An open letter to Women of the Wall

By SHMUEL RABINOWITZ
July 15, 2015 22:33

We must not let it happen that Jews avoid coming to the Western Wall because for them, it is a place where Jews fight each other over their beliefs.

4 minute read.



Women of the Wall carry a Torah scroll into the women's section of the Western Wall plaza

Women of the Wall carry a Torah scroll into the women's section of the Western Wall plaza. (photo credit: WOMEN OF THE WALL)

In this short-tempered and violent culture that we live in, sadly, there might be those who are surprised that I address you as my sisters, and yet you are my sisters, and it is with this sense of fellowship that I write to you.

We share something precious. We were privileged to have our names attached to that of the holiest and most precious of places – the Western Wall. We all know that the Western Wall cannot have nor could ever have a “rabbi of the Western Wall” since the Western Wall is greater than we are and precedes us all. We all know that the Western Wall cannot have nor could ever have “women of the Wall” – since the Western Wall does not belong to anyone, but rather, we all belong to it. And yet, I write to you, the Women of the Wall, as the rabbi of the Western Wall, because of our shared affinity, love and concern for this sacred site.

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We recently read in our synagogues one of the verses that describes the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, regarding which Rashi states, “And Israel encamped there opposite the mountain – as one man with one heart.” What might we say, standing today opposite the mountain, when the distance between us is painfully great? Let’s speak truthfully. Your struggle at the Western Wall Plaza no longer seeks to attain a goal. The struggle has become a goal unto itself. Even the dramatic decision by the Israeli government to open a third prayer plaza, a mixed one, at the Western Wall, did not satisfy you. You wish to call for a change of the entire Jewish nation’s ancient prayer practices – and there is no greater pulpit from which to sound this call than the prayer plaza at the foot of the Western Wall, the place upon which the whole Jewish nation gazes. The Western Wall is not the goal of the struggle.

It is the means.

In interviews to media around the world, you claim that I am a fanatic and that I represent an isolationist stream in the Jewish nation. I know the Jewish world well. And I know very well that it contains different voices. I know that modernity brought about the establishment of synagogues in which women can take out and read from a Torah scroll, in opposition to the opinion of our rabbis throughout the generations. You too, like me, are familiar with the Jewish world and know that even today, for millions of Jews in thousands of synagogues around the world, women’s Torah reading is completely forbidden.

Both streams come to the Western Wall.

Both streams wish to stand in the shadow of the Divine Presence. But unlike you, I cannot prefer one over the other. All are accepted in front of the Western Wall.

The prayer plaza at the Western Wall is the only synagogue in the world meant for worshipers of all synagogues – those that are traditional and those that are not. This is the only place in the world at which all Jews, whether they are faithful to the traditions of their ancestors or wish to rejuvenate traditions (even if for the sake of Heaven), pour their hearts out in prayer in front of the Creator. There is no way to contain all these contrasts in one place without leaving all the restricting definitions outside of the Old City walls and approaching the Western Wall with humility, as individuals, and not as fighters for a cause.

Therefore, I ask of you to give in. Not to give up your opinions, but to give up using the Western Wall as the sounding board for these opinions. I do not ask you to give up your beliefs, but to give up your desire to express them in the one place that demands that we all bow our heads in humility.

You are not the only ones I am asking to give in. There are many in the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) public who find it very difficult to accept the tens of thousands of students and soldiers whom I and my friends at the Western Wall Heritage Foundation bring to the Western Wall on a daily basis. I also ask them to give in. Many in the National-Religious camp are up in arms about haredi worshipers praying a regular prayer service on Independence Day or on Jerusalem Day. I ask them to give in as well. Like our forefather standing at the foot of Mount Sinai, we are all commanded to “beware of ascending the mountain or touching its edge.”

From the time we were exiled from our land and our paths separated, the beit midrash filled with disputes and opinions.

The Jewish beit midrash has always worked that way. But we must not let it be the way the Western Wall works. We must not let the Western Wall become a symbol of struggle rather than a symbol of peace.

We must not let it happen that Jews avoid coming to the Western Wall because for them, it is a place where Jews fight each other over their beliefs.

I implore you to let me go back to dedicating all my time and energy to bringing more and more visitors and worshipers to the Western Wall. Let yourselves dedicate your love and good intentions to creating a deep connection between the entire Jewish nation and the Western Wall.

The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites.


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