People like to frame Women of the Wall’s struggle in terms of Jewish religious pluralism. That approach is mistaken, and a confluence of events this week reminds us of that fact. WoW’s fight is for women’s rights, civil rights and equal rights.
It occurred to me how important it is to regard WoW’s struggle in this light as I watched its chairwoman Anat Hoffman in her latest videotaped plea to supporters. She stood yesterday in front of the Kotel announcing a WoW sit-in in response to Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett’s announcement of the completed construction of a large platform for non-Orthodox prayer at the southernmost portion of the Western Wall (in the Robinson’s Arch compound). Calling the platform a “sunbathing deck,” WoW denounced the plan to move all non-Orthodox prayer away from the main Kotel plaza.
WoW is fighting for women to pray any way they choose (including in egalitarian fashion, wearing kippot, tallitot and tefillin, and praying and reading Torah out loud) at the main Kotel area — which is where Orthodox Jews pray without being subject to violent taunts, egg and chair throwing, and arrest.
This latest turn of events comes as we mark this week the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and today the 93rd anniversary of the certification of the 19th Amendment, which gave American women the vote.
WoW is fighting not only for a plurality of Jewish religious expression. They are fighting the disenfranchisement of women — if not in all of Israel, then at the very least in the heart of the country’s capital.
Bennett’s “sunbathing deck” outside the main Kotel plaza is Jewish women’s pre-1964 segregated lunch counter. It is their being barred from polling stations before 1920.
The argument that in 2013, non-Orthodox Jewish women should just try to pass as Orthodox in order to gain the right to pray at world Jewry’s holiest site, is like telling African-Americans to just change their skin color or women to simply change their gender to gain their civil rights.
As Hoffman said yesterday, “We are not second-rate citizens.”