Women of the Wall – “But I want”

As readers have pointed out various nitpicks with the article, italics and crossouts represent corrected information to make it most accurate.

The “Women of the Wall” Controversy

3 guys davening at the Kotel

Recently, a tiny group of American-born Heterodox Jews have been stirring up trouble in Israel.  If there’s one thing American’s are good at, it’s being in your face.

In short, the Israeli Supreme Court, generally no great friend to Torah observant Judaism, ruled that the Western Wall, a retaining wall of the first and second temples, is a religious site and as such, separation of the sexes, the status quo, is to be maintained there as tens of thousands of Torah observant Jews pray there every day.  There are those who go there every day of their lives to pray, with numbers swelling up to the tens of thousands daily, almost all of them to do so, willingly and purposefully, with men on one side and women on the other.

What about those who want men and woman to intermingle during prayer, or innovate their own new public customs?  The Israel Supreme Court said fine, we’ll respect that, but please pray at a place of no less sanctity, also along the Western Wall, but a little further to the right by, maybe 75 feet.  The Women of the Wall are having none of that, and are engaging in an act of law breaking or civil disobedience depending on which side you’re on.

You can read about it here, a Jewish Press article, quoting Natan Sharansky who gives, probably the only ‘balanced’ approach, I’ve seen in the media.  The article states:

“When I listen to the very partial presentation, I am fully with them — when I listen to the other side, I have to accept that they also have logic,” said Mr. Sharansky, quoted by The New York Times. “We do have to find a solution in which nobody will feel discriminated against, and at the same time we don’t see the pictures every day of hundreds of people fighting in the most ugly way.

That’s very diplomatic of him, but here’s why I believe the Orthodox side is the only one that holds logical credence.

Breaking the Chain of Transmission

It’s for another post as for why Judaism treats men and women differently, but for our purposes here, once you start changing the chain of transmission from Mt. Sinai to ‘fix’ this and ‘fix’ that, then the next person comes by and ‘fixes’ something else, and something else, until you have nothing left of the original message.  Jewish law is the interface between body and soul, and in a direct chain from Mt. Sinai where the interpretations of it and development going forward we’re given.  If you don’t believe in Mt. Sinai, and you don’t believe that the Torah is the guidebook of the creator for the Jews to be the teachers to the world, then . . . why are you going to the Western Wall to pray anyway?  You don’t believe in the transmission, but your belief in some sort of collective history is enough for you to go there, cause trouble, and say we need to rewrite what you don’t believe in?  Go cure cancer!  There are so many more worthwhile things you can do than cause trouble amongst a belief that you don’t think is the truth, anyway!

This is to the point where Kolot magazine and the Heterodox movements now endorse things which the Torah calls an abomination!  If the founders of some of these movements from 100 years ago saw were there ‘innovations’ ended up, they no doubt would not have done so.  Compare, for example, Mordchai Kaplan’s orgiinal thoughts to that of his offshoots, the Conservative and Reconstructionist movements of today.  Kaplan put on tefillin and went to the Western Wall every day.  Those in the Reconstructionist seminary (I have heard this first hand from one such member, back when I attended a Reconstructionist synagogue, one of the Heterdox Jewish movements) will readily tell you that while he denied that the Torah was the living word of our creator, unchanged by man, he was quite wrong that those who believed so would disappear.  He was attempted to ‘save’ Judaism by changing it, but a) his premise was wrong, and b) he was outright against, for example, the sort of sexual behavior that the movement which looks up to him sanctions today.

The “but I want” mentality

I now have a rule with my children.  It’s very simple – if you want something, and Daddy says no, it is not a valid argument to say, “But I want . . .”.  If you want, then you’ll just have to articulate a logical reason why you should have it, other than “but I want it.”

The analogy holds true here.  Why does any Jew come to the kotel to pray?  Are you coming to treat the location with reverence and become educated on how best our creator wants us to relate to infinity, or are you putting in your own ideas, and suggesting that the creator submit to your will, because “I want it to be this way”?

All reasonable Jews who are coming to the Western Wall to pray will agree that it is the place where two temples stood, and will hopefully also agree that the third temple will be there as well.  This is according to our history, handed down to us from our great-grandparents, all the way back to our direct fore-bearers who lived during the Temple period.  (My wife can actually trace her family lineage all the way back there.)

Now, the Women of the Wall appear with Torah scrolls, wearing tzitzis, and sometimes tefillin.  These are, according to Jewish law, mitzvos that have been passed down to us in an unbroken chain since at least the second Temple period (circa. 68 CE), and according to our tradition, since Mt. Sinai (circa. 1300 BCE).  Now, Women of the Wall will tell you that this was sexist and that they too want to wear these items and pray alongside men. which are, in Jewish practice, only worn by men, and not caring that it upsets the tens of thousands who pray at this section of the wall, some of them, every day of their lives. (I would actually argue that, if anything, it is “sexist” that men are required to don these items, as if our prayers aren’t good enough without these external physical objects on our body’s, and without joining together with 9 other men, whereas for woman, they aren’t required to put on all this stuff and trek out in the snow or heat three times a day to have a connection with our creator – not that any of these women do this, mind you.)

