The Great BTs Behind The Recent Women’s Prayer Gathering

Jonathan Rosenblum has a great column this week called the The Feminist Story the Media Missed at the Kotel. He chronicles the planned peaceful prayer gathering of women and girls across the national religious-haredi spectrum that occurred on Rosh Chodesh Sivan.

As it turns out, Ronit Peskin (who blogs here) and Leah Aharoni (who blogs here) are BTs who have met the same challenges many of us face in paving their own path of Torah observance:

Neither Peskin nor Aharoni are mainstream haredi. Peskin, 25, home schools her three young children, teaches women how to forage for edible food growing wild, and runs a website called Penniless Parenting, on how to keep down the family food budget, which receives 60-70,000 hits worldwide a month.

In response to the boast of WoW founder Susan Aranoff that WoW seeks to liberate haredi women so that they can “function religiously . . . without the ‘help’ of men,” Peskin describes her religious journey from her modern Orthodox upbringing in Cleveland to “quasi-chareidi” — i.e., strict in halachic observance, a cross between “Litvak” and Chassidic,” accepting of people from different backgrounds, and open to the outside world — including a rebellious teenage period of no observance in between. Her religious search forced her to become financially independent at 17.

Of her current life, she writes, “It was a path I chose, and fought lots of obstacles to get there. I don’t live this way because I haven’t witnessed alternatives. I’ve witnessed them and rejected them, and made the choice to live as I do because I find it the most meaningful type of life for me. Implying that I’m doing what I do merely because I’m subjugated by men is insulting to me, insulting my intelligence, insulting to the men I love, and insulting to the entire population of Chareidi women. . . . I don’t need you to rescue me. . . .”

Aharoni is firmly in the national religious camp, and makes her living as a business consultant helping “female business owners create more income doing work they love.” She too traveled a long religious path from her native Soviet Union – a path that started in a Reform Temple and included a period of time in the congregation of Rabbi Avi Weiss, a leading figure in Orthodox feminism.

She finds “the epitome of misogyny,” in WoW’s “rejection of the feminine Jewish experience.” “There is nothing more demeaning to women than positioning the male experience as the only one worth living and setting up women for an ongoing game of catch-up. . . . I have liberated myself from the need to predicate my identity on becoming ‘one of the boys.”

Read R’ Rosemblum’s whole article to get more inspiration and a deeper appreciation of these two amazing women.

19 comments on “The Great BTs Behind The Recent Women’s Prayer Gathering

  1. Menachem Lipkin: “What I am a proponent of is tolerance and democratic values. ”

    I guess that means you are tolerant of Women For the Wall and what we want to do, just as you are tolerant of Women of the Wall and what they want to do.

  2. Mr. Cohen:

    Although I agree that Judaism should be observed according to the Torah, the non-orthodox would argue with you that religion should adapt to the times, and that George Washington would be wearing modern clothes if he were alive today.

  3. Criticizing a 33-century-old faith like Orthodox Judaism for not being Egalitarian, is as illogical as criticizing George Washington for not wearing a disco suit, which did not become popular until 200 years after the American Revolution.

  4. People should act peacefully and respectful towards to each other. I think these women would be respected if they weren’t so rebellious. For example, singing out loud and making the men hear, when the men aren’t suppose to. This is not respecting those that follow this law about not hearing women sing. And so both sides need to respect each other.

    Our own prayers from us women can be very powerful if we do it correctly. Remember Chana in the Book Shmuel, and her beautiful quiet prayer to have a child. That’s where the idea of the Shemona Esrei prayer came from, where we quietly pour our heart out to G-d. :)

  5. Steve, while I disagree with your characterization of the situation, I agree with your conclusion. And that is were this started. The W4W have only served to exacerbate something that should have been ignored (ie tolerated) in the first place.

  6. Menachem & Mark-I think that the best reaction to WOW would be to ignore their tactics and rhetoric as halachically and hashkafically well beyond the pale without engaging in rhetoric that either makes martyrs of or demonizes WOW-whose agenda is clearly dominated by people either who have no use for Halacha or have admittedly radical views of Halacha and the halachic process.

  7. Menachem-I think that an objective view of Anat Hoffman & Co is that they are engaging in a political statement that is aimed at creating a fictional heterodox movement in Israel where none has ever been able to get off the ground in Israel. The biggest waste of real estate in Israel is the heterodox houses of worship which are empty on a 24-7 basis. That being said, I applaud those Charedi and RZ women who demonstrated in favor of what they they view as an infringement on their way of life by feminists and their supporters.

  8. I like your simplification. To think of this as primarily a prayer issue is useful, but I don’t think it’s accurate.

    I think the religious cultural conflict is reaching a new phase with many different viewpoints and even more flashpoints.

    I’m nervous about it, but there’s always the possibility that people on a few sides will come to the conclusion that it’s better to return this conflict to a simmer, rather than bring it to a boil.

  9. Exactly, that’s the line we’re trying to walk here. My take is this. We have a value of freedom of religious expression. I think that value needs to, generally, take precedence over being offended or bothered. What keeps it in check and prevents it from becoming “anything goes” is the protection of that same right on the other side. So, for example, women praying on the mens’ side would prevent the men from expressing themselves religiously. While a woman wearing a talit on the womens’ side has no bearing whatsoever on the men, and while it might bother or offend some women, it does not PREVENT them from expressing themselves religiously.

    Mark, it IS a prayer issue. We can’t create public policy based on what some people’s “agendas” are. We can simply look at the actual behavior. The behavior is that of prayer. I know some of these women and they are quite sincere, and for them it is any issue of being able to pray in a way and a place among other praying women that allows for them to feel more spiritual.

    And Mark, nobody’s prayers NEEDS to be at the Kotel, so I’m not sure what you’re point is with that statement.

