The Right to Disrupt Your Prayers
Nofrat Frenkel made the news two weeks ago — by getting herself arrested. In violation of an Israeli court order, she took out a Torah scroll in the area of the Western Wall consecrated for women’s prayer, and prepared to read it.
Why is such an apparently benign, religious act against the law, worthy of arrest? When it isn’t a religious act at all, but rather a political one, aimed to disrupt the prayers of those around her and to confront them with her agenda.
Frenkel begins her essay by speaking movingly, poetically, about the fervent religious sentiment of those praying at the Western Wall. She presents her case as if her wish were merely to join them. “The atmosphere at the Kotel, the feeling that all those women praying around me were also turning to G-d and pouring out their hearts to Him, inspires me with the joy of Jewish fraternity. Here is one place in which, shoulder to shoulder, all the hearts are calling to G-d.”
Eventually, though, she exposes her true colors. “The Kotel,” she writes, “is not a Haredi synagogue, and the Women of the Wall will not allow it to become such” [emphasis added]. In other words, she was not there to join in Jewish fraternity, but to disrupt it — to confront those sincere and pious women with her political message, and to deny them their place of traditional worship. She demonstrates a complete lack of the very tolerance for which she begs, and inverts every relevant fact in order to make her argument.
For example, she claims that the Kotel is not a synagogue. It is, on the contrary, the most holy synagogue in the Jewish religion — there is no more desirable spot in the world for a traditional Jew to pray. The ‘Kotel‘, the Western Wall, is so called because it is the remaining outside wall of the Temple Mount, which, in our tradition, is the site to which all of our prayers are directed and from which they ascend to Heaven. Since being restored to Jewish control in 1967, a large plaza before the Western Wall has been established with clearly divided sections for men and women to pray in accordance with Jewish Law, and even has a state-sponsored Rabbi to direct the Western Wall plaza. The majority of those who pray there on a daily basis are, like the Rabbi, indeed Haredi, a Hebrew term for the fervently Orthodox — because the sanctity of that site has greatest appeal to these traditional Jews.
She also expresses disdain for an alternate site, the Robinson’s Arch plaza, which she calls “a place for second-class citizens.” It is nothing of the kind. It is not only just as proximate to the Western Wall, but it is along a portion of that Wall which is even closer to the portion of the Temple called the Holy of Holies. And from her perspective, it should be preferred for another reason as well: it has no separation to divide men and women. It was developed specifically in response to a petition from Israel’s tiny Conservative Movement for an alternate site for prayers.
So what is it, then, that renders Robinson’s Arch unfit for her use? The only thing it lacks is the presence of those she derides as “the offended public” — those same thousands of pious Orthodox Jews. “In the wake of the Conservative and Reform movements, during the past 10 years, people in the Orthodox world have come to understand that the woman’s place is no longer restricted to the kitchen.” It is only the “Haredi” Jews, she believes, who continue to believe that G-d Created men and women with different spiritual needs. And it is her job, she believes, to correct them — by bringing out a Torah scroll in the women’s section, and showing them all how it ought to be done. And if they don’t like it — well then, they ought to go someplace else.
Thus her worst offense to truth and reason is to claim that she is merely seeking “freedom of religious worship.” She would have that, worshiping at Robinson’s Arch or at any of several dozen non-Orthodox synagogues dotting Israel. What she does not have, though, is the right to disrupt the prayers of others. It is the freedom of religious worship of “the offended public” which needs our protection — protection from those like Nofrat Frankel, who believes her religious “freedom” must involve a political confrontation in order to be worthwhile.
R’ Menken’s assertion that Ms. Frenkel was arrested for taking out a Torah and preparing to read it is incorrect. According to the essay R’ Menken has sourced, after the Women were heckled, they put the Torah back into its bag and were on their way to Robinson’s Arch. According to said essay and according to news articles which reached the police for comment (which, in consonance with Cross-Currents’ policy, I should note to readers I cannot link to in the comments), Ms. Frenkel was arrested for violating the dress code by wearing a tallis.
