Parshat Masai. WOW!

This Friday, on the eve of the Torah portion Masai, marks the new month (by the Jewish calendar) of Av. Like every new month, women will gather all over the world to pray in all women prayer groups. NOT!

In fact, going through the internet and searching, I know of only two such groups. Women of the Wall (WOW) are planning on meeting at the Kotel for prayers at 07:00  in the morning. The other group will be meeting at Tel Shiloh at 08:15 , about an hour later. There could be other groups, hidden and without publicity (Lev Eisha in Santa Monica, CA are on vacation till September 3), but that is what comes up. Put “women’s minyan” in your search engine and most likely you will get either the book or the play based on it by Naomi Ragen.  Seems that real women’s prayer groups are either fictional or unpublished.

The question is then why. Why, 28 years after the first aliyah to the Kotel, an event led by truly impressive people, has the idea of women minyans not caught on? Why are there not women minyans in Rehovot, Haifa and Beersheva? Are there women minyans in New York, London and Chicago? If there are (and as stated, my search might be insufficient), why is it so difficult to find them? The other question I have is, if a women minyan is important, then why is it only important at the Kotel?

Truthfully though, there are women praying together. Religious women are no less fervent in their devotion than men. They pray together and recite Psalms regularly. Many do so at the Kotel and if one visits there, it is possible to  see women praying almost any hour of the day. Without incidents and riots, without appeals to the High Court of Justice women are praying together. The group at Tel Shiloh has been meeting for at least 15 years and have never been bothered or accosted. They go with the local rabbi’s blessing even. Yet who, in the press or Jewish organizations in the US cares? Like the pseudo-philosophical question, “if 10 women pray at Tel Shiloh and there are no photographers and no one to throw a chair, do they make a sound?”, we are left to our own conclusions.

I, like many I know, have no real problem with women minyans, not even at the Kotel. If anything the violence and intolerance  by ultra-Orthodox disturbs us much more. For us the best solution would be for the Women of the Wall to leave their photographers and their loudspeakers at home and to pray, even with tallitot, tefillin and  a Torah should they wish.  My problem with WOW, isn’t that they want to pray. My objection is rather on of their lack of respect and their hidden agenda.

Lack of respect, meaning, WOW seems to ignore that there are women who pray at the Kotel regularly and perhaps they do not appreciate having a prayer group disturbing their prayers. The women who choose not to pray loudly in a group have rights too and a balance should be found, as much as is possible, to respect the rights of both WOW and those women who wish to pray according  their customs (which happen to be also what is customary for generations).

As for WOW’s hidden agenda, I may too be upset with what WOW calls the “ultra-Orthodox hegemony” at the Kotel and in the Rabbinate in Israel, but I object to making the Kotel a battlefield in that conflict. If the “system” is in the need to be reformed, it  should be done through dialogue and not through what amounts to political theater at , what is to many, a very holy place. Either women prayer, as WOW’s custom, is important, which in that case some acceptable compromise could be found at Robinson’s Arch, or winning a knock-down, drag-out fight  is the issue, which in that case then women’s prayer is only secondary.

Parshat Masai is the concluding portion in the book of BaMidbar and the ending subject deals with the daughters of Zelophehad, who were first mentioned in the middle of parshat Pinhas  (Chapter 27 or the third aliya  ). In Parshat Pinhas the daughters of Zelophehad approach Moshe requesting that they inherit their father’s allocation of land in Israel so that their father’s name be perpetuated. Moshe, being unable to give them an answer himself, asks G-d to intervene.

6. The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
7. Zelophehad’s daughters speak justly. You shall certainly give them a portion of inheritance along with their father’s brothers, and you shall transfer their father’s inheritance to them.

In Parshat Masei the Torah relates that in order that Zelophehad’s portion remain with the tribe of Manasseh within Zelophehad’s family, all the five daughters married one of her cousins.

10. As the Lord had commanded Moses, so did Zelophehad’s daughters do.
11. Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah married their cousins.
12. They married into the families of the sons of Manasseh the son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained with the tribe of their father’s family.

Zelophehad’s daughters request was not to start a revolution but rather to bring an evolution to Jewish law. They did so not for their own personal fulfillment but rather for what was for them a greater good. Their struggle changed halacha to the benefit to other women, who lacking brothers, might have lost their inheritance too. Yet if Zelophehad’s daughters won, they also sacrificed their right to choose to marry outside of their tribe in order to do so. The clue is what G-d said, for כן, which in simple translation means “yes”, is similar to the word כנות which means “honesty” or “sincerity”. Zelophehad’s daughters had no “hidden agenda” and were willing to make personal sacrifices to achieve their goals. May all conflicts concerning Torah observance be done in sincerity and peaceful means.

For those interested:
Women’s Prayers at Shiloh Hakeduma
Tel Shiloh Rosh Chodesh Av
Friday August 5, 2016
1st of Av, 5776, 8:15*am
Hallel and Musaf for Rosh Chodesh
Tour of Tel Shiloh
Dvar Torah, Short Torah Lesson
Please come and invite family, friends and neighbors

from Jerusalem by bus,  Route 461 (Egged Tavora) at 06:41

And for women (only) , a celebration of music, dance and prayer מחוללות בכרמים at Tel Shiloh on August 18 with a special performance by Gali Atari

About the Author
Shlomo Toren has been a resident of Israel since 1980, and a transportation planner for the last 25 years. He has done demand modeling for the Jerusalem Light Rail and Road 6. He is married to Neera and lives in Shiloh.
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