Pre-Hoshana Rabba Apologies
Before the gates and books are closed on Hoshana Rabba, I would like to make the following amends.
1) Apologies to Rahel Jaskow . Yaakov Menken and others were unfairly harsh with Rahel Jaskow in the discussion below on Beinisch: the bane of the Supreme Court? . My primary focus in my posting was on the Supreme Court and Justice Beinisch. I think the Court used Women of the Wall to promote the Court’s activist agenda. The WOW were a pawn in a struggle between the judicial and legislative branches. That stuggle was my primary interest – I too didn’t care that much per se about WOW but rather felt that the Court should not be interfering with religious matters. Rahel Jaskow is one of the most sincerely spiritual people I know. She has a beautiful voice (I bought her CD Day of Rest) and Rahel wants to use her voice to worship Hashem. Although I think the Wall is not the venue for this, I realize that she and many of the women in WOW got caught in the aforementioned power struggle. It is the Court I wanted to criticize, not specifically WOW.
2) Apologies to Dorit Beinisch . My original post was critical of Justice Beinisch and her using WOW to promote her own position which seems to be adversarial vis-a-vis Orthodox authority, and supportive of feminist positions. I was happily surprised to read that having assumed her responsibilities as Supreme Court President, she is modifying her outlook. Specifically, I read the following description of Yom Kippur services at the Jerusalem [Orthodox] Great Synagogue in a Jerusalem Post column by Greer Fay Cashman:
But the surprise dignitary was Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, who as far as any of the powers-that-be could tell, had not previously attended High Holy Day Services at the Great Synagogue. Asher Schapiro, the chairman of the congregation, was seated alongside Yehezkel Beinisch, the husband of the president of the Supreme Court, who is well-known for his love of music. Schapiro asked Beinisch if they were there to hear Cantor Naftali Hershtik and the choir. The reply was in the negative. The reason for their presence was that Dorit Beinisch considered it her duty as president of the Supreme Court to make an appearance on the Day of Judgment in the Great Synagogue of the capital of Israel. [emphasis mine, SLS]
Whatever one thinks of Justice Beinisch’s legal record, this is certainly an admirable move which reflects well on her attitude towards her new role. Kol HaKavod, Kevod HaShofetet. (“Well done, Honorable Justice.”)
Do you believe that WOW activity at the Wall as now practiced is:
1. Permissible to do at the Wall?
2. Free of publicity-related motivations?
Based upon WOW’s prior actions and use of the legal system, IMO, one can question whether the legal system manipulated their cause or whether they utilized the system to achieve their result which reflects a strident feminist and anti-halachic agenda that failed to attract the hearts and minds of most Jewish women with any degree of Jewish education and view themselves as Shomrei Torah UMitzvos. IOW, while an apology may be due to the CJ, I wonder why you view WOW of deserving the same.
In all honesty, I join those who see little reason to apologize. Ms. Schmidt’s personal grace under fire notwithstanding, I stand by my rejection of the arguments defending the WoW’s encroachment upon the traditional conduct at the Wall, and my rejection of the personal attacks upon Mrs. Schmidt.
I do say little, rather than no, because I made the mistake of addressing Rahel in the second person. When one is engaged in a battle of ideas, it is preferable to refer to another individual’s position in the third person, in order to emphasize that the ideas, not individual, are being criticized. I was attempting to engage her, but that’s not ideal in a public debate. My other comments, as well as the back and forth between myself and Prof. Samuel Heilman, used the third person only.
I do not feel it appropriate to apologize for rejecting the position Rahel and Rivka Haut espoused, nor to apologize for the well-deserved challenges to the positions of CJ Beinisch. If the Chief Justice has changed her attitude towards religion, that is excellent and welcomed — but let us not blur our rejection of her previous statements even as we welcome signs of change.
