Women of the Wall 521.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The accusations against the Women of the Wall grow more and more
Even if you could or should rate another person’s “prayer
sincerity quotient,” it would be hard to argue with their perfect attendance
record of over nearly a quarter century, rain or shine, at 7 a.m. Still, every
epithet is hurled at these women. They’re also blamed for causing strife and
trashing Israel’s image because they have the audacity to pray. In a recent
opinion piece in The Times of Israel, the Women of the Wall were also faulted
for causing deleterious climate change.
I kid you not.
And just as
the physical attacks become more dangerous, so the media attacks become more
personal and dangerous, too. This has to stop. That means that the outrageous
comments made about Women of the Wall and members of other streams of Judaism
are evil talk, lashon hara, whether at your table or speaking as an authority on
a so-called religious talk show. You don’t have to join the Women of the Wall,
agree with and support the Women of the Wall, or even like the Women of the
Wall, to detest the tone of the discourse.
In contrast, the appearance of
hundreds of non-violent women, many of them young, at the Kotel at 7 a.m. last
Rosh Hodesh should be applauded. The participants in the Women of the Wall
service must have been delighted to see that they had inspired so many women to
come out early in the morning to celebrate Rosh Hodesh. According to media
reports, the women – who unlike the Women of the Wall don’t usually come to the
Kotel on Rosh Hodesh – were actually protesting by filling the prayer area to
prevent the Women of the Wall from coming up close – as if it matters who has
orchestra seats at the Wall.
In other words, the protesters came to
demonstrate and to be seen, not specifically to pray. Nonetheless, let’s hope
that some of those protesting took advantage of the setting and were uplifted by
the poignant, emotional words of Hallel, even if they felt it too sensuous to
sing the praises of the Creator.
For these young women, this may have
been a maiden experience in taking part in a highly charged ideological
demonstration. It must have been thrilling for them, too. I can still recall my
own emotional participation in demonstrations on behalf of the Jewish people,
around the same age as the seminary students. I wasn’t in seminary, but these
were seminal moments in my life. How could taking part in public protest not be
empowering to the majority and even subversive to some? ONCE YOU empower women,
you can never tell just what might happen. The world we religious Jewish women
live in is changing, like it or not. The expressions are many and varied. For
example, one unexpected manifestation is growing number of women who have
rejected standards of modest religious dress – not to be immodest, but to be
hyper-modest. The clothing they choose might be called “prioress garb” or “nun
style” dress, but there are few prioresses these days, and many nuns have given
up the old-fashioned habits for street clothes. Women themselves are out
proselytizing for this increased cover-up.
It’s no longer uncommon in
Jerusalem to see Jewish women in capes or dressed with neck and forehead
protected from view, a cloth version of a medieval knight’s armor. And not just
in Jerusalem. One of my daughters recently attended a religious class in Rehovot
only to discover that it was a motivational talk for wearing multiple layers of
skirts and tops and capes.
Another unexpected area of activism is the
demand for greater access to ritual baths. Responding to a petition by the
Center for Women’s Justice and Kolech, both organizations created and run by
Shabbat-observant Jewish women, the Supreme Court demanded a response from the
Chief Rabbinate about why women using the mikve needed to pass muster before
being allowed to use the facilities. As a result, policy has
Though the official position of the Chief Rabbinate still
remains that single women are prohibited from using the mikve, mikve attendants
– the gatekeepers to our ritual baths – must desist from interrogating a
potential tovelet, one who wishes to immerse. The rabbinate has declared that
“no woman who comes to use the ritual bath should be asked any questions
regarding her personal status and that the use of the ritual bath must not be
made conditional on that status.” Don’t ask, don’t tell is the new
What’s fascinating is examining who protested against exclusion
from the mikve. The initial case was brought by two single women, at least one
of whom wanted to immerse before the High Holy Days. There were other
complainants whose choice of officiating rabbi was rejected by the
Still another Jewish woman wanted to use the mikve before she
ascended in the group that prays on the Temple Mount. These women were
petitioning to expand the use of the mikve, not to diminish it. Who would have
guessed that single women, independent-minded women and strongly nationalist
women would be grouping together to demand greater access to the ritual bath?
Times are indeed changing.
Every year, tens of thousands of women, many
whom are religiously observant, are impacted by misogynous rabbinical rulings
related to their own divorces or those of their sisters, daughters or mothers.
How long can we expect today’s young women to tolerate such abuse? Their secular
peers are already marrying abroad to avoid contact with threatening religious
I wish joy to all those women who were praying on Rosh
Hodesh; as it says in Hallel, may each one fulfill her wish to be “a happy
mother of children.”
Still, no woman is immune to life’s
So bring them on. Let women by the thousands, those who
pray silently and those who raise their voices in song, fill all the courtyards
on the first of each month – a special women’s holiday in perpetuity for
rebelling against the men who wanted them to contribute to the Golden Calf. And
let’s leave judgment to the One whose praises we sing, Who is neither man nor
woman, and Who demands that we act with respect even to those with whom we don’t
agree. ■ The author is a Jerusalem writer who focuses on the wondrous stories of
modern Israel. She serves as the Israel director of public relations for
Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The views in her columns
are her own.