Where is “Moving Traditions” Moving People?

If you’ve been following the saga of the “Women of the Wall” and the “Women for the Wall,” you know that WOW is doing everything it can to bolster its numbers and coverage. W4W has made them into a non-story, by expressing with eloquent silence that far more Israeli women oppose them than stand with them (by a margin of hundreds, if not thousands, to one), and simultaneously completely getting rid of the rambunctious young men who previously did such a great job of playing into WOW’s hands and PR efforts.

Most recently, a group called “Moving Traditions” shipped three teenage American girls off to Israel to join WOW. Needless to say, they knew little of the issues — one of them had not even heard of WOW prior to the contest that earned her a ticket. They were also kept from any contact with women representing the other side of the story, which resulted in W4W leader Ronit Peskin writing an open letter to one participant.

Ms. Peskin posted a comment to the Facebook wall of Moving Traditions, indicating that she had written this letter. Moving Traditions basically laughed off the idea that she might be able to speak to one of the girls in the “pre-Messianic era” — at which time Anat Hoffman would also be invited into Haredi Yeshivot — and argued that the girls they sent took an “important stand for religious tolerance and respect.” The following is taken from my reply:

There are two major problems with your approach. (1) You are excusing failure to live up to your principles because someone else is keeping theirs, and (2) you sent teenage girls off to “change” something when they had no clue what it was they aim to change. In fact, “religious tolerance” and “respect” are precisely what was most sorely absent from your, and their, activity.

(1) You brought up “pluralism.” I don’t think anyone else did. The traditional women at the Wall, such as Ms. Peskin and her W4W group, have different values, like “G-d’s will” and “tradition” and “dignity.” They have no reason to invite Anat [Hoffman]. Anat Hoffman has nothing to tell us, she worked to stop Orthodox growth in Jerusalem back when she was on City Council. But Ronit Peskin has quite a bit to help these young women be Jewishly informed. You value “pluralism” — or claim to. The comparison [between Hoffman and Peskin] is apples and oranges — not only because of the speakers but because of the audience. You cannot claim to be pluralistic without welcoming other perspectives.

(2) The plaza at the Kotel is not, regardless of what you may have been told, the Wall. The outer retaining Wall of the Temple is 480 meters long. Due to its extreme significance to traditional Jews, they requested of the government that a plaza be built for traditional prayer. That plaza is less than 40 years old, has a mechitzah and a Rabbi… and is less than 1/6th of the length of the Wall.

The Orthodox are not disturbing anyone. They are objecting to being disturbed. Going there is no different than a Chassidic group wandering into a Reform Temple during services — and just as lacking in respect and religious tolerance.

Naftali Bennett built a special alternative plaza where the women could have done whatever they wanted — including read from a Torah. Therefore it is offensive and intrusive for the girls to go try to “change” Orthodox women without at least finding out why it is that they might not want to change. All that, and American colonialism as well.

Why is it that in order to get teenage support for WOW you must fly them in? W4W brought 15,000 girls to the Kotel a few months ago to express their adherence to tradition.

I will close with one other observation. The Pew Survey identified 110,000 adults who, like myself, adopted Orthodoxy as adults. The majority of them, btw, are women, which kind of bursts the whole “liberate the Orthodox women” narrative of WOW. But more to the point… the Reform movement, according to the Pew Survey, is about 1.85 million.

If current estimates hold, the 110,000 newly-Orthodox adults are going to have more Jewish grandchildren than the 1.85 million Reform Jews. The Reform movement should have much more important things to do with their time and money than try to change Orthodox women in Israel.

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