Did you know?!
Women of the Wall has an active speaker’s bureau that is ready and waiting to speak to your community in the US, Canada, UK and Germany!
Speaker- Annice Benamy, NJ
One such event will be held on Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 7:00 p.m., EST at Congregation Beth El Voorhees, 8000 Main Street, Voorhees, NJ 08043. Women of the Wall Speaker’s Bureau member Annice Benamy will be there to talk about WOW and her experience with us at the Kotel.
These events are a great way to gather your community, learn about the status of women at the Western Wall and support Women of the Wall in the process! To invite a speaker to your town, email us.
If you have been with WOW at the Kotel in the past and would like to join our speaker’s bureau, let us know.
SPOTLIGHT: WOMAN OF THE WALL
Occupation: Rabbinical student
1) Why did you come pray with WOW for Rosh Chodesh Adar?
I came to pray with Women of the Wall on Rosh Chodesh Adar for the same reason that I have prayed with them for the past year and half: the public presence of women in every place especially in places of holiness and Jewish tradition are very important to me. The reality that existed six months ago, that the police were arresting women just for wearing tallit and ultra-Orthodox people were harassing and attacking the Women of the Wall, emphasizes the need for meaningful women’s prayer. Once I started going, I immediately felt that I belonged to the community, and I feel an obligation to pray with and support Women of the Wall each month.
2) What’s one positive experience you had at Rosh Chodesh Adar? All of the t’filah in the recent past has been wonderful. It was simply a beautiful service.
3) What’s one negative experience you had at Rosh Chodesh Adar? I didn’t have any.
4) What’s your wish for the future of the Kotel? I hope that there will be three sections in the Kotel plaza itself so that everyone will be able to pray according to his or her custom. Of course, I hope that each section will permit those who pray there to wear tefillin or read Torah if they so choose.
By Cantor Tamar Havilio
December 5th, 2013, Tevet 2, 5774
Every morning of Rosh Chodesh when WOW does not arrange a special transportation to the Kotel, I always arrive very early, on foot. Yesterday I arrived at 7:10am and services began at 8am. As a member of the Shlichot Tzibbur team, we always arrive early to create a prayer space at the back of the Women’s section. I stood there and prayed for a quiet and uneventful prayer for us. It was a good sign already that the women’s section was fairly empty. Standing there I felt a great peace and awe. I focused on the candles flickering on the Chanukiah on the men’s side, of course, and softly sang Maoz Tzur. I took a few chairs and sat them at various places to create a circle for us to pray within. Then I sat by a prayer stand (a shtender) and placed it in the center of the chairs. As I was “setting up” a flush of birds flew above me just like all of the prayers at the Kotel flew out of mouths and into the stones of heaven.
Slowly, a group of ultra-orthodox teenage girls began watching me. They were watching me set-up and take moments of silent prayer. Then one of their teachers approached me. We are told by all of the supporters of WOW not to confront our protesters. But, this was a very different approach. She asked me if I believed in the Torah and if I do, then why do I have to wear tefillin and tzitzit. I told her that my interpretation is different from hers, but that I can respect her beliefs if she can respect mine. Then the teenagers began asking me all sorts of questions. Some were just not worth repeating, but one asked if I believe in God and why do I feel the need to pray out loud with my voice. I told her that I am a cantor and that I feel this is my pure and honest way to pray to God with my full voice. I also explained that I believe the power of silent prayer and talked about Hannah in the book of Samuel. She looked at me and said, “Oh-you know your texts, I like you.” I told her that I look at her with the full respect that I can of another Jew and never want to cause her harm, but this is how I pray. She took some of the other teenagers and walked away, “let her pray,” she said. I cannot forget this girl and her beautiful face, and her words as she walked away…let her pray. We prayed yesterday with a Sephardic style shacharit led by an amazing woman from the piyut project and the Hallel was led by an HUC Israeli rabbinic student. They were beautiful prayer interspersed with an occasional protestor. All the while, I could not forget that ultra -orthodox girl who said, “Let her pray.” I prayed all of Rosh Chodesh for peace and freedom of religion in Israel and in all lands. It was that very moment that I understood the power of our presence at the Kotel. I walked back from the Old City on Rosh Chodesh Tevet with hope in my feet and determination and love in my heart.
A miracle of Chanukah had just begun as the stones heard our prayer and flew to heaven.
by Eliana Fischel, Women of the Wall Intern and HUC-JIR first year rabbinical student
As I enter my sixth month living in Israel, I realize that I am looking for family everywhere I go. My cohort at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion was the easy first pick. This group of like-minded Americans, many of whom are also separated from their nuclear families, has proven to be the warmest, most challenging, and most comfortable Israel-family I could have ever hoped for. However, as the months start feeling a little longer, I need more. Unfortunately, Chanukkah has not helped with this feeling of misplacement. This holiday is one of the few in our year that centers on the home, filling a family’s residence with light. It turns out, when the family is not present, the light is hard to find.
As I walked to the Kotel this morning for Rosh Chodesh Tevet services, this search for family and light was a sort of undertone in my head. Usually, I am full of energy before Rosh Chodesh: excited and impassioned to pray with such thoughtful and motivated women. But today, I was already feeling slightly out of place and was, honestly, not in the mood to be in an uncomfortable location with people yelling at me for praying the way I have always prayed. I walked onto the Plaza and saw the enormous hanukkiyah in the men’s section. It was taller than me, made from some sort of metal, and was simply daunting. It looked like something out of a medieval play, certainly not like a meaningful ritual object. The hanukkiyah seemed to laugh at me: if I was looking for light, I was not going to find it here.
Then I entered the women’s section and joined Women of the Wall. Of course, there were seminary girls yelling and photographing us as if we were caged animals, but, overall, everything seemed peaceful. I hugged some of my classmates and greeted women I hadn’t seen since last Rosh Chodesh. We started praying in Sephardic melodies, melodies I am not familiar with, but I learned. Then we moved into the Torah Service and women were honored by their generation. The first Aliyah was for the grandmothers, or the older generation, our pioneers. The second Aliyah was for the mothers, the current activists and role models who are paving the way. The third was for the daughters, the generation that will continue this work. And, finally, the fourth Aliyah was for those women who needed a little extra strength for the month to come.
