More questions and assumptions. Didn’t your mother ever tell you what happens when you assume?
Yesterday I posted this picture on Women of the Wall’s facebook:
This is my actually Bubbi and she called me the night before Rosh Hodesh to wish me luck, tell me how proud she is of me. She asked my mom to take a picture of her, proud in her tallit. She told me to share and to tell everyone that they should let us pray in peace. I did that for her.
There were supportive comments but there were also accusations of “manipulation”, “cheap” and other insults. The constant assumption that we spend our time creating stunts and the constant questioning of our genuine religious and spiritual intention is just offensive. Who are any of us to judge others’ commitment to Judaism on any basis? Why don’t we all just focus on our own connection to God? To me it shows an insecurity on the side of those who make the assumptions and question the intentions of others, their own self-doubt in their belief system.
Here are some more (more) misconceptions and assumptions about Women of the Wall that need to be set straight. These are direct quotes but as the questions come from non-public interactions, I leave them anonymous.
1. “How does praying in a traditional male fashion constitute a “right”?”
So many assumptions, so little time.
First, every women who prays with us prays differently, what bonds us is that we believe that each woman should be allowed to pray according to her belief, free of judgment, without harassment.
Second, a tallit is not a “fashion” or a “prop” as you like to call it. That is disrespectful. Surely you don’t call a man’s tallit a prop or fashion choice. Tallit and tefillin are Jewish articles that men are obligated to wear during certain prayers and though women are not obligated to this, they are also NOT forbidden by Jewish law. Women who take this on take it on as a commitment as they do other Jewish laws- for example lighting shabbat candles, praying three times a day, or kashrut. Who are you to tell them not to do what is permissible according to Jewish law?
Lastly, you have confused an issue here, so let’s clear it up. The rights we speak of, which are refused to women only at the Kotel, are freedom of expression and freedom of religion in the public sphere. In my last clarification I explained that the Kotel is public space and that the Israeli Declaration of Independence guarantees these basic rights, free of discrimination based on gender (male/female). Please go back and read this. Therefor, a woman whose religious tradition for the past 50 years has been to wear tallit when she prays, has a right to her freedom of religion at the Kotel.
2. “If a mode of conduct at the Kotel greatly offends the vast majority of people who daven there regularly, isn’t it bigoted (AND intolerant) to say “that’s their problem”?”
We have never said “that’s their problem” so I would appreciate that you not put words into our mouths. Again, I refer you to my previous article where I write about lashon hara (Hebrew: the evil tongue), the halakhic (Jewish law) term for derogatory speech about another person.
Also, haredim are not the vast majority. They make up 8% of the population in Israel and if they are the majority of those who currently pray at the Kotel, I suggest that this is because of the haredi control over the space. In the past years, Rabbi Rabinowitz’ reign over the Kotel has caused the Israeli army to cease holding most of their induction ceremonies there due to discrimination of female soldiers, new immigrants, olim, and tourists have ceased to come to the Kotel when they first arrive in Israel because they fear and resent the judgement and limitation their feel there. Secular Israelis have for years and years been saying that they don’t feel comfortable at the Kotel, I hear this from friends and family all the time. They do not like the Kotel and they do not want to go there because they feel unwanted and unwelcome there. This is exactly what is yelled at us on am monthly basis: “You are goyim (derogative for non-Jews)”, “This place is not yours, you do not belong here.” This does not make the majority an accurate majority but a forceful, exclusionary majority.
Most importantly: just because a group is a minority does not mean they do not deserve full rights (see my definition of bigot, below).
In addition to these important facts, I definitely do not think Women of the Wall is bigoted and intolerant. A bigot is “someone who, as a result of their prejudices, treats other people with hatred, contempt, and intolerance on the basis of a person’s ethnicity, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, or other characteristics” (wikipedia definition). We are not doing anything to anyone. In fact what we do (through prayer) is for ourselves and our daughters but we are also ensuring all women’s rights to pray at the Kotel in the future. The women’s side has shrunk from half to 1/5 of the space in front of the Wall. What’s stopping them from banning women all-together, or exiling all women to Robinson’s Arch? We are ensuring that this will not happen. Our prayer does not infringe upon anyone else’s rights or actions. For 24 years other Jews have continued to pray and gather during our prayers. There is always more than enough space in the women’s section for all of us and we welcome you, with and because of the differences between us.
So I do not want to state the obvious, but you brought in the word bigot and I looked up the definition to be sure, but it seems like it is you who are prejudiced against us, treating us with intolerance on the basis of our religion and gender. We welcome you to the Kotel, we welcome your prayer, your sisters and daughters and their prayers. It is you who wish to stop our prayer because the differences between us trigger your prejudices and hatred.
3. “I’m pretty sure the women for the wall started their crusade only after the whole PR campaign launched by Women Of the Wall with the obvious agenda to change the status quo NOT just at the kotel (no I have not been fed lines- I have read your posts and media responses)”.
We have no agenda past the Kotel. Women FOR the Wall often quote Anat Hoffman when she is speaking from her professional, full-time position as the Director of the Israel Religious Action Center. It is confusing, I can agree with that, but then why have they never asked us about this? They run straight to the media with their assumptions. We cannot and would not silence our most active volunteer. Anat is in the media often and when she answers she often speaks with her IRAC “hat on”, as is understandable. IRAC is an independent organization that supports WOW’s agenda but also works on many, many different fronts in Israel. Women of the Wall works on only one front: the Kotel. You are welcome to look at our website to confirm this: www.womenofthewall.org.il. So this is a misunderstanding as to our goals. Thank you for allowing us to clarify.
4. “If your mode of prayer was in fact in line with traditonal Jewish teachings (and not egalitarian feminism) no one would have any problem with davening right beside you. So why not take off the talit and teffilin (which only symbolize the adherence to Oral Law), stop your OWN crusade (and youtube clips that are glaringly anti haredi), daven with us in peace as you have done for 24 years-and in essence practice what you preach?”
There are a lot of assumptions and loaded words here. (I take a deep breath and dive in)
We are a pluralist women’ prayer group. Each woman defines her religious observance and commitment in her own way. I would never assume to be able to define your religious observance. Even if we met and prayed together, I would still allow you to define yourself in your own words. I ask that you extend us the same courtesy. Let each woman define herself and do not generalize about us. We are a feminist organization. It means we believe in the advancement of women’s rights and women’s empowerment. Nothing to be ashamed of. Some of the women who pray with us do identify themselves as egalitarian, but for our group, this is irrelevant since ours is women’s only prayer. So why would anyone have any problem praying beside us? With the exception of the bigotry and intolerance we discussed earlier, I do not know of a legitimate Jewish or legal reason.
Our videos show equal parts of our prayer and the reaction to us. Here is our latest example:
We have never said or done anything anti-anyone. If haredim do not like how they are portrayed after Rosh Hodesh at the Kotel, they might want to take this as a reflection on their behaviors. I suggest you turn your accusing glance away from our small prayer and into your own community. If you don’t like the spitting, the yelling and cursing, then perhaps next Rosh Hodesh you should hold a shiur (class) for girls on btzelem elkoim (Hebrew: in the image of God), the Jewish fundamental belief that all people were created equally in the image of god. Do not blame Women of the Wall’s video editors or the evening news for the bad behavior of members of a community that have never been taught tolerance and nonviolence.
For 24 years we have prayed under discriminatory laws that allowed all men certain rights- freedom of religion and expression in a public space- and left all women vulnerable to harassment and exile based on the police’s loose interpretation of these laws. Since then we have been allowed legally by the district court to pray freely. We will not go back to the old days when we were exiled from the Kotel, as I suspect you would not want to go back to the ’67 borders that once exiled you.
That about does it for todays edition of Back Against the Wall: Setting the Record Straight.
As spokeswoman for Women of the Wall this week alone I have been called a communist, a whore, a man, a non-Jew (intended as an insult, which is double-rude), a reformist (not sure this is a word and Reform is not a curse word, a feminist (also not a curse), blasphemous and provocative (an honor to share this last one several times a day with my suffragette sisters).
