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Rabbi Yitz Greenberg: We Must Speak Out
Modern Orthodox leaders need to support Sharansky's proposal and also dissociate from the haredi Western Wall Foundation.
Sun, 04/14/2013 - 20:00
The fervently religious who are obstructing women's prayer at the Wall are desecrating God's name, the author says. Getty Images
The fervently religious who are obstructing women's prayer at the Wall are desecrating God's name, the author says. Getty Images

Now that Natan Sharansky is going public with his proposal to resolve the Kotel conflict, it is time for the leadership of Modern Orthodoxy to speak out. The message should not be only support for Sharansky’s Solomonic proposal but to dissociate from the policies and tactics practiced by the haredi Western Wall Heritage Foundation.

Modern Orthodox’s leadership was held back by fear that if they criticized the authorities at the Wall, the Women of the Wall would get their way and Modern Orthodoxy would be accused internally of having enabled a victory of liberal Judaism over Orthodox religious practice. Now that Sharansky has proposed a way in which justice is done but there are no losers, the Modern Orthodox establishment should strongly support the plan – and separate itself from the current Kotel leadership.

First of all, Modern Orthodox should make clear that they affirm that the Kotel is the sacred space of the entire Jewish people and not a haredi synagogue where only haredi social norms should be followed. The Kotel existed before the synagogue became the institution of prayer and service of God. The Wall is an historical treasure of the whole nation. The majority of the Jewish people is not observant – yet they have a legitimate share in this national icon, not to mention a full right to be there.  Part of the Sharansky solution is to take back the Wall Plaza for secular national programs, for IDF dedication ceremonies, etc. – many of which have stopped being held there because of haredi restrictions on women’s presence, visibility and singing as well as on head covering, etc.

The Modern Orthodox should also dissociate themselves from the haredi suppression of women’s services. By excluding liberal services in general, the haredim have pitted Israel’s commitment to being Jewish against its commitment to democracy. It was wrong to do this. There are tensions built in the relationship of Judaism and democracy. These tensions should and can be minimized by sensitivity and flexibility in practice and by respecting minority rights. Instead the conflict was aggravated by exploiting Orthodoxy’s established status and its majority support in Israel to override the rights and needs of the liberal minority and of the Women of the Wall. Currently a majority of Israelis deem Orthodoxy to be the authentic brand of Judaism – even if they are personally non-observant. Therefore, they tolerated the unequal treatment of liberal Jews. But this trampled the rights of non-Orthodox Jews and offended many Jews, especially in the diaspora.

Secondly, the authorities committed a Chillul Hashem [a desecration of God’s name] by prodding the police to arrest women for wearing a tallit or carrying a Torah, and threatening to arrest them for reciting Kaddish. This flagrant foul was infamously aggravated by the strip-search inflicted on Anat Hoffman, leader of the Women of the Wall. Essentially, the haredim pressed for these arrests for their own ‘convenience’, i.e. not to be disturbed. The arrests have left a permanent mark of shame: in the Jewish state, Jews were arrested for exercising their religious freedom to worship God.

These wrong actions were raised to the level of reckless endangerment in that these arrests were trumpeted around the world by Israel’s enemies as proof that the Jewish state is governed by a theocracy that oppresses women. The main line of Israel’s defense and support in the West is the recognition that Israel is a genuine democracy whereas its enemies represent despotic societies that mistreat women and religious minorities. By giving some appearance of truth to claims that Israel mistreats women and religious minorities, these authorities have struck a blow at the foundations of Israel’s security.

It is true that the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that the Women of the Wall must respect the customs of the existing (haredi) Synagogue at the Wall. But the Supreme Court acted under pressure from the right and the haredim. It sought to satisfy the established group for the sake of reducing societal tensions while (in true democratic spirit) giving the women equal access to the Kotel at Robinson’s Arch. [Afterwards, equal conditions were not set up; under Sharansky’s plan, this will be corrected.]  The Supreme Court’s actions can be compared to the U. S. Supreme Court’s upholding tax loopholes that are in place – even as it knows this is bad for society and that it is letting an exploitative minority take advantage of the majority. The Women then protested through civil disobedience. They should never have been arrested or physically harassed for these actions.

It is time for the Modern Orthodox to say all this – because the Wall is not the only problem point. There is a continuing unfair treatment of women in rabbinic courts. And the liberal movements still are being discriminated against by the religious establishment, which is exploiting the fact that Orthodoxy was established decades ago by democratic processes. Fair and equal treatment should be extended to all, now – and accommodations made for the Women of the Wall until the Kotel area is reconfigured.

In Israel’s national elections in January the public rose up and empowered the modern religious Zionist political party to take leadership and to partner with secular Jews. The motivation was to stop the discriminatory funding for haredim under current law and to insure that a fair share of the tax and military service burden be taken up by all sectors of the population. It is time for American Modern Orthodoxy to step up for a fair sharing of the Wall and its Plaza with all sectors of Jewry in Israel and in the diaspora.

