Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Controversies You Should Understand: Women of the Wall

If you don't already know about the Women of the Wall, you'll eventually come across it. If you're lucky, you'll run across it in a news article. If you're not lucky, you'll run into it during an angry rant at a Shabbos table.

Yesterday, the Women of the Wall held a special Rosh Chodesh service at the Kotel. And rather than arresting them (as normally happens), the police protected them from protesters. Why? Because three members of the Knesset attended. You can read about it at the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA).

Women of the Wall is "a group of Jewish women from around the world who strive to achieve the right, as women, to wear prayer shawls [and tefillin], pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem, Israel." (From their website.) They have special, arrest-heavy services at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh each month. They may hold services at other times, but I'm only aware of the Rosh Chodesh controversy.

Why is this a big deal? It can lead to a riot. Seriously. Rocks, punches, etc. You'd be surprised. A man may not be willing to walk beside a woman on the street or shake a woman's hand at work, but he can believe that punching a woman in the face or throwing a rock at her is a mitzvah. This is a small minority, but I don't know why we're not placing them in cherem, where they belong. Violence against anyone (whether physical, mental, or emotional) for an alleged violation of halacha is not okay nor is it acceptable in halacha (minus a Sanhedrin), secular law, nor is it behavior befitting a ben Torah. 

So now that we've covered the basics, I'm going to editorialize. You may disagree with me, and that's your right. But hear me out. The condemnation in the community may be the loudest voice, but that doesn't mean it's right (or that it's the right approach to take).

From my (American) legal perspective: If Israel is going to be a democracy, they have no right to have such a prohibition at the Kotel, and they certainly have no right to help orthodox groups to intimidate or harm any woman involved. In fact, a democratic government has the obligation to protect minority groups from intimidation and violence and arrest those who would attack the Women of the Wall. The Kotel is a public space holy to people of many faiths. Why is it okay to do this, but not ban Christians and Muslims? Or, like the Muslim authorities on the Temple Mount, ban the prayer of other faiths being spoken aloud? Shouldn't we next be arresting women who enter orthodox synagogues in pants or tank tops? Just as the state has no right to send in police to enforce the standards of a synagogue owned by a Jewish group, there should be no justification for the police to arrest women at the Kotel to enforce the standards of the same Jewish groups. It's just the right thing to do: police protect people from the riot, not help the riot accomplish its goal of silence and intimidation. That is why we have police: enforce property laws and prevent mob rule. 

My halachic understanding: This is where things get very heated and tricky. The "party line" in orthodox conversations is that this is prohibited by Jewish law. What you rarely hear is that it's not really prohibited (if it is prohibited at all); it's just "not done" in orthodoxy. That doesn't make it against halacha. 

What are the women trying to do? Wear tefillin and a tallit and have prayer services at the Kotel. Not all women who attend these events choose to wear a tefillin or talis. Strictly speaking, women are not prohibited from wearing a tallis and tefilin. Rashi's daughters famously did so. It's just "not done" and it's certainly not obligatory on women. (Arguments against it largely center around it being against custom, if I understand correctly.) According to what I learned, women can choose to obligate themselves in new mitzvot, whether it's davening maariv daily or donning tefilin. However, there is a caveat. A women should only obligate herself in a new mitzvah if she's already fulfilling the mitzvot commanded of her. So if a woman is fulfilling her mitzvot as commanded, I don't have a problem with her taking on non-mandatory mitzvot that have meaning to her. But don't fulfill your mitzvot haphazardly and then claim you want more (that you happen to like better for whatever reason). That's caring only about what you want, not what Hashem wants of you. 

Next we will question the sexual orientation of men who separate challah! Husbands fulfill this "women's mitzvah" all the time. Would we have the same objection to men choosing to do another of the "female mitzvot"? I doubt it. But it's the same thing: it's not done as a general rule. And we all seem to understand why men don't obligate themselves in new mitzvot: they have plenty to do! Yet we degrade women's mitzvot by implying it's "less" and also "less worthy" than the mitzvot of a man. If it makes a man feel more important and "manly" to degrade my obligation in mitzvot, then he lacks a great deal of the qualities required by the Torah. It's comparing apples and oranges. We're different. We have different stuff to do. That doesn't make one more valuable than another or mean there's less work for either. The argument is simply non-sensical to me. And implies he has a lot of problems that have nothing to do with me or my mitzvot. 