It is not my style to respond to detractors and opposition. I respect the voices of others. I do admit that I can get quite heated at the blatant vilification of the women I have come to love and work to protect. I know the women who pray with us each month and they are holy, spiritually and ritually dedicated, genuine, kind people. To insult and vilify these women, as is the sole mission of the new fringe group Women FOR the Wall, is nothing short of “lashon hara” (Hebrew: the evil tongue), the halakhic (Jewish law) term for derogatory speech about another person”.
We do not need to agree- but we can still respect each other and allow each other to worship according to her belief. There is more than enough room at the Western Wall (Kotel) for all of us to pray. The law has established that Women of the Wall have the right to pray there, alongside everyone else.
That all being said I must set the record straight and come to the defense of the women who so genuinely pray with us.
Here are some myths, straight from Women FOR the Wall’s Facebook page, followed by the facts to set the lies straight:
MYTH: Women For The Wall June 10, 2013: Ok, Women For the Wall supporters- we have a golden opportunity here. We need to recruit people to write op eds, flood the media with op eds about what happened today- that chareidim were barred from the kotel and the old city was on lockdown. If you want to be part of our team, send me a buzz tormpeski@…
FACT: Women of the Wall has no knowledge of a “lockdown” or people being barred from the Kotel. According to all official accounts, Haredim did not show up at that morning either because of lack of interest or the Rabbi’s calls to return to their studies. This was choice, not force. If indeed there was a “lockdown”, it was the police’s orders. If Women FOR the Wall was truly concerned about this issue, then they would legally challenge this with the police/state and to begin to educate within their community for tolerance and non-violence so that it does not happen again.
MYTH:Ronit H PeskinJune 11, 2013 (in a comment on Susan Silverman’s Forward article): You do know that WoW has a 6 million surplus budget each year, yes?
FACT:I wish this was true. If it were, I am sure I wouldn’t be driving a Hyundai Getz! Our 2013 budget is currently around $200,000, up from last year’s budget of $110,000- due to the large influx of interest in our cause and work (expenses). We do not work off of a surplus, like most NGOs. Our donors are Israeli and American foundations and individuals from all over the world. We are an Israeli Amuta and have always been. We have 3 staff members- one 1 full time, the rest part time. The bulk of the work that goes into our cause is done by amazing volunteers. They are the heart of our movement, including our board and Anat Hoffman, and thousands of others around the world.
MYTH:Women For The Wall June 12, 2013: So it turns out that Women Of The Wall have deleted all comments on their facebook page disagreeing with them, and banned any non member from commenting and/or liking things there. Why is WoW afraid of dialogue? W4W has kept our page open to everyone, and have not banned even those that most vocally disagree with us. When someone is afraid of letting opposing opinions be heard, it makes you wonder- why not? What are you afraid of? Are you afraid that people will be convinced otherwise?
FACT:Since the violence against our group injured three police officers and threatened the lives of our leadership (coincidentally the same month that Women for the Wall began inciting the haredi community against us), we made a decision for security reasons to begin to ban threats and incitement from our social networking sites. This is done to protect our leaders and to decrease the contact that our opposition has with our volunteers and supporters. Our supporters are so genuine that they are truly hurt and offended by the comments of our detractors who attack and degrade their religious, spiritual beliefs. We want our sites to be a safe space for our supporters- they have asked for this and we are providing it. The Kotel is a public space, where all have the right to be and express themselves. Women of the Wall’s websites are ours, for us to do with it and administer it as we see fit.
At the Kotel however, this approach is unacceptable. It is a holy but also public site, administered by the government for all of the Jewish people. The Declaration of Establishment of State of Israel states: “THE STATE OF ISRAEL … will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions…” The District Court of Jerusalem recently reestablished this fact in its decision that Women of the Wall’s prayer in no way violates the law or disturbs the peace and that the local custom of the Western Wall should be defined by the most pluralist, inclusive terms.
Those are the facts. Here is what I believe: The best thing for the unity of the Jewish people right now would for all involved to accept that there are many ritual differences within Judaism. Women of the Wall did not invent the Houses of Hilllel and Shamai (two leading rabbis of the early 1st century CE who founded opposing schools of Jewish thought). We all pray to the same one God and that God is the only one fit to judge.
I do have one final message to Women FOR the Wall: Sisters, please take careful responsibility of your words and actions. Instead of blaming Women of the Wall, who have been praying at the Kotel in relative peace for 24 years, try looking at the connection between the two months of violence and threats and your 2 months in existence. Fight the urge to participate in “lashon hara”, hold your tongues from speaking ill of others and focus on yourselves and your community. Take your platform as an opportunity to teach tolerance, nonviolence and prayer. Get to know the Women of the Wall personally, before you take to the media. Take a siddur and say the “Shema” with us at the Kotel when you next join us there.
On behalf of Women of the Wall, I welcome all Jewish women to come in peace and truly open your minds to our genuine prayer. We plan to meet next formally on July 8, 2013 at 7AM at the Kotel. Join us, listen to our voices, speak to those who join us and hear that our prayer is one of unity, inclusiveness, spiritual connection to God and sisterhood.
When the Earth opens up around us, let us seek wholeness and balance.
The Jewish calendar is structured on lunar activity. Every time there is a new moon, a Hebrew month begins. We read in Exdous that God told Moses: “Ha’hodesh hazeh lachem rosh hodashim rishon hu lachem l’hodshei ha’shanah.”
“This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.” These words – that the Jewish people must mark the months – is counted as the first mitzvah that the Israelites received on their way out of Egypt. Rosh Hodesh happens every month, and in modern times, often with little note. But, traditionally, the determination of the first observation of the monthly new moon is the key action by which we live and act as Jews. Before the establishment of settled, printed calendars, it was the diverse voices of Jewish witnesses that set our Jewish calendar, without which we could not have set dates for any of the Jewish holidays. Witnesses traveled to Jerusalem from near and far to testify about having sighted the new moon. The date of every single Jewish holiday, and thus our celebrations and sacred markings of time – can only be determined by reference to the dates of the new moon.
The Mishnah vividly describes to us the importance of these diverse voices. Rosh Hodesh is the ultimate occasion of coming together in unity from all of our separate places – even violating Shabbat to testify about the first sighting of the new moon. Even those who could not travel by foot: “they may bring him by donkey [even on Shabbat] and if necessary even [carry him on Shabbat] in a bed. … Because for a night and a day they may desecrate the Shabbat and go forth to testify about the new moon.” (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 22a). Everyone’s voices are what makes Rosh Hodesh – Rosh Hodesh.
And even today, we gather together as one Jewish people to celebrate Rosh Hodesh. For almost the last 25 years, every month, a women’s group called Women of the Wall has been celebrating Rosh Hodesh at the women’s section of the Kotel in Jerusalem, seeking to connect with our ancient traditions and God’s presence. Recently, there have been many arrests and much discord and violence, arising from Haredi objections to the women davening out loud, wearing tallit or tefillin, or reading from a sefer Torah.
As we consider the Torah reading for this week, Korach, coinciding on Shabbat and also Sunday with Rosh Hodesh Tammuz and the present situation of disharmony and violence at the Kotel, who among us doesn’t feel a little shiver down the spine? Korach and his family and his possessions, all swallowed up by the Earth in a demonstration of God’s power in rejecting their challenge to Moshe’s leadership. In our modern day, who is Korach and who is Moshe?
Korach confronted or stood up to the established leadership of the israelites, saying that all Israel is holy – and literally was struck down by God for doing this. Did God reject a populist democracy? And who would dare challenge religious leadership or want to follow in his footsteps after this?
Or was Korach’s sin an attempt to bring about anarchy and the disruption and elimination of ongoing religious ritual, by challenging not just Aaron the Kohen Gadol/High Priest but also all of the priests and the whole structure of religious, sacrificial worship to God? What *was* Korach’s vision if he had survived to carry it forward? In modern terms, was Korach a democrat or a fascist?
