of holiness in everything we do. Gentiles can do whatever they want, not Jews.

  • GLENDA urmacher

    it is a pity that orthodox men feel so inferior, and are so selfish that they must retaliate against one half of the population of the country.
    the Kotel belongs to all Jews, male and female and it is the government that is to blamed.
    Remove the tax funds that orthodox Jews utilize to favor their schools over secular, conservative and reform schools.
    Refuse to support families who have more children than they can afford to properly raise.
    Refuse support for schnoerrers who don’t work, don’t pay taxes, and force their will upon others
    this is a government problem , not a religious one.

  • Shoshana

    It is time for the Orthodox to mind their own business. Let the Orthodox pray the way they wish to pray, and let others pray in their own way.

    If the rude and violent men at the Wall would concentrate on their own prayer, and ignore the women whom they disdain, then the problem would be solved.

    Please do not pretend that this has anything to do with either sanctity or holiness. No One died and left a bunch of ugly, selfish, and weak men in charge. This is about a group of silly, power-mad men, who thank God every morning that they were not born female, who wish to control women and deny them the right to be fully functioning Jewish adults.

    This is the modern world, and that means women won’t sit behind barriers in the back of the synagogue any more. Separate but equal is always unequal, and those days are gone.

    • Moshe Averick

      Shoshana,

      I agree, it’s time we let Jews for Jesus have their own place at the wall also. It is hysterical arguments like yours that cause much of these problems

      • Shoshana

        A typical, silly answer from someone who knows he is in the wrong and is not man enough to admit it.

        • Bravo Shoshana, both your comments are on the mark.

        • Moshe Averick

          Shoshana,

          Perhaps I over-reacted to your comments. Let’s see if we can figure out where our viewpoints diverge: In your opinion, if the Women of the Wall should be allowed to do their thing at the Kotel(“let others pray in their way”), should Jews for Jesus be allowed the same privilege?

      • Duh

        Have you ever called a man “hysterical” for disagreeing with you?

        Here’s a tip: you need to be more subtle with the solipsistic misogyny; otherwise, you just appear pathetic and petty.

  • Harriet

    This article is so inaccurate and one-sided that I am going to cancel my subscription.

  • Herschel

    You are a rude and disrespectful man.

  • ricardo

    There is a bit of illogic in this very compelling and logical injunction. “The Western Wall is a place of prayer for all Jews…This is the commandment that forbids us from provoking unnecessary controversy.” In dining, there is inclusiveness by ensuring kosher food. In praying, where the pray-er and the pray-ee (in this case G-d) are much more treated with inclusiveness if ALL participants are permitted to address HaShem in their own vocabulary and their own style. To compare intake of food to outpouring of prayer is interesting, but the conclusion is irrational. These are inversions of action. Intake must include concern for the sensitivities of the most dietarily reactionary. I agree. But outpouring should allow consideration for the least reactionary, since it is up to G-D to decide which prayers to listen to, not some retrograde intolerant whose own ritual actions are completely unaffected by anyone else who is not praying directly beside him.
    This is fabulous erroneous metaphor. Now try the accurate analysis and you’ll come to the opposite conclusion. And I say this even though I think the women of the wall are selfish & insensitive louts.

    • Grantman

      Yes. What he said.

      • Your mistake is that when women are davening in an inappropriate way, it is disruptive. Both to the other women trying to daven and to the men. In the case of the men, it may actually be forbidden for them to daven if there are women singing.

        Why are the needs and wants of these women more important than the needs and wants of everyone else?

        • Louis Lipsky

          Who decides what davening is inappropriate???

        • duh

          Why are the needs and wants of orthodox men more important than those of everyone else?

    • Moshe Averick

      Ricardo,

      “Inclusiveness” would also mean that Jews for Jesus or Jews for Paganism be allowed to conduct their own prayer services. The Western Wall is not a place for freestyle spirituality, it is an open air synagogue for all Jews and should be treated as such. to say that I am not affected by someone who is not praying “directly beside me” and that if I am that makes me a “retrograde intolerant” is simply a self-serving statement that does not address any of the points raised in the article. What about Shabbat at the Western Wall? Does it matter whether the traditional concept of Shabbat is honored there or not. Your objections fall very short of the mark, in my opinion.

  • Sara Springer

    I absolutely agree!

  • hadassa

    to the editor: i’m unable to access the other 9 comments. ate these comments private?

  • hadassa

    These women are so self-absorbed and intent on making a public nuisance of themselves in order to attain their goal, that they have lost all sense of decency and consideration, assuming they ever had any! The Kotel is a very holy site, especially to religious Jews, and this is precisely the reason these women are agitating – they are against the Jewish religion. No-one is preventing them from praying as they wish; just not at the Kotel, where their antics cause offence to Orthodox and traditional Jews alike.

