Three Ladies, Three Lattes: Wall squall

Secular Pam, modern Orthodox Tzippi and haredi Danit answer your questions on percolating issues in Israel’s complicated social and religious fabric.

January 12, 2017 15:13
4 minute read.
Women at the Wall

Members of Women at the Wall at the Kotel. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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I am a staunch believer in the cause of the Women of the Wall. They are heroes in my mind. Since we are talking women’s issues, I was wondering what you ladies think about women being allowed to wear a tallit and read from the Torah at the Western Wall? I also want to help these women somehow and am eager to hear your voices.

Hoping to Help

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Danit Shemesh:

I understand the inescapable connection among women. It’s not only socio-political, but also an intimate concern for who we are and how we define ourselves.

My personal journey sweeps from rallying in the streets of California, yelling, “I am woman hear me roar!” to the cozy kitchen in my haredi home (but no longer pregnant).

The woman in me has “come home” – travel-worn, exhausted. She has reached her destination, her real definition of “woman.” The more I own my femininity, the more it’s respected and essential in my home. Home is the centerpiece of Judaism, the hub, where life truly happens.

Please, discern the means from the end. Home is not just a resting place on the rat-race track. Home is the end.

Woman is the polar opposite of Man, beyond organic differences. The Jewish home provides the forum where she can express her essence. Praying to Hashem [God] from within that home, having an intimate dialogue with Him from the queenly throne, is a quintessential expression of the feminine.

Why would a woman want to be like a man? Only one who misunderstands the feminine force and believes that “men rule,” that men do it better. I don’t feel small like that, I don’t have the need to endlessly yell that I should don men’s clothing or put on tefillin.

Women of the Wall: What are you trying to do? Is this about true dialogue with Hashem or public grandstanding? Unleashing the she-man is becoming a man-with-a-mission; it’s hubris.

You say: “I want to help.”

I say: “Oh, please don’t.”

Pam Peled:

In 1928, when Virginia Woolf lectured at a women’s college in England, she unwittingly stepped on the grass.

“Instantly a man’s figure rose to intercept me,” she recalled. “Nor did I at first understand that the gesticulations of a curious-looking object, in a cut-away coat and evening shirt, were aimed at me. His face expressed horror and indignation.”

Women were not allowed on the lawns in Oxford, nor into the library.

The religious establishment in Israel would feel right at home in A Room of One’s Own. The upholders of our morals and Judaism’s piety applaud hiding women in back rooms and stifling their voices (not only, God forbid, when singing).

As absurd as the idea of women being kept to the straight and narrow gravel paths moving apologetically over the green grass where men may freely wander, so is the notion that, if a proposed Shas Knesset bill passes, women in Israel may be jailed for wearing a tallit in a confined space at the Kotel. Really? You’ve got to be kidding.

This travesty – like covering hair and smothering arms, and erasing women’s faces on billboards – has nothing to do with religion. It’s another brutal way of putting women down.

I, personally, am missing that God-piece that compels me to don a kippa or wrap myself in a prayer shawl; I’m not entirely sure I’d feel the urge if I were a man. But, hey! To make it a criminal offense… and only in our own country? I have to wonder what God thinks of that.

Tzippi Sha-ked:

Noted: Buddhist Shrine: No outstretched legs, no feet towards altar, no chewing, gender-separated queues.

Hindu Temple: Wash before visiting, no shoes, accept gifts from priest with right hand.

Mosques: Shoulders and knees covered, women cover hair, remove shoes.

Kotel: Contested customs.

Noted: On a cold morning at the Kotel, a group of Christian, African-American women banded together as much for warmth as to sing joyous hymns to their savior. Moments later, a tour group of Asian ladies did the same, though it was unclear to whom they were singing. I was struck by the nonchalance exhibited by pious Jewish women in the vicinity. They didn’t so much as bat an eyelid as the tourists did their thing.

I wish Women of the Wall could be regarded with a similar tolerance and here’s why: First, I find it unpalatable that child-molesters, adulterers, get (divorce)-withholding individuals and other undesirable men may freely come to the wall, shed tears, and offer pathetic prayers without being escorted away, yet women sporting tallitot and embracing Torah scrolls can be barred or, worse, possibly arrested. Maybe we should start a screening process at the Wall? Second, I think God can handle tallit-sporting, tefillin- wrapping, scroll-holding ladies; He must find it more difficult to cope with aggressive Jews pontificating violently on His behalf. From either side of the divide.

With millions of us assimilating, there’s room at the wall for all, including WoW, although I do wonder what decorum standards these women would advocate.

Prayers are preferable to indifference.

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