Women of the Wall, or Neshot Hakotel נשות הכותל in Hebrew, is a group of Jewish women from around the world who strive to achieve the right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem, Israel. The Western Wall is Judaism’s most sacred holy site and the principal symbol of Jewish people-hood and sovereignty, and Women of the Wall works to make it a holy site where women can pray freely.
Click here to read our history.
Judaism has always emphasized the importance of group prayer. Each individual should see herself as part of a larger clal (collective) and when praying together, they experience greater spiritual energy. By praying collectively and encouraging each other to have direct access to the experience of prayer and to the sacred Sefer Torah, the Women of the Wall strengthen each other’s spirituality.
In many circumstance, Jewish sanctity is still accessible and available solely by and for men. Women and girls do not always have the opportunity to take active, leadership roles in Jewish spiritual life. Women of the Wall strives to change this for women of all ages by providing this model of involvement and leadership of women and girls on all levels of Jewish prayer and celebration. Taking an active and vocal role in community prayer empowers us to use our voices in prayer and struggle, even in the face of attempts to silence us each month.
In Hebrew, the word for women is nashim. Since – im is generally a masculine plural ending and –ot is generally the feminine plural ending, nashim is an exception to the linguistic rule. We chose to use neshot, similar to the way some American feminists have chosen to use womyn for woman and wimmin for women. It is a pro-female assertion that seeks to remove the linguistic dependency of the word woman or women on the word man or men, since unfortunately these female words have largely and historically been characterized as a derivative of the male, a statement which has social implications.
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The Kotel, known as the Western Wall, is the only remaining wall left of the Second Temple and the place where our ancestors went to seek G-d. We seek to do the same, in prayer, reverence, and joy. Freedom to worship at the Kotel is one of the most important results of the return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem in 1967, but this great achievement is tainted by the fact that women are prohibited from praying freely at the holy site. Currently women are not allowed access to Torah scrolls at the Kotel.
In the Diaspora, where many of our members were raised, we understand the Kotel as a central symbol of Jewish unity. The shock of learning that women are forbidden to raise their voices in prayer at this precious legacy of Temple times is compounded by learning that many Israeli-born women do not see the Kotel as accessible or available to them. Women of the Wall not only seek personal fulfillment in group prayer and Torah reading at our most sacred site, but also want to achieve recognition by the legal and religious Israeli establishment of our prayer service for the sake of all Jewish women. Our group, with a membership that is not only multi-denominational but spans the political spectrum, embodies a message of tolerance and pluralism. If, as tradition tells us, the Temple was destroyed because of sinat hinam, baseless hatred, we dare to assert that allowing our voices to be heard would be no less than a tikkun, a mending, of the history of intolerance.
To read our mission, click here.
For information about joining us for Rosh Hodesh, click here.