Feminism Comes to the Western Wall


A few days ago, an organisation of Jewish women called the “Women of the Wall”, which is made up of women from various streams of Judaism, sent a letter to the United Nations detailing an event that occurred during August.

Early in August, the Women of the Wall organised a prayer service at the Western Wall. This service was publicly announced.

While they attempted to pray, however, they were assaulted and harassed. This disruption was perpetrated by haredi women, who belong to the Orthodox or Ultra-Orthodox streams of Judaism.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the haredi women harangued the Women of the Wall group, threw bottles of water over them, and incessantly blew whistles while they attempted to pray. One of the Women of the Wall board members was even punched.

On two occasions, the haredi women were asked to cease their disruptive conduct. First, the police asked them to stop, and when they refused to do so, suggested to the Women of the Wall that they should forward their complaints to the attendants of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. When the Women of the Wall did so, the attendants also asked the haredi women to stop. When they again refused, the attendants did not attempt to interfere again.

So who are the Women of the Wall?

They are a feminist group who are attempting to puncture the historic traditional regulations within Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. These regulations restrict women from wearing certain religious garments, and reading aloud from the Torah, and taking other leadership roles. The Women of the Wall do observe Orthodox gender segregation, but only out of courtesy for their own Orthodox members.

And they have attracted high level attention. The Israeli government has considered creating a “space” for non-sectarian prayer, a move welcomed by Women of the Wall. Nonetheless, this has sparked opposition from within Judaism. There are many who aghast that there should be any part of the Western Wall that is divorced from religious Judaism or placed beyond the orbit of the control of the Rabbinate.

Although they claim their actions are not a stunt, and that they are genuinely motivated by sincere religious feeling, this seems a remarkable way of going about it. One really must question the motives behind the Women of the Wall’s campaign and what they hope to achieve. Do the Orthodox women involved with the group really believe they can still be Orthodox while pushing for these changes? It seems they do, which is astonishing on the face of it. It would be like a female Roman Catholic believing they could still be Roman Catholic if they sought to remove the Vatican from the control of the Pope.

In fact, their conduct seems more reminiscent of a century of cultural revolution where the expansion of one’s personal liberty has become the only unfettered good. Their actions from all the photographic evidence certainly looks less like an act of worship and more like a public act of rebellion and subversion, done in such a way as to attract maximum attention through maximum drama.

As usual, those who engage in such action are astonished and outraged that it results in hostility from the larger cultural group who do not wish their identity, their practices, and their beliefs to be overturned by a small non-democratic group from within their ranks. A small group that wish to create a dramatic rupture in the continuity of belief and arrogantly claim for their innovations an equal validity to what proceeded them.

In one sense, this is just the beginning. Feminism has come to not only to the Western Wall but also to Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. It will be interesting to see how they respond; with a perspective informed by the past, or with the myopia that sees nothing in history worth considering and is concerned only with the immediate present.

Two-thousand years of Christian history, (and longer for Jews), have seen precious little female leadership within either Church or Synagogue. It is assumed by moderns that this is ipso facto an evil thing and is primarily due to the bigotry and narrow-mindedness of those who went before, who just never gave women a chance. If given the opportunity, the ceiling smashers have argued, then women will be able to take their (rightful) place alongside of the divines, theologians, clerics, and ecclesiastics of male extraction. They will prove to be just as able, if not more so, since women have a nurturing instinct that is perfect for helping wounded souls in times of need.

Indeed, to even disagree with such an idea is now nearly dangerous. It marks one out as a misogynist, or a fossil, or, worse, as a Roman Catholic or a fundamentalist. You cannot possibly be educated and sophisticated and question the cultural assumption of the total equality of ability between the sexes. They are interchangeable, after all! The differences are purely cosmetic. Yet such convictions are diametrically opposed from what the scriptures teach us (and, since the Jews share so much of our scriptures, teach them also).

We have come to the age where it is simply not permitted to articulate the limitations of the feminine, although it is always permitted to articulate the limitations of the masculine. Yet, history would teach us that where women have acquired religious leadership, it almost always results in decline, in liberalism or theological heterodoxy.

This is because for a women to desire a leadership position within a religious group that historically has reserved those positions to men, she almost always must be, by definition, a feminist. And feminism is built atop assumptions and concepts that are fundamentally and necessarily anti-Christian. No consistent feminist could accept St. Paul’s delineation of the sexes within marriage. No consistent feminist could accept St. Paul’s instructions regarding women during worship. The entrance of women into religious leadership positions generally marks the tombstone for that denomination, its final gasps. The decline of the Anglican communion, for instance, is so catastrophic that its eventual demise is now guaranteed.

Why is it so wrong to point out that God’s word establishes different roles for men and women? How have we arrived at a place where the obvious is glossed over? It is near-impossible to miss the fact that men and women are by temperament and physiology suited for different purposes, and that even our fundamental biology teaches us that this is so. Men were created to have the strength suitable for leadership and survival; women were created to have the capacity to produce and nourish children.

So engrained is this fundamental distinction, that were a group of men and women drawn randomly from the street to crash land on a desert island, no matter their ideological convictions, the assumption of these roles would be very nearly automatic and instantaneous.

Time will tell whether Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Judaism will survive the feminist challenge. However, the longevity of these streams of Judaism has not resulted from trendy, “inclusivist” revolutions.

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