In truth, I believe that Modern Orthodoxy owes an apology to the Women of the Wall for remaining silent while they were being harassed and denied their religious rights by authorities misusing the levers of a democratic society. However, given the present balance of power in Orthodoxy and the disproportionate influence of the haredim on the current Modern Orthodox establishment, I do not believe that realistically could happen – so I do not propose it. However, the time is now – and the community opinion is ripe – to speak up and to support the Sharansky proposal. This act would honor Orthodoxy. And a fair sharing will restore the dignity and luster of the Kotel as an ancient/eternal place of holiness and mentschlichkeit where Jews are united before God. 

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg is a prominent theologian, teacher and writer.

Kotel, Modern Orthodoxy, Natan Sharansky, Women of the Wall

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Does Yitz Greenberg think that any Jews who decide to form their own "NEW" version of "Judaism", while blatantly denying all (or some of) the the basic Principles of Faith, should be legitimized as "Jewish"?
What then should stop reconstructionist Jews (who claim that there is no G-d) from forming demanding their time share at the wall?
Would Yitz agree that such services are not a desecration to the Kotel?
How about Jews who otherwise believe in G-d but also believe that Jesus is the Messiah (but not G-d), does Yitz Geenberg also agree that they should be given a place, since they are a minority?

There is never an answer that satisfys everyone but change must start somewhere. To say it's not going to work and not offer an alternative option is to be part of the problem and not part of the solution. The Kotel belongs to all and a compromise is a place to begin.

The Women of the Wall do not represent me either. As an orthodox women I think they should take their agenda somewhere else not at our Holy Sites. If Natan Sharansky wants compromise let him find a place for them or rather put them near the newly renovated restrooms.

Tearing down Judaism piece by piece. It's a CHUTZPAH to call yourself Modern Orthodox. Why not tell the truth, call it what it is: "Judaism as we see fit to practice it for the convenience of busy people who want to be just like the Joneses."

«As a Jewish woman I'm asking you, please don't misrepresent this as a "women's issue". While I'm concerned about several important issues facing Jewish women today, the women of the wall don't represent me. Agunot have my sympathy. These women do not.»

Hear Hear!

Greenberg leads the water-down orthodox Judaism movement.
If memory serves me correctly,many years ago he advocated pre-marital relations which got him into scalding water at YU.He was obsessed with catholic-jewish relations ad nauseum,and now supports a group of feminists who wear tefilin,kippot,taleisim,as in your face jewish symbols-crying out for a social and political-egalitarianism.The holy Torah ascribes different and equally important roles \to Jewish men and women-by crossing lines these women are desecrating G-ds name.
The Psalmist tells us- bat melech penimah-the real jewish princess doesn't thrust herself into the public eye but is modest and low-key.Ladies find a husband if you don't have one,go home and take care of your kids, and make a good cholent for Shabbat.These are special activities And yitz Greenberg ,please,move onto the correct side of an issue.Slicing the holy Kotel into three is like keeping a dairy,meat,and non kosher set of dishes at home.

Yitz, Persuasive and thoughtful and needed to be said! A female modern orthodox friend also mentioned that even the Sharansky proposal doesn't entirely address the problem, as it still does not provide a place for groups of women to daven as a women's minyan (without males, but as a group) and lein Torah.
I remember you saying many years ago at CLAL that if both the 'right' and the 'left' are uncomfortable, we're probably doing something right. I have come to really appreciate the courage you have shown all these years in promoting pluralism. For years I have felt alienated from the kotel experience, and angry that the largely secular government of Israel was allowing fundamentalists to control a public holy place for all Jews.

Odd. I spoke out in favor of Anat Hoffman and in favor of the Sharansky plan.

Thanks for this, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, on behalf of my grandchildren who are Israelis, the boys as well as the girls...reeve brenner

Rabbi Greenberg displays the integrity, wisdom, and courage needed to lead Modern Orthodoxy and 21 century Judaism into a world that takes seriously tradition, democracy, and dignity for all. May his words be heard and heeded.

I dunno Rav Yitz. As Gael Hammer's daughter and a modern orthodox machmir (!) I must posit that the WOWs have a way about them that isn't too mentchlich. I'm all for live and let live, I'm not sure why they are so confrontational. However, your last sentence should be broadcast throughout the world for all inter-Jewish strife:
However, the time is now – and the community opinion is ripe – to speak up and to support the Sharansky proposal. This act would honor Orthodoxy. And a fair sharing will restore the dignity and luster of the Kotel as an ancient/eternal place of holiness and mentschlichkeit where Jews are united before God.

In what way is WoW confrontational? We stand at the back of the women's section and we pray. We do not object to anyone else's prayer. We only ask the same respect from others.

