Jewish women and the politics of dress codes

Religion and Politics

The images were of Jews standing face to face with armed guards, clutching the articles of their faith as hatred was hurled at them. In the pages of a history book, it would hardly appear out of place, but the article in question (http://huff.to/1mAz2gh) was a news story from The Huffington Post.

While traditional Jewish law may suggest that only men are required to wear ritual garments while praying – tallit and tefillin – there is little suggestion that women are forbidden from doing so. Indeed, a popular anecdote is that Rashi’s daughters wore tefillin, a specific type of ritual phylacteries. Not only is there no historical precedence for banning women from “praying like men,” but even if there was, it would still be no reason to ban women from the Kotel, the holiest place for the Jewish people, for merely expressing their shared religion differently.

Although there is a misconception of Judaism as a stagnant religion that has not evolved in the two thousand odd years since Christianity branched off from it, Judaism has a rich oral and literary tradition of dynamism and change. The rise of the Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative movements mean that there is no longer a singular expression of Judaism. Not only that, but Haredi Judaism (the sect that attacked Women of the Wall) is actually a younger, more modern form of Judaism than Reform Judaism, although it is often thought by non-Jews to be “older” and more “authentic.”

What all of the complex history of Jewish denominations, conflict, and historical figures shows is precisely what Women of the Wall already prove – that Judaism is a complex and diverse religion capable of change and perseverance. Detractors often suggest that Women of the Wall are nothing more than liberal feminist attention seekers attempting to destroy a religion that is thousands of years old. I would suggest that Women of the Wall are just that – Women who have returned to the Kotel, the holiest site for their people, to pray in an expression of their religion, their culture, and their people.

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