Saturday, May 18, 2013

Comment and Response regarding the Women of the Wall, and introducing Women For the Wall !!!!

Someone sent me a comment about my previous posting via email; I am publishing here, along with my response.  (The system would not allow such a long comment, nor the hyperlinks.))

Keep those comments coming!!!


You apparently believe that the chareidi women were committing a Kiddush Hashem by attempting to peacefully fill up the space and block the non chareidi women from davening. This was "great!" you effuse. Wow, how wonderful. Let's prevent Jewish women from praying.What a kiddush Hashem that must be.
But I simply don't understand why blocking these women from praying there was was also not a chillul Hashem. Maybe I am confused but I just don't understand the entire machloket. Women are allowed to don teffilin and talitot, right? So what in the world is the problem with having these Jews express their Judaism this way? Would that all Jews, men and women, were to feel this way and want to don talitot and tefillin! These women should be praised, not condemned, for wanting and trying to be more observant. What exactly is the objection? What am I missing here? What exactly is bothering our hareidi brothers in Torah and ahavat Yisrael this time?


Dear Farblunjet (love the name!)

You bring up a good point; namely that under the strict letter of the law women are technically allowed to wear tallitot and tefillin, according to many sources.

Nevertheless, the custom of virtually all of our mothers and grandmothers for many generations has been that they do not wear them. A fairly good Halachic summary of why this is so can be found here. Additionally, a fine discussion of a woman's struggle with this issue (that I found very moving) can be found here.

Moreover, without belaboring the background issue, here is the main issue in regard to the Western Wall. It is very clear to me, and I believe most observers, that the so called Women of the Wall are not primarily motivated by their religious zeal to fulfill the additional mitzva of tefillin. Rather, they are trying to score points both for feminism and the non-Orthodox movements by their loud presence. By coming to a place at which the overwhelming majority of worshipers – I would say easily over 90% – pray according to Orthodox tradition, which includes:
  • separate areas for men and women
  • women not wearing Talitot or tefillin
  • women not performing a public reading from a Torah as part of their prayer
they are engaged in a behavior that is designed to harass, incite, and disturb those who pray there regularly, not those who come just during the monthly prayer demonstration.

I am not making the argument, as some do, that the Kotel is an Orthodox synagogue. Although, as I wrote, the overwhelming majority of those who come there regularly are Orthodox, I agree that the Kotel is a national shrine and no one group has exclusive rights to it.

Nevertheless, the reality is that it is used primarily for Orthodox prayer, and has always been used that way for thousands of years. Furthermore, if what the women truly wanted was pluralism, and to live and let live, then they should have supported the Sharansky plan to have an equally comfortable and respected alternative place for them to pray as they wish, at a different location along the wall.

But no, that is not good enough. They insist on being literally in the face of the Orthodox women who pray there, and engage in what to those women is an offensive intrusion in the most sacred place on earth. This proves beyond a doubt that their motivation is not religious fervor, but rather political activism to undermine the prevailing Orthodox custom.

That is why the proposed demonstration by tens of thousands of the REAL Women of the Wall, not those who only show up to demonstrate but rather those who regularly come in their multitudes to pour out their hearts to G-d, was so encouraging. And that is why I was so upset that the evil fanatics spoiled a wonderful effort.

For more on what the demonstration was supposed to be about, see the website of the organizers, at the very aptly named

See also a similar perspective to mine by Jonathan Rosenblum

Thanks again for writing!


farblunjet said...

Dear Rabbi Oppenheimer:

Many thanks for your prompt and interesting reply, which, however, leaves me even more confused than I was before. You say that the Kotel is not an orthodox synagogue and “no one group has exclusive rights to it” and also admit that halachically, “women are technically allowed to wear tallitot and tefillin, according to many sources.” These facts should certainly be completely determinative of the issue.
The primary objection to these women, you say, is their motivation, and that their behavior “offends” the hareidi women who come there to pray. Assuming your interpretation of their motivation is correct, since no one group has exclusive rights to the Kotel, their motivation, however much you disagree with it, is completely irrelevant so long as their behavior is halachically appropriate, which you admit it is. The fact that the majority of hareidi women, or even all of them, choose to be offended by their actions is again completely irrelevant. It is somewhat presumptuous, if not arrogant, to prevent others from exercising their halachically correct right to pray at the Kotel because your feelings may be hurt. If you are offended, either ignore the offensive conduct, get over it or deal with it in a mature manner, which does not include physically preventing another group of Jews from praying at the Kotel.. Perhaps engaging in an educational dialogue about religious observance and religious tolerance would be much more productive to both sides. It is without question better than the shameful conflict that the world is now gleefully watching. Chillul hashem indeed!

YLO said...

Thanks, Farblunjet, once again! You certainly don't pull the punches in your debate, which is great.

