We have now established that the mechitza is actually something that started centuries after the destruction of the Temple. We have also established the fact that there are no ancient synagogues that separated women and men. So now let’s turn our attention to the other issues of women and the Kotel.
Not only are women and men separated at the Kotel but women are also forbidden by a 2003 court order from wearing tefillin or tallit at the Kotel. They are also forbidden from singing or reading the Torah while at the Kotel.
On June 4, 2003, the Court issued a ruling, and the legal battle regarding the Women of the Wall came to a close. The majority ruled that, despite the state’s claims to the contrary, the Women of the Wall maintained a legal right to pray at the Western Wall. Nevertheless, such right was not without boundaries, and the Court was obligated to minimize the harm felt by other worshippers by the form of prayer of the Women of the Wall and to prevent violent incidents between the two warring camps. In keeping with its opinion, the Court ruled that prayer at Robinson’s Arch would allow the Women of the Wall to pray according to their practice “next to the Western Wall,” so long as the site was revamped within 12 months to accommodate the women’s worship.1
According to Rabbi Rabinowitz and much of Orthodoxy women are not forbidden from wearing tefillin or tallit however they are strongly advised not to do so. (Of course, there are some who erroneously believe that women are forbidden from wearing tefillin and tallit.) In fact the Talmud states that women are exempt from time-bound mitzvot but are not forbidden from performing these mitzvot.
All obligations of the son upon the father, men are bound, but women are exempt. But all obligations of the father upon the son, both men and women are bound. All affirmative precepts limited to time, men are liable and women are exempt. But all affirmative precepts not limited to time are binding upon both men and women. And all negative precepts, whether limited to time or not limited to time, are binding upon both men and women; excepting, you shall not round [the corners of your heads], neither shall you mar [the corner of your beard], and, he shall not defile himself to the dead. (Talmud Bavli – Kiddushin 29a)2
The rabbis of the Talmud argue that time-bound mitzvot include sukkah, lulav, shofar, tzitzit, and tefillin. The question is asked how women can be exempt from time-bound mitzvot yet they are commanded to eat matzah during Chag HaMatzot ((Deuteronomy 16:3; Pesachim 43b), rejoicing during Sukkot (Deuteronomy 16:14), and assembling to hear the Torah read every seven years (Deuteronomy 31:12). In addition, the study of Torah, procreation, and the redemption of the firstborn are not affirmative time-bound precepts yet women are exempt from them. Rabbi Yohanan reportedly answered that “We cannot learn from general principles, even where exceptions are stated.” (Talmud Bavli – Kiddushin 33b-34a)2
So essentially there is no rationale to say why women are exempt from time-bound mitzvot. Rabbi Yohanan based the reasoning upon an example of an eruv (Kiddushin 34a) which is of course a rabbinic precept and not found within the Tanakh. There is no valid “general principle” to state that women are in fact exempt from time-bound mitzvot. Of course, one will be told that women’s first responsibility is in the household and women are “spiritually superior” to men so they don’t need to fulfill these mitzvot. It is easy to see that both of these responses are simply pandering opinions to both women and men.
According to rabbinic literature women are not forbidden from donning tefillin or tzitzit. So, why does Rabbi Rabinowitz say that women are forbidden from wearing tefillin and tzitzit when they are in fact not forbidden?
Why are women not to read publically from the Torah? There are four answers generally given to this question. First, women are spiritually superior to men and as such do not have the obligation to read from the Torah.3 Second, if a woman is called to the bimah to read from the Torah this is considered immodest according to “Jewish” standards. Third, if a woman is called to read from the Torah it will be assumed that there is no man in the congregation who is able to do so.4 Fourth, even though women are qualified to read from the Torah they are exempt from doing so out of respect for the congregation (Megilah 23a).5 So we learn that women are in fact not forbidden from reading Torah in the public. The only reasons given are rabbinic gymnastics regarding so-called “Jewish” modesty and the potential derogatory nature toward men.
