May 25: A woman’s place in Judaism
Law bars women from wearing tefillin, prayer shawl at Orthodox plaza, but does permit this at Robinson’s Arch.
Letters Photo: Thinkstock/Imagebank
Sir, – Regarding “Police detain three women by Western Wall for wearing prayer
shawls, women’s groups says” (May 23), there are two sections of the Western
Wall – one follows Orthodox custom, and the other is known as Robinson’s Arch,
which allows for the full range of Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist
The law does not permit women to wear tefillin or a prayer
shawl at the Orthodox plaza, but does permit this at Robinson’s
Anat Hoffman complains there are no chairs or prayer books at
Robinson’s Arch. Would it be that difficult for the combined forces of
Conservative and Reform Judaism to provide chairs, appropriate prayer books and
several Torah scrolls? They have their area of the Western Wall to do their own
Sir, – Let me first state that I am an
observant woman who does not read from the Torah or wear a prayer shawl.
Nevertheless, I find it degrading for women to be harassed, investigated and
questioned because they have “offended the law” of the Kotel (Western
Women are not obligated to wear a prayer shawl, but it is not a
sin if they wear it. Women are permitted to read from the Torah and conduct
services in an all-women’s minyan.
To stop them from doing this is a
The separation between men and women at the Kotel is high
enough for men not to see the women – unless they decide to stand on a chair to
do so. They also wouldn’t hear the praying or hear the Torah reading unless they
were actually listening for the women’s voices.
All those who believe a
woman shouldn’t be heard or seen should remember that God called the women first
to listen to the words of His Torah.
The Torah also belongs to
Sir, – Women have filled and do fill
very successfully many public positions in Israel. And yet when it comes to the
Western Wall, not only are they pressed into a small area, but they are
allegedly committing an offense if they wear prayer shawls.
I will not
list the other discriminatory actions against women at the Kotel and, indeed,
elsewhere (such as recently in Mea She’arim, where they were required to walk on
the other side of the street to be separated from men). What are the men afraid
of? And if men only mix with men, this surely must occasionally lead to
The world has changed in the last few thousand
years, yet the haredim, and the police at their request, still endeavor to treat
women as inferior creatures. Surely the time has come for women to be treated as
Sir, – Rachel Levmore’s
op-ed “Feminine Orthodox rabbinics” (Comment & Features, May 21) is another
reminder of the thirst among Orthodox Jewish women to engage in advanced Torah
study and participate in the halachic process, of their aptitude for these
undertakings, and of the benefits to the community.
observation that “the feminine side of Talmud study” introduces “practical
utilitarianism” to the purely theoretical approach preferred by male Talmud
scholars may not be empirically accurate, and there is no inherent reason to
believe that the theory/practice-divide follows gender lines. Nevertheless, the
importance of “applied Torah” for those scholars so inclined should not be
It is surprising, therefore, to see Levmore commenting
that Nishmat’s Yoatzot Halacha program limits its impact to having “contributed
learned women to Jewish society,” and touting the fact that some “have gone on
to increase their breadth of knowledge, acquiring PhD degrees….” By her own
logic, scholarship for its own sake or in the interest of teaching – important
as these functions are – addresses only the theoretical plane.
Halacha, as practitioners of halachic interpretation and application to real
needs within the community, operate on the plane of “practical utilitarianism”
as well as theory.
In so doing they advance opportunities for Orthodox
women as religious leaders not only within the realm of Torah scholarship, but
also within the community’s daily life.
As Nishmat celebrates its 22nd
anniversary, it recognizes the vision of its founder and dean, Rabbanit Chana
Henkin, in enabling Orthodox women to fulfill their religious striving and
potential as both scholars and communal leaders.