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Op-Ed: Shavuot and the 'Women of the Wall'

Liberate the Kotel? Reform Israel? A failure is being hidden behind these plans.
Published: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 1:10 PM


Shavuot and the Women of the Wall

The Jewish holiday, Shavuot, is the celebration of the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. It was at this moment, more than 3,300 years ago, that we became a nation unto G-d.

Shavuot is the second and final part of the Biblical Exodus story. It is the culminating event of that story.

When the Jewish people gathered at Mount Sinai, they experienced a unique national moment—the only one of its kind in history. It was the first and only recorded moment when a complete nation experienced G-d’s Presence.

It was not just one man at Sinai who interacted with G-d. Every Jew did. That was the day Jews became distinct. It was the day our ancestors committed to G-d as the defining expression of their new-found freedom.

In Judaism, freedom is not permission to do as we please. It is rather the necessary foundation for properly serving the Creator.

This year, Shavuot starts at nightfall on May 14, during the same seven-day period we saw the spectacle of a group calling themselves, Women of the Wall. These women went to the Kotel—the Western Wall—ostensibly to pray, just like thousands of others. But they went to pray like men, not women. They wore prayer shawls and phylacteries and read from the Torah. They went, they said, to ‘liberate’ the Wall from Orthodox rules that prohibit women from praying like men. It appears that these women believe in Reform Judaism, which is not officially recognized in Israel. Reform Judaism rejects Orthodox practice and calls for, among other things, absolutely equality for women in all areas of Jewish life. The Women of the Wall want to show us what that equality looks like.

The Reform website Homepage declares that Reform Judaism was the first Movement to ordain women rabbis, invest women cantors and elect women to synagogue presidency. They give a brief nod to G-d, but declare that they choose to focus on repairing the world, so as to bring “peace, freedom, and justice to all people”. That, and constant change, appears to be their religious focus.

The Israel High Court has ruled that these women can pray at the Wall. It has been suggested that a portion of the Wall has already been allocated to those who, like these women, want to pray ‘as they please’. But these women apparently do not like that place. They want to pray where they please.

Shavuot reminds us that these women use their religion in a way foreign to our 3,000 year tradition. You see, if Passover reminds us that Jews yearn to be free, Shavuot reminds us that freedom is not ‘to do as I please’.

Freedom did not lead to, ’me first.’ It led to Sinai. It led to G-d. It led to accepting the Torah as the unchanging Word of G-d.

Women of the Wall embrace freedom. But they reject 3,000 of tradition. They reject Divine Immutability.

Women of the Wall do not have a single agenda. The leader of the group, Anat Hoffman, is not just interested in changing the rules of prayer at the Western Wall. In a BBC interview, she revealed that she has another goal: to change the Jewish religion in Israel. So as not to be mistaken, here are her exact words:

…when you change the holiest site of the Jewish people you are actually asking ‘why not’ about a variety of life choices dictated to Israelis by the Orthodox monopoly (my emphasis)”

Her goals echo the Reform Judaism Homepage which states, about its interest in Israel, that it seeks to “reform the State of Israel.” Given the fact that the Reform Movement does not like the Orthodox Jewish vision of certain ‘life choice’ issues-- marriage, divorce and conversion--it seems clear from her words that Anat Hoffman’s ultimate purpose is to forward Reform Judaism’s desire to change Israeli society—and to start those changes with an easy target, prayer at the Western Wall.

This is a serious plan. If implemented, it will alter Judaism-in-Israel forever. It is also a plan that hides a dirty secret: failure.

Reform Judaism states on its Homepage that Judaism must change and adapt to the needs of the day—in order to survive. Reform Judaism, however, has a serious survival issue. Unlike their religious adversary—the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox—Reform Judaism faces a demographic disaster of Biblical proportion: an outmarriage rate (marrying a non-Jew who does not convert) that averages 70 per cent. For a group that declares, ‘follow my changes and we will survive,’ their own track record suggests that they will not survive as Jews.

We do not survive because of the agenda of the Women of the Wall. We survive because of the agenda of that momentous day 3,325 years ago.

That’s why we celebrate Shavuot: to celebrate what endures.