Below- see also Common Misconceptions
As Women of the Wall, our central mission is to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to pray as is our custom, including with tallitot or tefillin, to read from the sefer Torah collectively and pray out loud as a community, at the Kotel, the Western Wall. The goal is to give Jewish women religious voice and expression at Judaism’s holiest site, as Jewish men have been enjoying since 1967.
The Women of the Wall are a religiously and socially diverse group of women who come together once a month, on the New Moon (Rosh Hodesh) to pray at the Kotel Ha’ma’aravi, the Western Wall, in Jerusalem, one of Judaism’s holiest sites. They have been doing this consistently since the group’s founding in December 1989. The women are Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and self-defined Jews. WOW is unaffiliated with any group, religious or political, and is the only group in the Jewish religious world that brings together Jews from across the religious spectrum for the purpose of prayer.
We work to further our mission through social advocacy, education and empowerment. In our social advocacy work, we aim to change the status-quo that is currently preventing women from being able to pray freely at the Western Wall. This goal has great ramifications for women’s rights in Judaism and in Israel and must be achieved through social advocacy in order to raise awareness and change the social perception of these issues. We take it upon ourselves to educate Jewish women and the public about the social, political and personal ramifications of limiting and eliminating women’s right to pray as a group at a holy site. When the law and the society literally, publicly and deliberately silence women in prayer, it is a violation of civil rights, human rights and religious freedoms. Education is the key to changing perspectives, laws and lives. Every time we meet to pray, we empower and encourage Jewish women to embrace religion freely, in their own way. We stand proudly and strongly in the forefront of the movement for religious pluralism in Israel, in the hopes to inspire and empower women from all over the world and across the spectrum of Jewish movements to find their spiritual voice. With this great mission before us, our vision is to strengthen and expand our organization, to reach out and influence policy makers and leaders, to demand full access to prayer at the Western Wall for women. In addition, Women of the Wall works to expand our network of allies and partners around the world who will advocate and take action with us.
In April of 2013 Judge Moshe Sobel, of the Jerusalem District Court, handed down a decision that stated that the Women of the Wall were well within their rights to pray outloud, with tallitot and tefillin, and were neither going against the custom of the place nor disturbing the peace.
In May of 2013 WOW prayed out loud, with women wearing tallitot and tefillin, while being protected by the police. from five thousand ultra-Orthodox protestors.
The current legal status does not allow WOW to bring in or read from a sefer Torah as there is a 2010 regulation that states women may not bring a sefer Torah into the Kotel.
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Despite some important progressive developments in recent years, religion in Israel is very conservative. The Ministry of Religion is under the control of Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. WOW is leading the charge against the exclusion of women the public sphere and pluralism in Israel. Alongside the challenge of breaking the ultra-Orthodox monopoly over religion in Israel, one of the biggest struggles is educating the public about the importance of women’s rights in Israel.
The blind hatred of some, the threats, and violence against Women of the Wall at the Kotel is extremely disturbing. Women of the Wall urges Rabbi Rabinowitz and haredi rabbis and leaders to denounce this violence and educate for tolerance. Another major challenge is to see Israelis, especially women, staying indifferent and silent while women and girls lack equal rights in Israel’s holiest, public site.
You can check online at our website for more details about the next Rosh Hodesh Service. Also, you can email us at if you have any questions. We look forward to you joining us and bringing your friends and family!
There are many ways to support the WOW mission. You can make a tax-deductible donation or purchase our unique Tallit or Rosh Hodesh Siddur here. You can sponsor a Rosh Hodesh Oneg (Kiddush) here. Please click here to support us now.
We love new ideas and hearing from supporters! Feel free to email us at email@example.com and share them with us now!
Q: Women of the Wall are all Reform
A: No, Women of the Wall are from ALL denominations. Our chairwoman Anat Hoffman is Reform and runs IRAC, but Women of the Wall is not associated with any one movement, and the rest of our leaders are Conservative, Orthodox, Masorti and non-identified religious.
Q: If equal rights for women at the Kotel are achieved, won’t this trample the rights of women who want to pray there silently, without wearing tallit and tefillin, and who do not want to read from a sefer Torah?