In considering this question a number of years ago, R. Elliot Dorff posed two possible responses. Perhaps Korach was not wrong in seeking a democratic structure for the Israelites – but his timing was wrong. Too many challenges and crises, in a society not ready or able to cast aside strong leadership. Or maybe, Korach’s challenge to the leadership was that of an anarchist, seeking to undo the rule of law, which would leave the people on their own in the wilderness, facing attacks from hostile surrounding nations.
In the end, the elliptical text does not allow us to determine with certainty what was truly dangerous about Korach’s position. And that, I think, is exactly the point.
It would be SO tempting to say: “I have the answer – my position is like that of Moshe, not Korach – and I will seek to bring God to strike down everyone who doesn’t see it my way. With a narrative this rife with this ambiguity, however, none of us can honestly say that.
Let us also remember the alternative to Korach – the challenge was not only to Moshe – but also to the High Priest, Aaron. Presumably, had he survived and succeeded, Korach’s regime would have replaced Aaron. With all of Aaron’s errors and sins – silence in the face of his own sons being struck down by God, collaborating with the Israelites to build the Golden Calf – how is Aaron seen in our tradition? ”Moshe used to say ‘Let the law pierce the mountain.’ But Aaron loved peace, pursued peace and made peace between people, as is said: ‘The law of truth was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found in his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness and did turn many away from iniquity.’” (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, 6b, quoting Malachi 2:6.)
From the ambiguity of the narrative and the survival and triumph of Moshe AND Aaron over Korach, perhaps we can learn that shalom and shleimut – peace and wholeness are what we must always strive for, even and especially, in the most challenging times. So for our challenging times, this year, in thinking about the challenges facing our Jewish people, especially on this Rosh Hodesh Tammuz at the Kotel, we offer this prayer for shleimut and izun, wholeness and balance.
In this time of challenge to our unity and holiness, when we unite to seek Your Shechinah in Its eternal place, we seek shleimut and izun, and we ask for the inspiration and support of Your ruach hakodesh.
Grant us the wisdom to understand and appreciate ourselves and each other in the fullness of our humanity and integrity, male and female, Haredi, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Jewish Renewal. All of us Jews. All of us created in Your holy image, a little less than angels, crowned with glory and honor.
Open our eyes and let us see the ruach Elokim that endows us with holiness and unites us. Let the uniqueness in which we were each created make us more holy, more and not less, but not divide us or reduce us to anything less than our fullest human potential, the pinnacle of the miracle of life. As women and men, may we appreciate our differences but most of all, as Adam Rishon in Gan Eden was created both male and female, let us not magnify those differences above what we share with each other, but rather help us to attain the integration and purity of Gan Eden.
Enable us to lift our spirits and our hands to engage and joyously immerse ourselves in holy actions in Your service and bring us closer to You, in fulfillment of our heritage and traditions. May we also find the holiness in one another, so that we need not diminish any expressions of holiness, but rather so that we are fortified to support each other to bring about connection with the Shechinah, according to the way that each of us recognizes as sacred. May all of our service be received by You with favor and bring us to further blessings.
Above all, may we always remember that Your gift to us is of love and not hate, peace and not violence, allowing us to strive for shleimut and integration, not discord. May Your breath of life inside each of us bring us to realize our highest, holiest potential as one Jewish people and also as Jewish individuals, acting together and individually, to bring about the fulfillment of all blessings and the ultimate unity with the Source of all blessings forever.
The following question for a rabbi was posted and answered on the website Kipa.co.il:
(translation by Rachel Jaskow)
Q. When I (or anyone else) am at the Western Wall and the Women of the Wall are there, in immodest clothing and with prayer shawls and phylacteries, playing with Torah scrolls and committing blasphemy, should I stop it by shooting the relevant people if there is no other way to do so?
A. You must repent for talking about killing a human being, and particularly for talking about resolving a dispute in such a manner. That is not the way of the Torah. Disputes should be resolved by profound, non-violent debate.
The purpose of such questions seems to be to sow incitement in our community. Questions like this do not come from a pure heart or a search for God. I wonder who stands behind you, seeking to use this dispute to stain our precious country’s Jewish identity with blood.
That is why I hesitated to answer your question at all. But since someone, somewhere, has spoken of killing another human being, and since perhaps you were asking honestly after all, I decided to respond to your query, with the strong caveat that it is not legitimate.
Only an authorized court may sentence a Jewish person to death. In our day, no such court exists until the judicial authority returns to its place in the Chamber of Hewn Stone, or at least until the small Sanhedrin of 23 judges is reconstituted.
In addition, the way to defeat the Reform movement is not by violence but by strengthening the alternative of faithfulness to the holy Torah and keeping away from them and their multitudes. Then wickedness will vanish like smoke when the light of the Oral Torah is victorious among the nation.
Your suggestion is therefore unacceptable. Direct your energy and your desire to rectify the situation to Torah study and to bringing up the next generation to holiness and exerting influence through love.
The nation is moving upward as its consciousness returns to God. Our generation is different from that of the Hellenists, who were moving in the opposite direction, toward exile. The practical guidance [that applied to that generation] was therefore different.
As stated above, you must repent of the desire to sully the moral debate in Israel. If you were truly thinking about committing murder, you must turn your life around completely, become sensitive to life and renounce violence.
In any case, since it is possible that you mean what you say, I have asked the Israel Police to look into the matter and find you, and stop you in time.
May you be healthy.
Response received from Rabbi Baruch Efrati
on 25 Sivan 5773 [June 3, 2013]
In this time of challenge to our unity and holiness, when we unite to seek Your Shechinah(3) in Its eternal place, we seek shleimut(4) and izun(5), and we ask for the inspiration and support of Your ruach hakodesh(6).
Grant us the wisdom to understand and appreciate ourselves and each other in the fullness of our humanity and integrity, male and female, Haredi, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Jewish Renewal. All of us Jews. All of us created in Your holy image, a little less than angels, crowned with glory and honor.
Open our eyes and let us see the ruach Elokim(7 ) that endows us with holiness and unites us. Let the uniqueness in which we were each created make us more holy, more and not less, but not divide us or reduce us to anything less than our fullest human potential, the pinnacle of the miracle of life. As women and men, may we appreciate our differences but most of all, as Adam Rishon(8) in Gan Eden(9) was created both male and female, let us not magnify those differences above what we share with each other, but rather help us to attain the integration and purity of Gan Eden.
Enable us to lift our spirits and our hands to engage and joyously immerse ourselves in holy actions in Your service and bring us closer to You, in fulfillment of our heritage and traditions.
May we also find the holiness in one another, so that we need not diminish any expressions of holiness, but rather so that we are fortified to support each other to bring about connection with the Shechinah, according to the way that each of us recognizes as sacred. May all of our service be received by You with favor and bring us to further blessings.
Above all, may we always remember that Your gift to us is of love and not hate, peace and not violence, allowing us to strive for shleimut and integration, not discord.
May Your breath of life inside each of us bring us to realize our highest, holiest potential as one Jewish people and also as Jewish individuals, acting together and individually, to bring about the fulfillment of all blessings and the ultimate unity with the Source of all blessings forever.
Rabbi Iris Richman
1 The One Who opens our eyes
2 The One Who makes peace
3 The Divine Presence
6 spirit of holiness
7 Divine spirit
8 the first human, created with both genders
9 the Garden of Eden
Pan Denominational Rabbinic and Cantorial Outcry In the Aftermath of Violent Graffiti at Home of Women of the Wall Board Member
Rabbis for Women of the Wall and Cantors for Women of the Wall are informal groups of Jewish clergy from every stream of the Jewish people. We do not represent our movements, nor our respective associations, nor Women of the Wall. Our statement in support of religious pluralism and women’s rights at the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, is at www.rabbisupportpluralism.org.