But this is why I personally don't take vows to take on new mitzvot. There is always something more for me to work on in the areas I'm commanded. I don't need more mitzvot, I need less if I'm ever going to get this right! I also know that I stumble frequently. There is no need to obligate myself to something I will inevitably mess up later. I mess up my own stuff just fine, thankyouverymuch.

Prayer services are held every day at the Kotel. Playing devil's advocate for the terribleness for women attending minyan at the Kotel: Often the women's side can't hear the service(s), even if a co-ed group stands beside each other at the mechitza (speaking from experience). Women's tefilah groups exist in orthodox and non-orthodox congregations, whether those groups focus on reading Tehillim together or having a full Torah service to allow a learned bat mitzvah to read from the Torah to other women. Should these groups be banned automatically from the Kotel when we allow them in (some of) our shuls?
Sidenote: If you're a conversion candidate, I don't recommend that you attend (or mention attendance) at a women's prayer group unless it's strictly a Tehillim session. While most rabbis I know of agree it's not "wrong," it's "suspicious" and may show "tendencies" of a future of going "off the derech." Didn't you get the memo that women's participation in any mitzvah "above and beyond" is a warning sign of future rebellion?)
But women reading Torah to other women? Women holding a Torah scroll? Women leading davening of other women? I'm not aware of anything wrong with that, though the minyan-specific parts wouldn't be said. My guess is that a Women of the Wall service does hold that women can "count" in a minyan, but even if they didn't, is there something halachically wrong with them saying the parts for minyan at the Kotel, where there is clearly going to be at least a minyan of men present? Those parts of the service aren't supposed to be said without a minyan, but I'm not aware of a prohibition against women saying them. In fact, many orthodox congregations allow women to recite Kaddish loudly (loud enough for the men to hear) during their time of mourning, though they may require "saying" it rather than "singing" it. More shuls allow women to bentch gomel during the Torah service, though saying it from their seat. 

Why do all of the "egalitarian" ideas above become a null and void argument for the Women of the Wall because most (if not all) of the participants are not orthodox Jews? If orthodox Jews could do it, I see no reason why non-orthodox Jews can't. Add that to the legal argument above, which I think is the proper approach for government authorities. I am particularly disappointed in the statement by the Rabbi of the Kotel: 
"The rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, condemned Tuesday's prayer service. In a statement issued to the media, he said the women brought 'brothers against brothers in unnecessary confrontation' and noted that the wall next to Robinson's Arch has been designated as the area for women's prayer services. 'The Western Wall is the only place shared by all the people of Israel -- and it is not the place to decide or express a world view,' Rabinowitz said. 'I urge anyone for whom the Wall is dear to do whatever he can to keep disputes outside the plaza, and leave the people of Israel one place where there are no demonstrations, clashes and hatred.' "
Isn't protecting the demands of one Jewish group against another Jewish group a "world view" that shouldn't be "decided or expressed" at the Kotel? If that's the case, then both groups should be banned from the Kotel. Or, as befits a democracy, let them both attend. If people wish to protest, they should have the right to do so peacefully. Instead, the group he supports is the one creating demonstrations, hatred, and violent clashes. Not the Women of the Wall. 

Doing what you think is right might lead to a riot. See, for example, the Civil Rights Movement. However, as in the Civil Rights Movement, it is categorically wrong for the oppressor to lay the blame for his actions at the feet of the person intimidated. "She made me spit on her because she wore a tallis at the Kotel (or wore a tank top or had her picture in the newspaper)" should never, ever be allowed to be a justification for conduct in violation of the law, halacha, and being a mensch. You are responsible for your own bad conduct and the chillul Hashems created by it. So own up to it.

At the end of the day, the Women of the Wall should not be a big deal. This unnatural obsession with enforcing the modesty of women is worrisome and looks more and more pathological the longer I hang around the orthodox community. And it's one of the major reasons I am not more "right wing." Though there are many right-wing orthodox people who view these issues reasonably and in proper perspective in comparison with the other mitzvot, these people are overwhelmingly not speaking against the major violations of modesty and derech eretz of the loud, hateful, and sometimes violent "modesty police" in orthodox communities around the world. Their leaders are doing a particularly poor job, usually supporting the poor behavior. And I can't imagine being around people who don't feel the Torah is worth defending against that kind of behavior. Every community has its faults, but I highly value the ability I have, as a modern orthodox woman, to speak about these wrongs and chilul Hashems without fearing that I or my family will be ostracized for it. 

