Hue and cry at the Kotel

The Women of the Wall seek to abolish the discriminatory regulations that are preventing women from praying freely at the Western Wall.

Women of the Wall (photo credit: SHANA MEDEL)
Women of the Wall
(photo credit: SHANA MEDEL)
Clad in kippot, tefillin and vibrant tallitot, Jewish women representing pluralistic prayer group Women of the Wall were met by cries of disapproval at the Western Wall on Rosh Hodesh last Friday morning. But after 27 years in action, they weren’t fazed in the slightest.
“We are part of this country. We are part of the Jewish people. We want the Torah!” exclaimed chairwoman Anat Hoffman.
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation prevents worshipers from bringing personal Torah scrolls to the Kotel. With no scrolls in the women’s section and prohibitions against borrowing one of the several dozen from the men’s section, group members have made repeated attempts to sneak scrolls past security.
Public relations director Shira Pruce suspects their success over the past few months contributed to Friday morning’s uproar. Others point out that Women of the Wall was in fact breaking the law, and that the government has allocated the group an alternative prayer site at Robinson’s Arch.
In any case, upon going through security at 6:30 a.m., board member Rachel Cohen Yeshurun was confronted by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. Handcuffed and taken to the police station, along with the Torah scroll she had stowed inside her bag, Yeshurun was not charged and was released shortly thereafter.
“We cannot get one of the Torah scrolls that are for public use, but we are part of the public,” Hoffman said.
As usual, services began at 7 a.m. From just outside the women’s prayer section, shouts of criticism rang from a cluster of Orthodox men. A protester threw a bottle at the women, close to where Central Florida Hillel assistant director Erica Hruby was standing.
“I’m honored as a woman to be here,” affirmed Hruby. “I hope there will be a time where we don’t have to struggle – where women can be free in a religious sense. I hope it’s in my lifetime and in my daughter’s lifetime.”
And it is not just women who support this group. In an attempt to promote justice and tolerance, Women of the Wall affiliated men typically stand behind the partition at the back of the women’s section.
Participant Ohed Earon said the small group of male supporters has come to identify themselves as “The Men of the Women of the Wall.”
Tensions escalated when a religious woman blowing a whistle violently pushed against Ella Rembrand, a Women of the Wall supporter.
“We’re just a group of women trying to pray,” Rembrand asserted, adding that the religious community’s issue with pluralistic prayer does not stem from halachic reasoning, but from a tenacious desire to preserve the status quo.
However, not all women echoed her sentiments. While some shook their heads and murmured to themselves, others were vocal about their discontent – including one woman who took note of those wearing tefillin and tallit and shouted, “Why don’t you just get a brit mila, too?” Despite having been confronted by angry individuals and crowds on more than one occasion, Pruce said she is confident that Women of the Wall has and will continue to encourage change.
“We want to abolish the discriminatory regulations that are preventing women from praying freely at the Western Wall. That means allowing women access to Sefer Torah that will sit here,” she added, gesturing to the women’s section.