I read through the entire original thread regarding the WoW controversy and I have to say I also see little to apologize for in the back-and-forth between Rahel and R. Menken. It was a heated debate, as well I would expect it to be considering that the two protagonists are arguing precisely opposite points. I sense that what Rahel and Ms. Haut felt were “vitriol” or some kind of ad hominem offenses were seen by others in the dialogue as standard-issue challenges of a controversial position. I believe the others were correct–especially considering that this forum is intended precisely as a place to hash out philosophical differences. Those of us who have been to yeshiva know that arguments over truth are very intentionally intense.
I do not doubt the sincerity or passion of Rahel’s or Ms. Haut’s spiritual/philosophical committments. I do though question their judgment, and what strikes me as their unwillingness to acknowledge the apparent utilization/exploitation of their group by persons whose agendas are inconsistent with the stated goals of WoW leaders like Ms. Haut and Rahel. They say that they only wish, essentially, to express themselves at the kotel and that they are doing so within the bounds of halacha. Firstly if all WoW wanted to do was express themselves in tefila they could do so in a private prayer group anywhere in Jerusalem or Israel as others do. Going to the kotel is not simply a private act of worship, but a public demand that WoW’s style of prayer be accepted by the kotel community. This is plain and self-evident.
Which leads to the question of why anyone but WoW is under any obligation to accept WoW’s particular style of tefila. WoW’s style of tefila did not exist until quite recently and has never before been practiced at the kotel. WoW claims that their activities are within the bounds of halacha. I am not yet learned enough to know myself, but it appears that nearly every respected scholar who is learned enough to know disagrees with WoW. Given that, and given that WoW’s nusach is clearly inconsistent with the minhag ha’makom I really wonder if WoW is not being less than forthright in some of its claims and slightly fatuous in some of its demands.
There is the further question of just what elements have lent their support to WoW. Some of these groups are actively endeavoring to subvert halachic authority over the most central issues of Jewish identity in Israel. WoW seems untroubled by its de facto alliances and mutual succor from such groups. Well I am troubled by it, as it seems are many halachically committed people. These are not personal attacks–they are questions that haven’t been resolved yet.
As for CJ Beinisch: She has earned a chazaka that is rooted in her own public decisions. Added to that is the fact that she is the choice of an oligarchic system utilizing a selection process that is the opposite of integrous. I hope CJ Beinisch will be less hostile to Torah than her predecessor. But her choice of where to appear on Yom Kippur is just no assurance of the values she will adhere to in chambers.
To Yakov Menken:
“If the Chief Justice has changed her attitude towards religion, that is excellent and welcomed—but let us not blur our rejection of her previous statements even as we welcome signs of change.”
Intellectually correct, but a Torah approach may demand that we do indeed our rejection of her previous statements.
Ahron wrote: “Going to the kotel is not simply a private act of worship, but a public demand that WoW’s style of prayer be accepted by the kotel community.”
Since when is there such as thing as a “kotel [sic] community”? I had thought that our holiest accessible site belongs to all Jews everywhere, of every stripe, no matter who goes there more or less often. I feel that it is not for the members of one particular group — any group — to decide that the Kotel belongs to them. Like the Bet ha-Mikdash in its day (may it speedily be rebuilt), it belongs to all of us. We’re adults. Didn’t we learn how to share while we were still playing in the sandbox?
And what is wrong with accepting the customs of other groups? Various minyanim worship on the men’s side right next to each other, often quite loudly, and no one seems to mind, unless there are subtle dynamics going on that I’m not aware of. Why can’t women’s tefilla groups worship freely at the Kotel alongside women who prefer to pray individually? No women’s tefilla group that I have ever been in or visited would ever dream of imposing its manner of worship on anyone else. Nor do I believe that the mere act of worshipping next to others who may happen to disagree with one’s particular path — as I am sure happens many times a day on the men’s side — constitutes such force.