I found family at the Kotel this morning as Women of the Wall. We stood together, the few against the many, embracing and strengthening each other. I was challenged by things I did not know, yet felt comfortable to try and learn them. Although my grandmother and my mother were not part of these Aliyot, the collective grandmothers and mothers made me feel at home. Finally, the innocent face of a young girl standing under a tallit, reciting the blessing for studying Torah was exactly the inspiration I needed.
Thank you, Women of the Wall, for not only fearlessly working towards an Israel that accepts pluralistic prayer for women, but, specifically today, for providing a community of women that makes me feel challenged and comforted, that lets me find the light.
“A little bit of light pushes away the darkness”, Rabbi Nathalie Lastreger reflects on the beautiful, peaceful prayer Women of the Wall completed this morning at the Western Wall, in the women’s section. Women of the Wall shared a spirited prayer, many with prayer shawls (tallit) and phylacteries (tefillin), and celebrated Rosh Hodesh Tevet and Hag Habanot, Festival of Daughters. The attempt by Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Pindrus to arrange buses of protesters and ultra-Orthodox rabbis who called for protest against the women’s prayer, less than ten women stood in opposition. Several men screamed and yelled, harassing women during their prayer and one man was detained for throwing a chair at police officers. The prayer was the most peaceful in recent year, showing a true shift in the acceptance of the Western Wall as shared space for all Jews.
Throughout the prayer, Hallel Silverman, age 18, who was arrested last year for wearing a tallit held vigil with the Women of the Wall Torah scroll. Entrance with a Torah scroll is prohibited and women are refused use of one of 100 scrolls held at the Kotel by the Western Wall heritage foundation for “public” (male only) use. This Catch 22 was created and passed in an ordinance by Rabbi Rabinowitz in 2012 and serves to discriminate against women in the public, holy site. Silverman, who will be recruited to the Israel Defense Forces in March 2014, said: “I protest the ultra-Orthodox control over my life and my Jewish expression”.
Women of the Wall celebrated the Festival of Daughters today with special Sephardic melodies. Groups of women were blessed under a canopy- a tallit, prayer shawl- during the Torah service. The Torah was read from a humash, a book, as women are still forbidden access to a Torah Scroll at the Kotel.
For twenty-five years Women of the Wall has struggled for religious freedom and women’s rights at the Western Wall. As Women of the Wall, our central mission is to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.
Shira Pruce Director of Public Relations +972(0)546898351 email@example.com
Rosh Hodesh Tevet is celebrated by North African Jewish communities as Hag Habanot- the Festival of Daughters ( Eid al- Banat ). According to tradition, observance of Hag Habanot includes giving praise and thanks to the female heroes who were responsible for many of the miracles of Israel- starting primarily with Yehudith. Yehudith beheaded Commander of the Persian Army, Holofernes, assisting the victory of the Jews over the Greeks. Similarly, the daughter of Yohanan, the High Priest, is celebrated for her courage, for killing the Greek bishop on her wedding night, thus contributing to the victory of the Maccabees over their enemies.
Customs of the Festival of Daughters’ include: Gifts, prayers and a special blessing in honor of women, recited by rabbis. We also have evidence of communities in which women would have an aliyah, bless the Torah. Another custom is to congratulate and bless all the girls in the community who have become Bat Mitzvah that year.
Welcome to a new segment on our blog, Spotlight: Woman of the Wall, where we will be introducing you to active members of our struggle from all different walks of life. This new segment is brought to you by Eliana Fischel, HUC-JIR Intern with Women of the Wall
SPOTLIGHT: WOMAN OF THE WALL
Why did you come pray with WOW for Rosh Chodesh Kislev?
I brought a group of travelers for the anniversary. We traveled Israel visiting sites and hearing speakers on subjects that relate to Women of the Wall: pluralism, democracy, women’s status, and more. The culmination of the trip was praying with WOW on RH Kislev.
What’s one positive experience you had at Rosh Chodesh Kislev?
The high of being with so many women on such a beautiful day. I very much felt, in the words of Hallel, “This is the day Gd made; rejoice and be happy on it.” The kavannah and energy were amazing. I was moved to see women there who were never much interested in WOW back in my day.
What’s one negative experience you had at Rosh Chodesh Kislev?
Missing some of the service because we were caught in a long line of hundreds of people waiting for security that stretched way outside Dung Gate. We didn’t realize at first that they were lined up for the Temple Mount, not the plaza!
What’s your wish for the future of the Kotel?
That women have the choice to pray freely in the Ezrat Nashim as well as any new section. A new section may be better suited to group prayer, but state-sanctioned gender discrimination in public space sets an ominous precedent, entrenching societal divisions and capitulating to violence. It’s unthinkable that pragmatic concessions on group practice at the Kotel be enshrined in law. And group willingness to compromise must not affect the rights of individual women who seek to pray in the women’s section with tallit and tefillin.
In response to question we have received in the past 12 hours from media and supporters:
Women of the Wall is not associated with the blog post written and published yesterday in the Times of Israel by Dr. Bonna Devorah Haberman, which contains language and a detailed metaphor that has offended many of our supporters. The use of the “N” word is oppressive and Women of the Wall does not support or sanction its use. Dr. Haberman contributed much to our early years at the Kotel; however she is not on the Women of the Wall board or leadership and she does not speak or write on behalf of Women of the Wall.
by Simone Schicker WOW Intern and HUC-JIR Rabbinic Student
Love your neighbor as yourself, You said
As You told us the laws by which we should live
Young boys are taught
That they have the right
That they are commanded
To taunt me on the street
When I wear my faith for you
On my head
With no sacred meaning
Except the one that Your people gave to it
My star around my neck gets no response
And my male friends
Who wear a covering but no tzitzit
Are not chastised for being reformi
But if I was to dare
In this city
To wear my love for you daily
On my head
Or on my body
I would be pushed and shoved
Not only at the Kotel
But on the street
For how dare I
Show my dedication to You
My Rock and my Redeemer
 Women of the Wall at the Western Wall in Jerusalem
By Batya Kallus
The calling card of Women of the Wall is our pluralism. We are religiously pluralistic, but also socially and politically
pluralistic. Our members include human rights lawyers and social change activists working for a more inclusive, democratic civil society, women who live in settlements and women who are active in fighting for women’s rights within the national religious community. You will find Knesset members from the Jewish Home party and Meretz advocating on behalf of women’s inclusion at the Western Wall. In the international arena, Women of the Wall also enjoys the support of a broad swath of the Jewish public reaching across the right-left divide. The miracle of this cross- cutting coalition is the shared recognition of the importance of religious freedom of expression for women.