So if these Women can trust that our sages are correct in so far as tefillin is black, sqaure, made from leather, and is worn on the forehead (as opposed to a more literal interpretation of “between your eyes” (see Devarim/Deuteronomy 6:8), then they can also accept that it’s, at minimum, as our practice has come to accept, worn by men, or at maximum, supposed to be worn just by men.  If our sages were ‘wrong’ that tefillin is only an obligation for men or an outright men’s garment, then maybe they were also wrong that the boxes can only be black.  Maybe women should wear pink tefillin!  Oh no, the Women of the Wall will say – tefillin is not supposed to be pink.  Why not?  You told us our sages were wrong that it’s only for women, so why can’t they be wrong about the color, too?

The real answer for why Women of the Wall will wear tefillin, and tzitzis, and carry Torah scrolls adjacent to the holiest site in Judaism, the house where we served G_d and will again, hopefully soon and in our days serve G_d, is, “but I want.”  They only choose to ‘innovate’ in the way that suits their current political needs – the political “equality” that permeates American thought, they feel, should also permeate religion.

Where do we go from here?

Beliefs trump transient ideas.  In fact, this is precisely the argument given by many in the Arab world for why they refuse to recognize the modern state of Israel.  Apologies as I need to find a source for this, but once they recognize it, they feel the game is over.  As long as they hold on to their deep-seated beliefs, then Zionism will eventually die by itself.  For that matter, they also believe that most western states as world powers will be destroyed, not by armies, but by continued agitation on their part until the Western countries tire of it while continuing to become more decadent, selfish, and loosing the will to fight, because there’s nothing worth fighting for.  Al Queda has written as much about the United States.  (Naftali Bennett, another one of those great American agitators in Israel and right wing politician is countering the transience by connecting Zionism not to the 1800s, but to the Torah’s promise of the land of Israel to the Jews. Unsurprisingly, he also wears a yarmulke and observes the Sabbath, and so forth.)

While transient ideas are new and sexy, they rarely last.  Political movements and ideologies come and go.  Challenges to the belief that the Torah is true and the authenticity of the transmission from Mt. Sinai happen in every generation.  The world is setup this way (see the Iyov outline for more about this), and whether it’s because Torah Jews have a friend in a very high place, or simply because this friend setup the world in such a way where we were given the tools to do what we need to do, the result is the same –

What is needed now, more than ever, is education.  Too many Jews are disconnected from even understanding enough about their past to know enough to rebel against it.  That’s what this website, and so many others are about.  Rather than be seen as stuck on the “old”, I prefer to show that we are following out the only logical way to approach the system that is Judaism today.  Halacha, Jewish law, is the interface between body and soul.  We all have questions as to “why do it this way” or “why do it that way”, but if we start from a place of real questions and seek answers, rather than from a place of transitory ideologies, we can arrive at the ultimate truth to ensure the truth wins out in the end.

The bottom line, in terms of the Western Wall, is that it will stay a place where Jewish law is the norm.  After all, it is the closest place to the holiest site in Judaism that the masses can enter, and while not everyone articulates their rationale as I have above, most generally follow along rational lines.  If you believe that the Torah we have today is the one from Mt. Sinai and that the halachic process is part of what was handed to us at Sinai, then chances are you’ll come to the conclusion that it’s best not to have men looking at women when praying to G_d, or for woman to be singing in earshot of men and wearing men’s clothing, especially at a holy site.  If you don’t think the Torah we have today and the halachic process is straight from Sinai, then chances are you won’t visit the Western Wall nearly as often, if ever, anyway, to care enough about it enough to make a stink.  It is only the short lived, transitoriarians who will make a stink, but without a deeper connection, it won’t last.

I pray that the Women of the Wall will choose to respect the tens of thousands who hold onto our living beliefs in the entirety of the oral and written Torah, over continuing to cause a stink, based on transitory politics.


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29 Responses

  1. tostien says:

    I think it’s worth putting Rav Schechter’s recent writings here:

    WOMEN IN TEFILLIN: Rav Hershel Shachter Slams Rabbis Permitting Women To Wear Tefillin
    (Tuesday, February 11th, 2014)
    Tefillin.jpgThe following responsa was written by Rav Hershel Shachter Shlita, the Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University, regarding the recent issue of orthodox girls in certain circles wearing Tefillin. It was translated (unofficially) by Rabbi Yair Hoffman for YWN exclusively because of the importance of the content. Rav Shachter pulls no punches in his defense of the traditional Torah view and decries the audacity of the Rabbis behind the move in issuing rulings regarding matters that are far beyond them. Minor changes were made in formatting to facilitate greater readability and comprehension. Section headings were also added in the beginning and certain ideas were moved to a footnote – for the same purpose.

    “The Entire Congregation is Holy..”


    A Mishna [1] is cited in the beginning of tractate Yuma (2a) that the sages would purposefully cause the Kohain preparing the Parah Adumah to become impure, and then immerse him. They did this in order to entirely negate the view of the Sadducees [that the kohain performing the service must be completely pure – not just partially pure] [2].

