separate but not-so-equal

Yesterday, the Robinson’s Arch area of the Kotel (Western Wall) was “officially” inaugurated by the Israeli government, with very different reactions from the two groups it is primarily intended to serve–Women at the Wall and the Conservative/Masorti movement. The space is off to the side of the main Kotel area, far enough off the beaten path that one doesn’t have to go through a metal detector to get there. Since the “real” Kotel area has a mechitza dividing men’s and women’s prayer space, the Masortim have been unofficially using the Arch space for mixed, egalitarian services for about five years, and welcome more official recognition of their right to be there.

Women at the Wall, on the other hand, fought the Israeli Government for about 14 years for the right to pray as a group, read from the Torah and wear tallitot on the women’s side of the Kotel. (All of these activities are permitted by Jewish law.) During that time, things often got violent, as angry haredim screamed obscenities and threw eggs, chairs, and worse at the women as they attempted to pray; several months ago a friend of mine was actually punched in the face. Last year the High Court denied WotW’s petition and ruled that they must read Torah and/or don tallitot and tefillin at an “alternate location.”

The raw deal was reported by the Jerusalem Post:

“The government of Israel spent millions of shekels to put us in a second-class section of the wall,” said the head of the Women of the Wall, Anat Hoffman…. [She] noted that every time the group wants to organize a prayer event at the site, it needs to apply for permission to do so from the company that built it, and must ensure it does not need to pay the normal admission fee to enter the compound.

I myself made it to WotW services today; the group davvened Shacharit and Hallel towards the back of the women’s section of the Kotel without tallitot and tefillin [per the ruling], but due to a logistical snafu there was no Sefer Torah available this month (though someone noted that there are, in fact, 200 Sifrei Torah available on the men’s side for “anyone”, ie any man, who wants to use them.) The move to Robninson’s Arch is likely to take place at the next gathering, Rosh Hodesh Cheshvan.

The full story in the Jerusalem Post is here.

27 thoughts on “separate but not-so-equal

  1. Why this obsession with the western wall?
    Aren’t we praying in the direction of the ‘holy of holies’ not to the wall?
    I figured that a progressive movement might be able to get passed this ‘primitive’ ‘tradition’ to pray ‘at the wall’ and find a totally new place?
    Why is it so important to pray near the temple mount at all?
    Or, is the wall the holiest place? Is the wall sacred because the ultra-orthodox think it is? Haven’t the alternate Jewish congregants built bigger and nicer synagogues rather than stayed in orthodox ones and ‘hit their head against the wall’?

  2. in other words josh, “why do you unholy women need to defile this holy place? can’t you twist something in your theology to make the kotel less holy so i don’t have to put up with you?”
    very nice. jake.

  3. “unholy women”
    Not “unholy,” but different. According to the Torah (what the ladies want to read, right?), women have a different place in society, of equal (or greater) importance than men have. These women should try working on the mitzvot actually commanded to them before they think they are on the level of taking on additional mitzvot, specifically not commanded to them.
    “can’t you twist something in your theology to…”
    I think you meant to say, “twist something in your theology, as long as you are already twisting the theology”

  4. um well, perhaps that what you and josh are suggesting. as far as i’m concerned, they’re not twisting anything. i bet you’d have called rashi’s daughters rashas for layning tefillin.

  5. “All of these activities are permitted by Jewish law.”
    I would love to see chapter and verse on this one… Are we not painting with a too-broad brush?
    Please support your assertion.
    Thank you.

  6. Rashi’s daughter wore tefillin at home, only after her father passed away. Never in public, and not out of spite (“well if the men can do it, so can I”).

  7. A woman is not “bad” for wearing tefillin. She could have been up to that level, observing all of her commanded mitzvot, as well.
    I’m sure she never wore them when she was in niddah, either. Because that would be violating the mitzvah of respecting tefillin, an actual mitzvah commanded to both sexes.

  8. Okay, chapter and verse?
    Mishnah Kiddushin perek alef, mishnah 7. “All mitzvot which are bound by time are obligatory for men and women are exempt…..”
    Not forbidden, exempt. And that also means, in the language of halakha, that they are permitted. So re: tallit and tefillin and other positive time-bound mitzvot, let’s see: Rashi, Rambam and the Ari say that a women may perform them, but without saying the brakaha that goes with them beforehand. Rebbeinu Tam, the Rashba, R. Zerhia Halevi and the Rema all say that a woman may not only perform PTBM but say the berakha as well. That enough for you?
    Re: Torah reading, Women of the Wall does not do a whole Torah service, so issues around aliyot, etc. are wholly irrelevant in this conversation. And as it’s a group of women only, issues of cavod ha-tzibbur are irrelevant (though the gemara does say that cavod ha-briot, of the individual, is more important that that of the tzibbur, FYI). Which leaves you only issue with a group of women reading Torah. I’d then suggest you check out the article by Mendel Shapiro here, which addresses kriyat Torah pretty well, I think. If you want a psok on one foot, R. Ovadiah Yosef says, “It makes no difference who reads, for even a woman or a minor may read and fulfill the congregation’s obligation, because in the final analysis all hear the Torah and learn.”

  9. Danya, I am surprised that you didn’t bother to quote the statements of the Shulchan Aruch (=”Cose of Jewish Law) — the primary text in terms of NORMATIVE Jewish practice. Instead, you provide statements from several individual scholars and rabbis NOT the consensus view.

  10. In other words, you can graph these Halachic statements, where normative practice is in the middle, and the most liberal and the most conservative will be near the extremes.
    The fact that you can find an “extremist” position (either liberal or conservative) that is beyond the sphere of what is mainstream is no surprise.
    However, the question that needs to be asked is: Is Danya misrepresenting NORMATIVE Halacha by suggesting that “All of these activities are permitted by Jewish law”?
    I have no bone with the individual sages who support various stances that are not accepted by the Shulchan Aruch, they are the “minority” (=rejected) opinion. But let us, and Danya, be intellectually honest and call it what it is: The minority opinion.

