The Women of the Wall

February 1, 2013 1:44 am 7 comments

Western Wall. Photo: Wayne McLean.

Despite the elections, the little turf wars of Israeli society continue to add to the tensions of daily life. Here’s a story about another political campaign over the right of some women to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in a manner of their choosing.

Of course, this is not an issue over the right to pray. Jewish men and women have been praying at the Western Wall for thousands of years. Israel won control of the Old City back in 1967. Then for the first time it came under Israeli control. The realities of Israeli religious life have inevitably affected decisions about how the area around the Wall is managed. Since the Orthodox rabbinate, for better or for worse (in my opinion the latter), dictates state religious policy, anything that offends their religious sensibilities can be blocked. That is the reality. Women who go to pray at the Wall are segregated. I the past it might have been voluntary. Now it is obligatory. There are arguments both in favor and against, but that is the current state of affairs arrived at through legitimate political bargaining, however much one may object to the process.

Reform Judaism, which emerged in Germany in the nineteenth century, does not accept Orthodoxy and is offended by much of it. But since the majority of Israelis are descended from communities with no Reform tradition, that majority is seemingly happy for Orthodoxy to be the default position. In the Diaspora, of course, it is different. Nevertheless, losing ground in the USA, Reform and Conservative movements are rallying behind women campaigning to pray at the Wall in their manner and ritual. In fact, they have been given space near Robinson’s Arch to do so. But that is not enough. They want to queer the establishment pitch.

Anat Hoffman, of the Israel Religious Action Center of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, has repeatedly tried to pray in an overt display in the main section of the Wall, that offends, however irrationally (and I stress I personally have absolutely no objection whatsoever ). She has been regularly arrested and thwarted. A groundswell of support in Conservative and Reform communities is turning her stand into a cause celebre. I believe she is misguided however noble her intentions.

My argument against much of reformist Judaism is not its desire to create an alternative to conservative tradition. I welcome that. Variety is the spice of life. But I completely disagree with their efforts to interfere with or undermine one style in order to build something else. This is why I do not support the movement of Women of the Wall. They may pray, of course, in any manner they wish. But why at the expense of other forms?

I am an egalitarian. I believe that in matters of personal status and the law, men and women should be treated equally. And where Judaism does not do so, it needs either to accept the Law of the Land or to examine its own systemic limitations. However, in matters of religious ritual, it is up to religions and denominations to apply their own traditions, and anyone who objects is welcome to go elsewhere. At the same time, I am delighted that there are variations and differences in customs, styles, and degrees. Let each one have the freedom to grow or shrink, to attract or repel, so long as there is indeed choice. But choice does not mean making everything the same. If anyone, Jew or non-Jew, male or female, wishes to pray in his or her own way, there are plenty of places to go to in Jerusalem. At this moment the Wall is not one of them.

If one were to object to the bureaucratic stranglehold of the rabbinate in Israel, I for one would agree wholeheartedly. I despise religious parties and government-supported religious coercion. It is to this point that I believe women like Anat Hoffman should be directing their revolutionary zeal, not in trying to undermine a long tradition of Orthodox prayer at a specific site, whether one approves of it or not.

The rabbinate in Israel has been home to corruption, nepotism, incompetence, sexual abuse, financial dishonesty, insensitivity, monopoly, and turning thousands of Israelis against religion instead of welcoming them to it. Orthodox organizations of rabbis, such as the Tzohar movement, have been trying to present an alternative. If one wants to see change, then support them. The political system in Israel is such that until such time as there is the political will to change (amongst the secular, no less) nothing will. Token protests will continue to be futile.

The protests in Tel Aviv last summer against the massive inequalities and abuses of Israeli life highlighted the real issues. If Anat is concerned about the spiritual wellbeing of Israel, that is the sort of campaign to which her supporters should be directing their reforming zeal. In the meantime, she can have her services in a location close to the Wall but slightly to the left. Let those who support her join her there and when they outnumber the Orthodox they will carry the day.

I am glad there are women’s services and attempts to develop a female spirituality as an alternative to a traditional male form of service. The old way works well for me in some of its variations, not all by any means. But I recognize it does not for others. I would like to see more choice, more variety of religious experience rather than less. To try to force male systems of worship to change is not the way. To create new ones is. And if they succeed in getting more Jews to pray, I will be overjoyed.

