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.
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.
what kind of backroom conversations took place after he made his initial
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
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
• 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?
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
• 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
• 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
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.
ready? The author is an observant egalitarian Jew living in Chicago.