I will take your points one by one
These facts (the Kotel not being an Orthodox synagogue & the technical permission for women to wear tefillin) should certainly be completely determinative of the issue.
I beg to differ. In life in general, and in religious matters in particular, one is often required to go beyond the strict letter of the law, and to do what is “good and proper”. See Ramban (Nachmanides) at length on Devarim 6:18). The fact that one MAY do something does not mean that one SHOULD do it, especially if offends a great many people, it goes against sacred tradition, and one has ulterior motives, as discussed before.

The fact that the majority of hareidi women, or even all of them, choose to be offended by their actions is again completely irrelevant

First of all, it is not just Hareidi women, but virtually all Orthodox women (except for those on the very far left), and virtually all Orthodox men, and for that matter, most non-Orthodox but traditional Israelis, who are offended by these actions. Please take a look at, a website created by non-Hareidi women who were the main organizers of the mass prayer on Rosh Chodesh.

Furthermore, it is not a “choice to be offended” . It is not about “getting over it” or acting “maturely”. This is not a personal matter or personal offense, but a case in which people are indignant that the sacred nature of a very holy place is being besmirched for political maneuvering. People are offended that what they consider to be a sacrilege is going on in a sanctuary. If one wants to take the WOW seriously, one must also take their opponents (other than the terrible idiots) seriously.

If the WOW were only about praying, a good solution already exists. The Robinson Arch area. But they are not interested in a solution. They are only interested in foisting their agenda on an overwhelmingly opposed public, while using the liberal courts to pretend that it is a “civil rights” issue.
An educational dialogue about religious observance and religious tolerance would be much more productive to both sides.
True...but that is pie in the sky. The WOW are not interested in education or dialogue, and the other side feels that they understand everything they need to as well.

What is needed is tolerance and respect. The truth is that for the Orthodox public, even allowing the WOW to do their thing at the Robinson Arch is a sacrilege, and thus it is a big concession for them to allow that without protest. The WOW should follow their own liberal pluralistic ideas, and live and let live, as Sharansky has proposed.

Thanks once again for writing.

farblunjet said...

So, according to your post, what it boils down is that whatever offends hareidim or their supporters, for whatever reason (in this case they consider the helachically permissible behavior as "sacrilege") becomes prohibited and what they consider "good and proper is permitted. And again, the consideration here is the perceived motivation of the WOW.Reread your post, please.The views of non-hareidim are tainted by their motivations and therefore are invalid. Only hareidi views are valid. The WOW, you say, are not interested in dialogue and the hareidi feels it unnecessary because they "understand everything they need to."
I honestly believe you don't see the chutzpah of your position.

YLO said...

I am not sure why I am having such trouble being understood.


1. This is NOT just a Hareidi issue - there is virtually unanimous,across the board, condemnation of the WOW from not only the entire Orthodox community, but also very many non-Orthodox, secular Jews for whom "the synagogue they don't go to is Orthodox". It is true that the terrible idiots (who caused me to write this post in the first place) call themselves Hareidi, and by doing so give many Hareidim a black name (see several other of my posts on this blog). But on this issue the WOW are needlessly offending a very broad range of people.

2. No, I don't agree that "whatever offends the Hareidim becomes prohibited". I agree that the Hareidim need to learn to live with the notion that there are others in the country who have rights as well, and they need to carry their fair share of the national burden if they are expecting to receive benefits.

The Kotel, however, is different. As I explained at length, it is the most sacred place on earth, and the fact that 95%+ of the people (who are only doing what has always been done there) are offended by the unwelcome actions of a politically motivated hypocritical group who -- if their religious fervor was real -- could pray as they wish at a just-as-holy alternative site which is but a two minute walk away, ought count for something to you.

3. Finally, I think you misunderstood what I said about the permissibility of women wearing tefillin. As explained in the essay that I cited, although there are some primary sources that permitted the wearing of tefillin by women, normative practice for hundreds of years has been that women do not wear tefillin, and that is agreed upon by all major halachic authorities for the past many generations. That is very dispositive in Halachic practice.

All the more so as we are dealing with the Anat Hoffmans of the world who are not particularly observant of some of the basics of Judaism, such as Shabbat, but still claims that she is so "spiritually moved" to go even beyond standard Halacha and wear tefillin. It is clear as day to me that her concern is not spirituality, nor prayer, nor halacha, but rather feminism and opposing Orthodoxy. (Her day job is working for the Reform Action Center, where her main passion is to find ways to " see that the powerful Orthodox bloc in the City Council does not dictate lifestyle choices for the secular population of Jerusalem", as well as fighting for the civil rights of the Palestinians in Jerusalem, according to her bio.)

It is distressing to me that you cannot see through this charade, and continue to defend these pretentious charlatans who are nothing but mean-spirited troublemakers.

Please don't let them get you farblunjet in their rhetoric!

farblunjet said...

