Are we ready?

Will the new space be used regularly? Will I be able to find a minyan, even if only at prescribed times? Will it be possible to hold holiday services, including for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?

May 15, 2013 22:08
2 minute read.
Women of the Wall protest

Women of the Wall protest. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

After years of wrangling and heartache, a solution may have been reached in the struggle spearheaded by Women of the Wall regarding the rights of all Jews to freely pray at the Kotel.

Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky has submitted a proposal which would create a separate space for egalitarian worship in a renovated area at the southern wall known as Robinson’s Arch.

There are still many hurdles to overcome, and no one is completely happy. At first, the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, was quoted as saying he could “live with” such a solution, although now he has backtracked.

One wonders what kind of backroom conversations took place after he made his initial statement.

If this indeed happens, those of us who are traditional egalitarian worshipers now have our own hurdles to overcome. The impending holiday of Shavuot reminds us that along with rights come responsibilities.

Assuming the plan works, and there is now a separate but equal space at the Kotel for egalitarian worship – are we ready? Because if it just becomes a place to hold bar or bat mitzvah ceremonies and there is a monthly rosh chodesh minyan, I wonder what kind of message we’ll be sending.

Some questions:
• Will the space be used regularly? Will I be able to find a minyan, even if only at prescribed times? Will it be possible to hold holiday services, including those for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?
• How pluralistic will it be? Will musical instruments be allowed on Shabbat, even if they disturb another service? Will sound systems be permitted on Shabbat and holidays?
• Are we prepared to educate both critics and supporters who may not know much about Jewish prayer in a thoughtful manner?
• If the Southern Wall becomes a legitimate place of worship, will it have the same status as the Western Wall? Will the definition of the Kotel encompass both?
• What will we add to the story when we bring groups to Robinson’s Arch? Will a narrative emphasizing the struggle for equality overshadow the Kotel’s historical and spiritual significance?
• Possibly most important, are we prepared to encourage both women and men to take on the mitzvah of tallit and tefillin, not only when they are at the Southern Wall, but on a daily basis in their homes and synagogues? Most of these questions (there will be plenty more) are not to be answered by a government appointee or commission; they are questions we must answer ourselves.

As a Jew living in the Diaspora, I realize it is chutzpadik of me to suggest we all accept this responsibility, especially since most of it will fall upon those who live in Israel (and even more specifically, in Jerusalem). Sharansky has said “one Western Wall for one Jewish people.” If that’s part of our mantra, then it becomes incumbent upon all of us to seize this opportunity to both examine and deepen our own commitments.

Are we ready?

The author is an observant egalitarian Jew living in Chicago.

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