Women in Prayer Shawls - Equality, or National Threat?

Thursday, May 16, 2013 |  Tsvi Sadan

A small group of about 50 women from the group "Women of the Wall" caused an uproar at Jerusalem's Western Wall last Friday. The group had chosen this day to protest for what they called "equality" by wearing prayer shawls and reading from Torah scrolls (activities traditionally reserved for men) while praying at the holy site.

The first day of a new Hebrew month, which last Friday was, is traditionally seen as a holiday more important to women, the choice of day made sense. But this, so it seems, was the only point of contact with tradition.

As the group's website states, Women of the Wall is a movement of Jewish women "from around the world who strive to achieve the right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem, Israel. The Western Wall is Judaism's most sacred holy site and the principal symbol of Jewish people-hood and sovereignty, and Women of the Wall works to make it a holy site where women can pray freely."

More clearly, Women of the Wall want to change tradition so that any Jewish group will be allowed to pray at the Kotel as they see fit. Women of the Wall want to pray as men do, with prayer shawls and reading from the Torah, and they want to pray without the current separation of men from women. Every aspect of the group's aim stands against Jewish tradition. Customs honored for millennia are now being challenged.

When religious authorities initially prevented the Women of the Wall from worshiping as they wanted, the case was brought before Israel's Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled that a special area be designated for Jews who insist on worshiping in ways contrary to tradition. That ruling, as could be expected, did not change most people's minds regarding this topic, and when Women of the Wall persisted with praying at the Western Wall in their own way, riots ensued.

Media coverage of this saga almost unanimously sides with Women of the Wall as defenders of progress and freedom. The fact that an identifiable majority of Israelis, both religious and secular, do not support the group's goals makes little difference. Thousands turned out to counter-protest the 50 Women of the Wall, yet the majority was condemned in the name of democracy and the right of people to do whatever they want.

One of the greatest achievements in the history of Judaism was the successful unification of warring Jewish factions by Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD. From a Jewish perspective, it was the baseless hatred amongst Jewish factions at the time that almost resulted in Israel's total annihilation.

If Judaism is to avoid once again being broken down into little factions that hate one another, maybe, for the greater good of Israel, this march toward Western liberalism and even some of its more admirable values should be shelved for now.

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