This past week, leaders of the Women of the Wall, including Anat Hoffman and myself, were viciously attacked by some of our opponents who charged that we were actively involved in supporting or funding Israeli civil and human rights organizations which are, in their opinion, “Anti-Israeli”. We believe the instigators behind this attack were a group of ultra-orthodox and national religious men and women who oppose WOW’s presence at the Western Wall on Rosh Hodesh.
The true motivation underlying this attack is that only prayer conducted according to ultraorthodox custom is acceptable at the Western Wall. Given our opponents’ rejection of pluralism, they struggle against the presence of Women of the Wall at the Kotel every month. While I reject their position, such political struggles are legitimate.
What is not legitimate is to attack the leadership of the Women of the Wall as disloyal because of our political and social associations. By playing the anti-Israel card, our opponents hope to lessen public support and enthusiasm for the pluralistic vision of Judaism at the Kotel that our organization embodies through our inclusive prayer community.
What does this opposition to progress hope to achieve through this McCarthy-ite campaign against a staff member of committed foundation donors to the State of Israel, and the legitimate, state-recognized organizations they support? Obviously, they want to dampen support for Women of the Wall among its more right wing supporters. But will their underhanded campaign result in overturning the Sobell decision that recognizes the right of women to wear tallitot, sing out loud, and read from the Torah at the Kotel? Will it lessen government commitment to enforce the Sobell decision and its unequivocal ruling that ultra-orthodox custom is not the exclusive practice permitted at the Western Wall? Will it halt the mounting rage felt by the Israeli public toward ultra-orthodox demands for gender exclusion not only at the Kotel, but also on public buses and post offices? Will it stop the government from enacting legislation that compels ultra-orthodox to serve in the army?
The bottom line is that those who work to demonize Women of the Wall are just another mouthpiece for haredi and right wing rabbis and leaders who are threatened by the extent to which Jewish pluralism has become a legitimate social force, affecting even a site so central to our historical and spiritual narrative as the Western Wall. What they really want is to regain their political and social power and a monopoly on control of our holy places.
The Western Wall is, as Anat Hoffman so frequently says, “the tip of the trunk of the elephant” in the struggle for a pluralistic Jewish society.
Real changes are taking place within Israeli Jewish society. The government of Israel freely admits that today, the only form of Jewish practice recognized in state policy is orthodox, but they know this status quo is no longer sustainable.
This past week I endured deeply abusive written attacks in the media for my personal and professional commitments to building a democratic society based on principles of equality for all Israeli citizens and residents. These assaults questioned my motivations as a leader of Women of the Wall; stating that my underlying intentions are “anti-Israeli” and by implication, Women of the Wall’s struggle for pluralism was equally illegitimate. The people behind this campaign want to muddle the real issues through propagandistic slander tactics. Their charges are disingenuous and feel personally threatening.
My response: let’s talk about the real issue at hand; the challenge of pluralism to the orthodox status quo.
In the past days there have been accusations questioning the dedication and alliance of Women of the Wall to the State of Israel and Jerusalem. The “article” in which this main accusation was made has since been removed by the editor.
Women of the Wall’s sole goal is the free prayer of women at the Western Wall. We are proud that our work has become a beacon for the hope for pluralism in Israel. It is an honor to be a shining example of the struggle against the exclusion of women in the public sphere in Israel. As an organization, WOW has never been involved in any other political or partisan activity. Our participants and supporters come from all walks of life, political opinions, and Jewish denominations and we would never want to divide that by taking a political stand that does not directly affect free prayer at the Kotel. The leaders of Women of the Wall are individuals with lives, careers and opinions that span the political and personal spectrum- and it is these differences between us that make our particular brand of pluralism so special. WOW’s leaders are all employed by institutions which are Israeli institutions in good standing with the law. Each woman volunteers as an active independent citizen at the Western Wall.
Women of the Wall is proud to be significantly contributing to the future of State of Israel as a just and democratic Jewish state.
If Women of the Wall are accused of fighting for the rights of all Israeli citizens then we are guilty as charged.
By Cantor Tamar H. Havilio
In the story of Hannah, in the book of Samuel I, Hannah prays for a child as Eli, the priest calls her a drunkard. The Rabbis teach that this was the first initial form of prayer in the Bible. She is crying, her lips are moving and she is praying for the absence in her barren womb to be filled with new life. This may also be the first proof of a woman being demonized as “other” and “possessed.” Eli assumed that she must have “lost her mind” by being intoxicated.
I teach my students at Hebrew Union College, future cantors, educators and rabbis; the first prayer that we initially have comes from inside, deep within the soul or the voice of our belly. Like Hannah, we pray to be filled, to be freed and to be whole. That silent, most intimate prayer is where we find longing and truth from our own bodies. We cry out in sorrow, we rejoice in laughter and we finally sing, we SING.
