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Anat Hoffman arrested during Women of the Wall service 370.(Photo by: MELANIE LIDMAN)
Women, the Wall and Judaism
It is obvious that the Women of the Wall must feel a connection to Judaism, yet I’m left wondering if they realize that these holy items, tefillin and talitot, carry with them a heavy responsibility.
Woman at the Kotel. That was the topic of conversation this past Friday morning. There is much controversy regarding the issue of whether women should be publicly allowed to don tefillin and talitot while reading from the Torah at the holiest site in Judaism, the site of the wall that surrounded the Beit Hamikdash, the holy Temple, almost 2,000 years ago.

I’ve mulled this issue over many times in my mind, and would like to pose some questions to the Women of the Wall, or at least to explain my approach to the Wall.

It is obvious that the Women of the Wall must feel a connection to Judaism, because they seek to perform a religious practice at a holy religious site. Yet, I’m left wondering if they realize that these holy items, tefillin and talitot, carry with them a heavy responsibility.

It is well known that Bruria, the wife of Rebbe Meir, donned tefillin. It is not a forbidden practice for women to put on tefillin, but it does come with a commitment. When one recognizes the use of tefillin, then he/she most certainly recognizes that written within them are chapters taken from the Torah. Tefillin bear significance because of what is written in them and the message they give to the wearer, regardless of whether the wearer is a man or woman.

The message is: God is One, keep all His mitzvot and you will be blessed. So, I believe that if tefillin is so cherished by anyone that they need to don it publicly, even when that is not the accepted practice, they need to make sure that they do what is written inside those same tefillin. If they don’t, then it is not the tefillin that are important to them; they might have a different reason for donning them, unconnected to Judaism.

Imagine that a young, up-and-coming lawyer was accepted at a very prestigious law firm. She’d be thrilled to tell all her relatives and elated at this new addition to her resume. Would she dare approach the head lawyer and say, “Thank you so much for accepting me into your firm. I’m sure I’ll do a great job – but I’ll only be showing up to work on Tuesday mornings and Wednesday afternoons. Oh, and don’t bother me with heavy duty cases that will take too much of my time.”

Getting a job at that esteemed law firm is not a pick-and-choose deal. So too the Torah.

If one wants to don tefillin- one has to take on everything else that comes with it. The wearer must commit to pray three times a day, will have to put on tefillin every day, keep kosher, keep the holy Sabbath and all the holidays, visit the mikvah each month after her menstrual cycle and dress modestly.

Wearing tefillin would be the cherry on top after undertaking all these many mitzvot! Among the issues of the Kotel was of course the issue of feminism. My friend, a convert to Judaism, told me the following: “I am the biggest feminist. I think women should be treated equally and they should be paid the same wages as men. Yes, that is for sure. But I don’t need to do things that a man does, like wearing tefillin and talitot, to feel my femininity.”

The Torah ensures a woman of her femininity.

Women were created in accordance with Hashem’s will. Women have their own set of mitzvot that are tailor-made for them.

I feel comfortable but not compromised by saying that women and men were created differently. Just look at them! On a physical level they are blatantly different. So, too on a spiritual level. Each has a separate and unique life mission (tafkidim).

That doesn’t mean each sex’s mission is not of equal importance. In fact, some might argue that a woman’s mission is more important than a man’s. It is brought down in the Talmud that in the merit of righteous women, the Moshiach will arrive. That’s like saying, in modern-day terms, that world peace was established in the merit of Mrs. X or in the merit of Women’s Rights, Inc. What could be greater and more feministic than the promise of utopia, brought to you by non other than righteous women! And that is upon whose shoulders the Torah has placed such a tremendous merit! Allow me to address one more issue. A truly open-minded person who wants to make an educated decision must delve deeply and responsibly into all sides of an issue. Certainly one would be hesitant to argue with Professor Aumann, a Nobel laureate in economics, about, say, correlated equilibrium in game theory without doing a lot of reading and research beforehand.

Most people don’t know too much about correlated equilibrium, or about game theory. In the same vein, how much qualified Torah knowledge do the women who want to wear tefillin at the Kotel have about the general issue of women taking upon themselves mitzvot generally reserved for men? Have they truly studied the Torah from the many Torah laureates that abound in this country? These Torah laureates are experts in the subject; they study the subject day and night for years on end, using commentaries that have been learned for centuries. It’s hard to believe that all these centuries-old scholars just “didn’t get it” and were missing the point.

Maybe it’s worthwhile for anyone who is unclear about this dilemma to take the time to find out what the Torah experts have to say. Maybe even, the next time they visit the Kotel, they should turn around and walk into the Aish HaTorah Learning Center, ask for the reasons and maybe enjoy the explanations.

T,he writer has been living in Israel for 26 years and presently lives with her family in Ramat Bet Shemesh. She is the mother of 9 children and a grandmother of 7. She is a high school English teacher and the founder of the Likrat Kallah Organization that helps needy brides throughout Israel.
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