Monday, July 19, 2010

JOFA and Anat Hoffman

I know, people will come down on me for fomenting internecine strife on Erev Tisha B'Av, but something must be said.

I just received an email from the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, whose conferences I have attended, and which I have supported financially for many years (if only a small annual donation). Last week, Anat Hoffman, chairperson of the Women of the Wall, (hereinafter WotW) was arrested at the Kotel for carrying a Sefer Torah. It is hard to comprehend why she would be arrested, Except, of course, that visibly carrying a Sefer Torah is usually a precursor to leining from the Torah, an action from which WotW was enjoined in 2003 by Israel's High Court. Should they wish to lein, the Court designated other nearby areas of the Kotel for them, which they do not prefer, but have used for some years. Still, there is nothing technically illegal or un-halachic with a woman carrying a Sefer Torah, and she should not have been arrested for simply doing so.

However, what bothers me, is Ms Hoffman's involvement in Women of the Wall, and JOFA's continued support of them.

Why on earth should I, as an Orthodox Jew, want to support/stand in solidarity with someone whose prominence in WotW, undermines the entire enterprise of Orthodox Women's Tefillah Groups?

WotW is linked to the Women's Tefillah Movement in both the popular imagination and through direct support by numerous leaders of JOFA/WTN. That would be all well and good if the WotW were not chaired by Anat Hoffman, the director of the Israel lobbying arm of the Reform Movement, the Israel Religious Action Center.

JOFA decisively rejected Alice Shalvi when she defected to the Conservative movement, only days or weeks before she was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at one of the International JOFA Conferences. In doing so, they followed the principle laid down by the Rav YD Soloveitchik zt"l, that while cooperation with other denominations was OK for social/communal issues, cooperation on religious issues was impossible, because the different denominations don't speak the same language, don't assign the same meanings to key Torah words, do not speak in the same universe of discourse.

The email includes a quote from a supportive rabbi:

As Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, Rabbi of Ohev Sholom - The National Synagogue, wrote in an email to his congregants:

"Orthodox Jewish law does not prohibit women from carrying a Torah scroll and leading rabbis have endorsed the practice in the past, albeit in a different setting. (For example, in 1972 Rabbi Shlomo Riskin received support from both the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson and Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik when he allowed women in his congregation, Lincoln Square Synagogue, to dance with the Torah scroll on Simchat Torah.) Thus, Anat Hoffman was not in violation of Jewish law. We would not tolerate the arrest of a Jew, man or woman, for carrying a Torah (especially when seeking to participate in a prayer service) in any other country, so we should not stand silent when Israel does so."

R' Herzfeld, on the other hand, as quoted above, seems to cynically invoke the Rav, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and yblcht"a R' Riskin as justification to support Ms. Hoffman. Cynical, because neither the Rav nor the Rebbe would have stood for interdenominational religious cooperation, such as occurs in the WotW. I don't think R' Riskin would be in favor of WotW and Ms. Hoffman's involvement either.

I think it behooves the JOFA to ignore the whole incident, and to sever ties with Women of the Wall as long as their leadership includes activist members of heterodox denominations.


Risa said...

Could not agree more. I don't think her actions were wrong just not how I think this issue should be handled. Not as an orthodox Jewish woman.

Nancy said...

You have raised a valid point. I cannot help but agree.

Keep blogging.

This is Nancy from Israeli Uncensored News