Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ask Chaviva Anything: Women of the Wall

ANNOUNCEMENT: I am super stoked to say that there will be a Mr. T video coming up in the next few weeks. Brace yourselves for the awesomeness that is my husband. Stay tuned to the YouTube channel and/or here for the video. If you have questions for Mr. T, feel free to ask them in the comments of this post and/or on Ask Chaviva Anything!

And now ... back to your regularly scheduled post ...

I had a question on Ask Chaviva Anything about my thoughts on "Women of the Wall," so I thought I'd go ahead and address it since, for now, the insanity surrounding the group has died down a bit. Although the next time Rosh Chodesh rolls around it will be one more big giant display of Chillul HaShem from both sides of the issue down at the Kotel, which I find hugely disappointing and a shame for Judaism.

Women of the Wall is an organization that has been around since the late 1980s in Israel but only in the past few years has the group come under increased scrutiny after throwing themselves at the media like a 12-year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert. According to their website, their main goal is
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.
As my understanding of the group goes, the group struggled for the ability to do this in legal battles up until 2003, when the group was granted the right to hold their services at Robinson's Arch. In 2009 a complaint was filed and the insanity broke out again, and over the past few years Anat Hoffman and the WoW crew have taken their plight to new media levels. On the WoW website, it says that Anat has dedicated her life to "the Jewish principle of tikkun olam, which literally means repairing the world." But seriously, is what WoW doing repairing the world? At all? In any way shape or form? 

I believe in the right for any person -- Jewish or not -- to express themselves and their religious beliefs in a manner that does not bring physical or emotional harm on others, in a manner that follows a standard of basic human rights, but that also is conscious of the responsibility of one human being on another human being for respect. 

(Also: I have to say that wearing a prayer shawl or tefillin or a kippah or anything like that has never appealed to me, even when I was a Reform Jew being called up for aliyot regularly. I'm a firm believer that equality is a misunderstood concept. Men are not women and women are not men. If men and women could be perfectly equal in the eyes of HaShem or Judaism or any religion, then there would only be one human and that human would be sexless and genderless and everyone would look exactly the same. Unfortunately, that's just not how we were created.)

Do I think that Women of the Wall meet that perspective? Not really, no. Do I think that the violent Haredi mobs that attack WoW meet that perspective? Definitely not. Do I support either side? No, I don't. 

Basically I think both sides are screwing up royally, and, in the process, are making the ritual side of Jewish life look like a joke and making the kotel look like a pagan shrine rather than what it is -- a retaining wall from the time of the fall of the Second Temple. Yes, it's an important site, but good lord we've turned the Kotel into the last thing on earth it was meant to be. We're treating it as if the wall itself holds the shechinah, the dwelling place of HaShem. And if that's how people on both sides of the aisle want to see the Kotel, then I think Judaism has a major, major problem. 

If the Women of the Wall really wanted to do themselves, Judaism, and ritual a favor, they'd go into the Kotel tunnels and hold their service at the space closest to the Holy of Holies. Call me crazy, but it seems to make a whole lot more sense. 

Also, as an aside, I think that their choice of name is just ... sigh ... unfortunate. Historically, women of the wall were prostitutes. Rachav, in the book of Joshua, was a woman of the wall. Prostitutes worked in the city's walls because they would catch travelers going in and out of the city and because for dignitaries it was far enough away from their homes that no one would traverse the seedy area looking for them. 

I know I'm opening myself up for criticism here, and I'm willing to take it. I believe we all connect to HaShem in our own way, in our own time, and I support everyone's right to connect or not connect. For me, what is most important is owning -- 110 percent -- where you are, defining yourself by what you believe and who you are as opposed to what you are not. I think that one of the problems with the Women of the Wall and a lot of very liberal organizations is that they devote themselves to not being Orthodox, to not separating men and women, to not keeping kosher, to not doing this and that. 

It's easy to define ourselves by what we aren't. It's a lot harder to define yourself by who you are, what you believe, and to own it.