A: No, those women will always have the right to pray alone, it does not remove rights, it simply adds the possibility. There is more than enough room at the Kotel for all of us if we respect each other.
Q: Why do you hold your services at 7:00 am. That’s too early!
A: Women who come to pray with us need to get to work. Also 7:00 am is a time when fewer people are at the Kotel, so if we are a large group, we are still trying to be considerate of others.
Q: Why don’t you try praying on the Temple Mount?
A: Women of the Wall’s goals are very specific and focused: Women’s free prayer at the Kotel. One can always ask any activist – why don’t you care about x? For example, if I save stray dogs, someone could ask me why I don’t volunteer in a hospital to help care for abandoned babies. Women of the Wall has made this choice of issue and will be working towards the first bat mitzvah at the Kotel until it is a well-worn tradition. There are many issues that we do not work on and the Temple Mount is just one of them.
Q: Why are you behaving against the customs of the Kotel, which is an Orthodox Synagogue? Wouldn’t you take off your shoes off in a mosque?
A: We would take our shoes off in a mosque, if that is the required behavior, but the Kotel is not a mosque, it is not a church and it is not a synagogue. The Kotel is an open-air plaza near the retaining wall of the Temple Mount. It is a public holy place mandated by the state and it is a prayer space for all Jews. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz is not the rabbi of the Kotel synagogue; he is a state appointed authority over holy places, in a democratic country. This democracy assures us the safety from discrimination based on gender and religion.
The most recent legal decision on this issue, supported by the Attorney General of Israel and Tzipi Livni, Minister of Justice, states that Women of the Wall’s prayer is well within the local custom of the holy site, as it was meant to be seen as inclusive and pluralist. Likewise it determined that Women of the Wall’s behavior does not disturb the peace or violate any laws.
Q: Aren’t you just being provocative?
A: Women of the Wall have been coming together at 7AM, once a month for 25 years. Every month, in the rain, in the heat, in the cold, we prayed with tallitot and longed to have the Torah with us. The women who wear tallitot and tefillin in our group take this mitzvah on and do so every time they pray, which for some is every day. This is not provocation, this is tradition. Our prayer is sincere.
Q: Are you religious?
A: We who lead Women of the Wall are women from all backgrounds and different streams of Judaism. During the years the makeup of the group has changed as any group has. In the beginning there were more women in our group who defined themselves as Orthodox. Now we are a pluralistic group with women from Orthodox, Conservative, Renewal, Reform, Reconstructionist, secular and unaffiliated backgrounds joining us.
Q: You shouldn’t make noise at the Kotel. It bothers the other worshipers.
A: The Kotel is not a quiet place, at a bar mitzvah, the family will yell and cheer, play drums and blof shofar surrounding the young boy from the parking lot all the way down to the Kotel. Why is this okay for the Western Wall Heritage Foundation- sanctioned bar mitzvahs for a boy- but when a group of women sing together in actual prayer, this is “noise”? No, this is sexism.
Q: Why do you not pray at Robinson’s Arch? It is a space made for egalitarian prayer.
A: Women of the Wall is not an egalitarian prayer group, it is a women’s prayer group. While we appreciate our male supporters, we wish to pray together, as women, at the Kotel.
Currently Robinson’s Arch is not a fit place for prayer, according to the courts for many reasons. At such a time when a third section is created, equal to the men’s and women’s sections, WOW will revisit the issue. Until such a time, WOW will continue to pray in the women’s section of the Kotel as we have been doing every Rosh Hodesh for 25 years.
Q: Why don’t you pray at the Kotel EVERY morning? This question can also take the form of “Rosh Hodesh is sometimes two days” or “Why don’t you pray at the Kotel three times a day?”
A: Women of the Wall is an organization with limited resources so it was decided that we would pray together as a group once a month on Rosh Hodesh, which is traditionally known as a women’s holiday. The women who pray with us are as diverse as any on a bus or on a busy street. Some do pray at the Kotel many mornings, some pray three times a day, while some may not.
Q: You don’t do all the mitzvoth– why do you want to wear a tallit?
