My post yesterday about Women of the Wall failed to mention that there is an ultra-Orthodox hegemony that controls the religious activity at the Wall itself. Natan Sharansky has been put in charge of finding a solution. (FYI: A good article appeared the other day in JTA news about this. If interested, go to http://www.jta.org/news/article/2013/01/07/3116146/can-natan-sharansky-fix-the-western-wall?)
Modern Orthodoxy in Israel (as opposed to ultra-Orthodoxy) is often at the forefront of the movement for change vis-a-vis women’s role in religious life. While the media considers Women of the Wall a foreign import of liberal Jews from elsewhere, the reality is that many of the Women at the Wall are themselves (modern) Orthodox women in Israel who are no more comfortable with ultra-Orthodoxy than are liberal Jews who have been born and bred on egalitarianism. Modern Orthodox women in Israel are not necessarily in agreement with the policy that women’s voices cannot be raised in prayer at the Wall, as women’s prayer groups are common in modern Orthodox circles.
A case in point are the two modern Orthodox synagogues that Chaim and I visited over Shabbat.
Last night we attended Shira Chadasha (meaning “a new song”), a modern Orthodox, feminist synagogue that is trying to push the envelope on inclusion of women in prayer life. Its mission statement says that “We are attempting to create a religious community that embraces our commitment to halacha [Jewish law], tefillah [prayer] and feminism.” It may come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Hartman Institute (a pluralistic research and leadership center in Jerusalem) to learn that Rabbi David Hartman’s daughter Tova Hartman is one of the founders of Shira Chadasha. Women there are able to lead Kabbalat Shabbat (the opening psalms) on Friday night and p’sukei zimrah (the opening psalms) on Shabbat morning, receive aliyot/Torah honors and read from the Torah, and obviously to offer sermons. The mechitzah/divider between the men’s and women’s section is laughable as a divider, it is so sheer, and even then, it is left open half the time so that no separation is really felt. The davenning/prayer there was lively and joyous, and it was a place I would definitely return to.
This morning we went to Yedidya, another Orthodox synagogue. I knew it was fairly progressive, particularly on social justice issues, but wasn’t sure how comfortable I would be wearing my tallit/prayershawl (a morning prayer garment, generally worn only by men in traditional circles), which I carried in a separate bag. As soon as I walked into the women’s side of the synagogue, however, I saw a few women wearing a tallit and felt comfortable putting mine on. Unfortunately, I realized that we had come too late to hear Hallel (the recitation of Psalms 113-118) which is only sung on certain holidays and on Rosh Hodesh/the new moon. Since it is one of my favorite pieces of liturgy, I called to Chaim where he was on the men’s side of the divide (a no-no for sure, but I obviously got away with it without being stoned!) and told him I wanted to go to Kol HaNeshamah (which had a later start time) so that I could hear Hallel. We will also have to return there for another full experience.
The gift of ending up at Kol HaNeshamah was that we were honored with raising and wrapping the first Torah. In order to (1) purposefully confuse gender roles, (2) for me to honor Women of the Wall which was not meeting today, and (3) because Chaim encouraged me to do so, I lifted the Torah and Chaim wrapped it. (Typically lifting the Torah is considered a macho-man honor, but since this was a fairly small and light Torah scroll, we felt I could manage it, even with my bad back). Even in Kol HaNeshamah, this apparently was a rare occurrence, and I was told that I was a great role model for other women there. Score a point for the women! And again, as always seems to happen at Kol HaNeshamah, I ran into people I knew, including Rabbi Arik Ascherman, who heads Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel.
We spent a lovely Shabbat lunch with my old friend Julie, a Conservative rabbi who has been studying in Jerusalem for the past couple of years, and her partner, Michael.
The photo I posted today is of an anti-Netanyahu (nicknamed Bibi) poster that is plastered around town in anticipation of the upcoming Israeli elections. It reads “Bibi is good only for the rich,” an ironic take-off on a previous slogan of his that read “Bibi is good for the Jews.” At the bottom this poster reads, “Jews and Arabs reject being enemies.” Despite this ad, most polls agree that he and his party will win this election, at which point he will have to build a coalition with other parties, since Israel does not have a two-party system. Most of the young people we see out on the street leafletting or holding campaign banners are doing so for Netanyahu, though we did run into a few Meretz campaigners. (Meretz is a left-wing, Zionist, social-democratic political party). Chaim actually stopped to thank them, he had been so discouraged by the right-wing atmosphere of the electioneering we have seen thus far.
The other night the election ads began running on Israeli TV, just two weeks before the election. (If only we had such a short election season in the U.S.!) Unfortunately, we don’t have a TV here, but we read that one of the ads, for the ultra-right religious Shas party, was pulled from the air because it was considered derogatory of Russians and of converted Jews (a direct attack on the Beiteinu party, a nationalist political party whose base is secular, Russian-speaking Israelis). Apparently, the ad featured a wedding in which the Russian bride receives her conversion certificate by fax while under the chuppah/wedding canopy. I am trying to find it on YouTube, where I expect we will have to find all of the ads.
We will be here for the election, so I’m sure there will be more news to report over the next couple of weeks.
Wishing you a shavuah tov/a good week.