The following quotes are in response to the recent graffiti found at the home of Women of the Wall Board member Peggy Cidor.
Cantor Jack Chomsky, President of the Cantors Assembly and International Co-Chair of Cantors for Women of the Wall: “The Price Tag attacks are … desperate, cowardly and filled with hate… This is deeply unacceptable.”
Rabbi Yael Ridberg, International Vice Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall: “There is no excuse for such behavior. Acts of vandalism like this will not threaten the commitment of Women of the Wall supporters to ensure that the Kotel is a place of prayer for all people.”
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Senior Vice President of the Union of Reform Judaism and International Vice Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall: “All of us who lived in Israel when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated know all too well that violent words and hateful graffiti can lead down a horrible and tragic path. This is an act of violence not only against the Women at the Wall, but all of us who cherish human dignity.”
Rabbi Brad Artson, Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, Vice President of American Jewish University and International Vice Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall: “Threatening, anonymous graffiti on the walls of a Jew who seeks the freedom to pray as a Jew – where have we seen that before? The very violence and cowardice of that graffiti is a betrayal of Torah and Jewish values and must strengthen the resolve of those who are shining God’s light of justice, inclusion and love to redouble our efforts. For the sake of Jerusalem, we will not be silent!”
Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, founder of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and International Vice Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall: “I especially appreciate Ms. Peggy Cidor’s response that ‘what happened is a crisis and a crisis is the best opportunity to stop and think over what happened and to create a dialogue.” This underscores the respect for clal yisrael and the practices of others that have characterized Women of the Wall’s position for years. Ms. Cidor’s offer of dialogue is a model of how to pursue change in a highly charged situation. This response highlights that the opponents have a lot to learn from Women of the Wall, not only as to the spiritual beauty of women’s prayers, but also how to pursue an argument for the sake of Heaven.”
Rabbi Stan Levy, Congregation B’nai Horin – Children of Freedom, and International Vice Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall: “This … placing graffiti on the wall of the home of a woman who comes to the Western Wall to pray reminds us that senseless hatred among Jews remains today. The words of the prophet Malachi’s lament rings out in response to this attack: “Don’t we all have one Father, has not one G-d created all of us? Why do we deal treacherously with each other profaning the covenant of our ancestors?” This woman who prays at the Wall sanctifies it. The person who applied graffiti to the wall of Ms. Cidor’s home desecrated not just the wall of her home but also the Western Wall and the name of G-d.
Rabbi Yocheved Mintz, Congregation P’nai Tikvah, President of the Board of Rabbis of Southern Nevada, and International Vice Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall: “May those who truly pursue peace bring these perpetrators to justice and may the time come, soon and in our day, when the Kotel can return to all the Jewish people and become, once again, a place of prayer.”
Rabbi David Kalb and Rabbi Pamela Frydman, International Co-Chairs of Rabbis for Women of the Wall: “We call upon the government of Israel to take all necessary steps through the aegis of appropriate government officials to negotiate, approve and implement a fair and equitable long term and short term plan for Jews of all streams to pray at the Kotel in accordance with their custom free of threat and harassment.”
Alli is a rabbinical student attending Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. This year Alli served as Women of the Wall Intern and Liason to HUC
I write you once more just like I did when I first arrived in Israel in June of 2012. So much has happened since then, both to me and to Israel. I arrived with mixed emotions for my first year of rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. I expected to feel like an insider in what was so commonly called my “homeland”.
I recalled my rabbi’s words, “ כל התחלות קשות (Kol hatchalot kashot); All beginnings are difficult” (Rabbi Don Rossoff). I expected a challenging journey but had no idea what experiences would lie ahead, testing my beliefs as a Reform Jew.
I had heard about the organization Women of the Wall whose “central mission is to achieve the social and legal recognition of [their] right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall” in Jerusalem (Mission Statement 1). In June, how unthinkable it was for me that women,Jews, could not pray freely in the Jewish state herself. I attended my first Rosh Hodesh service in order to better understand the situation, yet no explanation could reason with detainments for women wearing prayer shawls. The group of approximately thirty women so peacefully prayed as police watched their every move like a group of criminals. I remember the warmth that emulated from the beautiful sound of voices in prayer, but I couldn’t help feeling distracted by the police eyewitnesses. After concluding shacharit at the Kotel, we then continued to the entrance of the Kishle Police Station for the Torah service, waiting for the detained women to be released. I’m sorry to admit to you G-d, but that was my first day seeing Israel in a different light, and I was angry with the country I thought was supposed to be accepting of all Jews. It was then I knew I needed to support Women of the Wall, and I became an intern for this cause.During the year, I was in a constant love-hate relationship with Israel. With each detainment by the Jerusalem Police, my anger towards Israel grew. Simultaneously, living on the Jewish calendar allowed me to feel what it means to be a part of a collective, the Jewish people. How could I feel such a sense of belonging and then on Rosh Hodesh, such a sense of revulsion? Nevertheless, wanting Israel to so desperately be a better place, I continued to strive for change.
Women of the Wall grew from 30 to 300 attending supporters. However, more than the strength in numbers was the strength of resilience I observed in this organization. From detainment to detainment, we continued to pray each month in tallitot and with full voice. I was present at the Knesset meeting when Women of the Wall was granted freedom of religious expression for Rosh Hodesh Sivan. So, on May 10th, 2013, WOW prayed with tallitot without any detainments.
On that day, I had the privilege of leading everyone in shacharit. I was ready to be arrested wholeheartedly for what I believe in: for religious equality, for freedom of religious expression and for religious pluralism. However, when I arrived, I could not believe the scene before me. The police had formed a human barricade, each officer linking arms. They were not arresting WOW; they were guarding us, allowing us to pray in peace. There was yelling, whistling, pushing and shoving from thousands of Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox), and at any moment, it looked as though they were going to attack those praying with WOW. I watched for a moment as the human barricade protected a center of WOW supporters with all of their might. Following Lesley Sachs (Director) and Anat Hoffman (Chairwoman), one soldier let us into the center area. Cantor Tamar Havilio, my teacher, grabbed my hand and pulled me through the human barrier. Everything happened so quickly, but although the raging protesters and the moment of fear that overcame me, I knew I had a purpose. My panic faded as I stopped listening to the piercing noise surrounding me in order to put on my tallit. We then began to sing “Ozi v’zimrat Yah”, and I focused on song and prayer to keep composed. I then began leading the shacharit service. Cantor Tamar stood by my side lending me encouragement and helping me to lead some parts. She had prepared me the week before, teaching me all of the nusach to be able to lead Rosh Hodesh Sivan. Even with all of the distractions, I focused on the prayers to lead me through. It was an amazing experience. After beginning each prayer, I would hear everyone join in as a ripple effect. Although I knew of the pandemonium occurring simultaneously, from where I stood, there were moments of peace and even silent prayer. I felt protected by the family of women around me, and I knew that what I stood for was correct. I was no longer afraid. It was then that I realized the true strength and bravery we had together, standing for a greater purpose.
As I conclude my letter, I finish my year just as I arrived in your land, with mixed emotions. As excited as I am to be with my family again, I can also say that I am not ready to leave Israel. I am proud to call Israel home as well. There is no other feeling like praying with a group of Jews and feeling that you are not alone. As a Jew, you are part of something much larger than yourself: a history and a people that have weathered through the unimaginable. So why should we give up now? We were slaves in Egypt and now celebrate our redemption; one day we will be celebrating our pluralism. While we may never agree with each other, I know we can gain respect for one another. I continue to pray for this. Our work is not done!
