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Talking about the Wall without talking to the wall

Empathy is what's missing from the conversation about Women of the Wall

A few years ago, my community was advertising subsidized parenting classes, and a friend convinced me to go to with her to the first class, which was a free trial. It was an extremely interesting class, but I ultimately decided not to continue because I felt I would not be able to participate in the interactive workshops due to my winning combination of social awkwardness and poor spoken Hebrew. However, I did decide to buy the book the class was based on, called “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. The method the book is based on was developed by an Israeli child psychologist named Haim Ginott.

As I read through the book, it occurred to me that the techniques they were recommending to resolve conflict were not only relevant for children, but really for anyone with whom you may find yourself in disagreement. In one word, what the whole method boils down to is empathy. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes for one minute, share with them what you think they must be feeling, and acknowledge the legitimacy of having those feelings. Until I read this book, I did not understand that sympathy and empathy are not the same thing, and I did not understand that legitimizing does not mean agreeing.

I learned that telling my daughter, “I know how much you love that dress. You must really want to show it off to all your friends in gan,” does not mean I will allow her to walk out the door in the freezing January rain wearing a sleeveless summer dress. But what it does mean is that I understand how she feels about the situation. I am acknowledging her desires, and lending legitimacy to her ideas. She is heard. And often, that’s all she really wanted to begin with.

But my point is not what an awesome mother I am (even though that’s also true), it’s about empathy. In all this controversy between the traditionalist and the Women of the Wall, this is the one thing that’s missing. I’ve read a hundred opinion pieces for and against, but I have never once seen a person on one side of the controversy legitimize anything the other side had to say. How can you ever expect the opposition to respect your opinions, if you won’t even acknowledge their right to have those opinions, let alone follow through actualizing their wishes?

I want to hear just one WoW supporter say,

The only reason Judaism is still around now is because Orthodoxy upholds strict tradition. Even the suggestion of veering from what is traditionally accepted must be very difficult and uncomfortable for you. If this becomes acceptable, you are afraid other things, worse things, may become acceptable, as well.

And I would love to hear just one anti-WoW-er say,

How angry you must feel to be arrested for performing Jewish rites in a Jewish country! You are simply trying to pray in a manner that makes you feel most connected to God, in a place designated for that specific purpose. It’s difficult to understand how that can possibly offend anyone.

My second complaint with regard to this whole mess is the journalism that it’s generating. Whatever happened to man bites dog? I don’t want to keep reading about how much everyone agrees with their own views. Every opinion piece I’ve read has a whole slew of talk-backs with those who agree with the author’s opinion congratulating him or her on a marvelously worded article, and those who disagree writing out entire dissertations to disprove the author’s point. There are Jews in Israel that disagree with each other?! I never would have guessed. Seriously. Tell me something I don’t know.

It is now Lag BaOmer – the day marking the end of a plague which killed tens of thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s students. This divinely-sent infliction was meant to punish them for the lack of respect they showed for one another. In the spirit of the holiday, my challenge to the supporters of and opposition to Women of the Wall is this: Write an article that defends the other side’s views. Show them that you are coming from a place of respect and understanding. Maybe then we can begin to take steps to finding a solution to this insanity.

About the Author
Bahtya Minkin is a full-time mother of four, originally from Lakewood, NJ, now living in Beit El. In her ample spare time she enjoys crocheting, reading, and arguing with strangers on Facebook.