The Kotel is for Us, Too

Dispelling Nine Myths About Women of the Wall

Prayerful Protest: A member of Women of the Wall prays at the Kotel at the group’s monthly event.
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Prayerful Protest: A member of Women of the Wall prays at the Kotel at the group’s monthly event.

By Susan Silverman and Dahlia Lithwick

Published June 10, 2013, issue of June 14, 2013.
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At the Kotel, the Jewish value of elu v’elu (“These and these are the words of the living God”) has degenerated into name-calling as well as into rock, trash and coffee throwing.

These objectors claim that the women who come together on Rosh Hodesh — the beginning of the Jewish month — to pray in tallitot and tefillin are trashing the tradition of the place. To which we offer two observations: One, tradition is most holy when it is varied and authentic, not monolithic and mechanized. And two, no one sect, certainly not in a democracy, may dictate “tradition” — when it began, or what it encompasses.

You want long-standing tradition? Look at the Jewish tradition regarding disputes — the written word; civil, if passionate, debate. Our tradition demands that we debate on the merits instead of denigrating our opponents. Hillel and Shammai embodied Judaism very differently, but both views were valid.

The decision to grant ultra-Orthodox rabbis control over all Jews (and non-Jews) at our holiest site — and over the contours of our life cycle from birth and conversion to death — was like ceding the whole Talmud to just one commentator. As women who pray collectively at the Kotel on Rosh Hodesh — one of us wears a tallit, and one of us, by the way, does not — we are each in a direct relationship with God. We do not accept that the nature of that relationship is subject to media debate, or to scornful dismissal. We are as serious about that relationship as any other Jew, and we question the legitimacy of a religious monopoly that, in a democracy, should never have been granted in the first place. So, let’s take the arguments back to the daf — to our page in Jewish life, theology and history. Here we outline the arguments against us as we have come to understand them (links to the sources of these statements are provided in the online version of this oped).

1. Non-Orthodox prayer at the Kotel is an effort to liberate, evangelize or otherwise dictate to Orthodox women. We have no objection to Haredi women, or men, praying as they choose, and no desire to evangelize or inspire them.

Live. Let live. And if you cannot do so, the burden is on you to explain why not. Take us as we are, instead of as some imagined evil plot you ascribe to us. But even if we were there to inspire, we may do that using any nonviolent communication we want. As you can, as well.

2. There is no genuine cause or conviction behind the women who worship at the Kotel. All of them are mere attention hounds seeking to create some kind of media circus or land a reality television show.

Should ultra-Orthodox rabbis install a soul scan next to the metal detectors at the entrance to the wall? Would anything less convince them? We believe that God already has a soul scan, and that’s enough for us. Accusations that one’s deepest religious convictions are feigned, wrapped around us like a fake tallit, are offensive. These women wear their tallitot at synagogue. Some are rabbis. Some have shown up every month for two decades. But even if we were going to the Kotel because we’re desperate for media attention, we are allowed to do that in a democracy.


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