Halakha literally means “to walk” or “to go,” but within Jewish practice it refers to biblical, Talmudic and rabbinic law as well as customs and traditions. There are certain halakhot, such as the prohibition against worshiping idols, which are fixed and observed by all Jewish denominations. Other halakhot, such as whether or not women can wear tallitot, vary in different Jewish communities because of the number of halakhic authorities who have disagreed with each other across generations and have formed their own sets of practices and legal rulings. It is this diversity of opinion in Jewish legal interpretation and practice that has brought internal conflict to the Jewish people; it is also this diversity that brings depth, complexity and beauty.
The Torah (Exodus 35:25) teaches that the wise and skilled women of the desert generation wove a cover for the ark, creating a cloth of many hues that blended into a harmonious whole. We, at Women of the Wall, view our services as a similar offering to God, utilizing all our talents, all our differing theological views, to create a united service. The Western Wall stands today as a reminder of the First and Second Temple. The Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 2) states that the Shekhinah, God’s immanent presence in the world, has never left the Western Wall. It is a holy place that should be open to all Jews and should be open to different interpretations and expressions of halakha. (Women of the Wall)
In the United States we complain about the Bloc endorsed political system. Many of us are outraged by the political power of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish political contingent. Many of us can see the handprint of the bloc in the decisions made by our judges, our tax and zoning authorities, our local officials and our government officials and for most of us who are not ultra-Orthodox, this level of political power garnered to the ultra-Orthodox bloc is unacceptable.
Our last piece, citing a New York Post article and the events in Belgium, posited that if a fundamentalist religious group is able to become a political powerhouse, there is no telling the destruction that can result. The same is true of Israel, where the small ultra-Orthodox right-wing parties use threats of toppling the Netanyahu government in order to obtain favorable results in all manner of Israeli life.
Battles over prayer at the Western Wall, one time referred to as the Wailing Wall because people would go there and often cry in prayer, is not limited to a Jewish/Arab battle but also to a male/female battle and a religious/sectarian/egalitarian battle. Jewish women’s groups have been fighting for years to obtain the rights to have a section of the Wall where they could hold prayers in an egalitarian manner, believing that they, too are entitled to a place they can call their own for prayer. For many of these women, whether practitioners of reform Judaism or Orthodox Judaism, there is an underlying belief that women should be able to pray equally as men.
For non-Jews to understand the significance, the ultra-Orthodox do not permit women to handle the Torah. Women pray behind what is referred to as a “Mehitza” or “barrier”. Women, unlike men, it is said can pray*** alone, where men are supposed to pray in groups of 10 (a minion). In Israel, there is currently a movement of Orthodox women who believe that they should have equal standing in the prayer department, that there are no prescriptions against them handling the Torah. In other words, they maintain that there is nothing in Jewish law to subjugate them to men and that certainly a belief in G-d and the availability of a place to worship that G-d should not be part of the greater question, it should be inalienable. Ultra-Orthodox (MEN) claim that these Jewish women are creating their own religion.
Under the policy, as it was many years ago, women were not permitted to approach the wall, except for a tiny place and for brief moments, made uncomfortable by the stares and dirty looks they received from the religious men. Importantly, women were not permitted to gather in groups to hold prayer ceremonies with Torah scrolls, a major part of any Jewish service and a major contention of the Jewish women’s rights groups.
Then, in 1988, a cohesive group of women from around the world gathered for their first unified prayer service at the Wall, which was disrupted by verbal assaults and stone-throwing and such began the “Women of the Wall“. Those same women, slowly grew from their first 100 to many thousands who now have joined in the battle for egalitarianism as it refers to prayer at the wall.
Fast forward to 2015 and 2016 during which time a series of agreements were drafted allowing a compromise, a section of the wall designated for egalitarian women’s prayer. While many believed that this was not enough, women relegated to an outside corner, the hope was that the movement of women’s prayer at the wall would grow and increase in numbers, as would public support for the movement.
“Under intense pressure from his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that “several difficulties arose” with the painstakingly-negotiated deal and that new talks will be held.
The difficulties? It comes down to modern day politics and ancient patriarchal power that refuses to change with the times — and believes it has the final say on what it means to be a Jew, Reform and Conservative critics say.”
“Bibi has in recent weeks come under intense pressure from the right, whose leaders have said they vigorously oppose the deal the government negotiated in January and agreed to by Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz.”
While the article reiterates Netanyahu’s commitment to the deal, if his political coalition has its way, there will be no deal.
While one may ask why LostMessiah has taken the initiative of bringing this to the reader’s attention. Our answer simply rests with our previous article regarding the notion of allowing a small segment of the society to gain strength to the point where 10% of society garners 80% of the political power. It is a dangerous position. In the US, the problems are different but the dangers are no less evident.
*** Note to reader: We had intentionally used the word “prey” interchangeably with “pray” in a few spots to draw your attention to the distinct differences between the Women of the Wall who pray and the Hasidic men for whom the Women of the Wall are their prey. It went over some heads so hopefully we caught all of them and changed to “pray.” With the explanation, hopefully you know what we were intending with this piece.