When the service was complete, worry took over once again as we had to make our way out of the Kotel plaza. The guards braced themselves in their human barricade, as WOW also linked arms to make our way out. Lesley Sachs had buses waiting for us at the entrance to Dung Gate. It was there that WOW was exposed to the Haredim who threw water bottles at us. One of my friends was even hit with a rock, which he kept as a reminder of the day’s events—so symbolic of what we were fighting for at a wall of rocks—rocks that were dividing us instead of bringing us together in prayer. We piled on to the bus, and I made my way into the center, moving away from the windows. The Haredi men were smacking the sides of the bus. I held my breath until we started to move, afraid that a window might shatter. The bus took us to Mamila Mall where we exited.The demonstrations were over, and I needed to comprehend all that had taken place before me. Women of the Wall had successfully prayed with tallitot with the police protecting us. Thank you G-d! Even more, I was given the honor of leading them in prayer for this historic day in the making. Still, now, the division of the Jewish people hurts me. I continue to question if these people are even my people? I am ashamed. It is a hard notion to grasp: only in Israel would one find police protecting Jews from Jews. These were supposed to be my people, yet, I couldn’t feel more distant from them and their actions. We were only praying to you, G-d!It was then I realized that I do not have a love-hate relationship with Israel. Instead, my passion for my homeland was immense. If I did not care so deeply for Israel, and I did not think it had the potential to be a better place, a more pluralistic place, I wouldn’t have kept up my support for this cause. I may sound naïve to some, but I truly believe we will reach a time when we can all pray together. We do not have to agree with each other, but we do need to be respectful of our ways of religious expression.
G-d, as I transition back to America, I know that Israel is experiencing its own transition. Change is happening before our eyes. For me, I know that this is not “good bye”, but only “see you soon” (in Hebrew, l’hitraot). “מקום שלבי אוהב רגלי מוליכות אותי: The place that my heart holds dear, my feet will bring me near (poetic translation).” The truth is that it is not possible for Israel to be one’s homeland until he or she has wrestled with the land, until one can embrace all of Israel, its strengths and its flaws because after all, nothing is perfect. Let this letter be one more note to fill a crevice, my prayer to you—as if we could mend the wall with our prayers.
Mark S. Anshan is a leader in the Reform movement serving on the URJ Board of Trustees and in other roles. He is a past Chair of ARZENU – the International Federation of Reform and Progressive Zionists.
Rosh Chodesh Sivan could well be the tipping point in the struggle to achieve religious pluralism in Israel. On May 10, 2013 Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the Women of the Wall (WOW) came together to pray at the Kotel as they do each month. Together with many other supporters of WOW, I (once again) had the privilege to be with them as they assembled for shacharit services. This time however, the situation was completely different from all other Rosh Chodesh services.
By the time we arrived at the Kotel plaza, thousands of Haredi, young and old, were assembling, at the direction of their rabbinic leadership, to protest and do what they could to prevent WOW members and supporters from praying. The WOW have always prayed in the women’s section. This time they were prevented from doing so as the Haredi women arrived early to pack the section, leaving no room for others to enter the section. WOW assembled just behind the fence at the point where the men’s and women’s sections meet.
In the past WOW were subject to close scrutiny by the police, who were photographing them and watching closely for any infringement of (at that time) the regulation governing what women could and could not do in worship (i.e. not wearing tallit, tefillin or reading Torah) based on the meaning of “local custom.” In the past year many WOW members have been arrested for contravening the prohibitions then in force. Anat Hoffman, chair of WOW was arrested and held in jail for carrying a Torah and last month Lesley Sachs, director of WOW and others were arrested for wearing tallit. This time, as result of an important court ruling rendered by Judge Moshe Sobel of the Jerusalem District Court, the women were permitted to pray wearing tallit and tefillin. This time instead of watching closely and being ready to make arrests, the police and border police were out in full force to protect the women from the Haredi. At the moment I arrived in the plaza, I had a hard time moving from the security entrance through the crowd of thousands to get close to where the women were about to begin their prayers. The police formed a human chain around the group to prevent anyone getting near them – they were protecting them from any potential physical violence. Soon after, the police erected barriers that physically separated the Haredi men and women from the rest of us. But the potential for physical violence remained as the men and boys continued to shout, blow whistles and throw objects (coffee, water, garbage) in a vain attempt to interrupt the service. I took photos and watched with interest the expressions on the faces of young Haredi students (male and female) who were standing there in silence as the older Haredi men engaged in shouting and disruptive behavior. I wondered if the younger students understood why they were brought to the Kotel.
Ironically, we – men and women – were praying together as WOW led the shacharit service. The Kotel plaza, a place for prayer and meditation and ceremonies where honour is conveyed on those serving in the defence of Israel and other like occasions had been turned into a place of protest with the threat of violence. That too was an irony – women coming to pray were prevented from doing so by religious men who came to protest. Not only did they attempt to disrupt the women from praying but their conduct clearly interfered with those who were actually praying at the Kotel in both the men and women’s sections. Following the conclusion of the service, the women were escorted by the police out of the plaza area to buses that the police had arranged for to take the women safely away from the plaza. As they boarded the buses, they were met with violence by Haredi men waiting for them. Rocks were thrown at the buses creating a very dangerous situation that could have resulted in serious personal injury.
The Haredi are doing what they can to overturn the ruling of Judge Sobel. (an appeal from the Magistrates Court decision). The Israel Police had arrested a number of women the previous month for wearing tallitot. A smaller but no less threatening situation arose and the police intervened by arresting the women. The police were attempting to prevent WOW from coming to the Western Wall plaza for the next three Rosh Chodesh prayers. The Magistrates Court ruled that the women were not the ones “…who had committed a breach of the peace and had initiated the provocation” but rather “…the responsibility for the breach rests with other people who were present at the site and expressed their protest against the Women of the Wall.” The unconditional release of the women was ordered. The police appealed and Judge Sobel was presented with the situation where he had to rule on the integrity of the regulation. The police argued a number of points including the critical issue whether the women violated the Holy Sites Regulations, which state that anyone “…who takes part in the performance of a religious ceremony other than in accordance with local custom (emphasis added), which offends the sensibilities of worshipers from among the public with respect to the site in question is committing an offense.” The police argued that “local custom” meant status quo, i.e. the custom that has prevailed. Judge Sobel, citing previous case law, disagreed with the police interpretation and accepted the precedents of earlier decisions that stated the “…nature of a custom is that it changes according to the changing times, and [the phrase] should express a pluralistic and tolerant approach to the opinions and customs of others…” and accordingly, the women did not violate “…the prohibitions set forth in the Holy Sites Regulations.”
Faced with this decision, the Haredi community embarked on a demonstration on Rosh Chodesh Sivan aimed to disrupt and intimidate not only WOW and its supporters but those in authority – the government and the judiciary. The battle lines are now fully drawn and, as Rabbi Eric Yoffie wrote earlier this week “As these developments become more likely, a desperate reaction was to be expected—and the violence at the Wall is only the first round. What this means is that the Women of the Wall are wise to keep up the pressure. And it is to be hoped that Israel’s political leaders, fortified by the January elections and the expectations of an impatient Diaspora, will retain their resolve as well.”
Earlier in the year Prime Minister Netanyahu asked Natan Sharansky to make recommendations that would resolve the issue of prayer at the Kotel. The recommendation brought forward was the construction of a second prayer plaza at Robinson’s Arch that would be for egalitarian prayer. It is interesting to note that while this recommendation resulted from the efforts of the WOW in forcing the issue of how all forms of prayer should be accommodated at the Kotel, the solution only deals with one of two issues. It is a solution to the question of egalitarian prayer, i.e. men and women who choose to prayer together. The WOW’s efforts deal with another issue, that of women who wish to pray in the women’s section in the manner they choose. Thus, while the Sharansky proposal is to be welcomed and supported, it does not deal directly with this other issue that is of direct concern to women, particularly modern Orthodox.
Anat Hoffman reminded us that “…a poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute showed that, for the first time, a majority of Israelis support women’s right to pray at the Kotel as they see fit.” While these are significant developments with the full force of jurisprudence in support of open and equal prayer, it is disheartening to note that the new Diaspora and Religious Services Minister, Naftali Bennett from the Bayit haYehudi party is now planning to impose more regulations against women praying at the Wall. His threats of unilateral actions would undermine the Sharanksy proposal and bring about further legal challenges that could reverse the cogently written decision of Judge Sobel.
