The Threat of Israel's 'Women of the Wall'

Friday, November 08, 2013 |  Tsvi Sadan

I have written before about the Women of The Wall (WotW) and their attempts to “to change the status-quo that is currently preventing women from being able to pray freely at the Western Wall.” 

Members of this organization, many of whom are ex-Americans, including WotW “rabbi” Susan Silverman, are gathering at the Wall every New Moon (Rosh Chodesh) to pray as men do, with prayer shawls, phylacteries, Torah scrolls and everything else. Since traditionally Jewish women were exempt from many commandments, including the commands to wear prayer shawls and phylacteries, WotW’s efforts to change this tradition aggravates and infuriates religious people of all kinds.

It is easy to sympathize with WotW since, after all, who cannot support their mission: “As Women of the Wall, our central mission is to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.”

But this insistence on equal rights, which in and off itself is perfectly legitimate, looks a bit suspicious once one realizes that the worldview, at least of the leaders of this organization, is on the far left on the political scale.

The struggle of WotW for equality in the religious sphere, therefore, receives so much attention and causes so much strife because many people understand perfectly well that WotW is not about equal rights, but rather a movement aimed at altering Judaism and Israeli society in a very liberal way.

Despite what radical voices may tell you today, the ancient Jewish tradition that exempts women from many commandments did not result out of the minds of “chauvinist pigs.” Quite the opposite, these exemptions were established out of concern for women who simply found it overwhelming to keep up with certain commandments along with child birth, child rearing and housekeeping.

To give but one example, the holy duty to wear phylacteries performed during the time of the Morning Prayer cannot be interrupted, a stipulation that under no circumstances should be required of nursing women. Likewise, the specific commandments regarding women’s purity made it difficult for them to read from the Torah, hence they were exempt from this duty.

But WotW sees it differently. They are not interested in tradition since it robs them from their “basic human right” to do as they please. Consider Silverman’s inflammatory rhetoric that compares the Israeli government to the Persian regime in the time of Xerxes: “The Knesset could be compared to Achashverosh (Xerxes), the King in our Purim story, who was a wuss. He leaned toward evil when Haman had his ear, and toward good when Mordecai and Esther had his ear. Too many in the Knesset will bow toward those who can bring them power.”

To counter this corrupted power structure, Silverman is advocating for an extreme form of Protestantism. She writes: “All Jews who take Sinai as their paradigm for authority and purpose -- God's command that we become a Kingdom of Priests, each one of us in direct relationship with and an interpreter of God -- are obligated to reveal ourselves as brave and proactive Jews, like Esther.”

In other words, Silverman is an anarchist who wants to return to the time of the Judges. She wants to live in a society where there is no “king” in Israel and everyone is doing what is right in his (or her) own eyes.

Discrimination again women is a bad thing, but so is the ultimate goal of WotW.

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