Thursday, April 18, 2013

Heart of Stone: Liberating the Wall for Women Too

Most Israelis and probably the vast majority of haredi women do not know that halacha, Jewish law, permits women to wear talit and tefillin, and read Torah from a Torah scroll. Secular Israelis do not know this, for obvious reasons. The religion they do not practice is Orthodox – ultra-Orthodox. In an unwritten, unholy alliance of Israeli secularism and ultra-Orthodoxy, Judaism stays so archaic, alien and repulsive that secular Israelis need never encounter it seriously – which, conveniently, leaves the ultra-Orthodox variants in unchallenged control of a culture that is the national heritage – and the national responsibility – of all Jews.

But anyone with a modicum of learning in Jewish texts knows that halacha does not prohibit women doing these things, as some modern Orthodox rabbis have recently begun pointing out to their congregations. That haredi women – the ones shrieking at the Women of the Wall about sacrilege, cancer, Divine condemnation, and the rest – do not know this, speaks volumes about the subjugated place of women in that society; and about the male structures that construct and control that society with an iron hand and what they succeed in imposing on the rest of us.

The Women of the Wall go straight to the heart of the matter. We are Jews. Not just daughters of Jews, wives of Jews, sisters of Jews, mothers of Jews. Jews. Adult, responsible Jews, praying, celebrating, living as such in our own right. What we seek to do at the Wall is done there every day of the week by men; these are no heterodox acts. When men do them they are mitzvot – commandments – but under the current regime there, when women do them, they are sacrilege, “blasphemy,” “disturbing the public order,” offensive to “the worshipers” (meaning, haredi men and women), denying that the Women of the Wall are worshipers.

If the sancta of Judaism are blasphemy and criminal acts when women undertake them in public, at Judaism’s holiest site and the site of highest national memory, there is something wrong not with the women, and not with Judaism, but with a society that allows utter misogyny hegemony there.

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