A new Jewish women’s group is attempting to counter the provocative Women of the Wall group.
The group, which calls itself “Women For the Wall” (not to be confused with the name of the other group), says that its main priority is “to make sure that when women come to pray at the Western Wall, the experience should be as profoundly meaningful as possible.”
“We will do whatever we possibly can to help all women have that wonderful experience of connecting to G-d at this site, the Holiest place we Jews have in today’s world,” says the group, headed by Ronit Peskin.
The Women of the Wall is a group of women who come to the Kotel one day a month on Rosh Chodesh and offend the regular daily worshipers at the Wall, where the rules have always been - since the Wall was returned to Jewish hands in 1967 - that prayers are held in traditional fashion, with some of the liturgy and melodies varying, depending on the origin of those praying. Hundreds of thousands of Jews who came from all over the world, Yemenites, Moroccans, Iraqi, Indian, Ethiopian and others, pray with different melodies and order of prayers, but identify and adhere to the rules without question.
The Women of the Wall, however, provoke the traditional worshipers by wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) and reading from Torah scrolls in the women's section of the Kotel Plaza. The group recently received approval by a District Court judge who ruled that the women are not violating a High Court ruling when they pray with prayer shawls and read from Torah scrolls.
Halakhically, the ruling depends on the specific question. There are rabbis who permit women to use prayer accessories that are traditionally worn by men and to read from the Torah, but it is against halakha for women to recite a blessing before or after the Torah reading and women cannot make up a quorum for reciting Kaddish and Kedusha responsively.
At the head of the Women of the Wall is Anat Hoffman, a Reform Jew, who therefore does not adhere to the Oral halakha as set down in the Talmud and Shulkhan Arukh (Code of Jewish Law). Some of the women who accompany her are observant Jews, but feminist in their attitude to prayer customs.
Hoffman told the BBC recently that the issue of prayer at the Wall is the first step in a plan to have Conservative and Reform movements obtain official rights in Israel to perform marriages, grant divorces and conversion according to their customs. These will not be recognized by observant Jews, no matter what the government rules.
In response to Hoffman’s provocations, Women for the Wall say that “Political battles, such as the ones orchestrated by Anat Hoffman and the Women of the Wall, do not belong at a place such as the Kotel. Their monthly activism threatens to turn this holy place into a site for a media circus rather than prayer, and is disruptive for all that come there to pray peacefully and connect to G-d.
“We Women For the Wall beg Anat Hoffman and her companions – take your battles back to the Knesset and the Supreme Court, and leave the Western Wall alone. We want to come and pray peacefully, and you are disrupting the prayers of other women around you."