"Your silence gives consent" - Plato


  1. Thank you for covering this. I have no desire to participate in women's Torah readings or wear a tallit, but I'm appalled by the way these groups are being treated. The kotel is a public place and they should be able to worship there peaceably.

  2. My understanding is that these women call women up for aliyos to the Torah (there is a Torah reading on Rosh Chodesh) even though there's not a minyan (obviously, as an Orthodox Jew, I think a minyan requires 10 men). So each woman who gets an aliyah is reciting a bracha levatalah, a blessing in vain, which is a violation of the 3rd Commandment (not to take G-d's name in vain). I'll also add that saying Israel is a democracy and should protect minority rights is a little too simplistic a response. Israel is a Jewish state that makes exceptions to democracy in many areas where human choices would conflict with halacha. For example, Israel bans cremation as a method of burial, pork from being sold, chametz from being sold on Pesach, etc. America has a separation of church and state, Israel does not have a separation of shul and state. You may disagree with the arrests of the women at the wall, but my understanding is there is actually a law that prohibits their activities and so the arrests are in accordance with the law. Now, I understand you want to eliminate that law, but until it *is* eliminated, I don't see why Orthodox Jews who agree with that law shouldn't expect it to be enforced.

    1. I don't think the "taking God's name in vain" argument works. It's not forbidden by Israeli law for a woman to say these blessings, or to participate in a woman's minyan anywhere else in Israel.

      You say pork is not sold in Israel. Have you checked your facts?

  3. Great, well thought out, and argued post. Love it.

  4. There's a good speech about this by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, a son-in-law of Rav Joseph Soloveitchik and the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion ( A transcription of the speech is here:

  5. I completely agree with your argument here, but I wanted to comment on a couple of minor points:

    Actually, Rashi's daughters wearing tefillin and tallit seems to be a legend (unless anyone here has a source they can show), although it is known that some women did do this; for example, the Talmud states that Michal, daughter of King Saul and wife of King David put on tefillin.

    A man baking bread would have a Torah obligation to take challah, just as a man living on his own is obliged to light Shabbat candles - it's not literally a women's mitzvah, just one that for sociological reasons is primarily fulfilled by women.

    A better example of a women's mikveh taken on by men without controversy might be mikveh: in a non-Temple era, men have no obligation to go to the mikveh, yet many men have a custom to do so before Yom Kippur and in Chasidic communities often much more frequently. That said, it's still not quite the same as women taking on tallit and tefillin, because it was originally a mitzvah for both men and women.

    I've also grown wary of using the 'equal-but-different' argument about different roles for men and women. It can be seen as inherently discriminatory, as it assumes essentialist differences between men and women and consequently different automatic gender roles regardless of individual choice. Now, as Orthodox Jews we believe that our choices are indeed limited by our Divinely-imposed obligations (regardless of whether we understand why some are obligatory on men, not women), but I feel we can't expect people with a different understanding of the nature of halakha/religion to share our views. In other words, a Conservative woman would ask why she should have to be the "perfect" Jew to put on a tallit when a man does not have to be perfect. As the Conservative view of halakha is much more sociologically- and historically-based, her argument would be that men and women have much more fluid and equal roles generally in society now, so why not in ritual too? I'm not sure that a meaningful communication about Orthodox and Conservative gender perceptions can be had beyond this point of noting the irreconcilable differences.

  6. "Violence against anyone (whether physical, mental, or emotional) is not okay nor is it acceptable in halacha"

    i dont believe this is supported in the texts, and frankly, if you take a read of many stories in the tanach, there was plenty of (condoned) violence.

    second, do you beleive that there should be ANY rules at the kotel? or can it be a free for all, do as you please? if there are rules, who should be writing and enforcing them??

    1. Your point is taken. I corrected the text because I meant that violence is not allowed for an alleged (or perceived) violation of halacha. Unless we had a Sanhedrin, but we don't.