Orthodox Judaism may owe a great deal (perhaps even apologies) to the faithful women in its midst but very little -- certainly not an "apology" -- to those outside it who agitate against it with little regard for the sensibilities of anyone other than themselves. Sharansky's efforts should be praised, but I wonder whether they will be sufficient for those whose agenda is more agitation against Orthodox Judaism than a desire to practice it themselves. I wonder how many will actually partake of Sharansky's offer rather than continue to seek publicity. (For the record, I am Jewish and not "Orthodox.")

I am a Modern Orthodox Rabbi, and -- while I do not support the Women of the Wall -- I think it is fantastic to see so many women who are active in Reform Judaism fighting for the right to project Jewish permanence through Jewish prayer with demonstrative Jewish prayer shawls in land that Israel conquered in June 1967, which the Palestinian Government of Mahmoud Abbas claims to be their Palestine Capital City. Perhaps Israel should declare more areas of liberated Judea and Samaria off-limits to the "Women of the Wall." In time, the women of Reform Judaism would be demanding the right to manifest Jewish permanence everywhere up-and-down the "West Bank."

Sorry you are so full of crap here its hard to know where to start.
1. Where are you living???? There is no Hardi control over The Kotel. It is a very eclectic place where everyone comes to worship, Jews and non Jews, secular and religious. I'm there at least once a week and I'm just normal dati. Sorry this is lokshen you've been fed by some spin media.
2. The bulk majority of Israelis don't define themselves as you do abroad; Orthodox, Conservative, Reform etc... The define themselves by eithnic background (Eida); Moroccan, Halabi (Syrian), Yemenite, Ashkenazi etc... They keep to their traditions and the Kotel is a place where everyone can feel comfortable. There is a small group (really small but apparently wielding enough US journalism power that they got you all messed up) who have an issue with this. They went to the Supreme Court, there is a ruling. They don't like the ruling and they'll cry like babies until they get their way apparently. Believe you me the Supreme Court doesn't like the religious of any size or shape and would NEVER get bullied into ruling in their favour (Migron case in point).
3. NO one has ever been arrested for wearing a talit or carrying a sefer Torah. Yeah, NEVER. That's the absurd spin that you've bought into. Anyone who has been arrested has been taken in for disturbing the peace by not listening to police or blocking the entrance ways into the Kotel Plaza.
4. Sorry to burst your bubble but I'm tired of getting US Jews who think they know what they're talking about and taking on a battle they know nothing about. You want to get involved MOVE HERE and change a law in the Knesset otherwise stay out of it.

Thank you Rabbi Greenberg for your wisdom, clarity, and stand for tsedek. I also want to praise you for avoiding discussing all of the extremely disturbing events in today's Charedi world, both in the US and in Israel. (child abuse, financial corruption, abuse of women's civil liberties, not just re the Kotel, refusal to serve in the army of the country that gives them liberty and 'national" parnassah). I, in your place, would not have had similar self-restraint. Thank you, a wonderful article.

I am one of the Women of the Wall. I am impressed by this article. Such a breath of fresh air. At long last something written from an Orthodox viewpoint that doesn't blame us for our own harassment. The article doesn't admit that some of the Women of the Wall are Orthodox, but that's ok as it is more about the Sharansky proposal for a non Orthodox controlled area at the Kotel than about Women of the Wall.

I applaud Rabbi Yitz Greenberg’s powerful heartfelt article, entitled, “A Time for Orthodox Leaders to Speak Out” (April 15, 2013). Rabbi Greenberg states in his conclusion, “In truth, I believe that Modern Orthodoxy owes an apology to the Women of the Wall for remaining silent while they were being harassed and denied their religious rights by authorities misusing the levers of a democratic society….”

As a leader in Jewish Renewal, and a leader of Women of the Wall, I applaud Rabbi Greenberg’s courage, both in his sentiments toward Women of the Wall and his call for support of the visionary proposal of Natan Sharansky.

I want to also acknowledge and thank those Orthodox rabbis and organizations who have courageously stood with Women of the Wall in the recent past. The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance and Kolech lent their organizational support to Women of the Wall beginning in 2011 and Kolech joins Women of the Wall and six other Israeli organizations in a petition that is pending before the Israeli Supreme Court. Modern Orthodox Rabbi David Kalb has lent his name and spoken out on behalf of Women of the Wall since 2010. Modern Orthodox Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld twice participated in gatherings in front of the Israeli Embassy in support of Women of the Wall and Rabbi Asher Lopatin lent his name as a Rabbi for Women of the Wall in our Circle of Honor in 2010.

Notwithstanding the courageous support of these Orthodox leaders together with the courageous support of rabbis, cantors, organizational heads, leaders and members of the Conservative, Liberal, Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal Movements in North America, Europe and Israel, and notwithstanding the groundbreaking decision of Israeli Judge Sharon Larry Bavly on April 11, 2013, HARASSMENT AND DENIAL WOMEN OF THE WALL’S RELIGIOUS RIGHTS ARE NOT YET BEHIND US.

