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

(page 2 of 2)

3. Non-Haredi women are “political,” whereas the ultra-Orthodox are spiritual.

This is a strange argument — that others are being “political” just because you don’t like their politics. It’s like accusing Medgar Evers or Martin Luther King Jr. of being “political” when they fought for their civil rights in the 1960s. Any group seeking to effect social justice is by definition “political.” And any group seeking to thwart social change is equally “political.” At the Knesset meetings at the Kotel, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, the Wall’s official rabbi, is there alongside Anat Hoffman, leader of Women of the Wall. People who live in glass synagogues shouldn’t throw stones. Or bottles. Or chairs.

4. Any woman who isn’t wearing wool stockings is by definition a (fill in the blank) harlot/lesbian/provocateur.

Opponents claim that non-Haredi women must be sex objects and must want to be sex objects. Under this analysis, when men dance, sing and pray, it’s spiritual; when women do it, it’s pole dancing. We would also query whether elevating the “special purity” of one type of Jewish woman over another has any place in political debate. Again, Israel is a democracy. And Tamar should be welcome at the Kotel regardless of Judah’s (false) pronouncement.

5. We will not be satisfied with the right to pray freely; the larger agenda is to do something really super-bad.

We do want to practice Judaism as we began to understand it the day we stood at Sinai. We want to choose our rabbis and communal practices for everything from birth to grave. We don’t agree that in 2013, in a democratic state, all women can be made to sit at the backs of buses or to pray in silent whispers. So yes, this argument is true (minus the super-bad part).

6, It’s a slippery slope. Next we’ll have a) nudist sacrifices at the Western Wall, and b) messianic Jews.

a) Israeli law prohibits public nudity, fires and animal slaughter. We don’t need theocracy to enforce that. b) Wide, messy communal norms have kept us a vibrant, defined people until now. Narrowing religious authority to a few men takes us further from the Sinaitic idea of a kingdom of priests, where Jews each engage our covenant with God.

7. Some founders and participants of Women of the Wall are American, so the whole project can be dismissed as a tawdry American effort to impose their icky, lipsticky, feminist values on Israel.

Many of us are American. Do you dismiss Ovadia Yosef as imposing his Iraqi values? When Daniel Kahneman, an Israeli American, won the Nobel Prize, did anyone dismiss him as too American? Is Yisrael Beiteinu less legitimate because of its Russian founders and supporters?

8. In matters of religion the party most apt to be offended should always win.

The argument goes something like this: Since our prayer is more upsetting and horrifying to the Haredim, the right and decorous thing to do is to honor them with our capitulation. But the whole enterprise of speculating about each side’s relative sensitivity is like speculating about relative purity of body or religious conviction. It is an argument that merely repurposes all the stereotypes recited above: that women seeking to pray as they choose in the women’s section of the Kotel are less passionate, less sensitive or less heartfelt than other Jews. These are efforts to delegitimize and stigmatize the opponent, in lieu of entering into a meaningful debate about ideas. It’s an age-old — dare we say “political” — tactic. It’s also cheap. Take us on our own terms, accept that we are as worthy of our views as you are. That would require seeing us as equally human, which might also end the chair throwing. But it is the only, and happily the most Jewish, path to resolution.

9. Save your energy for real problems.

It’s patronizing to tell us to save our energy for real problems — like a nuclear Iran, or world hunger. Telling other people that their political concerns are insubstantial is lacking in humility. This is about more than our holiest sites. To us, this dispute is about a juncture between a narrowing, hardening Judaism and the promise of Sinai. We are fighting for Sinai.

Dahlia Lithwick is a senior editor at Slate, living in Jerusalem for the year. Rabbi Susan Silverman is an adoption advocate and the author of forthcoming book “Casting Lots: How Raising My Children Helped Me Find God.”


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!
  • "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.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • 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.