Within the traditional confines of Judaism, men and women are declared equal – their bodily image stemming from one God. As a glaring codependence exists between the set of equals, it is considerably absurd to view them as separate. But on Feb. 11, 10 women were detained at one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites for praying aloud and dawning talliths, which are traditional male shawls.
The detainees associate with the Women of the Wall, an activist group that was established in the 1980s on the basis of this conflict. Their ultimate goal is to give rights to women that allow them to pray freely at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The recent collision between authorities and these goals have helped shed light on the cultural ramifications of the stagnate state of Orthodox oppression.
“Because they didn’t want to give up past ideologies, it is encouraged that prayer is masculinized,” said Nooria Bibi, an international studies and philosophy student at DePaul.
This oppression exists in current standards that separate women from aspects of their religion and conversations with their God simply because they are women.
Based on the limitations of female biology, their bodies are prohibited from praying in public places, reading from the Torah in public or dressing in a tallith. Each act is considered a “deed caused by time” within the Halacha, a series of Jewish laws based on the Talmud. Deeds caused by time are for men because generations believe that, if given the chance, women will neglect their role in the family and lose interest in raising children.
“At DePaul we would say that’s wrong, but on a cultural level it’s not wrong to them,” said Taylor Van Meter, a graduate student at DePaul.
In response to the quick affirmation of High Court of Justice rules, the Women of the Wall have established petitions designed to normalize religious freedom. None of the petitions have been fully granted, and it seems impossible for these women to break the chains of domesticity that disallows recognition of equal rights. This historical disparity has imposed limitations on prayer and the majority seems to accept it.
According to womenofthewall.org, these events have incurred criticism from the former Rabbi Meir Getz. On radio station Kol Israel, he was quoted as saying, “…what the Women of the Wall did was purely provocative, and it’s the same as bringing a pig to the Western Wall plaza.”
Previous decisions have given women the right to pray at Robinson’s Arch, an area on the south end of the Western Wall. However, the separation does not make them equal.
It is clear that the law is absurd and certain legislators are working to reconstruct it. Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly asked Natan Sharanski, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, to adapt the law and acquiesce the needs of a more contemporary society. This may not signify a cultural reform, but it is a step that reunites the people with their God.