On April 24, 2013, the Israeli District Court of Appeals will hear the appeal by the police from Judge Bavly’s decision dismissing the charges against five women of the wall on Rosh Hodesh Iyar (April 11, 2013) for disturbing the peace by wearing tallitot and tefillin (prayer shawls and phylacteries). If we lose the appeal, the arrests and harassment will continue. And even if we win that appeal, we will still be denied the right to read from a Torah scroll with women as women at Judaism’s holiest historic site, the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem. And even if the arrests stop completely, we do not yet have a court ruling determining that women of the wall should be protected from the harassment of Ultra Orthodox women and men during our worship as well as when we are entering and exiting the Kotel area.

I wholeheartedly support the Sharansky proposal and I am delighted to see Rabbi Greenberg calling for support of the proposal by the Orthodox community. In addition, we, Rabbis for Women of the Wall, Cantors for Women of the Wall and Organizations for Women of the Wall support the rights of our Orthodox sisters to pray in the women’s section in accordance with their custom and understanding of halachah. I hope that my beloved teacher Rabbi Yitz and many other Modern Orthodox leaders will include in their support of the Sharansky plan a call for a time share in the women’s section at the Kotel so that Women of the Wall and all other women’s minyanim that include Orthodox women, or that are comprised solely of Orthodox women, can pray together in safety and dignity in the women’s section at the Kotel in accordance with their custom and understanding of halachah.

Rabbi Pamela Frydman
International Co-Chair
Rabbis for Women of the Wall

Rabbi Greenberg, if I may with all due respect, while the "kotel existed before the synagogue became the institution of prayer and service of G-d" that's because it was an outer wall of the ultimate synagogue - namely, the Beit Hamikdash. The Beit Hamikdash had a separate women's section. The Western Wall Rabbinate is merely trying to preserve the historical integrity of the site.
You attempt to exonerate the women of the Wall's lawless behavior by claiming that the supreme court was unduly influenced by the charedim. For shame, Rabbi Greenberg. The supreme court justices deserve your respect. The democracy of Israel deserves your respect of their laws. Your advocacy for lawlessness is most abhorrent to this Israeli democracy-supporting American. The women of the wall tried to change the status quo but the supreme court of the land ruled against them. To continue to insist on their way is now illegal and the correct response is incarceration. Their current behavior is nothing more than "sour grapes".
As a Jewish woman I'm asking you, please don't misrepresent this as a "women's issue". While I'm concerned about several important issues facing Jewish women today, the women of the wall don't represent me. Agunot have my sympathy. These women do not. It angers me that they continue to thrust themselves into the headlines and distract people from the real and pressing issues.
The women of the wall are free to break with tradition. No one is insisting that they conform in their own synagogues. But it is bullying to insist that tradition be changed in to cater to them.
Frankly I'm surprised that yourself, a Rabbi, would publicly call for isolating and hating one entire segment of Jewish population - one segment that according to the recent UJA study is the fastest growing segment. At this rate they will soon be the "majority of the Jewish nation" and therefore their opinion should, at bare minimum, be treated with respect and seriously considered. Rabbi Greenberg, your call for divisiveness only serves to ensure that the kotel remain as it is instead of returning to serve as part of the future Beit Hamikdash.

Marlene is full of contradictions. As long as religion dictates who can and cannot pray at the public holy space of The Kotel, it makes Israel a Theocracy not a Democracy. Once the majority will be haredim as she claims, then you may as well say goodbye to the support of the majority of Western Diaspora Jewry, the majority of whom have thankfully progressed into modernity not remained stagnating in the dark ages.
I am not sure that a new generation of Orthodox Israeli youth will like living on handouts at the expense of and the security afforded by the non-haredi population.They may show more derech-eretz and less chutzpah than their elders.

"Modern Orthodoxy" doesn't recognize non-Orthodox streams of Judaism or non-Orthodox practices as legitimate. As such, "Modern Orthodoxy" has no problem with policies or actions of the israeli government that discriminate against non-Orthodox denominations or practices.

It may be true that in American "Modern Orthodox" jews should support pluralistic policies, as these ensure Orthodoxy's right to operate as it desires. In Israel, however, the source of Orthodoxy's right to practice is embedded within the historical nature of the state itself. "Modern Orthodoxy" need not support any pluralistic policies as there is no reason to do so.

The only reason given in this article for Modern Orthodoxy to do anything regarding this issue is to restore "honor" to the kotel and orthodoxy. I disagree. I think to do what this article suggests forfeits Modern Orthodoxy's honor. Modern Orthodoxy should instead have the courage to point out what is wrong, and stand firm with what they think is right.