After being called a drunkard, Hannah must be on the defense and then she cries out more and God hears her prayer and grants her Shmuel. This prayer of the belly is heightened when the voice can ring out in song and essentially dance. The first time I prayed out loud at the Kotel was Rosh Chodesh Kislev 5773, 2012. I wrote then how I felt liberated by this prayer group called “Women of the Wall.” Since then I prayed many services with them and many different scenarios have played themselves out at the Kotel. I never felt defensive at the Kotel because I was always praying from my belly. As a mother of three sons, I always pray for them. I pray for peace in Israel, especially from within the people of Israel. I pray for the healing of loved ones and the hunger that still haunts our world. I pray for redemption to come when all of us will look into each other’s eyes and see the other and between us know a longing for God. I pray for all of the women who are tortured, beaten, unloved, prostituted, battered and barren…and I sing out with all of my being.
Some people, like Eli the priest’s first impression of Hannah, think we are crazy, perhaps even “witches.” However, if we all sat down at a table and talked about prayer and what we pray for, we probably have similar prayers deep within our bellies. We probably just want to be accepted and ultimately loved.
I do not go the Kotel to provoke and politicize, really and truly…I go to pray. I go to pray with my voice, my God given voice at a place where I feel a holiness in my …belly-a gut feeling that does not let me go. I run to the Kotel to pray…both my silent prayer, and since praying with the Women of the Wall…my singing prayer…I sing my prayer and truly feel that this is what is good for women. Women should cry out and feel empowered by the voices around them and their prayers deep in their bellies.
The Chassidim believe that there are three stages of mourning: First we are silent and in shock, then we cry out, and finally we SING. We are not silent anymore, we may still cry, but now our prayer has reached song. We pray in song, we pray from the belly and we pray that we are all standing at the wall, at Sinai and we are one. We dance, we cry and we feel an empathy towards the other and a desire to what anthropologist Victor Turner called, “Spontaneous communitas.” This happens when we do not really know everyone around us but we all feel deeply connected…in our bellies.
On this Rosh Kodesh Kislev, and the 25th Anniversary of Women praying through song, let us pray, let us pray, let us pray. Let our kavanah, our focus be on prayer and not justification, legal battles and who is right or wrong. Come all, please and let us pray and bring forth our lights from within.
I am writing to you to share a dramatic moment in Women of the Wall’s struggle for dignity and equality at the Kotel. Last night the WOW Board voted eight to two in favor of beginning negotiations with the Government of Israel on a third section of the Western Wall complex. This vote came after intense debate between WOW’s board members, WOW’s activists, and other committed stakeholders. It was not an easy decision, but we finally agreed that this was the best way forward.
Many of us have been engaged in this struggle for years, and our demands have always been clear. We want to pray at the Western Wall in our own way, and we will never abandon that goal. At the same time we need to be guided by more than our hearts. We need to recognize when there is a chance for real political change. In the past we talked with everyone accept the people in a position to change the facts on the ground. It is time to sit down with the Government and find a solution. This is the reason for the broad support for last night’s vote.
Change is difficult. Just as we have been demanding that government officials, Rabbis and public opinion change, we need to be willing to change as well. For years we said that a separate section was like being thrown to the back of the bus, but we have a chance now to redesign the whole bus that treats all its passengers equally.
This is a process that will not be completed overnight. Until we reach a just agreement with the government that is implemented fully we will continue to pray in our current location. Without the strong support from all of you we would not be here today. We are entering the most exciting, but also the most difficult part of the process. In the months ahead we will be negotiating with the Israeli government on the exact makeup of the new section. We will not accept any compromise that does not accord us the dignity we deserve, and you will be involved every step of the way.
We are opening the door to an opportunity and we will be the architects of real change at the Kotel.
Chair, Women of the Wall
October 7, 2013
Women of the Wall Vote to Lead the Jewish People towards Change: Three Equal Sections at the Western Wall
Anat Hoffman, “We are not leaving the women’s section right now and we reserve the right to prayer freely as a public holy site. However, we are prepared to be the catalyst and leaders of building a new, equal third section for all Jews to pray and celebrate at the Western Wall. When that is completed to our satisfaction, we will pray there.”
After going through a comprehensive and emotionally trying decision-making process, Women of the Wall’s multi-denominational Executive Board has voted in vast majority to create a future in which, under the right conditions, the women’s prayer group would pray in an equal and fully integrated third section of the Kotel. The new area will be governed not by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz but by a board of Jewish leaders, including equal representation of women, who value women’s prayer and reject all forms of violence. The process to create an equal, third space for prayer at the Western Wall will be lengthy and Women of the Wall maintain that until all of their conditions and specifications are met for the third section, women’s prayer stays where it belongs: in the women’s section of the Western Wall.
Hoffman said, “It is with great pain and sadness that we began to consider this new strategy, but we must be agents of change. We have decided today to stand on the tips of our toes to look into the future. We must rise above our internal conflict in order to build the future we want for our daughters.”
A far cry from the area known today as “Robinson’s Arch”, Women of the Wall have a very clear vision of the potential future. This vision includes but is not limited to: one entrance and one national plaza for all three sections, as well as full equality between the three sections- from budget to topography. A space where women are allowed to govern and lead, where girls can read Torah freely and celebrate their bat mitzvah with great joy and pride, the new section promises to reflect the makeup and spirit of the Israeli people and the Jewish people. Women of the Wall continue to demand change from Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who will have to loosen his grip in order to share the holy space. Likewise, the women have required change of themselves, to lead the charge for this vision.
While the conditions for this process are still being hashed out among the group and will be presented within the week to the Prime Minister’s Commission led by Avichai Mendelblit, the wheels have indeed been put in motion for the women to take their rightful seat at the architects table, to create a national space for Jewish and Israelis to pray free from persecution and religious coercion.
For twenty-five years Women of the Wall has continued to fight for religious freedom and women’s rights at the Western Wall. As Women of the Wall, our central mission is to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.
