Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Sunday, 9 June 2013

How To Deal With The Women Of The Wall

The first step in dealing with a group is to understand that group's purpose and its internal dynamics.  This is something excitable types never seem to want to do but in the current conflict between the Chareidi authorities at the Western Wall and the Women of the Wall it is crucial that we observe those factors if we are to responsibly deal with them.
Therefore we have to note a few important points:
1) This group is not homogenous.  This is not a gathering of hairy men-hating lesbians who want to destroy the Torah.  Well, some of them might be but most are not.  It seems instead that the group breaks down into two basic parts.  The first is the more vocal one, the followers of Anat Hoffman.  While I cannot comment on their shaving status or sexual preferences it is quite clear that they are not interested in approaching the Wall from a position of halachic acceptability.  They have picked and chosen those public Jewish rituals they find personally meaningful, redefined the word Judaism to create a new religion that only cares about those things and then demanded equal access to the Walls since they call what they practice "Judaism".
2) The second group are women who could be categorized as left-wing Modern Orthodox, the YCT type of folk.  These women are quite different from the Anat Hoffman group.  They are genuinely interested in being proper halachic Jews but their understanding of how decision-making in halacha works is flawed.  As a result they seek to  approach the Wall solely within the basis of what they think halacha allows.  They have been lumped into the other group and are not distinguished from them but their aims are quite different.
3) Both groups thrive on attention.  They are well aware that the Chareidi position is perceived by the vast majority of the Jewish population of Israel, including many well-meaning folks in the Modern Orthodox community, as hostile and intolerant and therefore inherently "unJewish". They know that the more they poke the bear, the more outsiders to the conflict will side with them. They know they have the secular court system where real legal power lies on their side so they have everything to gain from creating confrontations.
As a result, responding to the WoW's must take these factors into account.  To wit:
1) We must understand that no compromise like that offered in the Sharansky plan will be acceptable to the WoW's.  The Anat Hoffman group isn't interested in creating a small egalitarian prayer group over at Robinson's Arch.  They want to bring their new religion and its smattering of Jewish practices to the main plaza because they need the attention to survive.
I well recall years ago the night that the Conservative synagogue I grew up in went egalitarian.  When women were asked afterwards if they would now regularily attend services they all replied in the negative.  Having won the battle for their "rights" they had no interest in exercising them.  Anat Hoffman surely knows that much of her crowd is there for battle, not prayer.  In the absence of a confrontation many of these women will no be interested in simply showing up and praying.  How dull.
2) The second group, the LWMO one, must be taken more seriously.  These are women who are interested in genuine worship of God but simply have some misunderstandings leading them in the wrong direction.  An education outreach, an understanding of what they are interested in and an implementation of accepted halachic leniencies is certainly in order here.  This is all the more important because this group is not interested in an egaliatarian group at Robinson's Arch.  They are not seeking Reformative worship but rather they want to be Orthodox within certain understandings.
3) The most important thing to do is to demand calm from the Chareidi side.  The more riots there are, the more screaming and violence, the more inflammatory statements, the more the WoW's gain public and legal sympathy.  Honestly, who would you rather side with, an aggreived woman in a tallis who just wants to pray or a slavering Chareidi protestor screaming about the purity of Torah?  Knowing this, and knowing that the WoW's know this the response to their provocative actions must be muted or creative.  The attempt by the local Beis Yaakov schools a few weeks ago to swamp the women's section at the Wall was creative.  The subsequent Chareidi rioting from then men's section was not.  Once their spotlight shrinks their movement will lose its momentum.  Condescending editorials, screaming, and promises of violence will only do the opposite.
Above all we should remember what the fighting is about.  Newspapers love to state that the Wall is Judaism's holiest site.  Well it isn't.  It's the elevated piece of land beyond the Wall that is the Har HaBayis, our holiest site.  How odd that we're not even thinking about fighting over that with its current occupants.

9 comments:

Moshe Laymore said...

This is a great post except one line: "The most important thing to do is to demand calm from the Chareidi side." You may as well demand cats to stop eating mice or gravity to stop attracting things to each other.

Chana said...

Yes, but you can use the police to keep the haredim out of the kotel area for the hour it takes the WoW to finish praying at 7AM on Rosh Hodesh. It looks like that's what they decided to do, and that's fine with me.

2 sesnse plain said...

It may be fine with you but it isn't so fine with people who want to daven shacharit Rosh Chodesh at a normal hour and get to work.How about moving their demonstration to a later hour since they neither need or want to be concerned with zmanim and men do?

Better idea. Grant permission on condition of a total media blackout. No press coverage, no tweets (there was a surprising amount of social media traffic going for people who were supposed to be praying), no blogging. Not before, during or after. If you can mess with Jewish civil rights to pray on Har HaBayt because it might upset the Arabs and cause them to riot, you can certainly use the same argument to cut off their attention fix.

Chana said...

"Grant permission on condition of a total media blackout"

Not bad in some ways, but one needs serious and compelling cause to override freedom of the press.

"It may be fine with you but it isn't so fine with people who want to daven shacharit Rosh Chodesh at a normal hour and get to work"

I don't know many people who can come to a 7:00 Rosh Chodesh minyan and get to work unless they daven fast and live next to the minyan.

"How about moving their demonstration to a later hour since they neither need or want to be concerned with zmanim and men do?"

What if they have jobs too? I'm assuming they already have to arrange to come in late on Rosh Chodesh as is.

Anonymous said...

Go to the reform synagogues and daven regular tefillot

Chana said...

In principle, it's not good to make a policy of catering to the rioters. Up until now, authorities had been giving in to Haredi rioters, just as they have been giving in to Moslem rioters on Har HaBayit, just as the world has been giving in to Moslem rioters in general.
Maybe the Haredi rioters have been learning from the Moslems.

Fred said...

"Demand calm from the Hareidi protesters"?? Gimme a break. The kanoim LOVE this stuff- its a permissable break from morning or afternoon seder, they get some exercise, and the time they spent away from their learning was not devoted to looking for a job. These days, they thrive on this stuff, and it its not Women of the Wall, it will be something else.


The point is: this behaviour is becoming ingrained within the hareidi psyche, and all of their conflicts, whether against the state, against the army, against immodest women/restaurants/newspapers/street corners/ kittens/ dogs/ concerts--its gotten to the point that they HAVE to be against something. How or what can be done to reverse this sui generis is beyond me.

shmilda said...

Great analysis of WoW. And Chana makes a good point too - the chareidim have learned lots from the Arabs. Both about rioting and (some) about tzniut.

justine rehan said...

They have picked and chosen those public Jewish rituals they find personally bingo online meaningful, redefined the word Judaism to create a new religion that only cares about those things and then demanded equal access to the Walls since they call what they practice "Judaism".