Tradition versus modernity: Women of the Wall

by Aliza BasMenachem
The following paragraphs are excerpts from the full article, which was published in the Jerusalem Post.

Jewish prayer dates back to Jacob’s grandfather Abraham. Over the centuries, Jewish prayer has evolved. Some of the prevailing customs are based in Jewish law and other customs are based in the rich heritage that Judaism is known for. Heritage that has been developed by sages and mystics. The traditional style of prayer, that has been accepted in Jewish communities around the globe, has been for men and women to have different roles in public prayer. And men from different families, descended from the tribes of Israel, have different roles. The guidelines and boundaries for the role of men in public prayer and other situations, are clearly defined and are not equal.

Alongside the traditional stream of Judaism have been movements that adapt Judaism to local customs. At any given time in history, it is the traditional, devout Jews who are in the minority. And yet it is this underpopulated, stubborn Jewish lifestyle, that has outlived the offshoots. The enigma of the survival of the un-fittest.

The Kotel is a symbol. A physical manifestation of a spiritual connection, a spiritual foundation, a feeling that not everything in this fast moving world is transitory. Jews of all walks of life visit The Kotel. Not because it represents modern, progressive thinking, but because it represents deep roots, and a tree that withstands turbulence. Non-Jews come to The Kotel. They come to experience what it is like to be in a place of sanctity and stability. Before being elected as president, Barack Obama came to The Kotel. The status quo welcomes everyone. All of G-d’s children are made to feel comfortable by the administrators who make decisions of policy at the Kotel.

When a group of individuals comes to the Kotel with a passionate mission to change the status quo, along with 200 people, that is a provocation. When they disobey the police because they have come with the intention of being arrested, that is provocation. In the HuffPost Live interview, Rabbi Susan Silverman openly admits that she and her daughter came to the Kotel with the express intention of getting arrested. They disobeyed the police. Then they added dramatics. But Silverman was worried, “I didn’t ask Anat or Bonna if they would want us to do something like that… I hope I didn’t mess it up for everybody.” Silverman’s concern is an indication that not only she and her daughter came with the intention of being arrested, but it was indeed the group’s leaders who were conducting the proceedings.

There are women who are not obsessed with having to act like men – wearing a tallit and reading from the Torah – because they know their own worth. They appreciate what it means to be a Jewish woman according to Jewish laws and traditions. They know that freely fulfilling the passionate inclinations of the heart can lead to obsessions, addictions and heartbreak. The disciplined ballerina, gymnast and sports hero, can break through their physical limitations and gain freedom with their bodies, through the strictest of daily routines of workouts, sufficient rest, proper diet and vigorous coaching. So too can the traditional Jewish woman, through the mysterious powers of observing Shabbat, Kashrut, Torah study and family values, exercise her soul to build spiritual dexterity of dedication, fulfillment and liberation. And a fierce resistance to modernity.

Read the full article in the Jerusalem Post.