    So that onlookers would now not denigrate the process of Para Aduma [3] – the sages further ordained that all the actions involving the Parah Adumah be performed in vessels of dung, stone, and earthenware – vessels that are not susceptible to impurity.


    It was also the custom to build [special] courtyards in Jerusalem over a rock and beneath them an area was hollowed out to protect from a possible grave in the depths below. They would bring pregnant women there and they would give birth there and raise their sons there. They would bring oxen with doors on them and cups so that the children could fill up the water when necessary for the preparation of the ashes of Para Adumah.


    We see that all these details, the special raising of children, the utilization of certain vessels, were all because the sages of the Mesorah who lived during the time of the Bais HaMikdash were concerned not just regarding the Mitzvos that the Saduccees performed entirely incorrectly [4], but rather, even in the matter of the Para Adumah, where the Sadduccees acted more stringently than the Sages of Israel . The sages made a special effort to practice the leniency taught in the Oral law – that even one who was only partially pure is permitted to participate in the Para Adumah.

    They would therefore purposefully cause the Kohain to become impure and they would then subsequently immerse him. This is to show that even stringencies that are not in accord with the Oral law have no basis whatsoever – and that one may not follow such customs. And all this is to entrench in our hearts this fundamental principle – that we only have our traditions, passed down and explained by the sages of our traditions in each and every generation.

    Now in recent months, a new practice has developed, where women don a Kippah, or a Talit and Tefillin during the time of the morning prayers service. They did not pose this question to the halachic adjudicators of our times. Apparently, they do so according to the philosophy of “the entire congregation is holy” – similar to the complaint of Korach and his band. And even if this is not their true intent (following Rashi citing the Midrash), but rather that everyone of them also stood at the foot of Mount Sinai – and therefore – everyone is worthy of adjudicating halacha in accordance with his or her understanding and feelings. [They echo Korach’s statement:] “And why have you elevated yourselves upon the congregation?” In other words, why do we need a Rav or a Rebbe to adjudicate halacha? [compare this to the famous drasha of Rav Y.B. Soloveitchik cited in brief in the book “Nefesh haRav” in Likutei Torah for Parshas Korach and in the book “Hashkafas HaRav”].

    Any individual who has merely studied in a Yeshiva can rule and adjudicate according to his own intellect – especially in our days where anything can be searched and found on the internet, in the Otzer HaChochma, or in the Responsa project of Bar Illan, and other such things. Utilizing these aforementioned methods, each person can thus make himself into a Talmid Chochom or a Morei Horaah. He can then rule even in the most stringent of matters as if he knew by himself all the sources and all the opinions. [Upon this they jokingly explained the intent of the Yerushalmi (beginning of the fourth chapter of Dmai) that states that the fear of Shabbos is upon the unlearned – that is, on Shabbos, where he cannot use his computer, he is in a state of fear that they will catch him and see and understand that in truth he knows nothing!]

    I was shocked to see how otherwise intelligent people are engaging in pilpulim, vain pilpulim, dealing with whether or not women may voluntarily perform the Mitzvah of Tefillin (in the manner of “not commanded but fulfilling it anyway”). They have marshalled opinions both this way and that way, and judge things as if we were living in the period of the Tanach (as they cite precedence from Michal Bas Shaul), or in the period of the Tannaim (where the Tannaim debate regarding whether women may voluntarily lay on hands), or in the period of the Rishonim (who debated things regarding the practices of Rashi’s daughters).

    However, in the abundance of our sins we live in the year 5774 – in the time period of the rebellion of schismatic movements who fight the oral law.

    It is a time when this practice of [women] wearing Talis and Tefillin is found exclusively with Conservative Judaism, where their entire approach to halacha is founded upon the principle that it is permitted – even an obligation to change from the path of our traditions according to the whims and practices of “how the nation conducts itself” whenever there may be any trace of a source to the matter.

    It is this particular point which is the essential difference between them and the Orthodox.

    There is a civil war here – one campaign versus another. It is where one group continues to follow the traditions of their fathers declaring that our fathers did not lie to us. And that we believe with complete faith like all the previous generations – that Moses received the Torah from Mount Sinai.

    The other group screams out and says, “We alone are the true arbiters of the truths of history.” They claim decisively that Moses did not receive the Torah from Sinai, etc. etc. A good portion of their stand and opinion emanates from the claim of their “forefather Korach” – that the entire congregation is holy, as mentioned above.

    It would appear that only someone who is intellectually blind, with no “eyes” to see, will fail to recognize what is under his own nose – that this practice is the practice of Conservative Judaism, and is highly likely to bring about more changes that lie in contrast to the Mesorah, and to bring about a general laxity in the matter of rulings of Psak halacha. [It is also well known what Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik said about his father Rav Chaim Solveitchik, that he had intense powers of understanding and observation. He could predict at the outset of a decision that if it was decided to go in one direction – the repercussion in sixty years would be such and such. And if they went in this other direction, then “such and such” would be the results in sixty years. “But I,” remarked Rav Yitzchok Zev, “do not have such powers of understanding.” After a short pause he added, “But, it would appear to me that at least I do have the quality of seeing what is in front of me right now, under my own nose.”]

