One year ago, Judge Moshe Sobel upheld the lower court’s decision and ruled that Women of the Wall’s prayers are not against the laws regarding holy places; that the custom of the Kotel is not necessarily Orthodox. He stated that WoW was allowed to pray, out loud, in an organized group, with tallitot, tefillin and reading from a sefer Torah.
We rejoiced over the decision and for me, it was even more of a victory, because it meant that my three arrests for praying while female in a tallit were expunged. I always insisted during my police interrogations that I was not breaking any laws.
Sadly, our opponents decided that they would not allow the law of the land (they believe themselves to be above it) to be exercised at the Kotel. Our arrests were orchestrated by their hands and when that failed, they decided to take matters into their own hands. The organized opposition began immediately– on Facebook and at the Kotel. The most extremist haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbis (those who believe it is OK to spit on little girls and beat women who dare to sit at the front of the bus) and haredi politicians worked to bring thousands of haredim and young seminary girls to the Kotel to fill up all available space and “protest” against our prayer.
When we arrived at the Kotel in April to pray, and faced a full-blown riot. The women’s section was full and we were forced to walk a gauntlet of cursing, spitting, garbage- and hot coffee-throwing haredi men, women and seminary girls grouped in the plaza outside the women’s section. Our male supporters ringed around us and the police surrounded us while we prayed and escorted us out and pushed us into commandeered Egged busses that were stoned and rammed by the rioters as we left.
I sat inside the bus near the bullet-proof glass windows and watched the rocks hitting and denting the windows while a crowd of haredi men tried to overturn the bus. It was more terrifying then the red alerts in Jerusalem just a few months earlier.
The riots continued for several more months and the police became less accommodating to us and more accommodating to the rioters who came with protest signs and whistles. Even a loudspeaker was used to try to prevent us from being able to pray. We have not been able to bring our Torah into the plaza or to use one of the hundreds available to other groups despite the Sobel ruling.
Meanwhile, the plan Natan Sharansky proposed, to build a third “equal” section of the Kotel for egalitarian prayer was still in play for egalitarian prayer. It is important to note that we are not an egalitarian prayer group. There were rumbles that when such a new section was built, the government was planning to legislate against WOW remaining in the women’s section. It is far easier to control peaceful, law-abiding women than rioting haredim.
When the government formed yet another committee to come up with a solution to “the problem,” we realized that we should be willing to participate and negotiate for what we need rather than be sent to a new section against our will and without our input. It was a very difficult decision and it was a very divisive and painful time.
I admit that I opposed negotiating with the government. I didn’t trust the government after the turn-around with the Sharansky plan and the threat of legislation. I also don’t believe in letting bullies win. Now, I am not as certain and I am willing to see what is being offered before I make my decision.
One of the things we asked for, in stepping up to the negotiating table, was for the riots to cease, and they have. The other condition was reading Torah at the Kotel during the interim, and that has not been achieved. We now pray every month, in relative quiet, without arrest and without police protection.
The quiet is good, the lack of Torah is not.
Every month, we go to the Kotel, Jewish women from all stripes of Jewish observance, and pray with love of God and love of Israel. We hope that soon, our joy will be complete and we will be able to, once again, read Torah at the Kotel. May this be God’s will.
The author is a board member of Women of the Wall, one of the five women arrested one year ago and the named defendant in the Sobel Decision.
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