A Woman's Place is at Prayer — at Kotel or Upper West Side

Hostility at Western Wall Recalls Ivy League Minyan

getty images

By Leah Bieler

Published May 28, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 3)

When I read, I was a living, breathing example. I was representing every girl or woman who had aspirations of taking her place as a full-fledged member of the davening. When I was in United Synagogue Youth, a Conservative youth movement, I would lead an “alternative” egalitarian service, which by virtue of its name scared off all my “traditional” friends.

Somehow people had gotten it into their heads that the service I was leading — identical in every way except for the DNA of the leaders — was less serious, less real.

I prayed in places where the only way I counted to the minyan was if I had professed my commitments to daily prayer, while a man who could not read a word of Hebrew was asked no questions. In one synagogue, I was “approved” to wear a tallit only after I proved to the rabbi that my knowledge level was sufficient.

I fought in many contexts to expand the role of women in synagogue life and beyond. I was called names and laughed at, and told that I didn’t understand the halachic issues behind my choices. And now that the egalitarian question is largely a settled one in Conservative communities, I get called a new name as someone who keeps the Sabbath and holidays and fast days: Orthodox.

It is in this vein that I identify with the struggles of the Women of the Wall, the movement of women demanding the right to worship as they choose at the Western Wall. I gave up on praying at the Kotel long ago, because I felt unwelcome and even objectified by the ever widening demands for me to cover up more and more parts of my body that I had never before considered alluring.

And I was increasingly troubled by the feeling that the Kotel had become more of an idol than a prayer space, as people would fax or email notes to be stuck into the “magic stones.” But their fight is so familiar.

I recognize the smirks and jeers of the men and boys, and the struggle for the chance to do what those smirkers rarely appreciate: to pray, out loud, in full voice, with full heart — enveloped in a shawl, at once ancient and new — body and soul pointed toward Yerushalayim, tears shining on their faces but also from within.

Leah Bieler has an M.A. in Talmud and Rabbinics from the Jewish Theological Seminary. She teaches Talmud in Connecticut.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.