    It is an obvious matter that just as the sages of the Mesorah did not permit us to act even according to the stringencies of the Sadducees, and they were careful to previously cause the impurity of the Kohen that prepares the Para Adumah and then immerse him, for the purpose of ensuring that the preparation specifically be done by a Tvul Yom, so too must we do in our actual situation.

    Piskei Halacha are not rendered in an empty vacuum. Rather, they are made in contact with that generation. And in our generation, all the Tannaim, all the Rishonim, and all the Achronim would agree that such practice is decidedly forbidden so as not to emulate the schismatic movements, even though it may appear as a stringency (see the Mishna in Chulin 41a).

    It would appear that this matter lies within the idea of “Arkasa d’Msana [5] – even the changing of shoelaces like the gentiles.” The Rav zatzal said that the parameters of the prohibition of “even changing of shoelaces” are that any practice that became a symbol for the destruction of the religion – even if “according to technical halacha” it is permitted – this (that it has become such a symbol) itself causes it to become forbidden. And so did the Rav presciently predict in his time (regarding Ben Gurion’s topic of “Who is a Jew”), that there is no difference in the matter as to whether the oppressor is a gentile like Antiochus, or a Jew such as Ben Gurion [6], matters of “even the changing of shoelaces” still remains a matter of Yehareg v’al yaavor – where one should be killed rather than violate it.

    It is also well known in the name of the Rav that when the Conservatives first introduced the Bat Mitzvah ceremony in the middle of davening like the Bar Mitzvah ceremony for boys, the Rav warned that Orthodox Rabbis are certainly forbidden from doing so. This is because it is within the notion of “Arkasa d’Msana – even the changing of shoelaces” and is yehareg v’al yaavor.

    Furthermore, see the Chazon Ish (OC 52:6) who writes that even though it appears correct to permit opening up the hood above a baby carriage [on Shabbos], we should still forbid opening an umbrella for a number of reasons. One of them is that it will cause a pirtzah – a breach. Perhaps his intent is like what was explained above – that the umbrella served as the symbol of the destruction of religion in Europe regarding Reform Jewry. Therefore, we must forbid it – even though that by virtue of the laws of a temporary tent regarding the Malacha of building on the Sabbath it might technically be permitted.

    Indeed, I am perplexed at the very outset, what those who permitted it were even thinking.

    The Ramah (OC 38:3) has already cited the views of the Rishonim and there is no dissenting view among all the commentaries of the Shulchan Aruch – that in our times we all have a problem of maintaining a guf naki. Therefore, the decision was made to minimize the duration of the donning of Tefillin even for men (in other words – just during the Shacharis service). This is how the Rav explained the matter properly and well in his lectures (See MiPninei HaRav Tefillin section 1).

    This is also how the Rav ruled in actuality regarding a young Baalas Teshuvah, a student in Frisch, who wanted to put on Tefillin. The Rav ruled, based upon the words of the Ramah, not to allow her to do so. One cannot say that in the past forty years the situation has so improved regarding the purity of thought necessary for the putting on of Tefillin. It is known to all that this was the accepted practice for all generations, and who is this who dares to have the audacity to rule agains the accepted ruling of our master the Ramah. Compare this to the Rambam Hilchos Shmita and Yovel (10:6) that accepted practice and conduct are considered huge pillars in the matter of halachic adjudication. In them, it is worthy to rely upon. In other words, even though the opinion of the Rambam in this matter was inclined to rule not in accordance with the view of the Gaonim, he finally adjudicated in their way, because this was the accepted practice.

    And those who quote the expression, “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai,” continue with and passed it on to Yehoshua etc. They state, “We have in our hand a strong tradition as to how to render halacha.” But the field of halacha is not like an abandoned property where the first person who lays claim to it receives it, and whoever is stronger wins, or whoever publicizes his opinion first either through the newspapers or through the internet the halacha is like him.

    No. The matter is as it has been explained in the Midrashim – that one thousand walk into the Beis HaMidrash and one comes out suitable to rule in the area of halacha. That one individual is one who has interned for much time with his master. He received the words of Torah investing blood and soul. He is indeed married to the Torah – not just engaged to it.

    Indeed, the Rav would often say (see drasha to Parshas Korach), that every person must recognize that he needs a Rav or a Rebbe. Even a Talmid Chochom whose Rebbe had passed away must constantly ask himself in truth (when they present questions to him) what his Rebbe would have said in such a scase, and what stance he would have taken. [I once heard from my colleague Rav Abba Bronspiegel, may he live, that he had once posed a question to the Rav (when he was visiting the Rav’s mother in her apartment). After some back and forth, the Rav ruled leniently. His mother was upset at him and said, “Your father would not have ruled in this way!” The Rav immediately retracted his ruling, as his father was certainly his Rebbe Muvhak, the Rebbe whom he had learned from the most.]

    The expression that some of those who have permitted this utilize that “according to the technical halacha” a certain act is permitted, and that which people wish to prohibit it is because of “political considerations” is incorrect. For even a matter such as changing the mesorah – the traditions of the Jewish people is in and of itself an integral section of halacha. When one rules on “the donning of Tefillin for women” it is not enough to merely examine the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch in Hilchos Tefillin and in the sources there and treat it as a simple question.