  • If Orthodox Jewish women can worship in an Orthodox synagogue…albeit in a place separate from Orthodox men, why, oh why can’t they worship in a separate place at the Wall? Orthodox Jews should be thrilled to make an “official” place for their women to worship at the Wall! How is it we Jews laud our women for teaching our children to pray, and then deny the women their right to worship at the Wa;; with tefillin, etc?

    IS SHE IS OR IS SHE AIN’T GONNA BE “ALLOWED””

    • Moshe Averick

      Richard,
      There has been a separate site at the wall for years where these women can conduct their services. That is the strangest part of this story. Again, not good enough. they need more time in the newspapers.

    • The Women at the Wall have been offered a separate place at the wall. They’ve turned it down. Their purpose is not to have a place of their own, but rather to change the nature of the place for everyone else.

      Most of the Women at the Wall aren’t observant. Few if any wear tallis and tefillin any other day of the week if they aren’t participating in this group. It’s a deliberate show and provocation, with an ideological purpose. The intent is to change Jewish norms. Not to express themselves.

  • Folding in dignity for Women at the wall with Korach, Jews for Jesus,and Jewish Nudists tell me more about Rabbi Averick than I wanted to know.

  • Steven

    You write about the Women of the Wall, “They are under the delusion that they can best serve God by offending other Jews, engendering disunity and disharmony…” To many of us, women’s inability to worship at the wall in the same manner as men is offensive, divisive and disharmonious.

    • Moshe Averick

      Steven,

      You have not thought this through properly. Using your logic Jews for Jesus should have the same right to conduct their services as Women of the Wall. Orthodox Jews are FORBIDDEN to sanction these types of services, whether or not you agree with them, just as orthodox Jews are FORBIDDEN to eat non-kosher food while Reform, Conservative, etc have not violated any of their religious principles by eating KOSHER food. This issue is not at all about the theological/social debate about feminism, women wearing tefillin, etc. It is about acting with basic decency (like the priest in the article) and not going out of your way to offend people when you have a choice not to.

    • Steven, you may think that the example Moshe gave about kashrut wasn’t pertinent, but I can tell you from my own experience that it is. When I was an undergrad at Washington University (back in the 80s), there was a big kerfuffle when some of the Reform members of the Hillel Vaad (student board) objected to the “kosher food only” rules for the Hillel kitchen. Their arguments were absolutely identical to the arguments I’m seeing here. “Why should we be bound by Orthodox rules? Where’s the pluralism?”

      But the fact is, anyone can eat kosher food, even if they don’t keep kosher. Even if they’d rather eat treyf. While those of us who keep kosher *cannot* eat from that kitchen if there’s treyf food there. That’s an inherent difference between the two sides. Insisting on kosher standards doesn’t force Jews who want to eat a ham on rye to do something they are forbidden to do.

      Similarly, insisting on kosher standards at the Kotel doesn’t force anyone to violate their religion, however much some may claim otherwise. No Conservative or Reform Jew is *required* by her religion to wear tefillin while davening. I mean, come on, those groups don’t really “require” much at all. It’s all about choice.

      And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe they don’t understand that we don’t keep the rules we do out of personal choice. We consider these to be the *law*. We are *bound* by these rules. Among them is the fact that men cannot daven in a place where women are singing. Not that they might not want to. They *are not allowed to* by their religion. There’s nothing similar for the Women at the Wall.

      Live and let live isn’t a possibility. If women are singing at the Kotel, men are screwed. How can anyone suggest that this is fair?

  • Becky Blanton

    People are traditionally offended because they feel threatened. My thought is that the rabbis are not concerned that women are not spiritual enough to participate in worshiping G-d at this level; rather, they are concerned that women might become too spiritually devoted.

    Contrary to popular belief by misogynous rabbis, women in Jewish tradition SHOULD and often do, hold a higher place in Israeli society than in America. http://jewfaq.org/women.htm is the website with the full explanation. But allow me to quote from the site:

    The (second) thing that must be understood is the separation of men and women during prayer. According to Jewish Law, men and women must be separated during prayer, usually by a wall or curtain called a mechitzah or by placing women in a second floor balcony. There are two reasons for this: first, your mind is supposed to be on prayer, not on the pretty girl praying near you.

    Second, many pagan religious ceremonies at the time Judaism was founded involved sexual activity and orgies, and the separation prevents or at least discourages this. Interestingly, although men should not be able to see women during prayer, women are permitted to see men during prayer. This seems to reflect the opinion that women are better able to concentrate on prayer with an attractive member of the opposite sex visible.