The issue of prayer at the Western Wall is important on its own merits. But it also serves as the metaphor for the larger issue of religious pluralism in Israel – a Jewish society in which all forms of Jewish religious practice and custom should be recognized and respected. For liberal Jews the very essence of what Israel should be as a Jewish state is what holds our commitment and connection to the land and the state. WOW, led by Anat Hoffman and Lesley Sachs, is to be applauded for creating the tipping point that will change the religious environment in the State of Israel. Hopefully this will be resolved in short time and Israel will avoid the necessity of seeing a March on Jerusalem mounted to force the government to do that which it knows should be done.
May 10, 2013 in St. Louis, MO: We had over 60 people and it was just perfect – outside, at least 8 different congregations represented, men and women, young and old….beautiful!
San Francisco and the Bay Area Friends of Women of the Wall Sing In! One of our longest standing solidarity groups!
NEW YORK, NEW YORK!
Jewish Voices Together gathered in Madison Square Park for their Rosh Hodesh Sivan Solidarity Minyan! Here is the first aliyah, for women with WOW tallitot!! In NYC they had 250 participants, from all Jewish denominations, supporting WOW and Jewish pluralism.
Folks from across St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota came together at Beth Jacob Congregation for an egalitarian minyan in solidarity and celebration of Women of the Wall, in partnership with Mt. Zion Temple, Shir Tikvah, and Temple of Aaron. The minyan was joyful and energetic; some photos:
When we got to the Song of the Sea, we thought of those walls of police officers protecting you on your right and on your left.
Chicagoland WOW Solidarity Event, May 10th:
Despite cold and rainy weather, over 100 women and men turned out to support our sisters in Jerusalem. A Rosh Hodesh service was held at the Daley Center in front of a replica of the Wall created by Carol Johnson. The warm and inspirational service was led by Debbie Lewis, Carla Cenker, Ricky Lewis, Rhonda Wehner. Doris Schyman read torah.
The project to hold a Solidarity Rosh Hodesh Service started with an independent Rosh Hodesh group and spread to include outreach by the Union of Reform Judaism and its affiliate congregations, Conservative and Reconstructionist congregations and about a dozen Jewish organizations including Hillel chapters and the National Council of Jewish Women.
by Rabbi Mark Zimmerman, Conservative rabbi serving Congregation Beth Shalom in Atlanta (from his blog)
Shortly we will celebrate the holiday of Shavuot which commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Our tradition teaches us that every Jew was in attendance for this magnificent, historic event — including all who ever lived in the past, and all those yet to be born in the future.
The image is indeed a very touching one. We were allpresent at Sinai, and the entire Jewish people stood together as one. The whole Jewish people standing together as agudah achat, one unified group has always conveyed a beautiful, inspirational lesson for us to emulate in every generation.
Yet sadly, that was not the scene at the Kotel this past Rosh Hodesh. Over five-hundred women came together to peacefully pray and read words of Torah together at a service organized every month by the group Neshot HaKotel, or Women of the Wall. This time they had even more obstacles to overcome than usual.
In a groundbreaking ruling, the Jerusalem District Court upheld an earlier decision that women who wear tallitot at the Kotel plaza are not contravening “local custom” or causing a public disturbance, and therefore should not be arrested — as they had been in the past. The issue of equal prayer rights at the Kotel has become more prominent recently because of the frequent arrests of women participating in these special services held each month on Rosh Hodesh — which has long traditionally been considered a special holiday for women in Judaism.
During the last Rosh Hodesh service at the Kotel, the scene was chaotic as a large police presence tried to keep the the protesters and women daveners separated. Haredi (Ultra Orthodox) women had gathered in large numbers to fill the women’s section in an attempt to prevent Women of the Wall from holding their monthly service. Meanwhile Haredi men and children hurled stones and insults in the direction of these women, simply trying to gather in prayer. Absolutely appalling.
I, like many of you have long supported Women of the Wall and their efforts on behalf of religious pluralism in Israel. Yet when I expressed that support in the comments section of Jpost.com I was greeted with the typical barrage of delegitimizers, and those who deplore any expression of Judaism other than their own.
But let me say it clearly. WOW’s actions are not at all contrary to halacha, (Jewish law) but haredim throwing rocks at people clearly is a grave sin in Judaism. There is no comparison. Halacha is dynamic, and there has never been only one authoritative interpretation of Jewish law. Our Sages have taught us that there are shivim panim laTorah (seventy faces to the Torah) and many modern Jews who support WOW are also living according to Torah. So those who say WOW and their supporters don’t accept the Torah are completely misguided.
The Kotel belongs to all Jews; not just the haredim, not just the Orthodox, and not just Conservative or Reform either. But even beyond that, ethical, moral and civil behavior should be expected of all Jews and in all places — but especially in a sacred space such as the Kotel.
Others objected to my words of support saying it’s a complex issue and the sensitivities in Israel are different than they are here in America. I couldn’t disagree more. It’s NOT complicated at all. I have davened at the Kotel many times over the years, and twenty years ago I could lead an egalitarian Kabbalat Shabbat service in the Kotel plaza without incident. But today there are haredi thugs who can’t accept that anyone has a right to any interpretation of Judaism other than their own narrow definition of Judaism.
The article on Jerusalem Post’s website where my comments appeared was titled: “Western Wall rabbi: I am hurting and crying”. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz told the Post: It wasn’t for this Kotel that we prayed. We don’t want a Kotel of disagreement.”
Well I certainly agree. The Kotel should indeed be for all of us, praying together in harmony, each in our own respective way. The Kotel belongs to all Jews, not just those who delegitimize us. We modern Jews who identify with more progressive streams of Judaism are tired of having our voices shouted down. And refusing to even acknowledge our observance of halacha is an insult that we should no longer tolerate.
So I encourage you all to add your support to these brave women who are liberating the Kotel for the entirety of the Jewish people.
I fell asleep last night as nerves and excitement swelled within me. I knew I would be waking up to the sunrise this morning in order to pray with Women of the Wall at Rosh Hodesh Sivan. Although I have prayed in Rosh Hodesh minyans before, something about this minyan felt different and more pressing.
I was working in the library last week when my friend summoned me over with, “Look! Look!” I was looking at victory. According to the Women of the Wall website, the Jerusalem District Court held that the five women arrested on April 11 were not disturbing public order and should never have been arrested. Women’s prayer in the women’s section, regardless of how this prayer is expressed, does not violate local custom and should not cause arrests.
I have lived in Israel for eight months now as a student spending her Junior year abroad and have grown to feel that this land is more my home than is the city in which I grew up. Yet the Kotel has always stood apart from this bond to Israel which I feel. This year has forced me to face the harsh reality that while I grew up in a very liberal Jewish environment that allows me to pray however I please, this is not the case for others, especially in Israel. This difference in acceptance in practice is typified by the Kotel. I ironically feel like a visitor in this place which is supposed to be my Jewish home. Instead of aligning my personhood with my religion, it sparks in me feelings of alienation and a questioning of Judaism.
I was looking at victory. As I read about the Jerusalem District Court Decision, I felt an immense sense of validation. The decision states that my way of practicing Judaism is valid and welcomed by the Israeli government. I knew that at Rosh Hodesh Sivan I would have newfound opportunity to set my own prayer pace. I would be allowed to pray, to sing, and to dance among sisters without fear of arrest and instead only with the exuberance that comes from a sense of belonging. Further, I felt a connection between the fact that my year abroad in Israel is coming to an end and that the age of gender inequality at the Kotel is possibly coming to an end as well. In just four weeks I will return to the United States. At least though I am able to see the beginning of the fruit of Women of the Wall’s labor before I go.