    Rather, like any question in halacha, we must rule on the topic from all facets and perspectives. Not always will the ruling lay on that page in Shulchan Aruch that we had initially thought. This is what is said in the Yerushalmi Rosh haShana (3:5) on the verse (Mishlei 31:14), “mimerchak tavi lachma – from a far place she will bring her bread” that [quite often] the words of Torah are poor in one place and rich in another place. All difficult questions such as this [ruling against an explicit Ramah in Shulchan Aruch is certainly a difficult question that certainly needs wide shoulders], certainly must be presented before Torah scholars who are Morei Horaah that have a wide knowledge in halacha.

    No mere musmach or local Rabbi, even one with the best if intentions, should express his opinion in a question such as this, and certainly not to publicize his private opinion through the media or the internet. For such a serious question applies to all of Klal Yisroel who are true to the Mesorah. Only leading Gedolei Horaah are permitted to decide upon these matters.

    Our complaint is not at all upon the women who have endeavored to fulfill this Mitzvah, rather it is upon the Rabbis (all of whom have received ordination from our Yeshiva) who proffered an erroneous opinion here, without consultation of their question to the Morei Horaah that they direct their questions toward regarding other matters. They have publicized their opinion as if it were a simple matter to permit. May Hashem Yisborach mend the breaches and repair the rips that occurred in our camp and direct our hearts to serve him in truth and purity [7].

    (Rav) Tzvi [Hershel] Schachter,

    Adar I, 5774

    The translator can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com


    [1] Parah 3:2

    [2] The Sadducees interpreted that the entire procedure took place after the sun had already set and the kohain was thus completely pure.

    [3] Rashi explains that since a Tvul Yom would be kosher for use in the preparations of a Parah, people might think that one does not have to be so exacting in things. They therefore were very careful to observe all these stringencies.

    [4] Such as always celebrating Shavuos on a Sunday, or such as on Yom Kippur to fix the matter outside the heichal and bring it in afterward – where they made him take an oath that he was not a Saduccee (See Yuma 18b).

    [5] See Sanhedrin 74b.

    [6] The notion of “oppressor Jew” is first found in response Avnei Naizer OC response 37 see Nefesh haRav p. 233.

    [7] See further my response on mixed Minyanim (Shvat 5774) to be augmented to what we have written here.

    – See more at: http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/213379/women-in-tefillin-rav-hershel-shachter-slams-rabbis-permitting-women-to-wear-tefillin.html#sthash.7TdynWqp.dpuf

    • abekohen says:

      The problem with translation is that languages and innuendos are not one-to-one. Be that as it may, while some MO rabbis look to Shachter to be a halachic decisor, it is clear that Shachter is no Rav Moshe Feinstein. His narrow interpretation may appeal to some, but to forbid practice because of what C does is just insane. Its the tail wagging the dog.

  2. kohelet says:

    The WOW are not saying to Daddy or any patriarchal figure: But I want. They are expressing their needs and don’t need a Daddy figure as they are NOT children and don’t need Daddy’s permission. As to the Kotel, it is not the Holy Temple. That, my friend, was on Har Habyit. Just like a Kohen can stand OUTSIDE a funeral home without becoming defiled, and gender segregation is not enforced OUTSIDE the funeral home, so can a woman pray at the Kotel. After the Paratrooper Brigade (Hativat Hatzanchanim, note the name of the street) freed the Kotel, and Rabbi Goren, ztz”l, blew the Shofar, and the plaza was cleaned up, some people, who would not even defend Yerushalayim against its enemies, suddenly laid claim to parts of the Kotel. That was a big mistake then. But that does not create a retzef of thousands of years of Haredim entitling themselves to the plaza OUTSIDE “beytee he beit tefila l’chol ha’amim.” Furthermore, when Miriam, sister of Moshe and Aharon HaKohen, took up the musical instruments and dance, the men did not run off and yell “preetzes!” So let’s be honest about patriarchy, disenfranchisement, discrimination, and tradition. There is plenty of space on the left side of the Kotel for the myriad synagogues which were set up there. Let Hadarat Nashim replace Hadrat Nashim. Amen, v’chen y’hi ratzon.

    • tostien says:

      Kohelet – we’re not going to agree simply because we’re coming from different principles. I believe that we -do- “need permission from Daddy”. I believe that the Torah we have today and was given to us by G_d and that the halachic process and interpretation of it is passed down from Rebbe to teacher, starting with Moses and continuing to our current gedolim in an unbroken chain. Without that, how do you know, in the practice of Judaism, if you’re doing what G_d wants you to do? Maybe someone got it ‘wrong’ along the way, but surely G_d, being omnipotent, would have thought of that when handing man the halachic system. If we make it up, and diverge from that system, that unless we have the luck of a stopped clock, we’re going to surely get it wrong.

      You are coming from it from a perspective of modern concepts of “everyone should be equal in every way.” That is simply not the Torah system. Personally, I find that to be exceedingly degrading to the individual, and in this case, degrading to what is special and meaningful about men and what is special and meaningful about women.

