Wednesday, May 29, 2013

On the New Jewish Feminism: Breaking Down Orthodoxy

Found on the Internet:

First off, I want to make it clear that I roundly denounce the physical and verbal violence employed by hooligans against the Women of the Wall on Friday.  Such uncivilized behavior is completely unacceptable, especially coming from those who fancy themselves benei Torah.

That being said, the despicable behavior of some critics of WoW does not make all criticism of the group's positions illegitimate, and I think that the discussion can, and should, continue.

The advocates of WoW often make the argument that their practices are considered a mainstream form of Jewish worship by a large percentage of Jews around the world, and since the Kotel belongs to all Jews, that form of worship should be allowed at the Kotel.  I think that many people are very uncomfortable with taking this argument to its logical conclusion.

There is also a large percentage of Jews around the world whose synagogue practices include photography of a bar/bat mitzvah and playing musical instruments on Shabbat.  There are thousands of Jews in the U.S. who may attend their synagogues regularly, and who would see a Shabbat service without guitar accompaniment as lacking an essential component.  Should this, then, be permitted at the Kotel?  I would venture to say that the vast majority of halachically observant Jews, even the most liberal, would find such practices disruptive to the Shabbat atmosphere that they are looking for when going to the Kotel on Shabbat.

Personally, I don't think that women wearing talitot and davening in a group is the equivalent of playing guitar on Shabbat.  The former is permitted by halacha (even if not customary, and even if it's not an approach that I identity with), and the latter is forbidden.  But this is exactly the point that WoW should be making.  I would find it much easier to be sympathetic to their cause if they would say that they are committed to halacha and accept, in principle, that public activities at the Kotel should conform to halacha, but they are advocating for a less narrow view of what that includes.

There are many observant Jews who do not celebrate Yom haAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim, and who maintain that a blessing recited on Hallel on those days is in vain, yet the festive prayer services attended by tens of thousands of worshipers at the Kotel on these days do not garner any significant protest.  This is because those opposed know that those who are reciting Hallel are not doing so in order to rebel against the halachic system or challenge the role of halacha in establishing the norms of behavior at the Kotel.  They believe that the celebrants are simply misguided and "hold incorrectly" on this particular issue.

I suspect that many of those most strongly opposed to WoW take for granted that a woman wearing a tallit could only be doing so because she is someone who does not accept the binding nature of halacha, and thus they see WoW as a precedent that can lead to all sorts of organized non-halachic activity at the Kotel.  If spokespeople associated with WoW would stop talking about "breaking Orthodox control" of the Kotel and taking down the mechitza each day, and make it clear that they are simply looking to do something a little "different" within the big tent of halachically acceptable behavior, then I think a lot of the heat would die down, and the critics -- even those who believe WoW to be misguided and "holding incorrectly" -- would be
more willing to "live and let live."

No comments: