Beinisch: The Bane of the Supreme Court?


The president of Israel took a leave of absence for a day this week. Why? In order not to be present at the swearing in of Dorit Beinisch, the new head of the Israel Supreme Court. [He is being questioned on allegations relating to harassment.]

Judge Beinisch will always be associated in my mind with the type of activism that led her to vote in 2000 to change the prayer arrangements at the Western Wall’s women’s section. She voted to allow the Women of the Wall to conduct Torah readings in tallitot and tefillin, changing long-standing “minhag hamakom.”

The decision was appealed by Elyakim Rubinstein, and in 2003 nine judges went down to the women’s section to check things out. They ruled that the Women of the Wall can pray at the wall, but at a separate southern section called Robinson’s Arch. The nine-judge appeal modified (in reality, overturned) the earlier decision. Judge Beinisch stuck to her guns and voted again for Women of the Wall, but there was a majority of 5 judges who voted for the Robinson’s Arch proviso. Suprisingly, then-Court President Aharon Barak was among the latter. Justice Beinisch is considered a clone of Barak, but in this case she diverged from his opinion (or he diverged from hers.) I had written about this earlier in Cross-Currents last summer.

Judge Beinisch represents the activism that interferes where the court should not. This pertains not only to the ezrat nashim of Orthodox women (I don’t think Judge Beinisch frequents women’s sections of synagogues, aside from checking out the Wall); but this exaggerated court activism and inappropriate interference also has led her to instruct the army, income tax, and other arms of the government how to execute their responsibilities. You can read her decisions in Hebrew by going to the Israel Supreme Court website. For the Women of the Wall decisions ask for number 2258/95 (the earlier decision in 2000) and then the appeal 4128/00 (the 2003 decision on the appeal). If you have trouble finding them, contact me and I will send you the two files. The decisions on Women of the Wall run to the dozens of pages.

What is the upshot? What happens now on Rosh Hodesh at the Wall? The Women of the Wall still come at 7 am Rosh Hodesh (second day if there are two) in tallitot and pray Shaharit and sing Hallel in the regular women’s section of the Wall. Then they go at 8 am to Robinson’s Arch and conduct a Torah reading and Musaf. The dates they will be there are:

Heshvan — Mon., Oct. 23, 2006
Kislev — Weds., Nov. 22
Tevet (and Hanukah!) — Fri., Dec. 22
Shevat — Rosh Hodesh shabbat (Jan. 20)will not meet
Adar — Mon., Feb. 19, 2007
Nisan — Tues., March 20
Iyyar — Thurs., April 19
Sivan — Fri., May 18
Tammuz — Sun., June 17
Av — Mon., July 16
Elul — Weds., Aug. 15

An interesting lesson in the evolution of a modus vivendi in Eretz Israel.

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[…] Before the gates and books are closed on Hoshana Rabba, I would like to make the following amends. 1) Apologies to Rahel Jaskow . Yaakov Menken and others were unfairly harsh with Rachel Jaskow in the discussion below on Beinisch the bane of the Supreme Court . My primary focus in my posting was on the Supreme Court and Justice Beinisch. I think the Court used Women of the Wall to promote the Court’s activist agenda. The WOW were a pawn in a struggle between the judicial and legislative branches. That stuggle was my primary interest – I too didn’t care that much per se about WOW but rather felt that the Court should not be interfering with religious matters. Rachel Jaskow is one of the most sincerely spiritual people I know. She has a beautiful voice (I bought her CD Day of Rest) and Rahel wants to use her voice to worship Hashem. Although I think the Wall is not the venue for this, I realize that she and many of the women in WOW got caught in the aforementioned power struggle. It is the Court I wanted to criticize, not specifically WOW. […]

9 years 10 days ago

This has gone around enough times, so I’m going to take the publisher’s prerogative to have the last word.

Rahel, I think you need to look back at what you yourself wrote. First you insisted that the WoW doesn’t want to change anything. But now you concede that in order to skirt the Supreme Court’s prohibition of your practices, you start off at the main Wall plaza and then move to Robinson’s Arch. You could, of course, simply pray at the Arch, which has all of the same inherent Kedusha as far as being part of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. Instead, you want readers to believe that you start off at the Wall plaza even though you cannot pray there as you truly wish to, and which simply inflames the passions of Mrs. Schmidt and the “intolerant charedi masses” — and yet you have no agenda. This defies logic. No one moves their organized service from location A to location B in the middle unless they have a reason to be in both places, and when praying in location A provokes controversy while location B does not it has to be an especially good reason.

Additionally, you first accused commenters of having pre-judged the WoW without having “ever spoken to a member of Women of the Wall and listened to what she had to say.” But when I then quoted two examples, including the only member of the group whom I know well personally, you dismissed them as somehow unrepresentative. You did so despite the fact that the other of the two was the group’s appointed representative to the media.