With this, anticipation bubbled in me last night as I tried to sleep. I could not, of course. My friends and I left our Hebrew University dorms this morning at the crack of dawn with shared eagerness and wonder. We boarded the train towards downtown, trekked through the Old City, and stopped at the stairs above the Kotel plaza. What was that hum? As we peered over the stairs’ railings, I knew I was correct. This minyan was going to be different after all.
I was shocked. The hum was coming from a swarm of Haredim who were there en masse to protest the recent Jerusalem Court Decision. I have never seen the Kotel plaza so filled and knew my friends and I would have to swim through in order to reach our Women of the Wall sisters. Swim we did. I pushed. I squeezed. I finally reached the Women of the Wall and felt at home among women and men just like me—with the same recognizable expression of both fear and elation.
Prayer began. I did not have my own prayer book, but others rushed to share with me so that I could follow along. While chanting, I was hit in the head with a wad of wet tissue paper thrown by the Haredim. We were pointed and heckled at. Instead of being scared, I was emboldened. Chanting with Women of the Wall is always the thing that moves me the most during Rosh Hodesh minyans. The chanting usually begins slow and quiet but quickly gains momentum and is joined by clapping and dancing. Sometimes we even link arms and move as one. Through this, our voices and bodies become links on a single chain moving towards the goal of freedom of prayer. Despite differences between Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Renewal, man, woman, Israeli, or not, what matters most in these moments of chanting is that we support each other and support Women of the Wall. I am reminded why my seemingly insignificant voice against a sea of Haredim and others who view my Jewish practice as illegitimate matters. I am a link.
My friends and I exited the Kotel Plaza following the Minyan. We prayed. We sang. We danced. We marched past Haredi men and women staring at us as they would aliens. We dodged dirt, coffee, and paper towels that were lunged towards us. My friends and I were rightfully shocked, exhausted, and silent. Eventually though, I unintentionally broke this silence as I shook my head and stated, really only to myself, “absurd.” Absurdity is only word I have to appropriately describe the Women of the Wall plight. My sisters and I come each Rosh Hodesh with the single goal of praying, of expressing our Judaism, peacefully. Peace is not returned to us. Why is it okay for the Haredim to protect Judaism through the protection of its holy site, by engaging in unarguably “un-Jewish” behavior? To me, this is absurd. In the midst of this morning, a male friend of mine entered conversation with a couple of Haredi boys. He asked why they were so enraged. Their answer? They view Women of the Wall as visitors encroaching on their home. This is also absurd. I am Jewish. Both of my parents are Jewish. How is the Kotel not just as much my home as it is his? Last Rosh Hodesh, sisters were arrested for wearing tallitot. This Rosh Hodesh, police officers held hands and stood in lines in order to form protective barriers between us and the Haredim. Some Haredim were even arrested for taunting us. While this is certainly something to be honored, it nevertheless represents a complete turn-around of treatment towards Haredim and towards Women of the Wall. It enhances my confusion with my place at the Kotel.
The absurdity of the situation at the Kotel has to balloon before changes can be made. The Israeli government will make and retract decisions. Haredim will be challenged by our growing presence each Rosh Hodesh. Only because of this absurdity might the world begin to question the legitimacy of Jewish gender traditions. Change might then be on the way in. While Rosh Hodesh Sivan marked the culmination of my year abroad in Israel, for Women of the Wall, it is only the commencement of greater change ahead.
To all women who wish to pray at the Western Wall,
This Friday May 10th, Women of the Wall will gather, as we have for nearly 25 years, for Rosh Hodesh prayers at the Kotel. This month is different from past months; we have received the legal ruling of the Jerusalem District Court to pray freely on the women’s side of the Kotel. After many months of intimidation and arrests, we gather this month in celebration of this and in great anticipation to pray peacefully, each woman according to her own custom. We are happy to invite you all – Haredi, Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Renewal, Reconstructionist and unaffiliated Jews – to join our women’s prayer.
We know that there are new groups organizing to recruit women to come to the Kotel early on Rosh Hodesh and protest our prayer. We hope that these groups, who know little about Women of the Wall, are not coming to the Kotel to provoke conflict, but to pray. Such fringe groups have organized just in the past two months, since media has begun to gather at the Kotel on Rosh Hodesh. Though each group has a right to assemble and to claim their 15 minutes of fame, Women of the Wall eagerly awaits the day when all women pray, free of media and police alike. Please know that there is no reason to be threatened by pluralism; the truth is quite the opposite, Women of the Wall respects all Jewish denominations and each woman in the way in which she chooses to live.
If you are a free-thinking woman recruited by these groups that wish to provoke a fight at the holy site, we urge you to take a moment, listen to our prayer and see our honest intent. If the mood strikes you, you are welcome to pick up a copy of our siddur and pray with us.
For those women coming to pray on Rosh Hodesh, nothing could make us more proud. It is because of the years of prayer and struggle of Women of the Wall that you can finally do so freely now. We have faced cursing, physical assault, spitting and more on the journey towards women’s religious freedom at the Kotel. We have done so in order to pave the way for women like you, who begin now to gather in groups at the Kotel, and it gives us great pleasure to see you organize, so long as it is for the purpose of raising the spiritual ground of the Kotel and not to protest our peaceful prayer.
When we arrive at the Kotel on Friday, we will all have a choice, to be on the side of baseless hatred of Jew against Jew or to pray with Women of the Wall for unity amongst Jews. We welcome you to join us as we pray side-by-side, each woman as she believes but with respect for the other.
We look forward to sharing our sisterhood with you,
My Thoughts as We Embark upon a New Initiative in Support of Religious Pluralism at the Kotel
by Rabbi Dan Goldblatt, Beth Chaim Congregation, Danville, California; President, OHALAH (Renewal), International Vice Chair, Rabbis for Women of the Wal
We live at a moment of great blessing in Jewish history. There has been a great healing of old patriarchal wounds and we have women rabbis, cantors, chaplains, and liturgists. For centuries, we were taught that Kabbalah was an expression of the divine feminine albeit articulated by men. Today, thank G-d, we are blessed to have this coming through the beauty of women’s voices.
In our holy land of Israel, we stand together with the Women of the Wall and all those who hold dear the words that speak to our hearts from the Torah, “B’Tzelem Elohim . . . In the image of G-d, the Creator made them, male and female G-d created them. (Genesis 1:27)
We pray that the day has come when, women, created in the image of the divine, can worship, sing out, chant from Torah, and if they choose, wrap themselves in tallit, tefillin standing at the Kotel, the resonant symbol of the holy places of our tradition.
We stand with them and make an unequivocal commitment to do all that we can to ensure that Israel honor its commitment to all of Klal Yisrael in its wondrously diverse, pluralistic and egalitarian splendor.
by Rabbi Menachem Creditor, in honor of my hero, Rabbi Yonina Creditor
My hope is renewed at the possibility of Jewish Pluralism in Israel given the amazing moment we marked today, as a Jerusalem District court upheld a ruling that five women who had been detained at the Western Wall for wearing prayer shawls traditionally used by men and singing were not disturbing the public order. (The police had challenged a ruling last Thursday by a magistrates’ court upon the detentions.)
Thanks to the leadership of my fellow founding cochair Rabbi Pam Frydman and incoming cochair Rabbi David Kalb, I know the path forward will be led by resonant rabbinic power and infused with wise, loving, collaborative rabbinic vision.
It is my prayer, as I conclude my term as co-chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall, that the political power of Charedim in Israel declines and that Charedim do not become targets of Jewish hate. Pluralism is not limited to progressive streams of Judaism. The path ahead must include our whole family.
It is my prayer that the State of Israel see itself as the safe heart and nurturing home of the Global Jewish People, affirming Jewish Pluralism and Jewish family. The Diaspora is a legitimate expression of Jewish Peoplehood, and the State of Israel has an obligation to support every Jew in the world.
It is my prayer that yearning Zionists, those who love the State of Israel that is and are passionately committed to building the State of Israel that has yet to be, step up and do their part in defending our People’s Home. Jewish critique of Israel is only authentic when it is borne in and of love for our People’s Home.
