Ask the Rabbi

There is just something uncomfortable about your position regarding “Women at the Wall,” and with your response to Richard R., the matter may require even more fleshing-out.
The fact of the matter is that in Judaism, among Jews, there has always been a hierarchical structure of adherence to ritual. Whether ritual and liturgy are prescribed in the Torah, Talmud or Midrash, the fact of the matter is that we — and you — have no personal knowledge of the “detail” of Temple worship. The texts simply do not operate in the doctrinaire way you seem to believe; any knowledge we claim to possess is grounded only in belief. I do not mean to discount belief — yours or others’ — but to recognize its presence in this calculus of “Women at the Wall,” and the need to respect and allow for belief. As you know, even “Orthodox” liturgy in the various siddurim has differences in content, wording and order. In fact, the true detail of Temple worship will not be known until the advent of the Messianic age. For you or others to contend to already have knowledge is an affront to all the streams of Judaism.
—Norton R.

Dear Norton,
Your remarks seem to evade numerous tractates of Talmud which describe in great detail the worship in the Temple. In fact, an entire order of Mishnah is dedicated to the Temple worship and many other sections of Mishnah and Talmud as well. Please keep in mind that many of the sages quoted in these teachings were rabbis who lived during the Second Temple and related firsthand information of what they actually witnessed. Although there are disagreements on minutiae, these concern only the minutest of details. With regards to all major issues, the sages are in agreement of what transpired in the Temple worship.
These details apply not only to the rituals observed in the Temple, but to the actual physical structure of the Temple as well. An entire tractate, called Midot, is dedicated to the construction and constitution of the structure of the Temple. Some details, such as the balcony for women to separate men and women during the Temple worship and ceremonies, are outlined in the Talmud based upon verses in the Torah (see Tractate Sukkah 51b-52a). This is all a matter of knowledge, not of belief.
I’m not sure why you maintain that our knowledge of what transpired in the Temple should be an affront to any “stream” of Judaism. All Jews should be proud of our history and the knowledge that we have. It would seem that those streams are choosing to do what they do despite that knowledge, not out of ignorance of it. And even if some stream would take offense to that knowledge, I hardly think this would be a reason to erase hundreds of pages of Mishnah and Talmud to alleviate those feelings.
The differences you mention in the traditional siddur (prayer book) are similar to the above. The basic foundation of the siddur is outlined in the Talmud, mainly in Tractate Brachot, and was codified by the Men of the Great Assembly in the beginning of the return from the Babylonian exile, during the time of the building of the Second Temple. Among that assembly were the final prophets of Israel. There may be some very minute differences between siddurim (some based on Kabbalistic thoughts), but the basic structure remains the same with all. Any traditional Jew would be comfortable praying in any type of synagogue — Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Chassidic — and would find his or her place in the siddur despite different tunes, etc. May we all remain united in this way!
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at

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