Director of Public Relations
A message from the rabbis of CCAR and WRN: Go here for more information
Join us for a Unique Rabbinic Mission Celebrating Women of the Wall’s 25th Anniversary
Please join us on a joint CCAR/WRN rabbinic mission to Israel, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Women of the Wall. The trip will feature prayer at the Kotel with Women of the Wall on Rosh Hodesh Kislev on Monday, November 4th, followed by a celebratory Oneg. In addition to three days of intense rabbinic level study at HUC-JIR, and high level meetings with local dignitaries, thought leaders and social justice activists, we will join with colleagues bringing congregational missions for select segments of the trip. This will be a once in a lifetime experience and a profound way to show your solidarity with Women of the Wall and your support of religious pluralism in Israel. We are extending participation in this trip to rabbis from all denominations. For those who may want to extend their trip, ordination at HUC-JIR/Jerusalem takes place on Thursday, November 7th.
The special subsidized price will include 3 nights in a hotel, selected meals, gala celebration, transportation in Jerusalem. For more information, please contact Hara Person at the CCAR at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jackie Ellenson, WRN Director and Vice-Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall, at email@example.com
Today Minister of Religious Services Naftali Bennet announced his support for the Mendelblit plan, the Prime Minister’s Office committee charged with the task of solving the problem of inequality at the Western Wall.
The committee is supporting a solution in which a wooden balcony has been built on scaffolding in the middle of Robinson’s Arch, an area separated by a wall and out of view from the Western Wall. The plan will effectively exile women and all Jews who pray in a way that is not ultra-Orthodox tradition to Robinson’s Arch and away from the area of the Western Wall where Jews have prayed for generations.
If this plan is accepted, the government will be excluding over 50% of Jewish population to the “back of the bus”.
Women of the Wall rejects the Mendelblit plan which dangerously circumvents the pluralist Sobel Disctrict Court decision. We are at a crossroads for religious freedom and freedom of expression in Israel. Today this effects Women of the Wall but tomorrow it will effect every Israeli and Jew around the world. What has been proven today is that the bullies were victorious- with their assault, spitting and cursing at women. Mendelblit and Bennet have given in to the threats and violence of the haredi extremist minority in Israel and this is a dangerous precedent for our democracy.
The proposed plan, the wooden stage in the center of the archaeological visitor’s center, is concerning only mixed prayer, and therefore does not provide a solution for Women of the Wall, a mixed women’s prayer section. The plan leaves control over the entire area in the hands of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, an organization run by a vast majority ultra-Orthodox men. The stage is in no way equal topographically or geographically to the original plaza, not does it come close to the Wall itself, as it stands to the back of the Robinson’s Arch area. This plan is the very definition of separate, and not nearly close to equal, it provides an out of sight- out of mind solution silencing women at the Western Wall.
We call upon Tzipi Livni Minister of Justice to reject this plan, to demand equal rights for women to pray at the women’s section of the Western Wall. Women of the Wall is calling for a 24 hour sit-in at the Western Wall in the hopes that the government will reject this plan and support the District Court Decision in which all women can pray freely at the Western Wall.
By Simone Schicker, an HUC Jerusalem Student and a Women of the Wall Intern
Speaking about my experience praying the Rosh Hodesh service at the Kotel is not easy nor is it simple. I believe completely in the mission of the Women of the Wall, and you will find me praying with them every Rosh Hodesh that I am in Israel. Every month you will find me waking up early and walking as a Kehillah Kedosha (A Holy Community), with women and men, into the Kotel plaza.
Yet, there is a side of me that is saddened by the need for this organization 25 years after it was founded. Saddened because how is it that there are Jews, my people, who believe that what I am doing, what all of these women (and men) are doing, is so horrible in Hashem’s eyes that we need to be drowned out by whistles, drowned out with a loudspeaker, drowned out with boos. This is how we were welcomed on Rosh Hodesh Elul when we arrived to pray. This is how many of the Haradim decided to start of the month of repentance. The month, when all Jews are supposed to be preparing themselves for the High Holidays, many Haradim decided to drown out the prayers of other Jews because they disagree with how we pray. It astonishes me that the way I choose to pray, the way I choose to express my devotion to our G-d, to the G-d of our fathers and our mothers, is wrong in their eyes.
I would love to have the opportunity to sit down and discuss our differences face-to-face but I know that it is too much to ask. The men and women who came to protest my prayer are not interested in knowing me as an individual; they are only interested in what they think of me. I am not a Jew in their eyes but an interloper.
For I believe that I, and all women and men, are made betzelem elohim (in the image of G-d). Coming to terms with this is not easy and neither is praying with the Women of the Wall; it takes a lot of concentration and a thick skin. It is hard because I go with them to pray knowing that I am walking into a battle zone. I stand with my fellow Jews and ask myself why do I choose to put myself in this situation? I know the answer and yet I find myself having an inner dialog with Hashem about why I am there. In my heart I know I go to pray because I believe that every Jew has the right to express her or himself as they see fit. I pray with Women of the Wall because I have every right to be able to pray in the women’s section at the Kotel, out loud, while reading from a Torah scroll. My prayers are important, my presence is important.
The Kotel is a holy space for every Jew, not just the Haradim. Knowing that we, the Women of the Wall, are forbidden from reading from the Torah because we are women breaks my heart because the Torah does not belong to one type of Jew but to every Jew. The Torah is a moral compass and from it we learn to “love the stranger in your midst” and that “justice justice you shall pursue.” Those Jews who protest the prayer of other Jews are learning a Torah that I do not know. For my Torah teaches me love and acceptance of those who are different from me, it does not teach me to hate my fellow Jew.
I Stand with Women of the Wall: The App
RDV Systems, an Israeli company founded in 2005, has launched an iOS application with Women of the Wall in which supporters and those interested can take a tour of a virtual Western Wall entrance, plaza, women’s section and men’s section of the(Kotel) by downloading the free app. Throughout the journey you can find Anat Hoffman, Women of the Wall Chair as well as others freely worshiping and visiting the holy site in complete freedom: http://womenofthewall.org.il/app/
1. Download and play the game/ The basic version is free.
2. Upgrade for$1, Women of the Wall get proceeds from this and you get to see more!
3. Share on Facebook to help us get the word out!
Live-streaming Prayers from the Kotel for Rosh Hodesh Elul
Simultaneously, Women of the Wall announce the plan to live-stream the experience of Rosh Hodesh. Supporters and those who wish to see what the Kotel is like on Rosh Hodesh morning when the women’s group comes to pray, as they have for nearly 25 years. This month, the women’s prayer on August 7, 2013 at 7 AM will be broadcast on the web live, with video and sound on the web at: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/women-of-the-wall
A special call to action for Rabbis and congregational leaders, from Women of the Wall:
Rabbis, inspire your community with direct involvement in social change and connecting with Israel, through prayer. This coming month of Elul, let call of the shofar be the modern day call for justice and equality in Israel. Here is your chance to take part in the change you want to see for Jews at the Western Wall.
