Since Leah Aharoni and I founded Women For the Wall, a group of women dedicated to preserving the traditional sanctity of the Western Wall, we are often asked: “What’s wrong with Women Of the Wall? Why shouldn’t they be able to pray as they wish, according to their custom?”
The Women Of the Wall have cast theirs as a battle over religious freedom, when in reality it’s about theology. They have cast it as a fight between “fundamentalist,” ultra-orthodox rabbis against women, when in reality it is a disagreement between women (and men) who care deeply about tradition, and a small group, motivated by feminism, who want to make unilateral changes in the most sacred site to Judaism today.
It pains us to see a vanishingly-small group of women fomenting such disunity and infighting in the Jewish world. Anat Hoffman and other leaders of Women Of the Wall have compared Israel to Saudi Arabia, and expressed their view that traditional women are oppressed, religious men, misogynist, and traditional Judaism, “archaic, alien and repulsive.” They call this a “war,” and choose language of confrontation. This rhetoric of incitement recently culminated with death threats against the Chief Rabbis of Israel and the Rabbi of the Kotel.
The Western Wall was liberated from the Jordanians in 1967 – from whom are they trying to “liberate” it? No, it’s not just “the Rabbis.” In reality, they are trying to “liberate” the Kotel from the vast majority of women who pray there. The Holy City of Jerusalem is not Selma, and Anat Hoffman is no Rosa Parks.
Everyone is free to pray at the Western Wall, Jewish or not, religious or secular. Yet just as every sacred site in the world has rules and expectations governing conduct there to preserve an atmosphere of sanctity and reverence, so too the Kotel. Women of the Wall claim that it’s an issue of religious coercion; in reality, they wish to coerce changes upon those who prefer to pray in full accordance with thousands of years of Jewish tradition.
For the sake of allowing everyone to be able to practice their faith in the way that is dearest to them, and in an environment that makes it comfortable for them to do so, the government set aside the Robinson’s Arch section of the Western Wall as a place for non-traditional prayer services, and the Plaza section for traditional prayers. Everyone is welcome at both, but everyone is expected to respect the atmosphere in those specific places. Yet even were the Robinson’s Arch space expanded, something the Women of the Wall have never needed, they insist that they must pray only at the traditional women’s section.
Why does the Women of the Wall reject all compromise? Why must they pray at the Plaza, and not at Robinson’s Arch? To answer this, we must revisit their claim to merely wish to pray.
As two core founders of WoW, Rivka Haut and Susan Aranoff, said recently in an op-ed published in the Times of Israel, “WOW models to all Jewish women who pray at the Kotel that women can take control over their own religious lives… Like it or not, this may initially shock them but then, when they get used to it, it will, it has to, change their world view… Women will be influenced, strengthened, perhaps even demand change from their rabbis… And that is why WOW must win the struggle to remain at the Kotel. Our cause transcends women praying” (emphasis added).
Anat Hoffman echoed this herself. After 10,000 women came to pray on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, she said: “The rabbis who sent them don’t understand that some of them will be asking, ‘Why not me?’ It’s a very subversive question.”
Their claim to wish simply to pray may garner sympathy, but as they themselves state, it is also untrue. They want to intrude upon traditional women in a way that shocks, offends and subverts, because they believe their way of life is better and they want to influence traditional women to change. Besides reaching the very heights of “chutzpah,” need we emphasis how outrageous and offensive it is to call this “prayer?”
Women of the Wall are not victims of oppression; they are advocates for upheaval. The Western Wall should not be turned into a political battleground and media circus, and religious articles such as tallitot, tefillin, and prayer books should not be props with which to promote a political agenda. Political fights should be taken to the Knesset and the Supreme Court, and Holy Sites should be revered – not used as wedges to drive political issues.
The Women of the Wall are engaged in political provocation at the Western Wall, and that must end.
Peace, harmony, and Jewish unity depend upon it.
Ronit Peskin, a writer and social media maven, is co-founder of Women For the Wall, a grassroots movement of women dedicated to preserving the traditional sanctity of the Western Wall. She lives with her family in Kochav Yaakov, a settlement on the outskirts of Jerusalem. See WomenFortheWall.org