      If we don’t have a standard principle by which we judge right from wrong, good from bad, we’re not going to be able to agree on the result. Suffice to say, I believe my standard for Judaism is the only logical one.

      To comment on some things you said: a woman can pray at the Kotel – of course they can. Who said otherwise?

      Those who ‘laid claim to the Kotel’ are those who pray there every single day, in massive numbers. Haradim didn’t lay claim … any Jew can pray there, but just as if you walk into a mosque, you obey the rules there … at the holiest place Jews can get to, I would hope everyone, whether Jew or non-Jew, respects the place they are in!

      Incidently, the Satmar Rebbe, a huge anti-zionist, was against his chassidim visiting the Kotel because he didn’t want them to feel any hakaros hatov to zionists. I also spoke to some Yerushalmi Chassidim in Meah Shearim about this once … the way they put it, they used to get along pretty well with the Arabs pre-Zionism and used to go to their simchas, and vice versa, and they aren’t exactly thrilled with how zionism has changed things for them. Any article on the pros and cons of zionism will be coming up. 🙂

      As for the Miriam argument after the splitting of the sea … yes, I heard this one from my former reconstructionist Rabbi. (I tried the whole egalitarian thing far more than most, actually.) Problem with that is very simple: Miram and the women were SEPARATE from the men, it was before the Torah was given, and even if they were dancing in front of men, that does not invalidate a later rabbinic restriction against it. Better question for you – the Rabbis also prohibited eating Chalav, some of the fats of the korban Pesach. But there’s a commandment to eat the entire korban Pesach and leave none over, so didn’t they eat these fats when having the first korban Pesach, just before leaving Egypt? How could the Rabbis prohibit this? You’ll find the same ‘problems’, but so too, there is an answer.

      I would be happy to hear more about your claims of “patriarchy, disenfranchisement, discrimination”. Again, this is the premise of my blog – providing the education. You don’t have to agree with it, but before accusing Torah observant Jews of doing such things, it’s important to learn all the information.

      • kohelet says:

        Your portrayal or depiction of WOW as “I wanna” and your example with respect to your kids smacks of patriarchy. Women are not your children. Disenfranchisement is the practice of one gender telling the other gender that all the important roles in Judaism are for men only. Discrimination is when men who refused to bear arms to protect Yerushalayim and Israel feel they can bar women, some of whom did bear arms in the IDF, from praying at a national monument which was unlawfully seized by male haredim.

        As to the Teitelbaum, who spit in the well that saved him, please don’t get me started. He lied to his family and to his flock back in Kolosvar (Cluj). He abandoned them. His own hide was saved by the Zionists and their reps in Hungary and Transylvania.

        Any Jew who wants to, cannot pray there, as has been proven with WOW. The Haredi rabbis have no claim to run the Wall. What right do they have?

        Can you please tell me where in the Hamishei Humshei Torah does it say that women are to be excluded?

        Would you have prevented Rashi’s daughter from praying at the Kotel with tefillin?

        Would you have prevented Hana from praying at the Kotel and taken her for a drunk woman as Eli had?

        Would you have prevented Devora from being a Judge of Israel?

        Yes, while you were listening to your Reconstructionist Rabbi, I was learning Torah, a little bit of Nach, and lots of Talmud.

      • tostien says:

        While I wish you were open to seeing things from another perspective, I don’t think you’re actually asking any questions. There’s no point in continuing this.

      • kohelet says:

        Actually I used to think like you when I was in yeshiva. I’ve grown since then and have seen that my old misogynistic and homophobic views were not in line with the spirit of Der Eibishter. R’ Meir’s prayer (shelo asani isha) notwithstanding, and the realization that it was mishkav zachar that is an abomination on the same level that cheating at business (cheating on weights) is, that the poor soul who Der Eibishter created as gay, should be treated no harsher than we treat most businessmen, whom Der Eibishter created pure, but who sinned, nevertheless.

      • tostien says:

        Umm… what’s this got to do with respecting people’s logically held beliefs at a holy site? Do you seriously want to find a person to discuss these issues that you’ve raised? If so, I’m happy to listen, but private email is probably better.

      • kohelet says:

        All I’m saying is that I once held beliefs similar to what haredim at the Kotel hold, and I no longer hold such beliefs. I no longer see a need for a patriarchal society to dominate women and “weaker” males. We need to be able to harness the natural abilities of 50% of society, remembering that we were created in the tzelem of Der Eibishter who created man and woman. If a woman wants to pray at the Kotel, let her follow in the tradition of Hana or in the tradition of Miriam (and make music as well). God gave Moshe a living religion (v’hai ba-hem), not one that stifles 50% of His people.

      • tostien says:

        I am all about harnessing people’s natural abilities, and the best way to do that is through the Torah that we were given by the Creator. All of it, not just the parts we feel like following because we think we know better which parts G_d was just kidding about.

        I don’t know how make the jump from “act appropriately in the place that you are in” to implying “you hate women and gays.” Your examples are good ones: let them pray like Chana who did so quietly and tzniously, without calling the media.

      • Abe Kohen says:

        Eli was ready to evict Hana, albeit, not as strongly, as today’s haredi hooligans who react with physical violence towards women, whether at the Kotel or on buses.

