A recent post over at Brooklyn Wolf's blog about the story out of Israel of a woman being assaulted by a Chareidi thug because she had tefillin strap markings on her arm elicited the usual justified cries of outrage. Rightly so since this behaviour is not Jewish and causes suffering to an innocent person which is a grave sin.
But one of comments left on that post by this blogger got me thinking somewhat deeper about the ongoing confrontations between the two sides. Here it is:
When it comes to dealing with those in the Orthodox community who disapprove, however, frankly, I'd rather not deal with their disapproval at all--as far as I'm concerned, aside from modesty issues, the way I dress when I come before HaShem in prayer is between me and HaShem, and there's no reason why anyone who disapproves of a woman wearing a tallit and/or tefillin even has to know that I do so.
This is an interesting insight. If I am reading it correctly, the blogger isn't worried so much about causing offence as bothered by thought of having to deal with the offence she's caused.
Her main pain - that how she dresses during prayer - is one of those can't-argue points that people often raise in situations like that. How could one possibly disagree with such a statement? Shouldn't prayer be personal? Shouldn't people worry more about themselves than what the woman nearby has on?
But there is an unfortunate answer to such questions: Life isn't fair.
Here's a particuarily blatant example of how the principle works. It is a given that a woman should be able to walk the streets of her town at any time she likes while wearing whatever she wants. It is a fact that a woman wearing a skimpy outfit walking through a disreputable neighbourhood in the wee hours of the morning is likely to be attacked by a predatory thug. No, there is no justifying it and one cannot say "She had it coming", chas v'shalom, but based on the principle mentioned one should be able to ask at some point: What the hell was she thinking?
Consider the ongoing clashes between the Chareidim and the Women of the Wall at the Kotel every so often. The WoW love to portray themselves as victims. After all, what crime are they commiting? They merely want to come before God and express their prayers in the way they think is best, according to their religious principles. Again, a can't-argue position. And once again: life isn't fair.
Honestly, does any WoW member really think, while packing up the tallis and tefillin, that somehow this time the Chareidim won't riot when they show up? Do they really think the police, having come to the plaza in response to the disruption, are going to round up 500 savage fanatics instead of 15 docile feminists? Oh please, these women are not that naive. Under all the expresssions of religious freedoms is the unspoken agenda of provoking the Chareidim in order to gain public sympathy. No, the Chareidim shouldn't riot. They should ignore the WoW and get on with their own lives but they're not going to. Like a rapid dog, they will attack every time, something WoW counts on.
So who then is the real victim? It's the parent who has brought their child to the Kotel for the first time. It's the family on vacation that wants a spiritual moment. It's the other religious and non-religious who come looking for inspiration and a tete a tete with God. All these people now can no longer enjoy their time at the Kotel because of the screaming and shouting behind them. It's these innocent people who suffer because there are those out there whose desire to worship God in their own way includes a need to aggravate others just "to show them". They are the real victims.