It is my prayer that women, at the Kotel, in the Galil, in Buenos Aires, in Australia, Johannesburg, and San Francisco never again experience the violence and persecution they have endured monthly for almost twenty years, all the while channeling the fire of Deborah the Warrior and the song of Miriam the Prophet.
It is my prayer that Jews around the world continue agitating for Jewish Pluralism in Israel, so that no one - no human being - ever again have their voice silenced for being who God created them to be.
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Iyyar 15, 5773 // April 25, 2013
Women of the Wall was contacted by the filmmakers behind the J Street Documentary, in solidarity and support for our struggle!
“As filmmakers, we have been following J Street for the past three years documenting their fight for the Obama Administration to take a more active role in the Middle East Peace Process. Along the way, we have encountered many groups battling for core democratic values in Israel. Perhaps none embodies this better then Women of the Wall. Women of the Wall’s struggle for women’s rights represents Israel’s great potential for pluralism and social justice.”
We are quickly approaching the Friday May 10th Rosh Hodesh service in support of Women of the Wall at the Daley Center at 8AM. We hope you will be able to join us. To RSVP and to see who else is coming check out our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/194539127336912/?ref=2
Please bring your own prayer book and tallit, if you can.
The details of the event are listed below:
Women of the Wall (WOW) need support in their goal of religious freedom and the right to pray aloud at the Western Wall.
On Rosh Hodesh Sivan, Friday morning, May 10, 8 am to 10 am, there will be a women-led Torah service at the Daley Center on Randolph St. in support of Women of the Wall (WOW).This gathering is intended to focus public attention on the goals of WOW and to urge action by Prime Minister Netanyahu, Commission Chair Natan Sharansky, as well as other members of the Israeli government.
We encourage everyone to join us. We are a grassroots association, Women of the Wall Chicagoland. We have obtained a permit from the City of Chicago for this event. It is clear that Diaspora pressure is making a difference!! Let’s keep it up.
*Announcing Wake Up for Religious Tolerance! Rosh Hodesh Sivan, in Manhattan, Friday morning May 10, exact time and place TBA.*
As last time, we have applied for a NYC Parks permit, and await the results – but are receiving expedited consideration, since this is a first amendment issue.
The haftarah (2 Kings 7: 3-20) that we read in this week’s combined weekly Torah parasha of Tazria-M’tzora addresses the metzora/leprosy described in the Torah portion (though it is not the disease of leprosy as we know it today). It was an affliction that separated and isolated people and deemed them impure. In this haftarah, four afflicted men who have been cast out of the community decide in desperation to desert to the Arameans, who lay in wait to attack the Israelites. In a stunning turnabout, they find the Aramean camp deserted. Although their first and understandable impulse is to take all of the material possessions of the Arameans for themselves, upon reflection, they realize a greater truth. They conclude that they cannot remain silent and must rejoin the Israelites and share their news and their plight, even though the Israelites had cast them out.Last night we awaited the fate of our sisters at the Kotel in Jerusalem, to learn whether on Rosh Hodesh Iyyar, the morning of April 11, they worshiped in peace or were cast aside yet again by some of our fellow Jews. Five women were arrested for the “crime” of wearing a tallit and davening while female. Thanks to the wise and courageous actions of J. Sharon Larry Bavly and the two MKs who supported the women every step of the way - MKs Tamara Zandberg and Michal Rozin – the Judge found that they committed no crime – and the only disturbance of the peace was on the part of those who tried to interfere with the women davening! Copy of the decision in Hebrew attached, translation to follow. Now we have the first positive decision – clearly the most positive first step in a long and continuing journey. There will likely be many more arrests and judges before tolerance is established. I spoke to Anat Hoffman this morning, who is very happy at this vindication, and of course, is ready to continue the 24 year long struggle of Women of the Wall!
*We* must ask the question for ourselves anew – do *we* remain silent, and deny that our fates are united, or do *we* resolve to stand together as one Jewish people?Those who joined together on Rosh Hodesh Nissan already know the power and sacredness of our joining our Jewish Voices Together. If you would like to build on that experience or join in for the first time, please let us know by email and by signing up for the event:
When a woman cannot mourn….
The stones of the earth will shake.
The rains will flood
… The seas will swell
The earth will open
The Shekhina will wail!
She will moan…
Until every woman can cry
Until every woman can sing
Until every woman can laugh
So deeply that every man will feel
Called from the depths of his soul
To cry with her
To sing with her
To laugh with her
And to dance with her
Before the sun
Before the moon
Standing in the River of Life,
Holiness beating in their hearts.
Their bodies dust,
Their breath divine
Written by Jennifer Rudick Zunikoff, April 4, 2013
The Orlando Community Weekday Minyan is greater Orlando’s only ongoing daily minyan. It is traditional and fully egalitarian, meeting every Monday through Friday morning in the Beit K’nesset of the Jewish Academy of Orlando in Maitland, FL.
Jenn is an intern with Women of the Wall and will be starting studies at HUC Jerusalem next Fall
Criminals. Troublemakers. Attention seekers. These are just a few of the names that Women of the Wall have been called. I’ve met these women, I’ve prayed with these women, and you know what? I call these women discrimination-fighting superheroes with the guts to stand up for the human right to pray. As an OTZMA participant and a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, I am blessed to have the opportunity to intern with this social advocacy group and experience the magic.
Women of the Wall seek the rights for women to conduct prayer services, read Torah while wearing tallitot or tefillin, and sing out loud at the Western Wall. Their quest is to change the current status quo, which prevents women from praying freely at the Western Wall, to educate Jewish women and the public, and to empower Jewish women to take control of their religious and prayer lives.
Today is Rosh Hodesh Iyar, the first of the month, and I’m standing in the women’s section of the Kotel. I’m surrounded by a couple hundred women pushing up against me with their prayer books, but I don’t feel claustrophobic at all—not one bit. I enjoy feeling close to them. I enjoy feeling as if I’m part of a team—one united army of women from all different branches of Judaism with the common goal of freedom in prayer. The Kotel is swamped with photographers, news reporters, and police officers watching us as if we’re plotting evil. Orthodox men stand on chairs in the men’s section. Screaming at us to pipe down and to stop the racket, they stare us down like we’re parasites. Despite the snaps of the cameras, the yelling of the opposition, and the chanting of the men, I hear only one thing: I hear the beautiful melody of the Shema. We looked up at the sky, closed our eyes, and chanted the Shema like it’s our anthem. Without a worry of the nasty Facebook comments people will make, the articles that will be written about us in Haaretz, or the police reports that may potentially be filed, we prayed together in harmony.
Last year as I walked to the Kotel on Erev Yom Kippur, I jumped up and down with excitement at the thought of praying in one of the most holy places. Unfortunately, my memories of praying at the Kotel on Yom Kippur center around my experience of having the security guards make me remove my kippa and lock my new tallit in my backpack as if it was a weapon. But men were walking in with all of these same items and not being harassed or bothered! Because I’m a woman, I’m not allowed to express my Judaism the way I feel called to? I felt disgusted, confused, and alone. Now as I intern with Women of the Wall and join them in their journey for justice, I no longer feel alone in this battle.
Today, I watched police officers question innocent women as they prayed. These were women with mile-long smiles on their faces just bubbling with contagious passion as they let out the words of their favorite prayers. Is this a crime? Are these women criminals? No, they are certainly not. Five women were taken away from our Rosh Hodesh service at the Kotel and detained. Thank goodness, these five detained women were released without any charges. The judge declared that there was no cause for the womens’ arrest and that the provocation was on behalf of those who oppose womens pray. I’ve never experienced religious discrimination. At my Reform synagogue, Temple Beth Sholom, in New City, New York, I have the freedom to pray however I would like. Not only does my experience with Women of the Wall make me appreciate the times I’m treated fairly and equally, but it also encourages me to keep striving for equality and justice in an unfair society. I am thrilled to begin interning with Women of the Wall and promote human rights. We will change this. We really will.