I have always felt uncomfortable with the Kotel.  Judaism is usually a religion that focuses on ideas (which may be why we have survived for so long…).  The times that I have been at the Kotel have not been the most pleasant: I don’t like forcing myself to be spiritual.  It personally feels strange to be surrounded by such passionate women, constantly repeating tehillim over and over again or crying and whispering into the wall, as if expecting some type of answer to their life problems. I enjoy being a part of a minyan where there are 10 men, and on the women’s’ section at the Kotel I am so far from the men’s’ side that it feels like I am davening individually, with hundreds of other women, davening alone.

However, I do understand the historic significance of the wall, even if it didn’t mean much while the Temple was still standing.  It is our last physical connection to a time from almost 2,000 years ago.  And as much as I find it a bit strange and maybe even idolatrous in some ways, I recognize that it unifies a very divided people in a shared religious history.

I’ve known about the Women of the Wall since I was very young.  In grade 6 we were asked to do a project on an ethical issue and I chose the issue of equality at the Western Wall — not a surprise since I come from a religious feminist family.  Although my proposed solution at the time wasn’t incredibly nuanced (I suggested something along the idea of a timeshare for Kotel space between denominations, not knowing yet how sticky the denomination situation really is), I recognized from a young age that there was a problem and that I felt that it should be fixed.  Not just from a secular feminist perspective, but a religious feminist perspective as well.  Miriam [1], Devora [2], and Chana [3] are just some examples of women singing loudly and proudly to God and praising Him. I felt it was the right thing to do.

I’m older now. Not by much, and I still have plenty to learn, but I realize that the situation is much more complex than I realized.  I have never attended a service with Women of the Wall, but I know a few people involved, and these people are so diverse in their Jewish practice but all so dedicated to what they are doing and I respect and learn a lot from them.  I think that fighting to bring a Torah to the women’s section, fighting to don tallit and tefillin, fighting to daven out loud, is good and a reminder to the Rabbinate and all of Jewry how different and diverse we are.  Even if I personally do not perform all of these actions myself, I stand in solidarity with women who want to connect with God and Judaism in many types of ways.

So you would expect me to be ecstatic to hear that the Israeli Cabinet is going to vote on allowing WOW to officially move to the egalitarian prayer section of Robinson’s Arch this Sunday [4], including its Orthodox WOW members, and to leave the women’s section of the current Kotel prayer section.  When I heard Natan Sharansky first suggest for there to be an egalitarian service prayer option at the Arch in 2013, I was very happy for my egalitarian friends who could now worship at such a holy place and feel so religiously comfortable.  But I was not happy for myself.  I may be a Jewish feminist, but my Judaism involves a mechitza, and not letting women lead every part of the prayer service.  This is my personal belief and I still count myself as a feminist.  Feminism means respecting a woman’s choice, even if it seems to be that her choice is putting herself in a less equal role.  An egalitarian service does not solve any problem for me.  In fact, it means that my personal viewpoint is not being recognized, that I would not be able to pray how I would like to in the women’s section.  It is not the first time I have been stuck in the middle; on the one hand, praying on the women’s side as it is now is frustrating and not fair to my religious practice, but on the other hand, I would feel that I am personally violating halakha by praying in an egalitarian service.  I shouldn’t have to compromise my comfort for my religious worldview, or vice versa.

Women of the Wall is described as a “multi-denominational feminist prayer group,” which means that I should be able to be comfortable as a Modern Orthodox Jew supporting them.  But my worldview is not being fought for by them. This is not religious pluralism. This is a pigeonholing of Orthodoxy and what Orthodoxy means, something that doesn’t welcome feminism at all. Having an egalitarian space is not the solution to WOW’s problems; if anything it makes these problems stronger – assuming that there is a clear left and a clear right, a clear one side and a clear other side.  

The wall is supposed to unite us all.  I feel neglected from both the right and the left.  I understand that as a Modern Orthodox Jew, my life is constantly in limbo, and that not fitting into a clear box is confusing for many people. But WOW, out of all groups, should recognize that religious observance and feminism can go hand in hand [5].  If the legislation gets passed, I will be happy for egalitarian Jews all around the world that will have a place of religious worship; but don’t forget about me, on the women’s side of the ‘Orthodox’ Kotel section, whispering quietly and now having a reason to cry into the walls.

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Footnotes

[1] Exodus 15:21

[2] Judges 5:1

[3] I Samuel 2:1

[4] One could question if Robinson’s Arch is religiously as significant as the actual Kotel, but that is a discussion for another time.

[5] Please see Shulamit Magnus’ great piece about this in the Jerusalem Post.