      I believe respectful behavior should be the rule. Christians, Muslims, and Women of the Wall are all being respectful when they pray at the Kotel. I think the gender segregated areas with the mixed area behind them is fair, but I don't believe people should be made to wear sheets because their clothing is "inappropriate." In short, if we want to make this outdoor public space a shul, let rabbis or other laymen try to enforce the rules. Don't have police do it. I believe it is a public space open for all who act respectfully. And I don't believe religious acts of prayer are disrespectful, even if others present may find it objectionable. Someone below mentions the Vatican. I visited the Vatican, and everyone acted appropriately, and I would imagine most of the people present (including myself) were not Catholics. Other kinds of Christians hold prayer circles and no one cares. We'd have a much better argument pre-Vatican II...hats.

    2. you wrote ""Your silence gives consent" - Plato"
      should we consent to violations of halacha?
      and as for inappropriate dress, yeah, a dress code should be enforced, though it shouldnt have to be. i hope no guy shows up to the kotel in a speedo, but if it happens, yes he should be forced to cover up.

    3. "Unless we had a Sanhedrin"

      pinchas had a sanhedrin? he is praised up and down for muredering 2 people who he perceived as violating halacha.

      listen, i simply take issue with the fact that no one has explained WHY the ultra-orthodox are the one's who control the kotel. one person below wrote that since the ultra orthodox are the only legitamate version of judaism, they get to control it. but that is ridiculous.

      you say "act respectfully"....but that is in the eye of the beholder. i saw a group of women with their arms around eachother, singing a nice slow song at the kotel, some of them moved to tears....all while a group of chisidim started yelling at them and essentially breaking up the circle and disrupting the singing....tears of emotion dried quickly

  7. As always, well said. It's always a chillul hashem when jews react extremely poorly to another group of jews who are just different from them in some way. The men's section at the kotel covers the VAST MAJORITY of the wall. If certain men are so bothered by it, perhaps it will be in their best interest to daven at the far left side where they won't hear or see anything.

  8. Thank you for a brave and brilliantly-written piece.

  9. This is one of those areas where I'll have to disagree, although I completely agree that those who are promoting or perpetrating violence against the WoTW should be held accountable and their leaders should be condemning their actions.

    I also don't agree with the WoTW. As it stands now, by law, the western plaza is treated as an Orthodox shul. That is the current law and those arresting and removing the WoTW are only enforcing those laws. I have heard that there are Orthodox Synagogues in the US where women are allowed to wear a tallis and/or tefillin, but I have never, ever seen one. I have also never seen one where it is ok for a woman to carry a Torah or lein from it. Until the laws change and the plaza is no longer treated as an Orthodox shul, then I would expect that only activities that are allowed in the average Orthodox shul would be allowed there. Already, women who are less covered are made to cover up with sheets and men with their heads uncovered are made to wear kippahs before entering. To me, this is just an extension of that.

    There is already a section of the wall set aside for anyone who wants to daven in a way that is not allowed in the plaza. It is just as much a part of the Western wall, but it is not part of the plaza itself. These women have refused to daven there and insist to be allowed to daven as they please in the plaza.

    So...the issue then becomes whether the plaza should be governed as an Orthodox shul or open to any and all forms of worship, which I think is a more important question being raised. If we look at Israel as a democratic society and the plaza as belonging to all of that society, then yes, it would seem that it should be open to any and all forms of worship. However, the problem with that is that then, as forms of worship that are against halakhah or not permitted by custom become common there, the Orthodox will no longer be able to daven there. Then it is likely they will want their own protected space, with the rules governing it like an Orthodox Synagogue...which brings us back full circle, just with the arch and the plaza switching places.

    I personally would be uncomfortable davening at the wall if the WoTW have their way...and I am a woman. However, I would never condone attacking them or failing to treat them with the respect they deserve. To me, this is a matter that should be fought in the courts, not with spitting and chair throwing.

  10. While I agree that the spotting an rock throwing is wrong, I still think that people should speak out against the wotw, for as you said, if we remain silent it's like we're saying it's ok, and it's not. Above commenters pointed out the halachic problems. Moreover, would you expect people to be able to pray at the vadican however they want? No. It must be done in catholic tradition. All the reform and conservative people I've met have admitted to knowing that the orthodox is the legitamet. The kotel is an orthodox holy site, and while others are permitted to attend, just as others can go to the vadican, the must still conduct themselves in an appropriate fashion.

    1. Prayers at the Vatican at actual masses are Catholic services. I've been there, and I saw many non-Catholics having private or informal group prayers. People are acting appropriately and respectfully when they praise Gd at a site holy to Him.