      • tostien says:

        In no way do I defend people who dress like Torah observant Jews, or anyone else, who uses physical violence or emotional abuse towards anyone, whether man or woman. It’s simply non-defensible.

        Having said that, it’s bigoted to lump an entire group together based on actions of some individuals in that group. Why should ‘tolerance’ and seeing each person as a person be limited towards those who are like you only?

      • Abe Kohen says:

        When I see just one “Torah observant Jew” admonish someone who “dresses like Torah observant Jews,” for using physical or mental abuse towards anyone, you know: Ho-chay-ach to-chee-ach v’gomer, then I might change my view. The enablers are just as guilty as the doers.

      • tostien says:

        I can’t speak for others, but I once saw a kid with long peyos next to Kvesh Echad (the main highway running through Jerusalem) throwing rocks at cars. Let’s just say he went running, not expecting to see someone happen upon him from behind, screaming at the site of it.

        Drew Carry has a great skit where he talks about people who come up to him and say, “You know smoking could kill you.” He then does a whole mocking routine where he stamps out his cigarette and says, “wow, thanks, I didn’t know! Thank you for telling me!” I agree with you that failing to rebuke does make you guilty as well, but there are very few people that will accept it.

        In your honor, I think there will be an upcoming article on Jews who look religious but don’t act it very well.

    • Micha Berger says:

      I have a problem with a worldview where one claims to be following halakhah, but does not have an active relationship with a poseiq. I’m not talking about relying on one’s rabbi for advice, but the age-old idea that we don’t decide halakhah for ourselves, or even based entirely on books. Being able to decide requires “shimush”, spending time with one’s rebbe and getting a feel for how he thinks in ways that don’t necessarily fit on paper.

  3. kohelet says:


  4. micha says:

    I fully agree with the author’s premises, but still feel he is being unfair to the WoW. You need to understand the people with whom you disagree if you want to communicate.

    It is NOT about “I want”.

    Rather, here is a group of women who live in an egalitarian world — their job opportunities are equal, or nearly so, they climb the corporate ladder, etc… Now, given that context, they want to be holy. More than that, they want more such opportunities for their sisters and daughters. Which allowing WoW to be margianilized to a location in Robinson’s Arch would not accomplish.

    We can — and do — question whether it’s legitimate to bring that context over to the realm of Judaism. Should one take egalitarianism as a given and thus seek holiness in a modified Judaism, one in which hoops are jumped through to stick to actions that can be justified halachically (although perhaps not with rulings the rest of us follow) to create something that doesn’t quite fit philosophically.

    (Nor ethically — in Mussar, the limelight is something we are sometimes forced to take, not something we should seek. Even among men, being Chazan or the Torah reader is supposed to be seen as a personal sacrifice for the sake of the community, and not something someone actually would gain self-satisfaction from.)

    But their motivation isn’t a simple “I want”, unless you realize it’s “I want to be holy, as I understand holiness.” We need to address that understanding, not underestimate their motivations.

    • tostien says:

      This was posted by someone else, in response, on Facebook:

      Peretz Dissen Micha, I’m sure they have good intentions, and I don’t think the author minimizes this. But he is drilling down to the core with the “I want” framework. (Which may be what you wrote…)
      (Samuel 1 -15/22) “Has the L-rd (as much) desire in burnt offerings and peace-offerings, as in obeying the voice of the L-rd? Behold, to obey is better than a peace-offering; to hearken (is better) than the fat of rams.”
      This is the antithesis of the “I want”, even when it’s “I want to be holy, as I understand holiness.”

    • tostien says:

      I don’t think I’m disagreeing with you, actually. They think what they are doing is correct based on what secular society has taught them. The problem is that it’s based on shooting the arrow where they want it to go, and drawing the bulls-eye afterwards, as opposed to finding the target set out for them from Sinai and trying to get there.

      Where maybe I do disagree with you is in that they’re reasons for doing it are not l’shaim shamayim. Consider the story of the man who put l’chem hapanim (10 showbreads) in the aron hakodesh in shul every eruv Shabbos. He wanted to offer them to Hashem, like they had in the bais haMikdash. The janitor would come by after, see this, and clean it out. The man who brought the ‘offerings’ would think week after week that his ‘offerings’ were accepted. One week, the Rav saw a man putting bread in the aron and thinking this was quite wrong behavior, scolded him and told him what he was doing was crazy. The story goes that the the Rav had a dream where it was said to him, “Enjoy this Shabbos because it will be your last. Since the destruction of the temple, no offerings to Hashem were as sweet, and you put an end to it!”

      THAT is how you do things l’shaim shemayim (for the sake of heaven) even if you are doing it ‘wrong’. If you’re going to tell me that by calling the media and causing a stink at the kotel based on what modern liberalism says is how things should be that these women are doing it l’shaim shemayim, I’d have to vehemently disagree.

      • Micha Berger says:

        So you do disagree, because you do not think they are acting lesheim Shamayim.

        I am saying they are very misled, in an entirely more alien ballpark than the man who put the lechem hapanim in shul every week. But the difference is more in quantity than quality.