*Sigh* I don’t agree with Nofrat Frenkel’s behavior, as I do not think that public prayer or Torah reading should be used for making a political point. I cannot imagine how anyone could have good kavannah considering the response of others to such.
But I strongly diagree that Frenkel ought to have been arrested or otherwise attacked, verbally or physically.
[Allowed through, despite tone, in order to provide for rebuttal below. –YM]
Agree with one side or the other, there are some simple and blatant misstatements of fact in this piece that need to be corrected:
“It is, on the contrary, the most holy synagogue in the Jewish religion”
Is it? It certainly doesn’t resemble a traditional synagogue much. In any event, as you hint later in the article, it never was considered as such until the Israeli government declared it one in 1967. Funny you should turn to them for legitimacy. See, for example, old photos which clearly show men and women praying (saying Tehillim, most likely, not actual tefillah) side by side.
“there is no more desirable spot in the world for a traditional Jew to pray.”
Of course there is. It’s so obvious I won’t even say what it is. That any traditional Jew should be able to write a sentence like that just shows how far we have strayed from the truth.
“The ‘Kotel‘, the Western Wall, is so called because it is the remaining outside wall of the Temple Mount”
All four walls of the Temple Mount are still standing. Jews actually used to pray at the Eastern Wall until the Muslims moved them.
“which, in our tradition, is the site to which all of our prayers are directed and from which they ascend to Heaven.”
Whose tradition? The whole idea (God in one place?) sounds rather un-Jewish.
“Since being restored to Jewish control in 1967, a large plaza before the Western Wall has been established with clearly divided sections for men and women to pray”
Which seem to take over more and more of the site all the time.
“has a state-sponsored Rabbi to direct the Western Wall plaza.”
Who, with due respect, has been making some rather extreme demands lately. For example, he wasn’t happy that a co-ed group from South Africa celebrated their new Israeli citizenship *outside* the prayer area recently.
“The majority of those who pray there on a daily basis are, like the Rabbi, indeed Haredi, a Hebrew term for the fervently Orthodox”
Can you back this up with any real evidence? Have you been to the Kotel lately? Can any preponderance of Haredim (if any) not be more easily explained by the proximity of Haredi neighborhoods to the Old City, and the fact that Jerusalem is heavily Haredi?
Parenthetically, one may well wonder how and why state-appointed rabbis are Haredim at all, but I digress.
“because the sanctity of that site has greatest appeal to these traditional Jews”
Really? Can you honestly say that? Well then, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the Temple Mount is held in sanctity by Religious Zionists far more than it is by Haredim.
“Robinson’s Arch plaza, which she calls ‘a place for second-class citizens.’ It is nothing of the kind. It is not only just as proximate to the Western Wall, but it is along a portion of that Wall which is even closer to the portion of the Temple called the Holy of Holies”
Robinson’s Arch is much further from the Kodesh HaKodashim than the Kotel. This is obvious geographical fact. Have you ever been there? It’s a cramped, small place with lots of fallen rocks from the time of the Churban. (Some might argue that’s more appropriate than the substitute-for-Mikdash that the Kotel has sadly become, but once again I digress.) In any event, I’m not sure what your sentence actually means. If it’s “closer,” it’s not just as “proximate;” it is not “proximate” to the Western Wall, it is *part* of the Western Wall, just not the “Kotel” part.
It is odd, incidentally, that you see fit to argue that those praying there deserve a fine, holy spot at all. Please be consistent.
“will not allow it to become such”
Please. She’s not saying at all what you are attributing to her- she’s simply speaking post-facto.
Why must it be necessary to attack people’s motives and not their substantive claims? Can you consider for a moment that she may be sincere and deal with her on those terms? There are lots of things you could say to her. (Not, by the way, that there’s anything wrong halakhically with a woman wearing a tallit.) Just so you know, I’m not a fan of Frenkel’s point of view either. But facts need to be pointed out.
There are two incorrect statement about the kotel in this post.1)The kotel is not the only remaining retaining wall of Herod’s bais hamikdash. The southern and I believe the northern walls also still exist. the significance of the kotel is that as the Western Wall it is the holiest. Shechinkta b’maarava and as such it is the closest to the kodesh kodashim.
