I have just read through the many comments in response to my piece “Mean Girls at the Western Wall.” I want to thank so many people for reading my words. I have heard from some people privately as well.
Please allow me to clarify some things:
The “haredim” who chose to use prayer as a form of protest, who chose to deny Jewish women access to the ezrat nashim at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh; the “haredim” who blew whistles, cursed, and jeered, and who arranged for the male prayers in the male section to be magnified via microphone—these are not examples of love for other Jews or for humanity.
It will not do to claim that “only a few” behaved badly and of these few, none had anything to do with Women for the Wall or with the haredim who called for this exclusionary prayer-as-protest.
If all that was done was to deprive Jewish women—including a Bat Mitzva girl—of access to the ezrat nashim on Rosh Chodesh, the holy day given to women by God, this is a chillul HaShem. Forget all about the microphone amplifying male-only prayer, forget about the (few?) whistles and jeers. This single action, strategized carefully beforehand, is cruel, spiteful, and hateful.
And then there are the lies that certain comments insist are true. Thousands of haredi girls and women did not pray for Dr. Ilana Rosansky’s dying friend; the haredi girl whom Dr. Rosansky approached to please take her kvittel and put in the Kotel did not do so. This is my information from Dr. Rosansky herself.
At some other time, I am willing to address the question that seems to be behind so many accusatory comments, namely, the view that men and women are different. Guess what? I agree. We are. And I also agree that neither one is superior or inferior; just different.
Where I disagree: Jewish women may not be obligated to fulfill certain commandments but they are not forbidden from doing so. According to Orthodox interpretations of halacha, women can leyn from as Torah, wear a Tallit, and pray out loud in a woman-only group. The Orthodox omit certain prayers of holiness; other denominations of Judaism do not and believe that women can count themselves as a minyan.
If a woman dons a prayer shawl or leyns from the Torah and does so in an all-female group, such behavior does not signify that men and woman are the “same,” and not “different.”
Many of the comments accuse me of being anti-“haredi,” or anti-“Orthodox” or anti-“religion.” This is not true. However, “haredim” are not the only “Orthodox” or “religious” Jews in the world. Believe it or not, there are modern Orthodox Jews who stand with Women of the Wall. Let me go further. Non-Orthodox Jews are also “religious” Jews. Yes. I have just written the unthinkable.
I understand that this is a machloket, a deep and dividing controversy between haredim and other Jews and one hopes that both majority and minority opinions may be preserved, as they are in the Talmud.
If not at the Kotel, then where? And if not now, when?
One more thing: Many articles are appearing that do not seem to know WOW’s history, legally or theologically. The lawsuits that led to Judge Sobel’s recent decision enshrining the legal right of Women of the Wall to pray at the Kotel in their fashion, were based on the fundraising and hard work of an Israeli-North American multi-denominational team of women which included Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and secular Jews. In the beginning, WOW was genuinely pluralist but in terms of women-only. We never wanted to pray with men, or to change the siddur in any way. The early (1989-2002) contingent represented all denominations of Judaism.
The idea to daven at the Kotel was Rivka Haut’s, a learned and religious Orthodox woman, whom I am proud to know and with whom I study. Together, we published the only authoritative anthology about this struggle: Women of the Wall. Claiming Sacred Ground at Judaism’s Holy Site, a book which we have just updated.
WOW has not been anti-Orthodox. Times have changed and new generations have come into the land, so to speak, and inherited our vision. It is in new hands now. They stand on our shoulders. We bless them. And worry about them all the time.
And, I am now on high worry duty given the unfortunate and unforgivable hatred being shown to WOW by those who oppose our daughters and granddaughters.
*Updated on 7/10/2013 at 1:30 pm ET*
Post-script: Dr. Ilana Rosansky has just contacted me. Here is what she said:
“My concern is that my own account was a bit softened. I didn’t ask only one girl. I asked a dozen girls and women – they all refused. Not only was I cursed, but these women also cursed the woman who was to undergo a double mastectomy that very day (and has, in fact, come through the surgery) for whom I wished to pray for refuah shleimah. That is not legitimate protest. That is Chilul haShem. And there is now a generation of Chareidi girls (Chesler’s “Mean Girls”) who think this is OK. No matter whether we agree or not about how women should pray (with or without tallit and t’fillin – singing aloud or silently) no amount of aveilut [sadness] (as is common in this season), can justify such behavior, as Chesler rightly points out.”
The bald-faced lies about this one, stunning, shaming, incident are incredible. The commenter who said that all the haredi girls and women prayed for this woman undergoing surgery and that of course, the girl asked to put the kvitel in the Wall for Dr. Rosansky did so—may not be easy to find. But yesterday, it was the first comment in.
AUTHOR BIO: Dr. Phyllis Chesler is the author of fifteen books including Women and Madness, Women of the Wall. Claiming Sacred Ground at Judaism’s Holy Site, and the forthcoming An American Bride in Kabul. She may be reached at her website www.phyllis-chesler.com