Op-Ed: The "Women of the Wall" Kotel Controversy
Rochel SylvetskyRochel Sylvetsky is op-ed editor of Arutz Sheva's English site. She is a former Chairperson of Emunah Israel,1991-96, CEO/Director of Kfar Hanoar Hadati Youth Village, a member of the Emek Zevulun Regional Council and the Religious Education Council of Israel's Education Ministry. Her degrees are in Mathematics and Jewish Education.
Women, halakhically, are actually allowed to wear tzitzis, don a tallis, hold Torahs (like for dancing on Simchat Torah) and even read from them for a women's prayer group, but without reciting the blessings - about which laws are very stringent, for reasons that have no connection to equal rights.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, for example, does not allow women to say the two blessings before Shma in the service in the Sephardic community because they are not commanded to say the prayer - daily prayers are time-defined and women are not obligated for that kind of mitzvah, so he has ruled that they must not say G-d's name in a non-obligatory blessing.
The question at hand, however, is not mathematically halakhic - meaning it is not logically deducted by hermeneutical Talmudic principles - it is "spirit of Torah-halakhic", which to me is the core of a Torah-true life. It is about changing time-honored customs and causing loud and needless controversy. It is not only about what women do, but where.
Torah doesn't change because of the "modern" century, it deals with the century's problems in the light of its precepts. One of those most basic foundations is modesty and another is family peace.(family being the nuclear one and the national one) .
Therefore, the above mitzvahs, for which women don't get "brownie points" because they are not commanded to do them, but which they are allowed to do if they wish, must be kept in adherence to the halakhic limitations of mechitza (gender separation) during prayers, an unchanging position - although this is a very permissive sexual period in history.
Also, due to non-mathematically halakhic, but very valid, principles, they must refrain from offending the women who daven from early dawn at the Kotel and crowd it every day, as well as refrain from causing disputes even in their own synagogues.
I recently spoke to the vatikin - sunrise - women daveners at the kotel as they prayed for the recovery of a 14 year old relative of mine who lives in Modiin and who had been struck by a mysterious disease that left her on a respirator and life support within hours. They, these hareidi women, who must have thought I was from Mars the way I look, kept checking to find out how she is - miraculously back in school, by the way, though doctors still don't know what almost killed her on Sukkot and these women prayed for her daily with all their hearts. Do they have a direct spiritual line to heaven? If anyone does, they do - so let them be.
I am not for strident feminism, I am for finding solutions that give observant women opportunities to do what they wish as long as it is a thoroughly halakhic framework. So I think women who want to use forms of Judaic expression within halakhah, but are at a more traditional shul where this bothers most members, should look for one where a room is set aside for women to dance with the Torah or read from it. They should wear a tallis and other accoutrements in shuls that are comfortable with it happening on the other side of the mechitza, and not try to push their way in to shuls that don't want it.
True, I have never desired any of this, I absolutely believe that women and men do different things to express their devotion in prayer and don't want to copy men's customs - I have pregnancy, birth and nursing - they don't - and would I want to give up my quiet way of davening because I am obligated to minyan? No way - but I can identify with my sisters who do. But let us not pretend that women who stay single or cannot have children find fulfillment by taking on men's customs; women have more intrinsic worth than that.
To me, watching venerable Torah sages dance with the Torah while my sons or friends' sons, who learn after work or all day, dance with them, is my biggest joy. Call it projection, call it whatever you want, I spend hours, thank G-d, learning Torah and love it, but I am fulfilled by raising some of the next generation of Torah-true Jews by creating a warm, hopefully G-d-fearing Jewish home - or by teaching its daughters, not just my own, to wish to do the same. And that is not at the expense of a varied and non-gender connected career, after all, I was the first and only woman to run a religious youth village in Israel, no mean feat in that man's world.
That is not a popular view in feminist circles, but I believe that one accomplishes a lot that way, but without publicity.
Judaism has commandments, but also is a way of life. 'Her ways are the ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peaceful ', we say. Women should be the foremost examples of that - men certainly aren't. I think that comes before getting yourself on TV for provoking the hareidi and chardal (hareidi Zionist) women crying their hearts out in prayer at the Kotel the way their mothers did. That's their right.
Leave them alone, WOW's, and such rabbis who jumped on the bandwagon, and go to the Wall at Robinson's Arch which is absolutely beautiful, even more so than the Western Wall plaza. I have prayed there many times.
I say to the WOW's, your intentions may be good, but your practices are not, as the Kuzari says.
And the way to deal with division is not to cause more division, but to be understanding and empathetic and respect those that were at the Kotel way before the WOW's were born.
I might add, that althougfh there are sincere women among them, Reform and Conservative forces are certainly using the issue for their own purposes. After all, it goes over well in the media to use the "equality" and "rights" words, whether apt or not, and those much-abused words trump all.