2)More importantly to your argument, Robinson’s arch is NOT closer to the kodesh kodashim than the kotel. it is between the kotel and the southwest corner of har habayit.
I invite you to come to Israel, where you can see for yourself.
We may not fully know what tznius (modesty) is, but this gives us a good idea of its opposite.
I need to ask how exactly it is that you can speak for Ms. Frenkel’s motivations. I don’t really like the Women of the Wall all that much, but there desire to pray at the Kotel seems to show a love and reverence for the holy space which you do not seem to consider.
Secondly, a Halakhic point. Jewish law does not mandate a Mechitza in synagogue. The traditional source for it is a story in Masekhet Sukkah where a balcony is built in the women’s court at the Temple. It is a story about something that happened in the Temple and makes no pretense of proscribing a law to always be followed in synagogue. The mistake made is read this story as a Halakhic text, which it most certainly is not. The Mechitza only became codified as law in the late 19th century as a response to Reform innovations in synagogue design. Of course, the overwhelming majority of synagogue before this time probably had mechitzot, there is no evidence that it was a Halakha.
I appreciate the range of comments received. Several comments, however, seem to miss the point, or otherwise appear to be looking for an excuse to quibble rather than address the central issues. I want to point this out because Cross-Currents holds itself to a higher standard than the average blog, and I hope that my criticism will be taken in the spirit in which it is intended.
It may well be true that Ms. Frenkel was eventually charged with violating the dress code; nonetheless, many of the group were similarly violating the dress code and only she was carrying the Torah scroll (the statement that “they put the Torah back into its bag” is contrary to news sources and her own account). As she admits, the court order forbade reading the Torah where they stood, and objections were raised once she took it out to read. As I said, the reason for her arrest was that she was the one holding the Torah.
Readers are similarly welcome to nitpick about my calling the Western Wall the “remaining” wall, when what I probably should have said was the far more lengthy “only wall remaining standing in its entirety, as prophecy told us would be, and is deemed to have special holiness.” I have seen the Southern Wall excavation myself, but it hardly changes the point of my article, is that not so? And as to whether Robinson’s Arch is closer to the Kodesh Kodashim, I was confusing it with a different site that is North of the primary location. Given the main plaza’s proximity to the southwest corner of the Temple Mount, I do not see how Nachum can say Robinson’s Arch is “much” further. “Much” further is out Dung Gate.
But honestly, that is the least of my troubles with his comment, which asserts “blatant” misstatements on my part. Let’s review.
He thinks it is “funny” that I would turn to the situation at the Plaza post-1967 for “legitimacy” as far as the Wall being a Synagogue. Instead, he would have us refer to “old photos which clearly show men and women praying side-by-side.”
Those photos, of course, were taken late in a period of hundreds of years of Muslim oppression (followed by British), during which Jews were prohibited from bringing Sifrei Torah or a Mechitzah, or even to organize a minyan at the site. He would like us to believe that since our oppressors prevented it from being a synagogue for hundreds of years, obviously it’s not a synagogue today.
He also finds it bizarre that I would say that there is “no more desirable spot in the world for traditional Jew to pray,” and holds this up as proof as to “how far we have strayed from the truth.” Given that I didn’t hear the blast of a Shofar prior to pressing the submit button, what I wrote was and remains entirely and perfectly accurate. Until the arrival of Moshiach BB”A, his preferred alternative involves multiple Torah prohibitions, most urgently that of failing to guard one’s life.
Then he questions whether, in our tradition, the Temple “is the site to which all of our prayers are directed and from which they ascend to Heaven.” Besides coming directly from 1 Kings 8:48 (“…pray to You by way of their land… the city… and the Temple that I have built for Your Name”), as brought down in the Mishnah and Halacha, it is also evidenced in synagogue construction both ancient and modern around the world. In comparison to whom, precisely, does Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon) sound “rather un-Jewish?”
Petty comments about the size of the synagogue portion of the Plaza, which is expanded only in response to increasing demand, and the qualifications of its Rabbi, need no rebuttal.