7 Comments

  • Jeremy:
    I find it amazing that you have started to censor comments posted.

    My comment was not posted – I wonder was it too hard for you to handle?

    Please let your readers know why you exercise censorship

    • Dont know what the heck you are talking about. I dont control or censor anything here. Its all run by the Algemeiner staff. I just send in my pieces.
      J

  • RACHEL BABY…SO SORRYI didnt have time to read your comment because the new issue of spiderman just came out and I find it more honest more to the ‘original author and creator” then my glancing over your comment with glaring deceit.Is deceit the right term for your representing a sickness in all segmants of your broken unity of our TORAH ONE NATION? YEAH IT WILL DO FOR NOW.
    Well back to spiderman maybe I’ll plant some eggplants in my garden. They say plants have feelings and thats the cause of my garden not flourishing as before because I used your comment to protect the garden bed from weeds.
    This comment will probably not hit this colume but I have to try….rachel you have shown me why I will not get married again.Later I will tell you about the latest release of mickey mouse comics.Isnt it amazing that I started to read your comments and immediatly thought of Disney Land?

  • The Kotel is a sacred place, but is not private, and as a public place, should be available, in all its length, for every Jew that wants to pray, touch, see, feel, incorpotare this remnant of our ancestors. Nobody is mentioning the left extense room, covered, air conditioned, holding several mini-Batei Kneset of different origins, that are only available to males, that can sit there and do whatever they want. The available Kotel length is much longer than the outdoor one, and 4 times the one left to the women, which have to pray in a very narrow part, below the bridge letting muslims go to the dome. Why is the Religious Affair Department of the Interior Ministry not using their time to take over the real place of the Temple from the muslim authority and spends time making arrest Jewish women instead? Are they afraid to deal with the real opponent? If the males have the covered place which is huge, let the Jewish women have all the outdoor Kotel for themselves, and do whatever they seem fit to a Holy place. And if you can build also a covered, air condiitoned, well illuminated place for them, as should be fair to do, please rush and do it, for respect to your mothers, sisters, daughters and our foremothers Sarah, Rivkah, Leah and Rachel, for Deborah, and all the women that make Judaism continue. It is not the men who continue Judaism, there are the female Jewish mothers.

    • Yes I agree. I am sorry they have turned into a huge Shtiebel. The Kotel has become a market place, a site for religious hucksters and politicians and the best solution would be to ban public services and simply leave it as a place for personal meditation and prayer as it originally was.
      Jeremy

  • Rachel Cohen Yeshurun

    I am an active member of Women of the Wall so I would like to present some facts about our group. We are a pluralistic women’s prayer group. We are Orthodox, Conservative, Renewal, Reconstructionist, Reform and Unaffiliated-with-any-stream women who wish to meet for a joyous and meaningful prayer at the Western Wall each Rosh Hodesh. We are not an egalitarian group. We are a women’s prayer group, and we wish to pray in the women’s section at the Kotel. The mehitza does not bother us (well, perhaps it bothers some of us at a personal level – but not as a group). We pray a traditional (loosely Modern Orthodox) Shaharit prayer. Some of us who are used to doing so, wear tallitot. Some of us would put our tefillin on too if we only could do so without getting arrested. We would like to read the regular Rosh Hodesh Torah portion after Hallel at the Kotel too. That is all – we just want to have a WOMEN’S TEFILLAH at the kotel. It is not ‘an overt display’ any more than the men’s tefilla 2 meters to the left of us on the other side of the mehitza is an ‘overt display’. The argument about our group ‘offending’ others is so old and tired. Only people who choose to be offended are offended. I could choose to be offended by many of the groups at the Kotel. There are loud, very very loud groups of men there at the Kotel. There are haredi men and women wearing ‘offensive’ clothing at the Kotel (I feel very uncomfortable seeing someone in heavy black clothing at the height of summmer). But tolerance is about allowing others to be different from you – anywhere and everywhere and all the time. Including at the Kotel on Rosh Hodesh.

    • Thank you very much for that.