      And the Kotel isn't "an orthodox holy site." It's "a Jewish holy site." It's also perceived as a holy site by Christians. We don't prevent Christians from holding prayer circles, to my knowledge, nor is there a law prohibiting non-Jewish prayer at the Kotel. So why do we have a law prohibiting non-orthodox Jewish prayer??

    2. B/c non-Jewish prayer is not violating halacha. non-orthodox Jewish prayer often is, especially in the case you described.

    3. Putting aside the bracha question, which may not even be an issue to begin with as noted by the current last commenter, no one has brought forward a point that makes me reconsider whether this behavior is halachically questionable. Other than things that "just aren't done," this still seems to be on the up and up by many, if not most, opinions.

    4. "All the reform and conservative people I've met have admitted to knowing that the orthodox is the legitamet."

      well, thats just ridiculous!

  11. Small nitpick: if I understand what you're trying to say, you believe that if there are 10 men around, then WotW should be okay saying divrei bikedushah even if women do not count in a minyan (from a non-egal perspective). This is false. The person leading davening has to be obligated in whatever it is that they're leading. So, for example, partnership minyanim usually have women lead pesukei dezimra and the torah service (meaning all the singing bits), but not shacharit/musaf, because there's no real chiyuv for pesukei, whereas women are not obligated to pray 3x/day at specific times. (NB: Torah reading is a different issue, and the Mishnah is very clear that women can read/take an aliya; these used to be the same thing, by the way). Similarly, a minor cannot lead davening for anything that requires a minyan. If you don't think women count in a minyan, then WotW can't do divrei bikedusha simply because there are 10 men who are present.

    That said, I think it's important to point out that Anat Hoffman is very explicit about the fact that WotW are *not* a minyan, and do not recite divrei bikedusha. While most of the individual members are egalitarian (by my very unscientific calculation), the organization is not. They are really more along the lines of the women's Torah reading groups, blended with those women minyanim things that I've heard happen at various left-wing MO shuls. The political impetus behind this decision is pretty clear--they think that so long as they stick to the letter of the law by O standards, then they should be able to win their battle. (I'm pretty skeptical of the claim that they're trying to make non-egal women comfortable with their policy). This is nice, but ultimately misguided, IMO, because it cedes the point that the Kotel should be ruled by whatever is deemed to be "Orthodox", rather than trying to show that there needs to be space for all Jewish communities to pray at the Kotel. With their very argument, they cede the point that Orthodoxy should rule (some) Israeli public space, which is untenable if you want a pluralistic society. The Kotel could be a space to work out pluralism within a Jewish context (which might look like a tri-chitzah, for example), but instead it's being used to enforce a monopoly. This is a disaster for Israeli democracy, in my mind.

    Also, to the person above who says there's a separate place to daven at the Kotel if you want an egal service. This is technically true, but Robinson's Arch is part of an archaeological park, and you either need to get prior approval to daven there for a group or pay to go daven among the tourists. There is never any need to get approval to daven at the main plaza (other than going through the metal detectors). There is no locked door to the Plaza. You don't have to wait for a security guard who thinks you're a pain in the butt to show up and finally unlock the door for you, 45 minutes after you were supposed to start davening, like what happened on Tisha b'Av this summer when the Masorti Movement had services there. Robinson's Arch is a joke (although I will say that it's eerie as hell at night, and literally sitting in the ruins of the Beit haMikdash on Tisha b'Av really did a number on me).

  12. Does Women of the Wall include men? If it does, a mixed group praying is a violation halacha. If it doesn't, then there's a pretty obvious slippery slope that once you allow them, it's going to be harder to prevent a mixed group from davening at the Kosel.

    Right now, current law prevents halacha from being violated at the Kosel. As an Orthodox Jew, I'd like to keep it that way, just like I also want to keep the law in Israel that prohibits cremation. I understand you want the value of respecting minority rights to take precedence in this case, but I think even you'd admit that there are cases where you want to keep a law even though it prevents people from exercising free choice. Do you agree with the law against cremation?

