Part 2: Backs Against the Wall

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:  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.

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