I wrote this originally as a letter to the Chicago Jewish News, which had run an article on the "Women of the Wall", a group which I feel is extremely problematic. The CJN ran it on 11/21/2003.
Respect for Jewish views
This is in response to the article "Woman leading Women of the Wall," in your Nov. 14 issue. I am a Jewish woman who enjoys going to women's prayer groups. I enjoy being able to read Torah and participate in ways that would be inappropriate in an Orthodox synagogue. And yet I am inalterably and vehemently opposed to the group known as the Women of the Wall.
I want to take this opportunity to explain why I oppose the Women of the Wall, and why I believe others should oppose them. And why it is not only "right wing, ultra-Orthodox" Jews who are offended by this group. In Tractate Yevamot 13b, we learn that even though the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai had different legal views of what constituted illegitimacy, they were able to marry between the communities. Why? Because each community would let the other know who among them would be considered illegitimate by the other.
They did not stand on their own pride and insist that only their view could possibly be correct, but rather showed respect even for the view they thought was wrong. There are authorities in Jewish law who support women's prayer groups. There are likewise authorities who oppose these groups. Each side has ample support and backing in Jewish law, and each side is as legitimate in their views as the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai were in their views of illegitimacy. When such differing views exist in Jewish law, each side is completely entitled to live according to their own views. They are not, however, entitled to try and force their views on those who hold by the opposing side. For someone who opposes women's prayer groups to barge into a private home where such a group is being held and try to break it up would be unconscionable. But for someone who supports them to hold a women's prayer group in a communal location like the Western Wall, where they know it will offend others, is every bit as wrong.
Change does not come in Judaism by demonstrations and marches. Traditional Jews believe that the Torah we keep is the same Torah given by G-d more than thirty three centuries ago. It is not ours to give up on, or give in on, just because someone is pressuring us.
This is entirely aside from the habit the Women of the Wall have of staging media events by inviting the press to what they know will result in a confrontation. Creating strife among Jews for the sole purpose of trying to force acceptance of one's views is not the Jewish way. It has never been the Jewish way.
I hope that over the years, women's prayer groups gain greater acceptance, until they are eventually considered acceptable in the Jewish community at large. But I support the right of those who do not accept them to live by their position, which, after all, has been the status quo in Judaism for centuries.
The Schools of Hillel and Shammai showed us what it means to respect our fellow Jews. The Women of the Wall show us exactly the opposite. And then complain when their disrespect is met with outrage.