    Ultimately, I think people want to permit Women of the Wall because they're uncomfortable with the kind of press attention the issue generates and the picture it paints of Orthodox Judaism. Now, when it provokes certain extremists to use violence against women, I think those extremists are completely wrong and I don't want to see those images in the media. But when a police officer arrests a woman for violating a law that's enforcing halacha (or even just very strong Orthodox norms that have been observed for 2000 years by Orthodox Jews until the past few decades), I'll defend the arrest. I'll also defend the recent decision by a religious school in Israel that gets funding from the government to suspend a female student for participating in an 'American Idol'-style TV show because she violated Kol Isha. For that matter, I'll also cheer on frum Jews who will im Yirtzeh Hashem actually prevent the annual gay pride parade in Yerushalayim this year(I'm betting that the parade issue will generate a post at some point in the future). I've read that if Netanyahu can form a government, the new Israeli Knesset will have 40 members who are Shomer Shabbos. If current trends continue, that number is going to grow, and it's reasonable to expect these issues to keep coming up.

  13. Awesome post and sums up very succinctly the way I feel about WOW, I support them, because the make religious Jewish women visible etc. Your logical legal and halachic argument holds. All Jews should be allowed to pray at the Kotel, in a manner that is acceptable to them, in a Jewish context.

  14. the argument for letting them pray has nothing to do with halachic. It is simply that the jewish voice is diverse, but we are all validly jewish. The orthodox have no more a valid claim on Israel and Judaism than any one else. Just as your blog often points out Ashkenazi voice might be louder but we have no more a claim than any other. Israel is a state for all jews. It is also a country based on civil society. That civil society and respect for the diverse voices of Kal Yisrael should be listened to at the Kotel, for marriage, and for conversation.
    the issue behind the women of the wall is not who you can read from the torah necessarily but who owns the voice of the people of Israel. I for one am not willing to give up my voice in Judaism or let other who are not orthodox (and Ashkenazi) go down into silence.

  15. 1) these aliyot are invalid as performed by women (according to orthodox judaism) and are therefore a violation of the 3rd commandment not to take G-D's name in vain
    2) in regards to holding a Torah scroll, there are issues regarding niddah and as it is difficult to check for this, women are generally not allowed to hold the Torah due to this questionable status.
    3) there is a mitzvah to keep tradition. the women of the wall violate this in two ways; by wearing tallitot and tefillin (traditionally worn by men), and holding a women's 'minyan'
    4) the orthodox women, let alone men, around these 'minyanim' most likely do not want to hear them, and there is therefore a designated place for these women to pray at the kotel - robinson's arch. they have rejected this is favour of davening in the main site
    5) the law of the kotel states that the level of practice should be that of the tradition in the area - at the kotel, and indeed in jerusalem, that is orthodox, and these women are therefore violating israeli law

    1. 1) these aliyot are invalid as performed by women (according to orthodox judaism) and are therefore a violation of the 3rd commandment not to take G-D's name in vain

      Actually, no, they are not invalid according to Judaism. Women are allowed to say Brachos. Unless you can site specifically where in Halacha it says otherwise, you are mistaken on this.

      2) in regards to holding a Torah scroll, there are issues regarding niddah and as it is difficult to check for this, women are generally not allowed to hold the Torah due to this questionable status.

      Imaginary cooties? Really? That being the case, women should never leave their own homes. If they do leave home they will surely touch objects (handle bars on bus, groceries on shelves, door handles, etc.) that men will then touch, and those men could eventually touch the Torahs before going to a mikvah passing the cooties along to the Torahs.

      3) there is a mitzvah to keep tradition. the women of the wall violate this in two ways; by wearing tallitot and tefillin (traditionally worn by men), and holding a women's 'minyan'

      While Halacha may be set, traditions change with time. This is fact. We used to own slaves (which IS permitted by in the Torah--see last week's parsha) nad offer live sacrifices, we don't anymore.

      4) the orthodox women, let alone men, around these 'minyanim' most likely do not want to hear them, and there is therefore a designated place for these women to pray at the kotel - robinson's arch. they have rejected this is favour of davening in the main site

      And these women may not want to hear from the Orthodox folk just the same. So what? If the Orthodox don't want to hear them then perhaps they could go to Robinson's Arch to daven as they wish.

      5) the law of the kotel states that the level of practice should be that of the tradition in the area - at the kotel, and indeed in jerusalem, that is orthodox, and these women are therefore violating israeli law

      Hate to break it to you, but the majority of Jews in Jerusalem are not not Orthodox observant, many not observant at all. So by that reasoning the Kotel should become a picnic area and all prayer forbidden.