You now say that you of the WoW “don’t run background checks,” but you are certain that “quite a few” of the women are “as devoted to halakha as anyone could wish.” Perhaps you recall something about Torah sages as the arbiters of modern Halachic issues being itself part of Halacha, at which point the unanimous opposition of all Torah sages (including the Roshei Yeshiva of RIETS (YU)) to your activities might ring a dissonant chord.

But I am amazed at your assertion that to “emphasize” the presence of two women — two women who share the desire to remove the Torah’s distinctions between men and women in Judaism — is merely to “resort to innuendo.” It is entirely legitimate to seek to reconcile their feeling that to participate in the WoW is a worthwhile activity with your own insistence that their agenda plays no part in the WoW.

If you can come up with a viable explanation as to why they might have participated, that would be worth posting. Otherwise, as I said, I think we need to end the discussion here.

9 years 10 days ago

Steve, the court ruling forbids WOW to do specific things in the women’s section of the Kotel. But we are still permitted to gather there and pray as a group, and that is what we do. I understand that you and others are trying hard to push us away from there entirely, but your efforts have no basis in fact.

I understand that you are strongly opposed to women’s tefilla groups and have a low opinion of them. Nevertheless, I can say from direct experience of quite a few of them that the women who attend them are as devoted to halakha as anyone could wish and possess a high level of Jewish learning as well.

As for the presence of women from the Reform movement in WOW, we don’t run background checks on women who want to pray with us. As long as they accept that we use the Orthodox form of prayer, they are welcome. I must say that I find the emphasis on their presence a particularly distressing form of innuendo, but I console myself with the knowledge that people frequently resort to innuendo when they have no facts to serve them.

Finally, my name is Rahel, not “Rachel.”

Steve Brizel
9 years 13 days ago

Neither Rachel nor Ms. Haut have answered a critical question-The Court prohibited WOW from conducting their service at the Kosel and permitted the same at Robinson’s Arch. The question remains why WOW views it necessary to violate the terms of the Court’s decision.

I previously stated that the timing of Rosh Chodesh is an attempt to hijack the unique halachos of that day that many men and women are ignorant of into some sort of feminist solidarity day at the Kosel. IMO, it is no different than an externally gorgeous Conservative house of worship in a RZ/Charedi area that sits forlorn and empty, while the surrounding RZ/Charedi shuls and Batei Medrashim hum on a 24/7 basis with tefilos, shiurim and lectures. IOW, Torah observant women have rejected the feminist critique of halacha in the same manner that secular Israelis have rejected Reform and Conservative — as a foreign import that offers nothing of substance in improving the spiritual life of a Jewish woman.

As far as who comprises WOW, the presence of two militantly anti-Orthodox Reform female clergymen speaks volumes. Moreover, the notion that the majority of its members are “mitzva-observant” cannot be reconciled with the fact that the overwhelming majority of MO and Charedi women have rejected the power-based feminist agenda and critique as irrelevant to their lives as Torah observant women.

9 years 13 days ago

Shira Schmidt writes: “Yes. The film will show I was so upset by WOW’s intention to radically change the way women pray at the wall that my distress overcame my inhibitions.”

WOW does not have, nor has it ever had, the slightest intention of changing the way Jewish women worship at the Western Wall. In my opinion, Shira knows this perfectly well, and it was not the reason that she behaved as she did. Those who wish to join our tefilla are welcome; those who do not are under no compulsion to do so. In all, we are at the Kotel as a group for approximately one hour per month, and we stand in the rear of the women’s section. So it seems to me that all the fuss some people make over WOW is not really about us specifically. It makes me wonder what our opponents are really afraid of.

When we read Torah in the women’s section of the Kotel on three prior occasions (which we did legally at the time), there was no disturbance at all. In fact, hardly anyone noticed (including the “Meah Shearim women”) — which, in our opinion, is precisely as it should be.

Nor did we come to the Kotel with our own camera crew, though in the past we have been advised to document our tefillot for our own protection. An independent filmmaker was making a film about us, and it was only by chance (or by Divine providence, depending on one’s perspective) that her crew happened to be present when Shira Schmidt created the disturbance.

She further writes: “I apologized afterwards and henceforth confined my disagreements to discussions in writing and conversation.”

If that is so, then why did she find it necessary to include the dates of WOW’s tefillot here? In light of her past behavior toward us and her continued strong opposition to us, I must conclude, reluctantly, that she did so in order to cause trouble.

Yaakov Menken says of me: “Rahel has prejudged me without speaking to me, much less assessing what I have to say with an open mind.”

He then cites the involvement in WOW of several women associated with the Reform movement, without mentioning the fact that the vast majority of WOW’s leadership is mitzva-observant. He also characterizes our tefilla as a “demonstration.” In my opinion, these statements show his position toward us very well. I don’t have to prejudge him; he has furnished the proof himself.