I believe that there is room for us all at our holiest accessible site. Well, actually, not in the literal sense, since the women’s section has shrunk dramatically because of the landslide caused by the storm and earthquake of several winters ago. Yet, aside from a brief attempt to equalize the situation by means of a temporary mehitza — which was removed — the permanent mehitza remains in precisely the same location. This means that the women are being asked to bear, exclusively, the burden of the damage and subsequent excavations. Why haven’t those in charge moved the mehitza in order to allot equal outdoor space to men and women, outdoors and indoors alike? That would not constitute a violation of halakha at all. I feel that there is a connection here, however tenuous it may appear. For some of us, there is simply less room in our hearts for others — or no room at all.
Finally, regarding Mrs. Schmidt’s apology: my thanks for the compliments. Perhaps now she might be willing to explain why she posted the dates on which WOW will be meeting?
Further, regarding Bob Miller’s question (comment #2): Though it was not addressed to me, I would like to take the liberty of responding.
1. It is indeed permitted. We do precisely what women’s tefilla groups all over the world have been doing for several decades — and a number of them have Orthodox rabbis advising them on halakhic matters. (If the commenter is one of those who believe that as a rule women’s tefilla groups operate from impure motives and have no halakhic right to exist, there is probably nothing I can do to change his mind at this point, and this isn’t the place to try.)
2. Regarding publicity-related motivations (ah, yes, that old canard): The vast majority of our tefillot are completely uneventful and attract no publicity whatsoever. That is how we like them. Much of the publicity we have received over the years has been the direct result of outsiders deliberately and maliciously making trouble for us.
You wrote in Comment #8 above, “…If the commenter is one of those who believe that as a rule women’s tefilla groups operate from impure motives and have no halakhic right to exist…”
It’s quite possible for the format of certain women’s tefilla groups to be halachically questionable regardless of the participants’ motivations. Wrong motivations, if they exist, are a separate problem.
As for support by Orthodox rabbis, “Orthodox” has come to have many definitions in Jewish society, so the advice of “Orthodox rabbis” may or may not be within halachic limits.
You also referred in Comment #8 to “…outsiders deliberately and maliciously making trouble for us…” How do you really know that their motivations are less pure than your own?
Rahel’s recent comment bears out what I said above. Compassion for the individual notwithstanding, the arguments for the “Women of the Wall” must be rejected without equivocation.
Her words about the acceptance of other customs and the site being the property of all Jews could have come from the Conservative movement without changing a letter. Given her statement, on what basis would Rahel deny their “right” to “worship freely” in a non-Halachic mixed service? What about Jews who, to our great sorrow, follow other gods? Are they not still part of the Jewish people — and given that they are indeed still our brethren, does this (in her view) grant them the “right” to arrange services at the Western Wall in accordance with their own “customs?”
It does not, because the Wall is consecrated as a place of traditional Jewish worship. Every Jew is welcome to come and pray there in accordance with Jewish tradition. There are a host of traditional forms of worship, reflecting the rich tapestry of Jewish life.
The “subtle dynamic” — of which Rahel is certainly well-aware — is that a person whose personal nusach is Ashkenaz, Sefard, Italian, Morroccan, Syrian or Yemenite will find nothing Halachically objectionable in praying with any of the others. They are all different yet headed in the same direction — and the arbiter in such matters is the Rabbi of the Western Wall Plaza, an official, paid government position held (at last count) by Rav Shmuel Rabinovitch.
The Women’s prayer groups, despite Rahel’s assertions to the contrary, are hardly uncontroversial from an Halachic perspective. There is not one Torah giant who supports them. They are not headed in the same direction as all other prayer services, in which we approach G-d as His servants without our own agenda.
Rahel claims that there is no alternate agenda, and it is “outsiders deliberately and maliciously making trouble” who are responsible for the publicity about the WoW. The group’s history, however, tells an entirely different story. The WoW hired Meretz’s Anat Hoffman (today director of the virulently anti-Orthodox IRAC) to be their media spokeswoman before they organized their first service. Press Releases were issued, interviews conducted, and police notified to expect trouble — and then they went. This hardly reflects a desire for services that are “uneventful and attract no publicity,” and reveals that — however unaware Rahel may be of the WoW’s genesis — her claims that “outsiders” are responsible for the publicity are entirely inaccurate.