A: Not one man at the Kotel who wears a tallit is asked to justify which mitzvot he does and does not keep, let alone “all” of the mitzvoth. If one would discriminate against Women of the Wall for this reason, then they would have to close the Kotel all together to every Jew, as none of us is perfect.
Q: Women of the Wall is anti-Israel and is causing the Jewish people of Israel and the Diaspora to split.
A: Women of the Wall, both the board and those who support us, are a diverse range of women and men from all branches of Judaism and the political spectrum. All participate in prayer with WOW because they believe in the importance of prayer and the rights of women to pray, as is their custom, at the Western Wall. Many of WOWs supporters have other issues that they support but none of our leaders are connected to any issue that is anti-Israel. Our supporters have served in the IDF, their children and grandchildren serve in the IDF and/or they are olim who have chosen to live their lives in Israel.
Neither are we the cause of a division between the Jewish communities of the Diaspora and the Jewish communities of Israel. We believe strongly that all Jews have a stake in Israel and that Jews in the Diaspora must also have their voices heard in regards to religious and social rights issues. WOW’s mission is free prayer for women at the Kotel and if we also become a symbol of women’s rights in the public sphere in Israel, we are honored to be a beacon of hope to all those who are oppressed.
Q: You go to the Kotel because you hate the Orthodox/Haredim / Why are you against the Orthodox?
A: Again, we have Orthodox women in our ranks, in our leadership and men who support us. We are not against anyone. We are continuing our 25 year tradition of praying at the Kotel, which is a public place for all Jews. We believe that we can pray side by side by our ultra-Orthodox sisters, in peace.
Q: Women of the Wall are making a shanda, making Israel look bad in the eyes of the world.
A: We are working for a better, more democratic Israel and we believe that this is a positive thing. World Jewry has only recently become courageous enough to be vocal about their critique of discriminatory practices in Israel that effect them, but this is a Zionist right that they have, which was established not by Women of the Wall but by the early, pre-state Zionist thinkers. Their support and voices have always shaped Israel and are no-less important today. The Kotel issue effects all people who wish to worship there, not Israelis alone.
Q: You are breaking the law.
A: False. The most recent legal decision on this issue, supported by the Attorney General of Israel and Tzipi Livni, Minister of Justice, states that Women of the Wall’s prayer is well within the local custom of the holy site, as it was meant to be seen as inclusive and pluralist. Likewise it determined that Women of the Wall’s behavior does not disturb the peace or violate any laws.
Q: The Kotel is not the place for protests.
A: This is true, which is why Women of the Wall have only ever gathered there for prayer. Please remind the sign holding, protesting, chair-throwing, spitting, cursing opponents of our prayer that the Kotel is no place for protest.
Q: This isn’t the right time to deal with the issue of WOW. There’s a war/intifada/election/holiday/snowstorm now. Also, the issue of women’s rights should be discussed in the Knesset. Until such time, please hold off on Rosh Hodesh.
A: Women of the Wall have been praying together at the Kotel on Rosh Hodesh for 25 years. Rosh Hodesh is a monthly prayer and cannot be moved, prayer happens three times a day and this will not change. We cannot and will not put women’s rights on hold until the war/intifada/election/holiday/snowstorm is over.
Q: What do you think of the Sharansky plan?
A: We applaud the Sharansky initiative. It is an innovative and groundbreaking for pluralism in Israel. Until we have seen it implemented and completed, we will continue to pray at the Kotel, as will all of the Jewish people.
Q: Men and women are different. For example, I’m a man – I can’t get pregnant.
A: In a public space in a democracy, there is NO way in which women and men should have different rights. Likewise, according to Jewish law, women are NOT prohibited from taking on the laws that men are required, though they may be exempt from the requirement. So yes, men and women are different biologically but in the eyes of democracy and God, we have equal rights.
Q: You are all Americans.
A: We are not all Americans. The Women of the Wall leadership, staff and activists are a mixed bunch of native and non-native born Israelis.
Q: Is your goal to turn the whole Kotel area into a mixed gender area?
A: No, we are a women only prayer group.