A founding member of Women for the Wall – a nascent, broad-based women’s coalition supporting traditional religious observance at the Western Wall – described rival group Women of the Wall (WoW) as “oppressive to women’s rights” and an affront to “Jewish tradition.”
Ronit Peskin, one of three women who formed the new organization roughly three weeks ago, said Sunday that although WoW had garnered international sympathy by framing its crusade as a women’s rights issue, it was in fact desecrating the site’s sanctity for women.
“WoW claims to liberate the Kotel for women, but as traditional Jewish women, for us, what they’re doing does not liberate us, it oppresses us because they’re only interested in how they feel, and they’re not taking into consideration other points of view,” said Peskin.
“And since their only opposition is haredi guys who are harassing them, we decided to create an organization run by women, for women to stand up for women’s rights at the Kotel,” she added.
Peskin categorically dis- missed the haredim who threw garbage, spat on and cursed members of WoW and their children at a Friday protest as an embarrassment to Judaism.
“The fact is that there was a tiny fraction of [haredim] mis- behaving and we screamed at them to stop it, but they didn’t listen,” she said. “These guys don’t represent Judaism because no one who follows the Torah would behave as they do.”
Peskin added that women from her organization did not go to the Wall to protest Fri- day, but rather as a symbolic gesture to pray in unity on the anniversary of Rosh Hodesh Sivan.
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Shira Pruce, director of WoW’s public relations, said Sunday that she does not understand what Women for the Wall stand for, and accused the organization of mimicking WoW’s media strategy.
“WoW supports all women to pray according to their beliefs at the Kotel,” said Pruce. “Women for the Wall has basically taken a very similar style [to ours] in terms of media and our text, and I know they are against our work, but I don’t understand why.”
Spruce added that while she saw members of the opposing women’s organization at Fri- day’s protest, she claimed that it was strictly to garner media attention.
“I did meet with them briefly on Friday, but I didn’t see them praying – I only saw them speaking to the media,” she said. “Apart from reaching out to the media and creating a strategy similar to the one WoW has created, I don’t know what they stand for.”
When told that Women for the Wall stood for traditional observance at the Kotel, as stated in the Torah (i.e. not wearing religious garb, including tallit), Pruce refuted the assertion that WoW contravenes Jewish law in any way.
“WoW works 100 percent in the framework of Jewish law,” she said. “We are not violating the Torah, and this is not a halachic issue, which numerous prominent rabbis have agreed with. The Western Wall is not an ultra-Orthodox synagogue, it’s a public place – a very important, historic, holy place – but first and foremost, it’s public.”
Meanwhile, Peskin claimed her attempts to reach out to WoW have been rebuffed with accusations of lies and a threatened law suit.
“I’ve tried to talk to them, but they keep accusing me of lying,” she said. “First, they scoffed at me and said I’m an insignificant nothing, and on Friday they threatened me with a court case because they said I’m stealing their concept from their website, which is not true.”
“They claim I lie about their intentions and say I misunderstand them,” she continued.
“But they just don’t like that I’m making public the things they don’t want publicized.”
Peskin emphasized that she does not “hate” WoW, and actually made some headway with WoW’s chairwoman Anat Hoffman at Friday’s protest.
“I asked Anat to have coffee with me so we can discuss our differences and she agreed to meet me when she returns from her trip to America,” Peskin said.
“I want to make it very clear that I don’t hate them,” she continued. “Political battles, such as the ones orchestrated by Women of the Wall do not belong at a place such as the Kotel. They have been engaging in political provocation at a holy site, and that must end.”
Peskin added that the Supreme Court’s decision to allocate an egalitarian prayer section at Robinson’s Gate should be respected and utilized so women with opposing views can pray in peace at the Wall.
“Women for the Wall beg Anat Hoffman and her companions to take their battles back to the Knesset and the Supreme Court, and leave the Western Wall alone,” she said.
“We want to come and pray peacefully, and you are disrupting the prayers of other women around you.”
Pruce maintained WoW’s legal right to pray as they choose at the Wall, and advised members of Women for the Wall to pray at private synagogues if they view their freedom of religion as offensive.
“I only wish them to embrace the democracy in Israel which allows all of us to pray freely at a holy site with- in the public domain,” Pruce said. “If it upsets them, they have a variety of private synagogues to choose from.”
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