Glasnost at the Kotel?

An open letter to Natan Sharansky: "Without your support we will continue to end up being Prisoners in Zion."

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)
Dear Mr. Sharansky,
I don’t envy the position you are in right now: tasked with bringing a rational solution to a place both rich and fraught with passion. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has asked you to make recommendations concerning freedom of worship at the Kotel.
As you may know, I was detained with my mother and eight others at the Kotel a few months ago for wearing a tallit.
My father, a leader of the Soviet Jewry movement, was happy to hear that the prime minister turned to you to find a solution.
I am of a different generation and we have never met.
You can also be a hero in this new era and for my generation if you become a champion for religious freedom in the Jewish state.
I am a stakeholder in your decision – in other words, I am a Jew. A Jew who prays with other women at the Kotel. Prior to the issuing of your report, I’d like to respectfully make three recommendations: 1. “Tri-chitzah” Since the Kotel belongs to all of world Jewry, all Jews must have equal access to worship at Judaism’s most holy site. So it only seems fair to divide it into three equal sections; men, mixed and women. And since there is no Jewish ritual for which men get arrested then clearly equality mandates that there should be no Jewish ritual that should land any woman in prison.
2. Pluralistic rabbinic council The Western Wall is under the authority of the haredi rabbinate, specifically Shmuel Rabinovitch, who was appointed to his position in 1995, the year I was born. Why should a holy site for all Jews be controlled for so long by a small minority? The Western Wall shouldn’t be under the authority of the ultra-Orthodox but, like Masada, where thousands of bnei mitzvah have been held without any problems, should be administered by the national park service.
In order to protect the religious concerns of all Jews, the national park service would benefit from an advisory council of rabbis from all denominations. If it bothers the ultra-Orthodox to see or hear women reading from the Torah they should first stop peeking over the mechitza.
And second, they could always go in their expansive tunnel, where women are not allowed, and from where they cannot hear or see us.
3. Robinson’s Arch Your idea of developing Robinson’s Arch as an additional prayer space is nice. But let’s be honest, the ultra- Orthodox wouldn’t take that proposition if it were reversed.
Separate is not equal. If indeed Robinson’s Arch is as spiritually and symbolically equal then the ultra-Orthodox should have no objection to rotating between the Kotel and Robinson’s Arch for prayer days. We have to deem inadequate proposals that essentially mechitza-out an all-egalitarian section at Robinson’s arch away from the central kotel plaza.
“Haredi” literally means “fear.” Fear certainly has a place in Jewish life. Fear of God, yes. Fear of losing our distinction as Jews, yes. But this is a fear of ourselves, of each other and, I would say, of true sanctity. What would happen if the fists of Orthodoxy were unclenched and norms from our people’s wider practices could blossom freely? I believe holiness would increase. A messier, varied, colorful and fruitful holiness.
My father said you were the leading dissident and Prisoner of Zion and that world Jewry from all denominations fought for your release, for freedom of immigration and for freedom of religion. Your place, Mr. Sharansky, is with us. We, the Women of the Wall, are the dissidents of the Kotel. Without your support we will continue to end up being Prisoners in Zion. Will you stand with us on Thursday at 7 a.m?
Chodesh Tov, Hallel The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Women of the Wall.
Hallel Abramowitz-Silverman can be followed on twitter at @purplelettuce95