  10. Menachem, according to democratic values, this has nothing to do with whether their practices are assur mi’ikur hadin.
    According to pure democratic values, almost anything goes. But as you know, most democracies try to walk that fine line between Church and State.

    And I certainly don’t think you can set Anat Hoffman’s agenda and that of her Conservative and Reform supporter aside.

    I’m all for people desiring to pray and supporting them, but as we know mi’ikur hadin, women’s prayer does not need to be at the Kotel.
    I find it fascinating that you think that this is primarily a prayer issue at this point.

  11. No Mark, this is not a “quibble”, this goes to the core of the issue and the hypocrisy involved, but if that’s all you’ve got, we’ll drop it.

    You don’t need to assume anything. Women wearing talitot, tefillin, layning and getting aliyot are not assur mi’ikur hadin. What I am a proponent of is tolerance and democratic values. It’s very easy to tolerate that which doesn’t bother one, it’s the value of davka defending the things that bother one are the backbone of our societies. Someday, there will be a theocracy that ALL Jews here will agree on. However, until such time we must let these values guide us as nobody’s theology is accepted or valid enough to be allowed complete domination.

    Further, remember that you’re running a BT site here. A huge majority of Jews in the world never pray in any formal setting. Anat Hoffman’s agenda aside, the WoW was originally started by orthodox women who sincerely need to pray in ways that are considered non-traditional. Do we really want to push away people, among the minority, who have a desire to pray?

  12. The relevant status quo we are talking about here is service run according to Orthodox practices at the main section of the wall. Just because other changes were made, does not mean that this is not a major issue that the WOW themselves want changed. If you’re just quibbling about your understanding of the term “status quo”, then let’s move on.

    Is it correct to assume you’re also a proponent of women wearing tefillin, women leining, leading a separate minyan and doing whatever else they may deem as a form of worship?

  13. Mark, that is not a logical distinction. The “status quo for 20 years was a mechitza of “x” any change, by definition, changes the “status quo”. My point is that there was no “status quo”. So it’s intellectually dishonest to claim “status quo” when it’s changes you don’t like.

    I’m not in favor of removing the mechitza. I do like Sharansky’s idea of elevating the Robinson’s arch area to the same status as the rest of the plaza and leaving it “open”. However, even with that, at the regular areas there needs to be broader leeway in allowing people to pray in non-traditional ways. While, for example, a woman wearing a talit might annoy some people, it, in no way, prevents them from davening as they wish.

  14. Menachem,
    There are changes and there are changes to the status quo. The WOW in their own words, are looking for a change in the status quo, clearly they don’t think it’s a canard.

    Are you a fan of tearing down the mechitza?

    If not, what changes, if any, do you think make sense?

  15. There was a time I could stand next to the mechitza and look over it, no more. There wasn’t always a mechitza set up in the main plaza during busy times. And the “mens’ passageway” at the rear of the plaza is new.

    I’m not making a judgement on these changes, but they are changes. Thus, the idea of “maintaining the ‘status quo’ is a bit of a canard’.

  16. It’s balanced in that he gives credence to both the Orthodox and Non-Orthodox positions, whereas Rosenblum and many Orthodox Rebbeim don’t give credence to Conservative and Reform forms of worship at the wall, so they would be less balanced.

    What do you mean by the plaza “frumming” out over the past several years?

  17. Of course it’s your prerogative to disagree. That blog post was just the most egregious example. The W4W Facebook page is highly contentious.

    I certainly understand the perspective of wanting to keep the so-called “status quo” at the Kotel. (The idea of which itself is a bit disingenuous given the “frumming” out of the Kotel plaza of the past several years.)

    While of course I agree with Halevi’s article, it is, objectively, far more “balanced” than Rosenblum’s in how it approaches both sides of this issue.

  18. Mrs. Peskin apologized for that article. This is an emotional issue and people make mistakes and I’m glad that she admitted she was wrong.

    Mrs. Peskin and Mrs. Aharoni consulted with both Charedi and National Religious Rebbeim before they went ahead. The opinions of these Rebbeim carry a lot of weight on an issue like this from my perspective; you obviously differ.

    I agree with the many Rebbeim who feel the Orthodox prayer status quo should be maintained at the part of the Kotel where most Orthodox men and women currently pray.

    As they’ve stated many times the non-Orthodox Women of the Wall are trying to change that status quo, so to excuse them for their prominent role in causing strife and divisiveness is incorrect, in my opinion.

    I don’t think Halevi’s view is more balanced, he’s just expressing an opinion that you’re more sympathetic with. Both articles are opinion pieces and written from the writers point of view.

  19. While these women are to be admired for their sincere efforts. It’s not all positive. The perspective of many, including myself, is that this new organization they started, Women for the Wall, is just increasing strife, divisiveness and intolerance.

    An example of this was evident in a post Ms. Peskin wrote last week. She wrote an article on her blog basically blaming feminists for causing the recent rains and locusts in Israel (neither of which is “miraculous”) because God punishing them for being “ovdei avodas zora”. (She has since removed the post because of so many negative comments.) Also, as nice as it was that there were so many girls at the Kotel that day, all it served to do was to magnify the legal victory the WoW had achieved. Had it been a normal Rosh Chodesh with merely hundreds of regular daveners, there would not have been the scene of a massive police presence protecting the WoW.

    Rosenblum’s article was also lacking. Unlike what Rosenblum implies, the media did, of course, acknowledge the presence of the BY girls. And Ms. Peskin and her group got decent and fair coverage. It was obvious to anyone who can read that the trouble was caused by a minority and not the girls themselves.

    Here’s an example of an article that gives a much more balanced view of the situation. “Time to End the Disgrace at the Wall” by Yossi Klein Halevi

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