Sex & Gender

Women of the Wall ring in Elul

Crossposted to New Voices

Despite Women of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman being banned from the Kotel plaza for 30 days, Rosh Chodesh services proceeded today in the plaza and concluded, as usual, with a Torah service at Robinson’s Arch. And they live-tweeted the whole thing!
Among other things, they tweeted:

Proof that police + rules are becoming more extreme: we have always have blown shofar, today police stopped us + confiscated the shofar

Evidently the shofar was returned when they headed down to Robinson’s Arch. Another tweet:

Shofar blowing at robinson’s arch. A beautiful, free sound

Personally, I think that wall is an idol, but if men are free to worship at its feet, women should be too.
So Rosh Chodesh sameach, yidn.

16 thoughts on “Women of the Wall ring in Elul

  1. Alright, I’ll bite: how is the wall an idol? Do you think that, say, the graves of tzaddiks are idols? Is the aron kodesh an idol? Is the Torah? Just trying to get a sense of where you draw the line…

  2. Josh: Admittedly, the following is not the most coherent set of standards possible, but I’m just trying to give you a sense of where I draw the line, as you asked.
    As I see it, idolatry is the notion that physical objects exude enough power make the prayers of the supplicant more effective. This generally means praying to or in the presence of the object.
    Let’s talk about what isn’t an idol first. Neither the Aron Kodesh nor the Torah are idols. It is a feature of synagogue architecture, for the purposes of reminding us of our origin, to orient the synagogue eastward. It is a feature of our liturgy that when there is a Torah reading, that is the central feature of the service. It is also true that the Torah is our central narrative and first legal document. Being a religion in which narrative and law are central, it makes sense to give the Torah a place of honor and a central location. Facing something doesn’t mean praying to it, an important distinction to make as I get to the Wall.
    On the other hand, standing when the Torah is standing, constantly facing it when it is out in the congregation and kissing it are all steps too far. I don’t kiss it, though I do stand for it because many Jews are (understandably) highly offended when people do otherwise.
    Despite all of the hoopla surrounding Sefer Torahs, we don’t believe that we must pray in the presence of one. It is perfectly regular to pray without one present. In fact–and I think this is very telling about Jews–the only physical circumstance that enhance one’s prayers is the presence of nine other Jews. Community, in essence does more more for our prayers than any physical object.
    But prayer at graves of the venerated dead and in front of The Wall are quite troubling to me.
    Worship The Wall is an issue of divine corporeality. The entire notion of The Temple as a dwelling for God is highly troubling as it implies that God has a physical existence that can be contained somewhere or accessed through physical means.
    Even if that idea isn’t internalized by those who worship at The Wall, they aren’t there because it’s a nice shul with a good rabbi. They pray there because a notion had evolved that it is more effective to pray to The Wall than it is to pray elsewhere. People stick notes in it as though it’s God’s mail box and he’s going to come down and check it later. People pray not merely in its presence, but with their foreheads pressed up against it, as if doing so will somehow help to imbue their own head with the presence of the Godhead. The notion that this physical thing is not only holy, but has a metaphysically divine nature is idolatrous.
    Graves of the expired Jews are no better. This is not an issue of the presence of the divine–it’s even worse! At least going to The Wall doesn’t have implications for divine unity. Praying at a grave has all of the implications that praying for the help of a saint does in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, without stating any of them outright. There is simply no reason to pray at a grave than the seek the help of the dead. And that is definitely idolatrous.
    Does that help explain what I mean?

  3. As I said in my dvar on Re-eh, at, anything else you might want to say about the Wall pales in comparison to sticking your little request in between the stones and expecting satisfaction.
    But this remnant of a Temple we don’t want to see rebuilt is a potent visual symbol and WOW’s co-optation gives it a function beyond those of Charedi shul and tourist trap. It’s clear that the WOW don’t really care about praying at the Wall, but about having the right to. Thus for them it’s not an idol, it’s a tool.

  4. A lot of the ‘women’ in that photo look like men. Do the women of the Wall accept men as members? Because that could start getting confusing.
    And its nice to celebrate the new moon in the middle of the day.
    In any event there appear to be no more than about 30 people there in total.
    A true mass movement.

  5. And its nice to celebrate the new moon in the middle of the day.
    I KNOW RIGHT!!! Rosh Chodesh services in the MORNING? What will those feminazis think of next???