Women of the Wall, along with Jewish Voices Together and solidarity groups around North America, will be reaching out to Jewish communities during Rosh Hashana and the High Holidays, with resources for inspiration and action by rabbis and congregants.
Our goal is (at least) 100 congregations from all denominations sounding the shofar for religious tolerance and pluralism in the US, in Israel and at the Kotel. Be one of the 100 voices, speaking with the blasts of the shofar.
Action Items for Rabbis and Congregations:
- Include Women of the Wall as a part of a sermon or a kavannah piece on this topic. Let us know about it
- Recruit and appoint a congregant volunteer as a liaison for this and other possible future projects
- Include new material from Women of the Wall as a handout or teaching tool for congregants
- Encourage a solidarity event to stand with Women of the Wall in your community in coordination with WOW’s 25th Anniversary, Nov 4, 2013
For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org
‘Women of the Wall’ is a pluralist women’s prayer group. We invite every woman to join our prayer and ask questions at the Kotel on August 7, 2013, 7AM.
For 25 years Women of the Wall have gathered regularly at the Kotel to pray together. Our prayer is legal, peaceful and impedes upon no one’s rights. We believe that the women’s section can be shared by ALL Jewish women.
We receive proposals for many different cooperative efforts and projects every day. We cannot accept every request.
Regarding initiatives intended to create debate or discourse between Women of the Wall and those who oppose our prayer at the Kotel, our policy is clear: Women of the Wall refrains from participation in events that pit women against women and promote groups that incite hate and violence against women.
Rabbis, politicians and individuals that aim to stop women’s prayer and to defame Women of the Wall have seen their work lead to threats, protests and violence at the Kotel. Women of the Wall simply cannot lend a hand in this, as we are a group that believes in peaceful prayer, nonviolence and pluralism. We believe that women must have equal rights to worship at the Western Wall, a public, government funded and run holy site.
There is more than enough room for us all at the Kotel. Women of the Wall welcome all women to pray there. We plea with those who protest and block our prayer: let each woman pray as she believes, freely, with no exception.
by Liora Alban
“God has placed the abilities and callings in our hearts, without regard to gender. Thus each of us has the duty, whether man or woman, to realize those gifts that God has given.”
-Rabbi Regina Jonas, 1938
Until five days ago, I thought the equalization of gender roles within Judaism was paved by American Sally Priesand, ordained as what I thought to be the first female rabbi at Hebrew Union College in 1972. I was wrong. She was preceded by a mostly unknown woman named Regina Jonas who made history when she was ordained as the first female rabbi 1935 Berlin. Regina Jonas remains a symbol of female strength and possibility on the shoulders of a long line of Jewish matriarchs.
While becoming a spiritual leader in Judaism is more accessible for today’s Jewish women than it was in the time of Rabbi Jonas, it remains a struggle for women in certain Jewish communities and shows why causes like Women of the Wall remain relevant.
Regina Jonas was born in Berlin on August 3, 1902 to Wolf and Sarah Jonas. She grew up in an impoverished neighborhood where apartments lacked proper plumbing, whole families lived in single rooms, and the population density was five times higher than the average for Berlin. In a 1939 interview, Jonas stated that she grew up in a “strictly religious home” which probably means that her family observed Shabbat, holidays, and laws of kashrut. At the same time though, her parents were open to the modernization of Jewish practice which was taking shape in German congregations at this time. Choral singing and organ music were being introduced, girls were being educated, and they were receiving bat mitzvah ceremonies in synagogue.1.
Jonas received formal Jewish education at the Rykestraße synagogue’s Jüdische Mädchen Mittelschule, an orthodox Jewish school for girls which aimed to fuze tradition with modernity. It was obvious that Jonas possessed a special capacity for Judaic study. She received high marks and attention in Hebrew, religion, and Jewish history classes. At this time she began telling classmates of her plan to pursue the rabbinate. Jüdische Mädchen Mittelschule was headed by Dr. Max Weyl who noticed Jonas’ potential and took her under his wing. Her interests were further cultivated as Weyl offered her private instruction and together they studied Talmud and halachic law.
By 1924, Jonas received her teaching certificate and entered the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, Germany’s liberal rabbinical seminary a rabbinical ordination program. In truth, Jonas might have preferred to study at the Orthodox rabbinical seminary since she was orthodox in practice. For example, it was reported that while she served as a rabbi, “she would not carry even a handkerchief on Shabbat. She came to daven at the Lyke Strasse Synagogue. She would sit in the balcony with the women with a handkerchief on her wrist”2. so that it did not have to be carried. Unfortunately, Orthodox seminary was not available to women. Although there were steps being made towards women’s empowerment in Jewish leadership during the 1920s, women in even the most liberal synagogues were still being relegated to lay preacher positions.
None of this mattered to Jonas as she continued with her rabbinic intentions. She wrote her thesis in 1930 about why it was halachically acceptable for women to be rabbis. She grounded her thesis in halachic disputation, demonstrating that banning women from the rabbinate had nothing to do with Jewish law, but instead with historical gender biases. “The wheel of time turns, moving our world of Jewish thought, and with the general development of humanity and our world, attitudes toward the woman also have developed and changed.”3. She also stressed the necessity of female rabbis, stating, “Nowhere would it be denied that the woman has sensitivity, honesty of aspiration, willingness to sacrifice, love for humanity, and a sense of tact–the basic requirements for the job of a rabbi.”4. Jonas received a grade of “good” on her thesis from Rabbi Eduard Baneth, showing that he considered female ordination possible. Unfortunately, Rabbi Baneth died unexpectedly before administering the rabbinical ordination exam which Regina Jonas needed to pass in order to be ordained. As a result, Jonas graduated with the title, “Academic Teacher of Religion” instead of “Rabbi” and had to continue teaching for the next five years. The next teacher willing to ordain Jonas was the Liberal Rabbi Dr. Max Dienemann. He helped Jonas make history on December 27, 1935 when he finally issued the rabbinical ordination exam to her. She passed and thus became the first ever female rabbi.