    The combination of this exemption from certain mitzvot and this separation often has the result that women have an inferior place in the synagogue.

    Women are not obligated by Jewish law to attend formal religious services, and cannot participate in many aspects of the services (traditional Jewish services have a very high degree of “audience participation” — and I’m not just talking about community readings, I’m talking about actively taking part in running the service), so they have less motivation to attend. Woman’s obligations in the home (which are the reason why women are exempt from time-based mitzvot like formal prayer services) often keep them away from synagogue.

    In several synagogues that I have attended, the women’s section is poorly climate controlled, and women cannot see (sometimes can’t even hear!) what’s going on in the men’s section, where the services are being led. This has improved somewhat in recent years, but men: if you think I’m lying, ask your wives.

    But as I said before, this restriction on participation in synagogue life does not mean that women are excluded the Jewish religion, because the Jewish religion is not just something that happens in synagogue.

    Judaism is something that permeates every aspect of your life, every thing that you do, from the time you wake up in the morning to the time you go to bed, from what you eat and how you dress to how you conduct business. Prayer services are only a small, though important, part of the Jewish religion.

  • Dovid Hirsh

    Trying saying this in the Jewish Daily Forward.Your comments will be deleted in two seconds. So much for “Free Speech”.

  • Ze’ev

    You wrote: “The Western Wall is a place of prayer for all Jews. That means that the protocols must be acceptable by Orthodox standards or Orthodox Jews are excluded.”

    If hakotel is a place for ALL JEWS, why has it to be only orhtodox? This excludeds all OTHER Jews?! I dont see a reason why orthodox are better jews? Your point contradicts itself with preachin eclusion of all non orthodox jews! Thats the opposite of “united”!

    You preach religious coercion in favor of just your stream of judaism!

    • Moshe Averick

      Zeev,

      You obviously did not read the article very carefully. When a JUF dinner is kosher is not a statement about whose stream of Judaism is better or worse, it is a simple statement of consideration, decency, and unity.

    • Because a Reform Jew can daven according to Orthodox rules without violating any of the rules of the Reform Movement. While an Orthodox Jew cannot daven according to Reform rules without violating Jewish law.

      This isn’t about religious coercion. If we were to break into your Reform temple and start shouting “Break it up, you people!” that would be religious coercion. No one is doing that. We’re only asking for respect to be shown, and for davening to happen in a way that everyone *can* abide by, even if they might prefer a different way.

      • Louis Lipsky

        Lisa, there are tens of minyans conducting themselves at the kotel all the time, and we really have no way of knowing which is davening Ashkenaz, Sephard, Conservative or Reform. Z’ev is right.

    • Ze’ev,

      From your comments I find it hard to believe you actually read the article.

  • E Shargel

    The Kotel belongs to ALL jews. Because some or even many Jews are aare offended, they do not have the right to harass and attack those women. If Israel’s police and military
    have the right to arrest and carry off these women, that is an insult to the democratic character of the nation, Israel. Jew do not need a theocracy in their own country, but they seem to be getting one. The middle east does not need another state run by zealots. There are alredy too many of them in the neighborhood.
    (previous submissions had a typo in my email address. sorry.)

    • Moshe Averick

      Dear E. Shargal,

      You have allowed your emotions to carry you away. We aer not talking about how the “state” should be run. We are talking about the Kotel which is like a synagogue which all Jews to attend. The protocols of a synagogue are determined by religious considerations. A synagogue by definition is a type of “theocracy” or else it is not a synagogue. It is frustrating to see how many commenters have confused the issues here.

      • No offense, but that’s not really much of an answer. They’ll simply respond that it’s a Jewish cultural site, and not a shul. And in fact, prior to 1967, that was the case. No mechitza was present, because it was a mekom aray’i, and not an established shul. There’s been no formal determination that it *is* a shul.

    • Do you really believe that the objections to the Women at the Wall are merely an issue of people being “offended”? Do you honestly not realize that the Women at the Wall are deliberately engaging in behaviors that are coercive, in that Orthodox men are not allowed to pray while women are singing in the area?

      More to the point, do you care?

      • Louis Lipsky

        Lisa, what’s coercive about davening in your own minyan? Isn’t telling someone else what she may not wear a little more coercive???

  • E Shargel

    The Kotel belongs to ALL jews. Because some or even many Jews are aare offended, they do not have the right to harass and attack those women. If Israel’s police and military
    have the right to arrest and carry off these women, that is an insult to the democratic character of the nation, Israel. Jew do not need a theocracy in their own country, but they seem to be getting one. The middle east does not need another state run by zealots. There are alredy too many of them in the neighborhood.

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