Judaism: Women and the Western Wall
Rabbi Dr Raymond AppleRabbi Dr Raymond Apple AO RFD is Emeritus Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem, where he publishes OzTorah, a weekly email list and website with Torah insights from an Australian perspective.
Q. Should Anat Hoffman, the head of the group, “Women of the Wall”, have been arrested for wearing a tallit, singing and saying the Sh'ma out loud at the Kotel?
A. As they say, the devil is in the detail. It sounds preposterous to arrest a Jew for proclaiming the Divine Unity at the Western Wall. Men as well as women say the Sh'ma (and the rest of the siddur) there every day and night of the week, and they don't get arrested.
However, a very important principle was articulated by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein when asked about women adopting practices that had previously been male preserves. He said that it all depends on their motivation. If they are deeply spiritual and they think, act and pray out of deep, overwhelming love for God, that is one thing; but if they act out of militancy, in order to make a point (and impliedly rebel against established tradition), it is inappropriate, to say the least.
Every Jew is welcome to let their heart and soul speak to God at the Kotel and everywhere else, preferably quietly and privately within a spiritual cocoon where only they and God are present. But not if they want to make a literal song and dance about it in order to prove a religio-political point, which probably contains very little deep spirituality and will only irritate the truly pious people who pray in their own corner and do not need or want the intrusion of a noisy demonstration.
I am not sure that Anat and her followers should be arrested or thrown into prison, but there must be a diplomatic way of counselling and controlling them.