Nazi Germany rose to power in 1933 and marked the start of increased restrictions on Jewish life in Germany. After being denied her own congregation, Jonas taught until the start of the Holocaust, when she was needed to ease the pains, fears, and hardships of others.5. While many Jews fled Germany after the implementation the of the Nuremberg laws, which restricted citizenship, religious freedom, and mobility, Rabbi Jonas was dedicated to German Jewry and never considered leaving. She taught Judaism to community members, visited the elderly and sick in hospitals and old age homes, and spent time with inmates in a German women’s prison. As more and more rabbis fled Germany, Regina had the unfortunate opportunity to take their place. She was hired by the Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland as a traveling rabbi which means she would visit small Jewish communities without their own spiritual leaders.
Regina’s life took a catastrophic turn on November 6, 1942 when she was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Before leaving, she deposited her papers, letters, correspondence, and two photographs of herself and her rabbinical ordination certificate into the Berlin Jewish archive so that her story could be unearthed after the war. It was in Theresienstadt that Rabbi Jonas came into her own as rabbi. She worked with the prominent psychiatrist, author, and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl as she greeted shocked and traumatized deportees arriving off the trains at the camp and helped them adjust to their new surroundings. A poster advertising “Lectures by the only female rabbi Regina Jonas” was found in the Theresienstadt archive. She worked with a group of over five hundred others to start a lecture series inside the camp on subjects ranging from the history of Jewish women, Talmudic topics, biblical themes, pastoral issues, and introductions to Jewish beliefs, ethics, and holidays. After tirelessly working for two years on behalf of her fellow prisoners, Rabbi Jonas was deported to Auschwitz in October 1944. She was murdered two months later at age 42.
I recently spoke with several women following in Jonas’ rabbinic footsteps in order to learn about how the experience of being a female leader in Judaism has changed since Jonas’ time. Although it has been over seventy years since Jonas’ ordination, many women are still unaware that the rabbinate is open to them as it is open to men. Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Israel’s first female rabbi and current Dean of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, grew up in a family of rabbis. Her father was a tenth generation rabbi and her mother was the daughter of a rabbi. Still though, she always assumed she would grow up and marry a rabbi, not grow up and become a rabbi. She said, “That is what women did.”6.
Conservative Rabbi Iris Richman said, “When I was growing up there was no possibility to even think about becoming a rabbi. Men were rabbis and that was that.” She practiced as an attorney for over twenty years before one experience made her think differently. “I observed kashrut at home, but little else of traditional practice. We [were] invited to this first Shabbat dinner [by] the rabbi in a shul I had started attending, who was a second career rabbi and roughly my age. I asked her ‘So what made you decide to be a rabbi?’ She started to answer—nothing earthshaking, talking about teaching Hebrew—but I had an epiphany. It literally felt like someone had hit me in the head with a hammer and I thought, ‘I could have been a rabbi!’ My next thought was, ‘I must be crazy.’ But by that time, women had already been Conservative (the movement that I identified with) rabbis for about 15 years. By 2005, I was a full time rabbinical student.”7.
Rabbi Pamela Frydman, International co-chair for Rabbis for Women of the Wall, has a similar story. She did not know women could be rabbis until Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi personally invited her to study in the Seminary Without Walls, a program which evolved into the ALEPH Rabbinic Program. To North American Jews, and especially to younger generations who have grown up seeing female rabbis, cantors, and community leader, female empowerment in leadership seems natural. Clearly though, this is a relatively new phenomenon and one which must be constantly reinforced and spread until leadership roles are fully accepted across the globe.
Jonas faced struggles even after ordination, as do today’s female rabbis as a result of sexism. Victor Frankl spoke about his experience at Theresienstadt yet never mentioned Jonas despite the fact that she joined him in greeting and calming new arrivals. It is possible that amidst the overwhelming chaos of the concentration camp environment, it never occurred to him, or he had difficulties believing that she was a rabbi rather than a rebbetzin or mere learned woman. Maybe he was trying to protect her. Maybe he failed to speak about her because of his own sexist thinking which told him that Jonas and other women were not his equals. A Holocaust survivor recalls, “In Berlin there lived at this time in the thirties the first woman rabbi, Fraulein Rabbiner Regina Jonas. She watched carefully that one said ‘Fraulein Rabbiner’ to her because a ‘Frau Rabbiner’ was the wife of a rabbi.”8. Jonas clearly struggled to be taken seriously as a rabbi amidst the sexist ideology of her time. Similarly, Rabbi Kelman and Rabbi Richman spoke about laypeople still assuming even today that rabbis have to look a certain way. Rabbis are typically thought of as elderly men with beards. “There are still these cultural prejudices, even among secular Israelis.”9. Through our conversations, I learned that there is not even a word in the Hebrew language to refer to a female rabbi, which shows that the concept is not accepted as normal in Israel. Rabbi Richman went further and said that, “It’s harder for some people of my generation or older, who hold positions of authority in the Jewish community, to see a woman–without a beard—as a rabbi. That leads to reduced opportunities, at least in some situations, for women rabbis.”10. Rabbi Pamela Frydman told the story of a cantor who refused to take her as a student because he was uncomfortable with the idea of a female rabbi. In explaining this to her, he pulled out a magazine with a picture of a pregnant woman on the cover and explained that he would find it unseemly to see a pregnant rabbi standing on the bimah.
