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.
getty images
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.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

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.


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!
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • 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.