In coordination with not being able to read Torah in public, Orthodoxy also forbids women from singing in public. A woman singing is considered immodest by those in the Orthodox world. The most oft reason given is that a woman’s singing voice is considered arousing for men and therefore forbidden.
Samuel said: A woman’s voice is a sexual incitement, as it says, For sweet is thy voice and thy countenance is comely. (Talmud Bavli – Berachot 24a)6
‘Thus said Samuel,’ he replied, [To listen to] a woman’s voice is indecent.’ (Talmud Bavli – Kiddushin 70a)2
In other words a woman’s singing voice is stimulating for men therefore the women must be silenced. It is the fault of the woman and not the man therefore the woman must be silenced. This is the stand of Rabbi Rabinowitz and therefore the stand of those who represent him and the Foundation at the Kotel.
While some Jews in the world don’t believe in wearing tefillin, many in the Jewish world do believe this is a mitzvah. Wearing tzitzit and studying Torah are both mitzvot from the Torah. The wearing of tzitzit is a mitzvah for both men and women.
Speak unto the children of Yisrael, and bid them that they make throughout their generations tzitzit in the corners of their garments, and that they put with the tzitzit of each corner a thread of blue. (Numbers 15:38)
Women are commanded to wear tzitzit so the fact that the rabbi of the Kotel forbids women from doing so means that he is countermanding God’s own command. Women are permitted to read from the Torah – this is even seen in the Talmud. The idea that for modesty reasons a woman cannot read from Torah is not even mentioned in the Talmud. In fact, the only real reason given for this ban is that it may appear that there is no man who is capable of reading from the Torah and women are exempt from reading Torah out of respect for the congregation. So, for the sake of a man’s ego (which should not even be in play when it comes to a mitzvah) women are not permitted to read from Torah in mixed company. This is the stand of Rabbi Rabinowitz and the Foundation.
In addition, the idea of women being forbidden (for modesty reasons or otherwise) from singing in public is based upon a false belief that it would be stimulating for men. This is something not based upon Tanakh and is a man-made tradition. The idea that a man can be stimulated simply by hearing a woman sing (especially if the woman is singing to/about God!) is simply not realistic. If a man is stimulated in this case then the man should remove himself from the situation and seek help. Women have sung in public even in the Torah.
And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam sang unto them: Sing the Eternal One, for He is highly exalted: the horse and his rider has He thrown into the sea. (Exodus 15:20-21)
Rabbi Rabinowitz and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation base their decrees upon false beliefs and fraudulent facts. The rabbi decrees that women are not to don tefillin or tzitzit and they are not to read from the Torah or sing in public. These decrees are antithetical not only to Tanakh but also to the Talmud itself! The idea that women are separated from men at the Kotel is counter to Tanakh and the writings of the rabbis – not to mention historical records. Even if the mechitza must stay (and I am not in favor of this) why should women be forced to not worship in their own way – and in the way that they are permitted to do so according to the Tanakh?
1Women of the Wall. “Summary of the verdict of Women of the Wall’s court case.” n.d. [http://womenofthewall.org.il/about/legal-status/summary-of-the-verdict-of-women-of-the-walls-court-case/]
2I. Epstein. “Tractate Kiddushin.” n.d. [http://halakhah.com/pdf/nashim/Kiddushin.pdf]
3Chani Benjaminson. “Why can’t my daughter have a real bat mitzvah?” Chabad, n.d. [http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/480254/jewish/Why-Cant-My-Daughter-Have-a-Real-Bat-Mitzvah.htm]
4Shlomo Chein. “Why don’t women get called up to the Torah in Orthodox synagogues?” Ask Moses, n.d. [http://www.askmoses.com/en/article/235,2074748/Why-dont-women-get-called-up-to-the-Torah-in-Orthodox-synagogues.html]
5I. Epstein. “Tractate Megilah.” n.d. [http://halakhah.com/pdf/moed/Megilah.pdf]
6I. Epstein. “Tractate Berachot.” n.d. [http://halakhah.com/pdf/zeraim/Berachoth.pdf]