        Of course they’re calling the media. They don’t want to just lead their prayer group, they want to win a battle once and for all so that other women would de rigeur lead such groups and be aware that such spirituality is available to them. It is for those women that they are fighting to be out of the margins, something that Robinson’s Arch doesn’t offer.

        Addressing Women of the Wall productively won’t involve comparing them to petulant children. Rather, it will require a dialog about what it is we believe is an authentically Jewish spirituality vs. avodah zarah (in the sense of worshiping G-d in alien modes).

      • tostien says:

        You can’t dialogue with someone who isn’t asking a question.

        I’d also venture to say that even a person who doesn’t have Torah could tell you that it’s wrong to go to a place, make up your own rules, and demand that others do as you do. Actually, Varda Epstein makes this point very well: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/when-in-rome/

  5. tostien says:

    I concede that you might be correct about the nature of the prayers of this specific group in Jerusalem as I don’t know all their details, but the premise is still the same. Is their primary goal to fulfill Jewish law with modern politics being secondary, or is their primary goal to practice modern politics and bend Jewish law to that?

    Again, If they want to separate themselves from thousands of years of Jewish practice to change what they, who claim to have more wisdom based on their own conjecture, than those who have followed the path since Sinai, they can do it civilly by praying 75 feet away at Robinson’s Arch. They choose to make a stink amongst those of us who believe the Torah and practices handed down to us today are holy. Who is causing the hilul Hashem?

  6. CB says:

    As a parent I can relate to the author’s rule for his children: ” …if you want something, and Daddy says no… then you’ll just have to articulate a logical reason why you should have it, other than ‘but I want it.'” I’d be astonished if he would accept reasoning based on faulty information as being logical. Yet this article betrays a lack of understanding of who the Women of the Wall are. Yes, many of us hail from North America, but by no means all. We have been around for 24+ years, every single Rosh Hodesh; this may be recent in terms of Kotel history, but the implication here is that we showed up in the last year or two. When ignored, as we often were until recently, we’re a small, unobtrusive davening group on the far side of the ever-shrinking women’s section. Recent arrests, however, have brought out supporters by the hundreds. Many regularly pray in egalitarian settings, as do a fair number of the Women of the Wall. But as a group comprised of women from all denominational backgrounds, most certainly including modern Orthodox, we have NEVER sought to “intermingle” at the Kotel. We seek to be able to worship out loud (the point not being to disturb other worshipers, but to not be stifled), read Torah, and for those who wear tallit and in some cases tefillin regularly, to be able to do so without being hassled, let alone detained by police. All this in the WOMEN’S SECTION. The fact that mixed groups have supported us, doesn’t mean that our goals are identical. Mr. Sharansky is charged with addressing various factions that are unhappy with the status quo at the Kotel, and not only Women of the Wall. He is hearing far more compelling arguments from all these factions than “but I want.” I won’t try to bring them all myself here because they are a matter of record, as are the basic facts.

  7. CB says:

    Joel is correct on all counts. Despite the misleading language “Women of the Wall presents,” the event was organized by supporters and not by WOW, as is clear from later language: “This shacharit service is one of many being held in town squares across the United States on this date, in support of Women of the Wall.”

  8. tostien says:

    Thank you for your comment, but I believe you are incorrect. At http://shaarzahav.org/node/1969 they clearly state, “Join Rabbi Camille Shira Angel as people of all genders daven Shacharit together while wearing kippot, tallitot and t’fillin”.

    Also, even if you are correct that it -just- a “minhag hamakom”, it is clearly once that has been accepted by the jewish people, especially at the Western Wall, and therefore, becomes halacha, from my understanding for the entire Jewish people. That still does not give license to innovate based on prevailing politics, as in the Mordechai Kaplan example.

    While I am not totally sure about tefillin, tzitzis is very much a time-bound positive mitzvah. As such, it’s not based on “custom”. From my understanding, such a mitzvah is only performed by men.

    • Joel says:

      The event you refer to was in San Francisco, not at the Kotel. The Women of the Wall would certainly not be opposed to those who want to pray together, but the prayers at the Kotel itself are for women only, and the organization appears to want to keep it that way.

      What constitutes minhag hamakom at the Kotel seems to evolve. One month, wearing a black and white talit is forbidden, but a colored one is permitted. The next month wearing a colored talit is out of bounds, and the next month, merely carrying a talit is unacceptable. And each redefinition of minhag hamakom is enforced by the police (a practice that the police in my town do not follow with regard to minhag hamakom in my shul). As for it being accepted by, and binding on, the entire Jewish people, I don’t believe the views of any of the Jewish people were canvassed. And if they were, shouldn’t they be asked to evaluate it in the context of the hilul Hashem caused by the way it is being administered?

  9. Joel says:

    The women don’t want to pray with men. They want to pray only with women. And women wearing tefillin and talit is not against Halacha; it was declared to be against minhag hamakom (the custom of the place).

  1. May 13, 2013

    […] the past, I wrote about why Torah observant Jews give no credence to groups like ‘Women of the Wall’.  This is an addendum to that post, as much new salient information and ways of debunking their […]

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