Bob Miller asks: “You also referred in Comment #8 to “…outsiders deliberately and maliciously making trouble for us…” How do you really know that their motivations are less pure than your own?”
The key phrase here is “making trouble.” I really don’t care about the purity of their motivations; it’s their actions that matter.
Further: “As for support by Orthodox rabbis, ‘Orthodox’ has come to have many definitions in Jewish society, so the advice of ‘Orthodox rabbis’ may or may not be within halachic limits.”
Since when has that happened? In any case, I was referring to mainstream Orthodox rabbis. I will not mention names here; I am sure you can think of the names of several well-known mainstream Orthodox rabbis who support women’s tefilla groups as well as I can. Or are we headed in a direction where rabbis with Orthodox semikha who advise women’s tefilla groups will be considered to have forfeited their standing as Orthodox rabbis?
Yaakov Menken writes: “Her words about the acceptance of other customs and the site being the property of all Jews could have come from the Conservative movement without changing a letter.”
I’m not a member of the Conservative movement and have no idea of their position on this issue. Nor do I believe that it is relevant to this discussion. The attempt to associate WOW with a movement that many religious Jews strongly oppose is just another way of discrediting us.
“The rich tapestry of Jewish life” includes group prayer by women. (I am thinking here of the weibershul and the firzogerin.)
He asks further: “Given her statement, on what basis would Rahel deny their “right” to “worship freely” in a non-Halachic mixed service?”
I don’t accept the analogy. Women of the Wall uses halakhic nusah, does not constitute itself as a minyan and is for women only. It’s a big leap from there to a “non-Halachic mixed service,” and an intergalactic one to the worship of other deities by Jews (God forbid). Moreover, I find the comparison between observant Jewish women who pray as a group to idol-worshippers appallingly inappropriate and insulting.
Also, by “subtle dynamic” I wasn’t referring to differences in nusah. I was referring to groups within Orthodox Judaism that actively oppose each other; unfortunately, we have no lack of those. Perhaps I should have been more clear, but still I would ask that my fellow debaters ask me what I meant if they are not clear about something I said, and refrain from putting words in my mouth (or keyboard).
He also writes: “They are not headed in the same direction as all other prayer services, in which we approach G-d as His servants without our own agenda.”
And how do you know that we do not? Funny — I would have thought that only our Creator can see into the human heart. But then, this is just another old canard — that all women’s tefilla groups are made up of angry women with an agenda. This is simply not true, though those who believe it may do so because it serves their agenda.
As for WOW’s beginnings in December 1988, I wasn’t there, but as I understand it, the decision to hold the prayer service was made only the night before it was held. (An account of that night and the following morning may be found in Claiming Sacred Ground, edited by Phyllis Chesler and Rivka Haut.) I find it difficult to believe that “police were notified to expect trouble,” but even if they were, perhaps we should wonder why that should even have been necessary. If I saw a group of women at the Kotel reading from a Torah scroll and felt that they should not be doing so, I would not join them, but I would not attack them, either. I would leave them alone and mind my own business.
Finally, I stand by my claim regarding trouble made by outsiders. I have been attending WOW’s services for more than a decade, and I believe that qualifies me to make that statement. I must say, I find it amusing that Yaakov Menken bases his claims about WOW’s prayer services in 2006 on events that occurred back in 1988!
Rachel-your comments prove that no apology at all was necessary. I stand by my prior comments re the agenda of WOW being one that has been rejected by the overwhelming majority of Torah observant women. As far as the Chesler/Haut book is concerned, it is hardly an objective halachic inquiry as opposed to agitprop for a position that even the High Court found objectionable for the locale of the Kotel Plaza. Like it or not, while WTGs worldwide and WOW may claim to have the guidance of some anonymous Orthodox rabbis, not a single Gadol BaTorah has even come close to remotely approving their position or practices.
