Women of the Wall say the ‘Shema’ near the Western Wall 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Since Leah Aharoni and I founded Women for the Wall, a group of women dedicated
to preserving the traditional sanctity of the Western Wall, we are often asked:
“What’s wrong with Women of the Wall? Why shouldn’t they be able to pray as they
wish, according to their custom?” The Women of the Wall have cast theirs as a
battle over religious freedom, when in reality it’s about theology. They have
cast it as a fight between “fundamentalist,” ultra-Orthodox rabbis against
women, when in reality it is a disagreement between women (and men) who care
deeply about tradition, and a small group, motivated by feminism, who want to
make unilateral changes in the most sacred site to Judaism today.
pains us to see a vanishingly small group of women fomenting such disunity and
infighting in the Jewish world.
Anat Hoffman and other leaders of Women
of the Wall have compared Israel to Saudi Arabia, and expressed their view that
traditional women are oppressed, religious men misogynists, and traditional
Judaism “archaic, alien and repulsive.”
They call this a “war,” and
choose language of confrontation. This rhetoric of incitement recently
culminated with death threats against the chief rabbis of Israel and the rabbi
of the Kotel.
The Western Wall was liberated from the Jordanians in 1967
– from whom are they trying to “liberate” it? No, it’s not just “the rabbis.” In
reality, they are trying to “liberate” the Kotel from the vast majority of women
who pray there. The Holy City of Jerusalem is not Selma, and Anat Hoffman is no
Everyone is free to pray at the Western Wall, Jewish or not,
religious or secular.
Yet just as every sacred site in the world has
rules and expectations governing conduct there to preserve an atmosphere of
sanctity and reverence, so too the Kotel.
Women of the Wall claim it’s an
issue of religious coercion; in reality, they wish to coerce changes upon those
who prefer to pray in full accordance with thousands of years of Jewish
For the sake of allowing everyone to be able to practice their
faith in the way that is dearest to them, and in an environment that makes it
comfortable for them to do so, the government set aside the Robinson’s Arch
section of the Western Wall as a place for non-traditional prayer services, and
the Plaza section for traditional prayers. Everyone is welcome at both, but
everyone is expected to respect the atmosphere in those specific places. Yet
even were the Robinson’s Arch space expanded, something the Women of the Wall
have never needed, they insist that they must pray only at the traditional
Why does the Women of the Wall reject all compromise?
Why must they pray at the Plaza, and not at Robinson’s Arch? To answer this, we
must revisit their claim to merely wish to pray.
As two core founders of
WoW, Rivka Haut and Susan Aranoff, said recently in an op-ed published in The
Times of Israel, “WOW models to all Jewish women who pray at the Kotel that
women can take control over their own religious lives.... Like it or not, this
may initially shock them but then, when they get used to it, it will, it has to,
change their world view.... Women will be influenced, strengthened, perhaps even
demand change from their rabbis.... And that is why WOW must win the
struggle to remain at the Kotel. Our cause transcends women
Anat Hoffman echoed this herself.
After 10,000 women
came to pray on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, she said: “The rabbis who sent them don’t
understand that some of them will be asking, ‘Why not me?’ It’s a very
Their claim to wish simply to pray may garner
sympathy, but as they themselves state, it is also untrue. They want to intrude
upon traditional women in a way that shocks, offends and subverts, because they
believe their way of life is better and they want to influence traditional women
to change. Besides reaching the very heights of “chutzpah,” need we emphasis how
outrageous and offensive it is to call this “prayer?” Women of the Wall are not
victims of oppression; they are advocates for upheaval. The Western Wall should
not be turned into a political battleground and media circus, and religious
articles such as tallitot, tefillin, and prayer books should not be props with
which to promote a political agenda. Political fights should be taken to the
Knesset and the Supreme Court, and Holy Sites should be revered – not used as
wedges to drive political issues.
The Women of the Wall are engaged in
political provocation at the Western Wall, and that must end.
harmony, and Jewish unity depend upon it.The author, a writer and social
media maven, is co-founder of Women for the Wall, a grassroots movement of women
dedicated to preserving the traditional sanctity of the Western Wall. She lives
with her family in Kochav Ya’akov, a settlement on the outskirts of Jerusalem.