In the late 1800s, Theodore Herzl, founding parent of modern Zionism and founding parent in effect of the modern state of Israel—in the late 1800s, in Herzl’s book, Old New Land, he famously wrote, “Im Tirzu Ein Zo Aggadah,” “If you will it, it is no dream.” This of course became the popular slogan of the Zionist movement. It also is the candle to which further progress and hopefulness is held. It is a way in which to live, in fact—if you will it in your heart of hearts, through your deeds, it may become a reality.
Orthodox Jewish feminist Blu Greenberg spoke a number of years ago at a religious-intellectual conference on feminism and Judaism. At that conference she addressed the topic of “agunah” or divorce in our tradition, which incidentally favors the male and not the female counterpart in that process. Asking the observant Jewish world to make progress toward equality of men and women vis a vis divorce, she famously said, “Where there is a rabbinic will, there is a halachic way.” In other words, if you will it halachicly, it is no Jewish dream.Only two weeks ago, a Jerusalem district court granted the Women of the Wall equal protection for prayer at the Western Wall by deciding that the arrests of female worshipers last month wasn’t appropriate.
Then, only last week, Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein released a statement in which he rejected the late April District Court decision supporting Women of the Wall’s right to freedom of religion at the Western Wall.
In recent weeks, Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky culled a plan calling for an egalitarian prayer section in the Southern Wall excavation area of the Western Wall and Temple Mount arena. But even this glimmer of hope is an idea, not a ruling as of yet.
This morning, in Jerusalem, on this first day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, season of our receipt of the Torah, the Women of the Wall gathered to pray in the women’s section of the Western Wall. All the while, an opposition group named Women for the Wall, garnered their own supporters to pray psalms at the Wall and ask our God for strength against other women who wish to pray with tallit and teffilin and kippah. In the words of one member of Women for the Wall, the opposition group, in a plea to the Women of the Wall, “Put down your swords and talleisim.”
That of course, is a reference to Isaiah’s famous prophecy, “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” Talleisim, or talitot, are not weapons of hurt—they are instruments of prayer, of Jewish life, and of devotion to our God.
To women who wish not to don tallitot, I support you because I respect the diversity of religious expression which is our gift as Jews. The plea to allow women to don tallitot at the Wall who read the obligation in the Torah to do so as incumbent upon all people—regardless of gender—comes from a place of religious desire. As it is written in the book of Genesis, “zachar u’nekayvah bara otam.” God created men and women [alike]. And if there might be a rabbinic will toward that, then there could be a halachic way.
This morning as we read Torah, and Cheryl Rosen, a female, does what this morning could not legally be done in Jerusalem, we dedicate what is possible for us, but not yet possible for all, to the Women of the Wall—both formal and informal—and we pray, “Im Tirzu Ein Zo Aggadah.” “If you will it, it is no dream.” We will freedom of religious expression at the Western Wall. We will religious tolerance and respect. We will every Jew—male and female—to be the recipients of Torah this Shavuot. Ken Yehi Ratzon. May it be God’s will too.