“Bob Miller asks: “You also referred in Comment #8 to “…outsiders deliberately and maliciously making trouble for us…” How do you really know that their motivations are less pure than your own?”
The key phrase here is “making trouble.” I really don’t care about the purity of their motivations; it’s their actions that matter.”
No, her key word was “maliciously” !
This show of righteous indignation masks a very weak case.
Steve Brizel writes: “anonymous Orthodox rabbis.”
No less a halakhic authority than R. Moshe Feinstein ruled that women’s tefillah groups are halakhically acceptable as long as they are are not constituted as a tzibbur or minyan. WOW, and indeed all Orthodox WTGs that I know of, follow this ruling.
I don’t have the citation at my fingertips but I am sure I can find it easily enough.
Regarding the book, I wasn’t suggesting referring to it as a halakhic inquiry (though I believe that it does contain a halakhic survey of the issue), but rather to see the account of how WOW started. Yet that might not be convenient for some of the commenters here, who seem long ago to have closed their hearts and minds to anything we might have to say.
Rachel-a reading of the Frimers’ article establishes beynd doubt that a WTG in Flatbush that was founded by Ms. Haut goes way beyond RMF’s ruling. I stand by my analysis of the book-which presumes beyond any reasonable doubt that all women would or should support a WTG at the Kotel.
Bob Miller writes: “No, her key word was ‘maliciously’!
This show of righteous indignation masks a very weak case.”
That holds about as much water as the idea that purity of motives excuses unprovoked verbal and physical attack.
Steve Brizel writes: “I stand by my analysis of the book-which presumes beyond any reasonable doubt that all women would or should support a WTG at the Kotel.”
Beyond any reasonable doubt? I disagree, and as a member of the group for more than a decade, I think I should know. We have never said that all women should support us, only that those who disagree with us should have the decency to leave us in peace.
Also, I ask commenters to have the courtesy to spell my name correctly. It is Rahel, not Rachel. I believe this is not the first time I have pointed this out.
As for the Flatbush group: I am not a member myself but I know several women who are, and to the best of my understanding the group adheres to the halakhic guidelines set down in the teshuva. The commenter seems very eager to discredit them (and, indeed, all women who participate in women’s tefilla groups).
I am bewildered by the animosity I’m seeing here. It seems to be visceral rather than intellectual. I return to what I said at the beginning of this debate: that it seems to me that those who disagree with us consider themselves totally exempt from the principle of judging favorably, to say the least.
(And again I ask: why did Shira Schmidt post the dates on which WOW will be meeting in a post that was supposed to be about the new Chief Justice? In all the detailed analysis of my comments and word usage, I have not yet received an answer.)
Above, Rahel has accused her group’s opponents of being “unprovoked” and acting “maliciously”. She is “bewildered” by their “animosity”.
Let’s look at this from another perspective.
1. They were provoked by a display of objectively anti-halachic behavior at the Kotel.
2. They opposed this display on principle, not because of personal animosity.
3. They acted altruistically and not maliciously.
4. Since everyone knows this, I believe Rahel knows what this is about and is not bewildered.
Let’s look at some facts, as opposed to the tired rhetoric trotted out by Rahel. The book that she cited is a pure agit prop tract for WOW, denigrates Gdolei Torah and is devoid of any discussion with anyone, especially women, who oppose WTGs. One of its authors admitted to R A and R D Frimer that a WTG that she participates in does not refrain from reciting anything recited by a minyan and was viewed by the Frimers as acting in an anti-halachic manner. Therefore, the book and the POV of its author cannot be considered as a valid halachic argument. Like it or not, the priniciple of “giving someone the benefit of the doubt” has no application to the consideration of such a practice which has been rejected by the overwhelming majority of frum women and which has never been accepted by a Posek.
