by Chana Keleman
As a religious woman, I am struck by some glaring inconsistencies in the Women of the Wall’s cause and, because they have taken their political and social protest to our holiest site, I feel personally affected by the Women of the Wall’s stance, and would like to respond with a few observations.
First of all, it is unclear to me what the purpose of these protests is and to whom the women are addressing their grievances. If some women feel that the traditional way Jewish women have always prayed is not adequate for them, and that they can get closer to God by wearing a man’s religious articles (a tallis and tefillin) and praying like a man, then this is a personal matter between them, the Creator and perhaps a mentor. This serious need would require introspection and study and prayer, but it should not become a public spectacle. If, however, these women are championing a social and political cause, and are simply trying to muster as much attention from the media as possible, then their issues really have nothing to do with prayer, and should be taken to a different venue to preserve the sanctity and dignity of the Western Wall.
Let us assume that these women genuinely feel that praying like men is preferable to praying like women, and then let us compare men’s prayer to women’s prayer, so that we can properly address this phenomenon. Men have traditionally worn a tallis and tefillin when they pray, though, depending on a number of factors, both of custom and of law, they may not wear them every time they pray. They are required to pray three times a day, each time requiring a specific prayer, and they need to pray together with a group of 10 men, at least. Thus, men’s prayer is quite structured and an inherently public act.
The requirements of women’s prayer are much less stringent. A woman should pray twice a day, if she can, and, since she doesn’t have to use any particular articles to enhance her act of devotion, nor does she have to summon a crowd, she can stop at any time during the day to address the Creator. Her prayer is an inherently private act.
Does this make it any less valuable? Indeed, how can these two different modes of prayer even be compared, much less measured?
It is, of course, difficult for us to measure value when we are talking about matters of faith and belief, rather than the mundane. However, fortunately, we have a great resource in the Torah itself, in which matters of faith and belief are explicitly expounded, and there we find numerous references to wise and spiritually elevated women, whose prayers were effective and beneficent on the whole. Let’s consider Hannah, the mother of Samuel the prophet. She prayed with such intensity and conviction that not only was her prayer answered, but her stance and the manner of her address are considered the most appropriate way to conduct one’s prayer even today, for both men and women. Then there was Queen Esther, who was able to annul the decree of destruction for her entire generation through her entreaties on our behalf (and if you think that she was only addressing a flesh and blood king, then try looking at the deeper sources that tell how she actually was pleading before the King of kings). And, finally, we are told that the final ingathering of the exiles will come about because of our matriarch Rachel’s prayers on high that God should redeem her children.
Are women’s prayers effective? The biblical sources seem to think so. Proper prayer takes devotion, love and humility, and is really the work of a lifetime. The Jewish people are in great need of women’s and men’s prayers on our behalf, and for the sake of our families and our entire nation. We certainly do not need more divisiveness. It is my hope, and yes, my prayer, that these women will bring their misplaced energies and zealousness to the right side of the wall, where we can focus our prayers on the unity and redemption of the Jewish people as a whole.
Chana Keleman lives in Silver Spring.
Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Article comment by: Gila Golder
Mission statement of Women of the Wall, taken from the group’s website:
“As Women of the Wall, our central mission is to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.”
The only reason this has become a “public spectacle” is that Israeli police do not permit the women to pray in this manner at the Kotel. As you correctly state, the way they want to pray “is a personal matter between them, the Creator and perhaps a personal mentor”. Everyone should be allowed to pray as they wish at the Kotel. What if the tables were turned, and you were required to wear a tallis at the Kotel? You would feel unwelcome and unable to pray in the way that you feel is appropriate. If the Israeli government would take its nose out of Kotel prayer, Women of the Wall would stop dominating the media and just do their thing.