I think you misunderstand me. I am an orthodox person who does not care what the WOW motivation or their agenda are so long as they obey the law. You have admitted that there is some halachic sources that permit the wearing of tflin and talitot by women. They have chosen to follow this source rather than the ones you (and most of the orthodox world, you say)consider "normative." That is their right, whether I or you agree with it or not.As to their alleged anti-orthodox agenda, well, that is their right also. Their observance or non-observance of other halachot is simply not your business, nor mine.
You admit that the kotel is not an orthodox synagogue and that it is a "national shrine and no one group has exclusive rights to it." That means that all Jews, regardless of the levels of observance or their beliefs about orthodoxy,their political beliefs or what they do at home, have a right to utilize the Kotel and to pray there, using any Jewish ritual they wish whether or not it falls within the boundaries of what hareidim or other orthodox Jews call acceptable. You do not own the Kotel. It is sacred for reform, masorti, humanistic, zionistic, anti zionistic,atheist, agnostic, sephardic, mizrachi, etc. Jews alike. Perhaps hareidi Jews should be prohibited as well because of their often expressed and vociferous anti-modern orthodox and anti Zionist agenda ( I call it hatred- it is certainly not the mitzva of ahavat Yisrael) and because their ritual differs from modern orthodox ritual.I understand you do not say the prayer for the government at shacharit shabbat, nor do you "repeat" etc.. Well, those are our "normative" customs and therefore you should not be permitted to daven at the Kotel.
I understand that the Satmar and other anti-zionist groups also oppose modern orthodox power in Yerushalyim and favor the Paletinians as you say WOW does. Then their motivations should also prohibit them from the Kotel. I don't think that our religion permits you to judge the spirituality or religious observance of Anat Hoffman or others in her group. Sounds like lashon hara to me. Religious apartheit can work both ways, you see.

YLO said...

Dear Farblunjet,

I am sorry for not answering sooner, but in truth I do not have much more to say than I have already said repeatedly. SO this will be my final comment to you on this topic;

1) Normative Halachic practice - excuse me, but you are exhibiting an ignorance of how p'sak halacha works. As anyone who has ever opened the Talmud (let alone the responsa literature) knows, there are lots of opinions out there about most topics. If anyone was free to follow any Halachic opinion on any matter, regardless of whether it has been accepting as "halacha lemaa'aseh" (normative halachic practice) by the great majority of poskim, we would long ago ceased to be a single identifiable religion. There is a method and history of how a Halachic opinion becomes normative and thus authoritative to follow in practice. Thus, it simply is not true that they "have the right" to follow a non-normative practice. There are innumerable sources which make the point that one may not follow a rejected minority opinion in the face of the accepted norm. See for further discussion of the halachic process.

2) The notion of "rights" in general is a dubious one. No one has the "right" to do anything according to Halacha. Rather, Halacha always speaks in terms of obligations that each of us have, never in terms of rights. Thus the halachic question here is not what "rights" certain groups have, but what are the "obligations" that they have. Women do not have an "obligation" to where tefillin, or to publicly read from the Torah, or to daven so loudly that their singing voices are heard on the other side of the mechitzha. Me do have the tefillin and torah obligations, and the obligation not to listen to women's singing voices (according to virtually all normative poskim). That is fairly dispositive. For more on this argument, please see

Finally, again, if the WOW truly wanted only to daven and practice as they wish, and follow their obligations of Ahavat Yisrael, they should be wholehearted supporters of the Sharansky plan. That they are not destroys any credibility they have as being motivated by Halacha and spirituality, rather than crass political agitation at the holiest place on earth.

Yehuda L Oppenheimer

PS For the record, I do not consider myself fully Hareidi, support the saying of the prayer for the government, but I do not support "repeating". See my other articles on this blog for further thoughts about Hareidism.

farblunjet said...

OK-- This has been a most interesting and refreshing conversation and I'm sorry to see it end. Here are my final comments:
1& 2--Of course you are correct about halacha. But this is not an halachic group. I would venture to say that a significant number of Jews at the Wall are not halachically observant. But, as you've said, the Wall is not an orthodox synagogue and is open for all Jews, regardless of level of observance and halachic standards.No one has argued that they are motivated by halacha, although they may be motivated by spirituality (definitely not always the same thing).They may even, as you suggest, have an anti-orthodox agenda. Nonetheless they should be permitted to pray at the wall the same as all other Jews. You are correct that they, as all others, have an obligation not to disturb others by loud singing, etc. But they do have a "right" as Jews to pray at the Wall according to their tradition, whether or not it conforms to our halachic standards. This means that they can wear tflin, talitot and kipot and can read from the Torah, even though you and I and others may not approve.If you do not approve then do not watch and listen to them, just as we do not watch and listen to men, reform, masorti and secular, who pray at the kotel, although their prayers may not conform to halacha.
A final thought- I believe that this controversy should have been dealt with without shouting, demonstrations, blockading and other overt hostility.Notwithstanding their anti-othodox otivation, these women are there because they are proud Jews interested in Judaism, however misguided, and this interest could have diverted.How many of our women have no interest nor knowledge whatsoever about being Jewish? I'd rather see Jewish women donning tefillin than Jewish women who don't know, or care, what tefillin are.I wonder how Chabad would have handled this situation, had it been given to them at the outset.

YLO said...

Although I said that I would not comment again on this thread (I am tempted to!!!!) I did want to provide this link that "without comments" captures a lot of the issues in this controversy:

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