Likewise, we also see another exercise in heterodox intellectual imperialism. Rather than debate and discuss whether WTGs at the Kotel or elsewhere are appropriate, they merely say that “they should be left in peace.” That is the equivalent of saying that my view is sacrosanct and not subject to discussion, let alone approval or rejection either totally or partially. We now see that WOW advocates that it should be allowed to do as it sees fit anywhere or anytime, regardless of the views of the High Court and certainly without its practices being subject to any critical inquiry. That agenda is intellectual imperialism which is so evident today among the heterodox streams of Judaism and their apologists.
Bob Miller writes: “They acted altruistically and not maliciously.”
Since when is unprovoked physical attack an altruistic act? There was nothing there that needed to be protected — and even if you say that the Torah needed protection from us, well, it’s our attackers who have thrown it and tried to take it from us by force. As uncomfortable as it may be for Mr. Miller to admit, our attackers act out of hatred and ignorance. I have seen their ugly actions and their faces twisted with hatred; apparently, he has not.
Can he possibly believe that altruistic motives justify unprovoked physical attack? I won’t even go there.
Steve Brizel writes: “That is the equivalent of saying that my view is sacrosanct and not subject to discussion, let alone approval or rejection either totally or partially.”
Oh, are we talking about discussion now? No problem. Let people discuss to their hearts’ content, let them open all the sources they like and debate as much as they please — but let them keep their hands and projectiles to themselves.
Also, I hardly think that the principle of “Live and let live” qualifies as imperialism, intellectual or otherwise. The Western Wall area has undergone substantial changes over the past several years, and WOW is not responsible for a single one of them. Why not just say that WOW controls the media and the government? Regrettably, it sounds like things here are heading in that direction. Intellectual imperialism, indeed.
So what’s with posting those dates? I have received no answer even now, and I think I know why: because no one can think of any possible justification for it other than ones that will prove my point. It stands to reason. After all, who wants to admit that a member of WOW could possibly be right about anything at all?
Rahel-in this context, “live and let live” means that WOW’s raison de etre is sacrosanct and not subject to any critical analyis-that is exactly intellectual imperalism under any reasonable definition. WOW certainly has far more sympathy in such “mainstream” media as Haretz, the Jerusalem Report, and the High Court of Justice etc than the Torah community. FWIW, I invite all interested posters to check out the table of contributors in the book that Ms. Schmidt mentioned-it is sufficient for the purposes of this post to note that many listed there cannot be considered as living halachic lives.
Rahel said (#19 above) “As uncomfortable as it may be for Mr. Miller to admit, our attackers act out of hatred and ignorance.”
Rahel should admit she has no actual idea of their basic motivation or knowledge level, but that she has assumed in her self-righteousness that only hatred and ignorance could have motivated them.
But that is not her only reference here to motivation. Earlier (#11 above), she said something else: “I really don’t care about the purity of their motivations; it’s their actions that matter.” Following this reasoning, I could say that WOW’s possibly noble motivations in no way justify WOW’s anti-halachic activities.
With reflection, Rahel might even understand that WOW’s public anti-halachic activities at our holiest site truly are a provocation to those serious Jews not mesmerized by the WOW party line.
8 b Heshvan Two comments:
1)Rahel repeatedly asks why I posted the list of dates of WOW Rosh Hodesh sessions in my original post on Sept.13 . I stated my reason there. It was not nefarious but the opposite – I wrote that I posted the list because this is “an interesting lesson in the evolution of a modus vivendi in Eretz Israel.”
2) The compendium Women of the Wall: Claiming SacredGround at Judaism’s Holy Site (eds. Phyllis Chesler and Rivka Haut) summarizes WOW’s struggle from their viewpoint (see reviews praising the book )
The book contains 35 essays by different women, all in favor of Women of the Wall (including a moving description by Rahel Jaskow, and a thought-provoking analysis of “Women and Ritual Artifacts” by Vanessa Ochs). It is praiseworthy that religiously Orthodox and non-Orthodox women can work together. But why was it necessary to include mention of the lesbian lifestyles of several of the Women of the Wall essayists in the compendium (pages 349,415,418)?