He further questions whether the majority of those returning on a daily basis are Haredi. I wasn’t aware that one needed to perform a statistical survey to verify something which is quite so self-evident. As for the assertion that the proximity of Haredi neighborhoods and the large Haredi population is some sort of “alternate” rationale… let me just ask the obvious question. Did they choose to live there because the Old City is so luxurious, or is Jerusalem’s large Haredi population a direct consequence of the appeal of living in proximity to the Temple Mount?
Robinson’s Arch is only crowded if you have a crowd. For the needs of Israel’s entire Conservative Movement it is sufficient, much less 42 Women of the Wall.
I stand corrected on the location of Robinson’s Arch, as I said earlier, but if you’re going to be condescending you should at least have your own facts in order. Last time I checked, the Robinson’s Arch plaza is next to, but not part of, the Wall itself. It is just as proximate to the Wall as the main plaza, as I said.
But worst of all, by far, Nachum takes Frenkel’s statement that “the Women of the Wall will not allow it to become [a Haredi synagogue]” and attempts to play it down as “speaking post-facto.”
I’m not speculating about her motives, as she has made them explicit: she does not want to allow those who go to the Western Wall regularly to enjoy the privilege of praying in full accordance with Jewish law and tradition. That is why she took out the Torah scroll there, and not at Robinson’s Arch in accordance with the court’s ruling.
This also answers Michael’s question about her motivations: she said so herself. And as I said in my original article, the alternate site has everything the main plaza does, save the crowds of Orthodox mispallelim attempting to conduct their prayers in accordance with Jewish law and tradition (concerning what is or is not Halacha, Michael is welcome to debate that with the Western Wall Rabbi, Rav Shmuel Rabinovitch).
If she merely wanted to pray at the Wall — on the contrary, she should have that opportunity. Nachum somehow finds it “odd” that I think these women deserve a holy spot at all. In other words, he objects to my quoting Frenkel as to her motivations, but has no qualms speculating about and impugning my own. I have been entirely consistent in my belief that if a group wants to pray in some sort of alternate fashion without interfering with traditional tefillos at the Kotel (ok, ok, Kosel), they should have the opportunity to do so, unimpeded. It is only the disregard for the religious freedom of others, while cloaking herself in its mantle, that is objectionable.
R’ Menken is correct; I made a substantive error when I said Ms. Frenkel put the Torah back into the bag. I thought I had read that, but I didn’t. While that isn’t extremely substantive, it is important to admit errors when they are pointed out; “my bad,” as they say.
Re the rest of what R’ Menken wrote:
I am not, as you imply, “looking for an excuse to quibble” or “nitpicking.” I simply wish readers to have the facts. I do, however, appreciate your willingness to dialogue.
You did not write, as you assert in your comment, that “the reason for her arrest was that she was the one holding the Torah.” Rather, you wrote that what was “worthy of arrest” was that “she took out a Torah scroll in the area of the Western Wall consecrated for women’s prayer, and prepared to read it.” The accounts I’ve read seem to generally concur that Ms. Frankel was arrested after the ladies were on their way to Robinson’s Arch and had foregone the Torah reading. The Israeli police say that she was arrested for the tallis. I simply think a more accurate depiction of events would at least include this fact that Ms. Frenkel, contrary to the image of one who brazenly and loudly decided she was going to attack the sensibilities of the surrounding people, instead was on her way out to do what the WoW always do; if there was any “violation of modesty,” it was the tallis. That would be the actual legal issue over here that police decided was “worthy of arrest.”
A little persecution is good for the cause. Getting arrested for wearing a tallit makes this woman a martyr for egalitarian rights and for civil rights. This gives the small group of non orthodox Jews in Israel a way to be noticed. Otherwise, they are totally ignored. One needs to ask why ,after all these years, hardly anyone in Israel identifies with Reform or Conservative Judaism.If this is what the doctor ordered to save the secular Israelis, why are they so unsuccesful?
There are ample venues in Jerusalem for women to lead services, read the Torah, wear whatever they want ,etc.There are shuls in Jerusalem that do this stuff all the time and nobody says “booh”.By doing it at the Kotel, they are starting up ,seeking notoriety and asking to be arrested. it is like chaining yourself to the Soviet Embassy or the South African Embassy in the old days or going on a Feedom Ride in the South.The goal is to get attention and being arrested is a badge of honor.