      One solution would be to divide up the area into completely different sections and then like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre ( or the Muslim zones up by the Mosques) everyone could compete and have an on going bun fight.
      I am afraid such splits and tensions are inevitable if not endemic in all organized religions where males seem preoccuppied with prtoecting their power bases.

      The only other solution is to either de ‘consecrate’ the wall and ban acts of worship or just avoid zones of conflict altogether. People could pray or meditate as individuals but not worship in groups. Indeed some Rebbes agree with this position.

      But as I said, frankly I think there are more pressing issues.
      Jeremy

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Jewish Literature On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    JNS.org – The 75th anniversary of the premiere of “Gone with the Wind” on Dec. 15 presents an opportunity to examine the Jewish influence on one of the most popular films of all time. That influence starts with the American Civil War epic’s famed producer, David O. Selznick. Adjusted for inflation, “Gone with the Wind” remains the highest-grossing movie ever made. It earned the 1939 Academy Award for Best Picture, the same honor another Selznick film, “Rebecca,” garnered in 1940. Selznick [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Music US & Canada EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    Matisyahu got candid in an exclusive interview with The Algemeiner on Monday about his religious and musical journey – after shedding his Chassidic skin, yarmulke, long beard and all – from the start of his career in 2005 when he became a reggae superstar with hits King Without a Crown and Jerusalem. The singer-songwriter embarks on his Festival of Light tour this month, an annual Hanukkah event that stops in Montreal, New York, and other cities before ending in San Juan, [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Personalities ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    JNS.org – It was an era of steel strings, guitar heroes, and storytellers—high on heroin, rebellious. Outlaw country music, the hallmark of Nashville’s powerful and angry music scene of the 1970s, was the brew of greats such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Townes Van Zandt. But there is another, little-known music hero of that era: Daniel Antopolsky. A Jewish lad from Augusta, Ga.—the son of immigrants who settled in the south and ran a hardware store on Main Street—the [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi replaced Israeli star Gal Gadot as the female lead in the new Ben-Hur remake, Hollywood.com reported on Tuesday. The Homeland actress will play Esther, a slave that Ben-Hur sets free and falls in love with. Gadot quit the movie when it became clear that filming conflicted with her schedule for the Man of Steel sequel. The Israeli actress plays Wonder Woman in the superhero film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Actor Jack Huston takes on the [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    JNS.org – There is one sentence in “Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel” that made me sit up in surprise. I thought that I knew the basic facts about how Israel came into being, but while describing what it was like in the days and hours before the state was declared, author Anita Shapira provides one important anecdote I was not aware of. On the 12th of May, the Zionist Executive met to decide what to do. Moshe Sharrett had just returned [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    An actress starring in the controversial Met Opera The Death of Klinghoffer defended the show on Tuesday by comparing it to the 1993 Holocaust film Schindler’s List, New York Post reported. “To me, this was like [the movie] Schindler’s List. We make art so people won’t forget,’’ said the actress, who plays a captured passenger in the show and asked not to be identified. The Met Opera focuses on the infamous murder of Lower East Side Jewish resident Leon Klinghoffer, 69. The wheelchair-bound father of [...]

    Read more →
  • Analysis Arts and Culture Beyond ‘Klinghoffer’: Opera’s Composer, Librettist Have Broader Jewish Problem

    Beyond ‘Klinghoffer’: Opera’s Composer, Librettist Have Broader Jewish Problem

    JNS.org – One of the most controversial operas in recent memory, “The Death of Klinghoffer,” debuted Oct. 20 at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The Met has scheduled seven more performances through November. The first staging did not occur without protest, as about 400 demonstrators—including Jewish communal and nationally recognized leaders—came to Lincoln Center to denounce the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel opera. “Klinghoffer,” the creation of composer John Adams and librettist Alice Goodman, premiered in 1991—with few additional stagings. The opera is based [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot is in negotiations to take on the female lead role in the remake of the 1959 classic Ben-Hur, according to The Hollywood Reporter. If the deal is finalized Gadot will play Esther, a slave and Ben-Hur’s love interest. Actor Jack Huston will star as the Jewish prince who is betrayed into slavery by his childhood friend Messala, played by Toby Kebbell. Ben-Hur fights for his freedom and vengeance with the help of Morgan Freeman’s character, who trains Ben-Hur how to win at chariot-racing. [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.