Ronit Peskin, Women for the Wall
The writer is co-founder and volunteer director of Women For the Wall (W4W), a grassroots movement founded in 2013, dedicated to preserving thousands of years of Jewish tradition at the Western Wall and giving a voice to the majority of women who pray there. She blogs at pennilessparenting.com.
In the past few months, increasing numbers of Dati Le'umi (Religious Zionist) women have come to the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the new Hebrew month, , to join Women For the Wall in showing, through sincere prayer, Tefillah, that we wish to preserve an opportunity for undisturbed traditional prayer at the Wall.
Why is this important? What is it that we hope to accomplish?
Let's start at the beginning. When King Solomon built the Holy Temple, Beit HaMikdash, thousands of years ago, he prayed that G-d should always hear our prayers when directed towards that site. The prophets said that the Kotel HaMa'aravi, the Western Wall, would never be destroyed, and whenever Jews were able to come to the Holy Land, we returned to pray there.
And once the Wall was liberated from Jordan in 1967, Israeli Jews immediately requested a place for traditional prayer at the Holy site.
The plaza is less than 50 years old. It is less than 12%, of less than one sixth of the length of the Wall. Robinson’s Arch is one of several other exposed sections. No one is told they can't pray at “the Wall” in whatever fashion they choose, they are merely asked to respect tradition in this small section. It's not about the “ultra-Orthodox;” it's what every one of us – from all around the world, with all of our different and wonderful customs, minhagim – expect to find when we, as Jewish women, go to pray.
For 25 years, Women of the Wall have said they just want to pray in the women's section, in their own fashion. But just recently Anat Hoffman told supporters on a conference call that they ought to move, because WOW is not the right group to “change the Orthodox world.” She was referring to the “change” outlined by leaders of their American faction, two of whom described in Times of Israel how WOW hopes to instigate “a revolution” in our lives, since women (like ourselves?) aren't “able to function independently” without their help.
Reading the articles of WOW's leaders and visionaries gives you a better perspective as to their outlook on all of traditional Judaism, and on us, we who prefer to pray as we have for millennia. They describe us as secondary, dependent, deprived, and coerced, and our Judaism as archaic, alien, misogynist, repulsive, and idolatrous. Sources for all of this are on our website.
In addition to these words, the actions of WOW at the Kotel are confrontational. Let us remember what happened on Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the month of Mar Cheshvan. Thousands of women came to pray for the health of the now-departed former Rishon L'Tzion, Moreinu HaRav Ovadiah Yosefzt”l, and 50 Women of the Wall waded into the middle of them, set up a prayer leader, chazzanit, on a chair with a microphone, and disturbed everyone else's prayer.
This is their monthly practice. WOW conducts loud sing-alongs more appropriate for a campfire, while everyone else tries to pray. They blow 10 shofrot in unison and sing at the top of their lungs, not towards the Wall, but into the faces of the protesters, blowing kisses at yeshiva boys to rile them up.
These are not the actions of a group merely trying to pray or gain acceptance. Their message is: they don't want a space, they want to change our space, and ultimately change all of us.
Upwards of three million women who follow or respect tradition visit the Wall every year. Do we have the right to a place to pray there, in the traditional fashion, undisturbed? WOW seems to answer this question with an emphatic no, even in the “16 conditions” which they have laid out for even considering moving to the alternate section created for their use.
The result is simple: the vast majority of women impacted by Women of the Wall feel their rights are not being fought for, but trampled upon.
How does WOW deal with the rights of the majority? They've tried to silence us, even demanding the government stop our democratic response. They have shocked neutral observers by refusing to even sit and speak with us – rejecting outright an invitation from Gesher, which has worked for decades to bridge the religious-secular gap in Israel, and even standing out in the hallway while we spoke, when both of us were invited to give briefings to MediaCentral.
In addition to the offense to so many Jewish women, we must consider the impact of their activities as they spread the notion that women can't pray freely in the Jewish state. Ms. Hoffman tours the US, telling Jewish audiences that Israel oppresses women and non-Orthodox Jews. According to the Pew Survey, Israel is one of few things that sparks interest and Jewish identity among young Jewish Americans. Should we be making them feel unwelcome here, when it's simply not true?
Christiane Amanpour, the Guardian in England, and other biased critics of Israel, are big fans of WOW. The idea that women have no rights here plays nicely into their narrative of Israeli oppression. And as you've probably heard, this may be no accident.
The bottom line is this:
1. After 25 years, WOW is unable to bring 75 Israeli women to the Kotel.
2. The American students of HUC are trying to change the way that we pray in the Jewish State.
We support everyone's right to pray in their own fashion, including those who pray in accordance with millenia of Jewish tradition.
The Conservative and Reform movements have both endorsed Ezrat Yisrael, the area set up at Robinson's Arch, as a place for alternative prayers. WOW alone has put up untenable obstacles, including their demand to disrupt the traditional plaza even after they move.
WOW should move to Religious Minister Naftali Bennett's new Ezrat Yisrael platform without delay, without telling the government how prayers at our traditional plaza should be run. WOW cannot dictate the terms under which they will stop trying to change us, stop insulting our intelligence, our independence, and our Judaism.
And that is why your prayers with us, on Wednesday, the second day of Rosh Chodesh at 7:30 am at the Kotel, are so important. We hope you will join us!