To me, it seems that Baruch has denied that he is quibbling, and then has immediately proceeded to quibble — or, at the very least, to make a great deal out of a “distinction without a difference.”
She was not arrested for holding the Torah on Rechov Yaffo, or, for that matter, for carrying it towards Robinson’s Arch. She says so herself: “Our pleas and explanations that we were on our way to the alternative site were of no use.” Had those pleas been accepted, of course, she would have been released. Regardless of the fact that the Police approached her after she had already left the women’s section, it was there that the offense took place.
It is obvious from the context that she was not arrested merely for her tallis, because many of the others were wearing the same and were not arrested. Since she never actually read the Torah in the women’s section, it is not hard to see how the police might have had difficulty charging her for something she didn’t do. I doubt “attempted kriyah” found its way into the court order. It is classic police behavior to find a lesser charge that will “stick,” and use it.
I am not creating, conjuring, speculating, surmising, or implying that she “was going to attack the sensibilities of the surrounding people.” I am quoting her: “The Kotel is not a Haredi synagogue, and the Women of the Wall will not allow it to become such.” That’s what they were there for.
The Women of the Wall was not founded last week. We don’t need teams of psychologists to make detailed studies in an attempt to understand their motivations. I never said Frenkel wasn’t there to do what “the Women of the Wall always do” — on the contrary. What she did was exactly what should be expected.
Their leader, Anat Hoffman, is a former member of the Jerusalem City Council. She ran on Shulamit Aloni’s Meretz slate, which created ads showing Haredi “encroachment” as ugly black spots on a sunny orange map of Jerusalem — quite comparable to an ad in Der Sturmer in the 1930’s showing Jewish “encroachment” upon Germany’s cities. On the City Council, she was a tireless advocate for Chillul Shabbos and blocking the rapid expansion of Jerusalem’s Orthodox population.
She then led the Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform movement, at a time when it was noted for litigating against Torah Judaism with no known benefit for others — stopping an outreach center from building in Rechovot, closing Chabad booths in Ben-Gurion Airport, and fighting Mehadrin bus lines, to mention just a few of its heroic acts.
The Women of the Wall have a clear agenda — to offend as many Orthodox Jews as possible and attempt to make it appear as if their “rights” were encroached upon. It is time to tell the truth, not to attempt to whitewash their behavior.
not that i favor any of the women’s actions , let’s say for the sake of argument that in 1967 the israeli govt would have said that the kotel belongs to all jews 90% are non orthodox. thus they would set aside 90% [or 100%] as a mechitza free egalitarian worship area , would we be satisfied with that decision? i don’t know if frumme yidden would have tolerated being given small area wherein to worship as their sect demands [ the nutcases after all riot over goyim working in an all goyim plant on shabbat in jerusalem] …. in that regard we are fortunate that the government even decided to clear out the arab neighborhood to allow mass worship to occur there, and then put frum jews in charge of it …..
Lacosta has established no connection between (1) typical male worshippers at the Kotel and (2) rioters. The insinuation is offensive.
In New York City, our prayers are disrupted by people who refuse to stop talking in shul, regardless of how many times the Rabbi asks them to stop.
And May G_d have mercy on the poor fool who attempts, LeShem Shamayim, to make his fellow stop talking in shul by tactfully pointing out that talking in shul is forbidden by Halachah. Not only is he guaranteed to fail, but the people he attempts to correct will hate him and do everything possible to humiliate him and drive him out of shul.
Nor is there any benefit in attempting to diplomatically mention that bringing disruptive children to synagogue is forbidden by the laws of Judaism. Even the synagogue Rabbis are afraid to mention this to the parents in their congregations, because they know that the parents are not able to think logically where their children are concerned, and attempting to stop this problem would only result in them being fired and replaced by another Rabbi.
“In other words, she was not there to join in Jewish fraternity”
I wonder if you realise how ironic your use of ‘fraternity’ really is.