      Bottom line, we are all Jews. If these women feel it brings them closer to Hashem by practicing like this then I for one will not give them flack. As a Jew I think it is wonderful to see other Jews trying to connect with Hashem. Jews need to work on removing barriers, not building them. Just as the Orthodox deserve to be left to worship as they see fit, so to should these women. There is plenty of room to accommodate these Jews at the Kotel.

    2. Mike just to add to some of your points

      2. Berachot 22a
      "Just as fire is not susceptible to ritual uncleanness, so too words of Torah are not susceptible to ritual uncleanness. "
      Niddah should stop being used as boggie women. It a state of being not a disease.

      3. another thing we stopped is having multiple wives. There were also a bunch of things we told Napoleon we wouldn't do but I can't think of them of hand.
      Tradition is a tricky word in Judaism. Safardi, Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, Greek, Italian, Litvak, Glician, ect... all have different tradition and among those traditions there has been and always been a spectrum of orthopraxy. No matter what people want to believe halacha and tradition are different.

      4. their are orthodox women among them. checkout

      5. The laws of Israel are not halacha. Israel doesn't even have a constitution to figure out what should happen. The "status quo" agreement was a back room deal to negotiate a government.

      Jews, Haradi specifically, have been oppressed for so long that they only know how to oppress. We should fight against that instinct. We should act as a Goy Kadosh (holy nation).

  16. The Othrodox world redefined halacha from "what must be done" (law) to "what is done" (custom) centuries ago. In other words, they started calling minhagim halakhot and using nonsensical phrases like "obligatory customs." This is a question of reason attempting to fight culture. So, said the blind man to the deaf dog as they crossed the road. Personally, I'm only interested in the Torah and Tekanot of Chazal as elucidated by the rishonim. Everything else is just commentary.

  17. There is some good information about the history of women's tefillah groups here:

    They *only* happen in non-egalitarian, Orthodox contexts and are not considered minyanim by their leaders (some participants may informally refer to them as "women's minyanim"). Egalitarian Jews consider women to count in a regular minyan and to be able to get *real* aliyot. What women's tefillah groups do is divide the Torah portion up and read it in sections, considering it learning Torah (Limmud), not kriyat haTorah (reading Torah to fulfill the public ritual obligation). They either don't make a bracha, recite the pasuk: "Baruch Ata Hashem, lamdeuni chukecha," which is appropriate, OR they don't say the brachot over learning Torah that are traditionally said by BOTH women and men as part of birkot hashachar, and say them before each "aliya."

    And they don't say devarim shebikedusha, as far as I know.

    Women are permitted to wear non-masculine tallitot and tefillin, just as they are permitted to shake a lulav (even if they have not refrained 100% from lashon hara), sit in a sukkah, hear shofar, etc. The idea that you can't do "voluntary" mitsvot until you do required mitzvot is not found in the halakhah. At least not until very recently. The situation is a bit different for Sephardi women, since Sephardi halakhah does not allow women to make brachot over mitzvot in which they are not commanded (including lulav and sukkah).

  18. Thanks for giving such a nice post. Israel is right place for getting a customized tallit. You can get all variety of designs, and colors in different sizes of tallit at affordable prices from Gabrieli Tallit Store.

  19. My one teacher is a Hassidic Rabbi and said quite bluntly that women are permitted to wear tallit, so no one should be doing or saying anything about it. If they don't like it, they should realize that they only advertise the practice and make it seem more forbidden and desirable by trying to ban it.
    Ritual articles like Torahs, cannot be contaminated by women, just as they cannot be contaminated by the more serious forms of tuma we all have, otherwise someone would be warning all women not to touch mezuzahs while they are niddah because they contain the same verses as tefillin. I have never heard a word on avoiding mezuzot.
    A decade ago, the Orthodox shul in my city allowed the women to take a Torah scroll to a separate room and dance, but the new Rabbi is further right and stopped that, and other practices accepted by generations of Jews much for respecting the minhag of a place.
    On the topic of distorting halakhah for the purpose of social agendas, the Conservative movement has been considering making tallit and tefillin mandatory for all women. We are all surrounded by extremists prepared to disregard Halakhah, it seems.

    These date back to 2008. Right now they are to busy dealing with their decline to expend energy on this.