  6. Larry- “this remnant of a Temple we don’t want to see rebuilt”- let’s agree to disagree 😉
    David- Interesting stuff. We disagree on so much that it makes me certain that the axioms from which we start are very, very different.
    Torah: It is more than architecture. We stand for it because of what it represents- which you seem to understand but don’t want to take it that far. A torah stands as the center of Judaism (or, central, if you like), and thus the physical scroll must be treated with respect because of what it embodies. Also, it does affect prayer- according to most (though certainly not all, I think Rav Lichtenstein does differently), you sit for Tachanun only in the presence of a Torah. Just saying, it makes SOME difference…
    Likewise the wall: First off, the notion that God resides somewhere is apparent if you believe what the torah says is true (or mainly accurate, I’m being superficial here), given that God (the Shchinah) “resided” in the mishkan. If you don’t believe that, then of course we have a very, very different view of Judaism… Second, with the wall, again, it’s what it embodies. We (maybe just Orthodox, but I know otherwise), constantly pray for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and to chadeish yameinu k’kedem. Judaism (as I see it, of course) is constantly looking backwards into history, and the very epitome of this view is the Beit Hamikdash. It’s not the Kotel which we worship, it’s the idea of history and close connection to God.
    Now, I’m sure you don’t agree with my worldview on this. But surely you must agree that a good number of people who regularly “worship” the Kotel are really paying daily homage to the physical connection between God and his people, to the place where we worshipped Him as we cannot do now. Is it really then too much to believe that since there is something special about the place then it might be a good idea to pray there? Surely the Kotel is an exceptional place. I feel an attack regarding sacrifices coming on, but I hope we can keep that to a different discussion…?

  7. Dave, dude, I’m not sure where I am on WoW, but you’re really not helping your cause. There are, I’m sure, some great criticisms to be made here- and some have been in previous posts. Perhaps look to recycle those arguments…?

  8. Josh,
    “It is more than architecture.” Agreed. I’m not saying it is not an object to be treated with respect. It is holy. I’m okay with objects being holy. But there’s a difference between revering it for its ideas on the one hand, and yearning to be in physical contact with it for its spiritual powers (such as kissing it, stretching out into the aisle just to touch it for a moment).
    I’m glad you brought up sacrifices, but I certainly won’t attack them. What I will do is bring Rambam into the discussion. Here’s a guy who believed in the absolute incorporeality of God to such an extent that he did incredible exegetical backflips to explain the Torah’s many contradictions to this idea. He also believed that though sacrifice was necessary for the people of its day, it was nevertheless something the Jewish people were meant to outgrow. Surely this, though a contradiction to mainstream Orthodox thought of today, is also a part of your tradition as well as mine.
    We’ve got the theology and the philosophy to move into a more rational period. And yet here we are, some of us banging our heads on a big rock wall every day.
    And in any case, because I’ve enjoyed commenting back and forth with you so far, let me just say, “Eilu v’eilu divrei Elohim chayim.”

  9. DAW- I think what you see as irrationality, I do not. Call it naivete on my part. Again, I think the desire to kiss the Torah is a show of respect for what it represents, not because it is, in and of itself something to worship. Those that think so are, I think, ignorant. I don’t see how you connect “physical contact” with “spiritual powers”. certainly no one at my shul thinks that (or at the very least it’s far from normative).
    What the Rambam says about sacrifices is an accepted minority opinion- which is to say that I don’t think that one who espouses those views is automatically beyond the pale, from an Ortho perspective. That being said, it is still na’aseh v’nakriv in our mussaf amidah 🙂 But even then, the Wall isn’t special because one day we’ll be pouring blood on it. It’s special because of what it represents, I think, in a historical context, and yes maybe a Messianic one. But I think sacrifices are a red herring for this conversation.
    And, likewise it’s been fun taking with you!

  10. I can see that those who fawn over the Torah when it comes round in the hakafah don’t see it as an object of worship. However, I see they way they treat it as about two inches short of that. Thus, it is something to be avoided.
    As for Musaf, I’m the minority opinion in the Reform world (which I’ve got one foot in and one foot out of, more on that at my personal blog I think that remembrance of sacrifice is good and that maintaining the conceptual integrity of Jewish liturgy requires having an Amidah anytime a sacrifice would’ve have been performed in The Temple.

  11. DAW- I think what you said raises an interesting point- do you think that the way they treat the Torah in a way that Judaism (any relevant Jewish tradition) thinks they should? Or are they, for lack of a better word, ignorant. If so, does that change how you view the whole process? Also, are we really going to make a geder on this? Don’t we have enough of them?
    About musaf- good stuff to know.

  12. I never kissed the torah until my rabbi explained it this way – we touch the torah and kiss it because we can. Anyone can touch it – it isn’t reserved only for special people.

  13. Josh– I think you might’ve mistyped a bit of your previous comment because I’m not sure I understand it. But if I am understanding correctly, here’s my answer: I don’t think people do it out of ignorance. Rather, there is at least some little bit of knowledge required to reach for the Torah. You have to know that (a), we view the Torah as holy, and (b), one sign of this is touching it. It takes what I admit is a leap of logic to see it as a borderline idolatrous act. But it takes a similar leap of logic to think that we shouldn’t eat chicken with dairy because someone might mistake the chicken for basar. These sorts of leap of logic are a regular and beloved part of our tradition.
    We don’t need to make this the source of a division or a new law. But we don’t take every thought about ritual that comes into our minds into a law–though it certainly sometimes feels that way. I think it’s not good to adulate the Torah in this way, but it’s certainly not a big enough deal to go ape shit over.
    Gale– That’s lovely. But for me a cerebral reason will always trump a lovely reason. Which is not a value judgement. It’s just a matter of what I find more persuasive.

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