My problem with lacosta’s comment isn’t the assumption that there would be riots as much as that there would be any reaction at all. The government provided a space in accordance with the overwhelming majority of mispallelim and the overwhelming majority of Israelis, for whom “the shul they don’t daven in, is Orthodox.” Were the circumstances different I’m sure they would have responded accordingly. But it was built to Orthodox standards for a reason, and that’s exactly what Anat Hoffman & Co. seek to overthrow.
I certainly did not miss the irony in the use of “fraternity,” but Adso should look more carefully — “Jewish fraternity” was Frenkel’s ironic phrase.
Nachum wrote: “which, in our tradition, is the site to which all of our prayers are directed and from which they ascend to Heaven.”
Whose tradition? The whole idea (God in one place?) sounds rather un-Jewish.
Well I guess if according to you the locale has such little significance then maybe they don’t need to pray there after all?
This is my response to your letter in the Forward:
Sat. Dec 5, 2009
This Story in the Forward, Dec 4, horrified me. “The ‘Crime’ of Praying with a Tallit, and a Plea for Tolerance”
Is this the Israel that I LOVE or one that imposes ultra Orthodox laws like those in Muslim Islamic states called Sharia LAW ? Shame on what I thought was a democratic state, turns out to be a My Way or A NO Way State ! Talked to a Rabbi today who was just as miffed as I AM. Would be interested in receiving other views on this troubling matter.
SY ( Shloimie ) Weiss, Forward Subscriber, [email protected]
I am an orthodox Jew who grew up in a Conservative shul. I think that this is not so much a religious issue as a sociological and political one. Israelis overwhelmingly expect the Kotel area to be a traditional synagogue as they are used to. Synagogues with mixed seating hardly exist in the State of Israel.If Israelis wanted such synagogues they could make them.Most Israelis are not strictly orthodox,but when they do want a religious experience they are familiar only with traditional practices. You can’t impose American values on Israelis, that is cultural imperialism. Israelis don’t want mixed gender services at the Western Wall to be in the same exact location as other services. That is why they have assigned a very nice area also on the Western Wall, but in a different section for Reform and Conservative services. Don’t allow people with a political agenda to mislead you. You can be as observant as you desire in Israel, it is a democracy.
The above comment was posted on the Forward Web site and the man listed his email address , so I answered him.
Other readers of that paper have a lot of very nasty things to say about the orthodox. many suggest no funding of anyone who isn’t in favor of their type of Judaism. It really makes a mokery of NOfrat’s Please for Tolerance. However,Here is an example of one non orthodox person who seems to see our point of view, by a woman named Paulette.
“I am simply confused. I am not an orthodox Jew nor do I agree with all of their proncipals. However, men and woman are not the same . Period. We have a different physical make-up and a different spiritual make-up. G-d gave men certain commandments and certain commandments that are for a woman. (I dont hear of men insisting that they have equal rights in lighting Shabbat candles or the laws of niddah). We were created differently and therefore have different needs to make us spiritually complete. Just because in the past 75 years there have been those that are working at blurring those lines in the name of equality, does not give anyone a right to throw it in theface of those praying at the kotel. The kotel has a mechitza. Why? I would like to daven with my husband as I do in my temple at home? Because the kotel has been and always will be a place that conforms to the highest standards. Fact is that the ultra orthodox take great offense to those trying to modernize the Torah , in whatever fashion (including trying to equalize men and women.) My family has found a temple that we feel is the correct meddium. One that does make certain allowances but ones that we feel make sense. I would love to understand what Miss Frenkel’s great insecurities are that she feels the need to wear a tallis so ‘she can be like a man”. Grow up!”
The person whose email I copied before wrote me and I wrote him back and this sentence is what convinced him. You see, only a Liberal knows how to talk to another Liberal. We are good for something.
Your Last sentence says it ALL:
” To purposely insult the sensitivities of the overwhelming majority of worshipers to make a point is an insult to religion, no real liberal Jew would go out of their way to insult another worshipper of any faith.” “They are starting up to make a political point “.
As a LIBERAL JEW, I see your point.
A shaine donk,