  11. 1. Is R. Ovadia Yosef’s view accepted by any of the other (former or current) Chief Rabbis? I would surmise not.
    2. I am curious if you accept R. Ovadia’s views on Arabs or the Holocaust? See linked articles.
    R. Ovadia is famous for making wild, extreme statements, and it doesn’t seem entirely honest to accept the ones that fit in with your political agenda and reject the rest… Right?

  12. Closeted–
    My bad–When I said that the Ari held that it was acceptable for women to perform PTBM, I meant Caro–I wrote that last response exhausted, very late last night and had a brain blip. Happens to the best of us. All this to say, the SA too ruled that it was permissible for women to take on some PTBM. The general thrust of halakhic thinking over a long, long period of time is that it is permitted for people to take on mitzvot to which they are not obligated, back to Eruvin 96a, which states that Michal, daughter of Shaul, wore tefillin “and the sages did not protest.”
    Whether or not you hold by R. Ovadia, there are lots of compelling arguments in the article to which I linked, and many more in other articles to which I could link and would be happy to link, if you were interested. I suspect, in the end, you are not interested in changing your perspective– despite bountiful halakhic evidence–in which case there are no texts I could cite that would affect your thinking. Perhaps we should simply agree to disagree on this one.
    kol tuv.

  13. I always figured the Rama would be normative enough for just about ANYBODY!!!!
    Its not about halacha, its about what you are going to do with the halacha.
    What is the motivation of teh women of the wall? If it is to pray, then they can pray like their mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers have through out jewish history. Just as I pray like my father, and grandfathers have. If it is to introduce some western feminist, egalatarian pphilosophy into their prayer service, then could they please do it elsewhere? I have seen the havoc that reform Judiasm has wrought on the American Jewish population. It has to stop somewhere and the Kotel is the place to take a stand and say enough, not here. Here we pray in the old ways. Keep the destruction out of here.
    Just my lil old opinion of course.

  14. Danya,
    We could agree to disagree on this, but please don’t misrepresent Halacha. Also, please don’t drop the “you are narrow minded” bomb. Thanks.
    To say “The general thrust of halakhic thinking over a long, long period of time is that it is permitted for people to take on mitzvot to which they are not obligated” is only partially accurate, and not true in the context of Tefilin.
    Specifically, the Mitzvah of Tefilin for women is rejected by the Rama in the Shulchan Aruch based on a Kol Bo (who is based on a Minagei Maharil, I believe). The Rama specifically states that if women want to accept this Mitzvah upon themselves one needs to protest against them. Thus, Tefilin are different then other PTBM such as Shofar or Lulov where it is accepted — and cool for women to get in on the Mitzvah. (See Shulchan Aruch O.C. 38, 3)
    Concerning Talit, again the Rama adds to the Shulchan Aruch that even though women are permitted to wear Talitot, they shouldn’t. (See Shulchan Aruch O.C. 17, 2)
    “General thrust”? Hardly.

  15. Closeted,
    I assure you that if you spent more time with Rav Ovadia and really heard what we said, you’d be a follower too. (I don’t follow him, but I respect his torah knowledge) It seems that most of your exposure to him is through the ‘secular’ media with edited ‘sound-bites’ who are rarely sympathetic to the ‘morally acceptable’ pasakim, and only obsessed with nose-picking or walking between donkey statements. It might seem that Rav Ovadia is not too concerned with ‘public relations/media affairs’ but frankly, do you think anything would be able to overcome the antagonism?

  16. Concerning Talit, again the Rama adds to the Shulchan Aruch that even though women are permitted to wear Talitot, they shouldn’t. (See Shulchan Aruch O.C. 17, 2)
    teh problem witha tallis i that it is begged ish. If you want to wear a tallis katan, as awoman you should weal a 4 corner garment specifically for women. Something with ruffles or something:). I imagine taht somebody could design a womans tallis that will get around the whole beggedd ish thing.

  17. teh problem witha tallis i that it is begged ish.
    No, please see Rama as cited above and commentaries.
    You may confusing the term Chovas Gavra with Beged Ish, but rest assured there is no connection.

  18. Most of the women I konw who wear tallitot katanot have to make their own beged isha because the regular TK is not made for women’s bodies…. So they create a garment that is 4-cornered and shaped for a woman.

  19. Thanks for this post, Danya — and I’m impressed with your coolheadedness in response to cranky comments posted above! I’ve added Jew*School to my blog aggregator, and look forward to reading more of your posts in future. 🙂

  20. do you actually know women who where talit katanot? im a conservative jew who would like to be more religious but to me its orthadox who where titzit and if i were orthadox it wouldnt be ok for me to wear tzitzit does that make sence?

  21. I’m a woman who wears a tallis katan. I make my own, a skirted or apron style that complies with all halachic requirements. This is a beged isha garment that no orthodox man in his right mind would consider wearing. For my part, I wish that some woman would create and market a truly viable and affordable women’s style tallis katan so that I can fulfill this mitzvah more easily.

  22. BS”D
    I just thought you all might appreciate this:
    “There is a special place in Hell reserved for those who believe that being Jewish means following all of the Shulchan Arukh.”
    – Rav Adin Steinsaltz as told by Arthur Kurzweil

  23. Yes, that is why, as I continue to take on the mitzvah of wearing tzitzit, I do so everyday with renewed INTENTION. So that the wearing of tzitzit is a mitzvah done for it’s own holiness, and not just to fulfill the letter of the law (which I am exempt from anyway).

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