Women of the Wall – “But I want”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.