What Women (of the Wall) Want

From the Rib? Thoughts on progressing Jewish feminism

I hope you enjoy that pun of a title, but if we were to take it seriously, don’t women in general want what the Women of the Wall, an organization that advocates for women’s rights to pray at the Kotel, desire? The mission of Women of the Wall is one inspired by equality, choice, and equal opportunity.

Anat Hoffman, the founder of Women of the Wall, who I have blogged about before seeing as she is one bad-ass Jewish feminist who’s been making some headlines lately, wrote a fantastic op-ed for The Forward where she breaks down exactly what has been going on at the Kotel since Nofrat Frenkel’s arrest and why equal opportunity for prayer is essential to progressing Judaism for everyone.

Hoffman writes,

Women of the Wall is sometimes accused of protesting against the “status quo” at the Western Wall. In fact, there is no status quo at the Wall — things change all the time. Men and women used to enter the Western Wall plaza together through the Jewish Quarter’s Dung Gate; in 1994, separate, gender-segregated entrances were created. Within the past decade, women soldiers were still allowed to sing the national anthem during ceremonies at the Wall — now they are instructed to be content with mouthing the words.

People sometimes ask us: “When will you achieve your goal?” This is a question one asks of a general. A general has soldiers, uniforms and a strategy. With Women of the Wall, we don’t know whether 10 or 100 women will show up each month — though we hope for 10,000. We have no uniforms, as we are a pluralistic group and come from all streams of Judaism. As far as strategy, we are only as bold as our least brave member.

Simply put, our goal is to obtain the freedom to pray and to do everything that is halachically permitted for women on the women’s side of the mechitza. This includes reciting prayers together that do not require a minyan, and, yes, most of all, it includes reading from the Torah. (Though it has been many years since we have been able to read from the Torah in the women’s section at the Wall.) At a minimum, we want to be allowed to pray at the Wall for one hour each month, free of injury and fear. This should not be a provocative request.

This is most definitely not a provocative request. Not only does it follow Jewish law precisely, but it even follows the sexism embedded in it through the organization’s aforementioned compromise. Women who wish to pray at the Kotel deserve way more than what Women of the Wall demands as a minimum, but I realize that an all-or-nothing approach can be unproductive  when dealing with religious extremists and Hoffman’s proposal is one that deserves to be heard because let’s face it – it’s pretty generous to the right.

If Judaism is to have a future, pluralism is necessary. Jewish pluralism depends on Jewish feminism. That is what the Women of the Wall are working so tirelessly for. This one site – whether one is comfortable praying there or not – is symbolic for Jews everywhere.

I will end this rather long post with Anat Hoffman’s own words: “The antidote to silence is action; we are now turning to the whole Jewish world, men and women alike, to help us reclaim the Wall for all Jews. HaKotel l’kulam — the Kotel is for all of us.”

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