In order to combat reluctance to female empowerment in Judaism, it is important to show how this phenomenon is improving the religion. Rabbi Naamah Kelman insists it is the most exciting time for Jewish female leaders and others who benefit from their innovations. “The past 40 years has witnessed a transformation of Judaism due to the entry of women: rabbis, cantors, scholars, the naming of baby girls, bat mitzvahs becoming universal in North America, woman being full and equal participants in North American tefillah, torah study, scholarship, etc. Women have reclaimed and invented rituals such as Rosh Hodesh celebrations, Miriam’s Cup, and innovative uses for the Mikveh. My bookshelves cannot contain all of the scholarship, literature, and torah interpretations that women have added to our libraries.”11. Rabbi Iris Richman thinks that the increasing female presence in Judaism is enabling Jews to see the connection between Judaism and everyday life. “Rabbis who are women are often quite grounded in the reality and messiness of life, which helps people deepen their Judaism in these encounters.”12. Although she admits that studies suggest that men today are less engaged in religion, she does not think this is because of clergywomen. “This may be the product of other factors, including nonstop work weeks. I think that an as of yet not fully realized frontier is women and men preaching for the importance of work weeks that allow time for family life and religion, as well as other non-work pursuits.”13.
Through my conversation with Rabbi Frydman I became fully aware of the female potential which was wiped out with the Holocaust, and which we are only now regaining. Before the Holocaust, there were almost eighteen million Jews worldwide. A third of the world’s Jews and two thirds of Europe’s Jews were murdered, and with them, eighty to ninety percent of Judaism’s spiritual teachers including a number of teachers who were nurturing the idea of female equality. It was declared at the Reform Jewish Breslau Conference in 1846 that women are equal to men in Judaism in terms of religious privileges and duties. The result was that women were now able to participate in minyans, the daily prayer in which a man thanks God for not having made him a woman was dropped, women began studying Torah and Talmud, and women and men were mixed in congregation. In 1904 Bertha Pappenheim founded the Jewish Woman’s League. She later went on to find the Home for Jewish Unwed Mothers in Isenberg and the Central Welfare Board of the Jewish Community. She also combatted the prostitution of Jewish women and pressed for the allowance of women to vote and run for office.14. 1928 Lily Montagu was the first woman to deliver a sermon from a German synagogue pulpit at the World Union for Progressive Judaism International Conference in Berlin. Rabbi Dr. Max Weyl, the rabbi under whom Rabbi Jonas studied, committed himself to religious education of girls, introduced bat mitzvah celebrations, and led a girl’s section of his religious school.
Rabbi Frydman argues that only today is Judaism and especially the status of women in Judaism thriving like it was in the past. She says that Judaism is thriving again as a forward looking faith rather than as a faith rooted in the suffering of the past. With the Holocaust’s millions of murders, generations and progressive moves were lost. People clung to religious traditions which felt safe, and this included a harkening back to the image of the aged male rabbi deeply steeped in the lifelong pursuit of Judaic knowledge. We cannot know how many women would have become rabbis had the Holocaust never happened. Seventy years later, these ideas of what a rabbi can and cannot be are beginning to change again. Rabbi Frydman explained that this does not diminish the male role in Judaism. Instead, men today must step up as they did to ordain Jonas so that we can liberate female prayer at the Kotel together. Conservative Rabbi Menachem Creditor, spiritual leader of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, California and Co-founder of Rabbis for Women of the Wall with Rabbi Frydman vocally fights for a Woman’s right to freedom of prayer. He has stated, “I am a man who cannot pray at the Kotel, because my prayer is based in this world, a world in which Jewish access to God cannot be limited based on gender. I can only truly pray if my wife, daughter, sister, and mother are treated by the Jewish State as equals in the eyes of God.”15.
The blessing of Women of the Wall is to introduce freedom of prayer to all women. “Regina’s desire to be a rabbi was a desire to step into a stream in which she was confident she could swim. She was not asking men for permission to learn to swim. She was asking to go into the water and be allowed to swim along with the men.”16. We stand on the shoulders of Jonas and matriarchs before and after her. Jewish women may now take charge of their personal Jewish practices and change the face of Judaism for the better. In the words of Rabbi Frydman, female empowerment in Judaism is impacting our faith “l’olam” with a twofold meaning: for the improvement of the entire world, and for forever. Keyn yehi ratzon. So may it be.
1. Rabbi Elisa Klapheck, Fräulein Rabbiner Jonas: The Story of the First Woman Rabbi (San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004), 19.
2. Rabbi Pamela Frydman, interview, Jerusalem, Israel, 6 May 2013, based upon her interview of Rabbi Ted Alexander who was a teenager in Berlin during the years that Regina Jonas served as a rabbi there.
3. Rabbi Elisa Klapheck, Fräulein Rabbiner Jonas, 124.
4. Rabbi Elisa Klapheck, Fräulein Rabbiner Jonas, 33.
6. Rabbi Namaah Kelman, personal email, 13 May 2012.
7. Rabbi Iris Richman, personal email, 14 May 2012.
8. Katharina von Kellenbach, “Fräulein Rabbiner Regina Jonas: Eine religiöse Feministin vor ihrer Zeit.” Schlangenbrut 38: 38.
9. Rabbi Namaah Kelman, personal email, 13 May 2012.
10. Rabbi Iris Richman, personal email, 14 May 2012.
11. Rabbi Namaah Kelman, personal email, 13 May 2012.
12. Rabbi Iris Richman, personal email, 14 May 2012.
13. Rabbi Iris Richman, personal email, 14 May 2012.
14. Rabbi Elisa Klapheck, Fräulein Rabbiner Jonas, 23.
16. Rabbi Pamela Frydman, interview, Jerusalem, Israel, 6 May 2013.
Liora Alban is a rising senior at the University of California, Berkeley where she is majoring in Religious Studies and Art History. She recently completed her third year of study at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem which afforded her the opportunity to intern at Women of the Wall. Coming from a pluralistic Jewish background, Liora was angered by the lack of freedom of women’s prayer at the Kotel and aimed to combat this during her time in Jerusalem through her internship at Women of the Wall.