Rabbi Avi ShafranThe writer is the Director of Public Affairs for Agudath Israel of America. He is also a contributing writer to Cross-Currents, an online journal of Orthodox Jewish thought and opinion.
I would like to describe one of the incidents involving the women who call themselves “Women of the Wall”. This is the story of Nofrat Frenkel.
Neither facts nor logic serve the champions of Nofrat Frenkel, the woman briefly detained by police at Jerusalem's
Ms. Frenkel violated the law, as per the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision in 2003.
Western Wall, or Kotel, on November 18.
Ms. Frenkel violated the law, as per the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision in 2003 to apportion a special area, at Robinson’s Arch, for women to chant at feminist religious services.
Ms. Frenkel’s detention was not spurred, as her champions (media and pundits dutifully trotting behind in step) have repeatedly proclaimed, by her having dared to wear a tallit, or Jewish prayer shawl, at the site.
Indeed, by Ms. Frenkel’s own account (Forward, November 24), she and 40-odd other “Women of the Wall” prayed as a group that morning in the main Kotel area wearing prayer shawls, without incident.
But the tallit-garbed women did not stop there. They sang the Psalms that comprise the song of praise Hallel “in full voice,” as per the testimony of Ms. Frenkel’s fellow activist Anat Hoffman (quoted on the Forward’s “Sisterhood Blog” in a November 18 posting). Even then, though, recalls Ms. Hoffman, “there was no complaint whatsoever from anyone.” The lack of any reaction by others even at that point went unnoted in the paper's news coverage, or that of other mainstream Jewish media who reported the event.
It was only what then transpired that motivated the police to accost the group. Ms. Frenkel had brought a Torah scroll hidden in a duffel bag to the site and removed it, according to her own account above, to publicly “read from the Torah opposite the stones of the Kotel.” That brought others at the site to object (“We told them to butt out,” recalls Ms. Hoffman), and the police to intervene.
Those who are unhappy with the Israeli Supreme Court’s 2003 decision have the right to their unhappiness, and even to seek to have the court revisit the issue. But if they choose instead to intentionally flout the law, they should honestly acknowledge that they are courting prosecution through civil disobedience – not seek to portray themselves as innocent victims wondering what they might possibly have done wrong.
Facts notwithstanding, one of Ms. Frenkel’s advocates, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom-The National Synagogue in Washington, D.C., complained to Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren that “If a Jew had been arrested
Would the Frenkel forces be pleased with Buddhist intonations and incense-burning at the Kotel?
for wearing a prayer shawl in any other country… there would be outrage,” and characterized the enforcement of the law at the Kotel as “religious persecution.”
Turning the tallit into a red herring, the rabbi went on to lecture the Ambassador, quoting Maimonides about the permissibility of tallit-wearing by women (but overlooking the sage’s prohibition against women reading publicly from the Torah – Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Tefilla, 12:17), and charging that Ms. Frenkel “had been den[ied] the right to expressly follow the teachings of the Torah.”
Not only do facts seem to be flexible in the religious progressives’ circle; logic is just not there. Do these women really want to open the Kotel plaza to all religious expressions?
Would the Frenkel forces be pleased with Buddhist intonations and incense-burning at the Kotel? Catholic hymns and processions? Taoist drumbeating ceremonies? Surely the activists don't mean to limit their liberalmindedness to services conducted by Jews alone.
People of all faiths, after all, are welcome at the Kotel – as they should be. Out of respect, though, for the Jewish historical and spiritual connection to the place, public services there respect a single standard of decorum. And that standard is, as it has always been, millennia-old Jewish religious tradition. It should stay that way.
The Kotel is a holy place, and should not be made a battlefield by a small group of advocates for social or religious change. Men and women, whatever their backgrounds or beliefs, are welcome, inspired and certainly not bothered by the traditionally religious Jews who most often frequent the site, seeking only to pray there as Jews always have prayed.
Ms. Frenkel and her friends are clearly committed to a cause. But promoting their particular view of feminism should not compel them to act in ways that they know will offend others, to seek to turn a holy place into a political arena.
After all, we are awaiting the rebuilding of the Jewish people’s very traditional National Synagogue, the one that once stood just beyond the Western Wall.
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