Op-Ed: Americanized Judaism Takes a Stab at Kotel Sanctity

by Aliza Bas Menachem
Published on CrownHeights.info, July 12

Musician Moshe Yess was best known for his hit song My Zaidie. But Moshe has a treasure-chest full of songs. In his repertoire are songs he wrote and sang for children. I mention him now because his words are so appropriate to address my topic. To the Women of the Wall, I present an excerpt from one of Moshe Yess’ cherished children’s tunes with an adult message:

Do you want to know what’s wrong with that?
Chorus of Children: Please tell us.
You’re not happy with your share, you’re being jealous.
Shall I tell you what the Torah says?
Chorus of Children: Yes we wanna know.
Aizeh Who Ashir HaSameach B’Chelkow.
To be rich this is what you gotta do-oo,
Be happy with the share Hashem has given you.

The sects of Americanized Judaism have a male standard. Traditionally girls have a Bas Mitzvah at 12 years old and a boy has a Bar Mitzvah at 13. The age difference recognizes that normally girls mature at an earlier age than boys. But in Americanized Judaism, the girls have their Bat Mitzvah at 13. It’s a male standard. If the sects wanted to erase the uniqueness of each of the genders, and do so on an equal basis, the age would have been set at 12 and a half. But no, the benchmark goes according to the male.

In traditional Judaism, women have led the way in prayer. According to tradition it is Our Mother Rachel’s prayers that will stir Hashem to bring the Jews home from exile. It is Chana, mother of the Prophet Shmuel, who set the example for proper protocol in prayer. There is no reason to be ashamed of women’s prayers. No reason to be jealous of the prayer rituals that the men have instituted for themselves.

Men have an obligation to pray with a Minyan, in Tallis and Tefilin. The obligations include a separation from women and being out of ear shot of women’s voices, especially women singing. Some of the obligations are Halacha. Some are tradition.

In observing their obligations, customs and traditions have developed over the years and have been meticulously observed over time and around the globe. You might even say that some of the rituals are more like a men’s club than a religious obligation. But this is how they did it. They did not develop the traditions to be hostile to women. They were making their obligations pleasant and meaningful. I definitely think that women have a right to their own associations and, more simply put, to have their own space. I respect a man’s right to do the same. But in Americanized Judaism, where the women have to be like the men in order to have meaning in their life, women are driven to encroach on the world of men, or the women feel unfulfilled.

From my own experience, I find that women tend to socialize much easier than men. Through their obligation to pray with a Minyan, I have observed it gives men a chance to socialize. And frankly, the absence of women, allows the men to socialize more freely. It has a different feeling than when women are present. (You may wonder how I know if I am not there. I am there. I am behind the glass partition with one way glass.)

I am making two points here. One, that men’s space is not being respected. And two, that women feel the need to be like men in order to have a spiritual experience.

At the Kotel, the Women of the Wall have not tried to do their ceremonies on the men’s side. Although, they do pose a problem with loud singing, which men are not allowed to hear.

And, I did read that when the Women of the Wall performed their ceremonies at a different place, there were men together with them. This is worrisome, because if the Women of the Wall were given space by the Kotel, would they then argue the right to have men together with them? And it might even be allowed in Halacha because the women are allowed to see and hear the men during prayer. But it’s not fair. I like to pray on the women’s side and I get majorly upset when men invade my space. I am trying to communicate with Hashem and I find men on the women’s side distracting. They just don’t fit in. (When I’m not praying, it’s a different story. I may not want to be like a man – but I like the men in my life.)

The traditional way of praying has also been adopted by women. Traditional women have expressed their concern – outrage and fury – about changes Women of the Wall want to institute on the women’s side of the partition. Although the media predominately likes to give victim status to the Women of the Wall and the status of aggressor to the angry mob – I disagree – I think the angry mob are victims fighting back. When a women is a victim, she screams, kicks and bites. The angry women believe in the sanctity of the Kotel as being a site where Jewish women have prayed and cried for thousands of years. They cannot tolerate blatant disrespect for that sanctity. They are in pain. They feel they are being attacked. They are victims fighting back and being labeled aggressors.

Getting back to my point two, about women wanting to be like men. This has been reinforced by Americanized Judaism having a male standard. And I think it is tragic because it is a sign of women being unfulfilled and being jealous of their brothers. By stripping the women of their unique identity, Americanized Judaism has robbed them of a rich heritage. Keeping a kosher home, keeping the laws of family purity, organizing Shabbat and living with modesty. Praying appropriately and studying the vast wisdom of our sages. Mentoring and nurturing. A traditional life is full of feminine roles.

Six mornings a week I join a local Minyan. My day goes better if I start by Davening and saying Chitas. (Praying and saying the daily portion of the Torah, Psalms, Tanya and HaYom Yom.) My favorite part of the services is Zos HaTorah, when someone lifts up the Torah for all to see. I love the visual image as each person who lifts the Torah does it in his own way. But I have never felt jealous of the men.

And what about Hashem? In our prayers, especially on Rosh Chodesh, we praise Hashem and thank Hashem. To go to the bother of getting to the Kotel – where there is no parking – and then praise Hashem in a way that negates the values of generations of faithful Jews… I don’t get it. Are you saying? We do it our way whether Hashem likes it or not. And you want the devout Jews of Jerusalem to stand by and validate that behavior?

One of my favorite experiences is when I attend a program at the resting place of Rebbitzen Menucha Rochel. A group of women go there on a regular basis. We Daven together outdoors, while one of the women plays the flute. Then we go into a rustic building that is reconstructed from an ancient structure with huge stones. We enjoy pita, soup, salad and chocolate chip cookies. All homemade. We study together, laugh together, sing together with keyboard and harp accompaniment, and we join hands and dance together. It is one of those times that makes it easy to be Sameach B’Chelkow. Boruch Hashem. Thank you for not making me a man… or a woman who wants to act like one.