Itzchak Evan-Shayish
Dedicated to sharing Rav Kook's lights with the world.

What Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach Z’L Told the Women Of The Wall in 1989

[I wrote this in 2014, revisiting a 1989 conversation. . It is currently more relevant than ever.]

“Shlomo, why is everybody so against us?”

It was August 1989, and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach Z’L was speaking with the Women of the Wall in Jerusalem. This was not long after they began to doven every Rosh Chodesh at the Kotel and shortly after they began to be  assaulted with verbal angry insults, chairs and worse by groups and individuals upset at this new activity at the Kotel.

I was lucky enough to be ‘hanging out’ with Reb Shlomo that sunny day and accompanied him to this extraordinary meeting. Crowded into the living room at Shoshana Devorah’s house on Levi Street were about thirty women deeply involved with this pioneering effort.

I remember it as one of the most extraordinary spiritual conversations I had the privilege of hearing. Fragments of it stayed with me forever but I forgot much of the content over the 24 years since then. 

Unfortunately the loud opposition to the WOW began to be heard again recently. I realized this would be an opportune time to share that conversation widely.  Upon further research I discovered that the founder of WOW Bonna Haberman-Zichrona Le’Bracha- had a cassette tape from that afternoon.  After figuring out how to play a cassette through a computer I listened to it and was brought back to that magical circle. Here are some highlights from Reb Shlomo’s response to their painfilled question:

“The Ruzhiner Rebbe said that he heard from his grandfather who heard from his father, the Maggid of Mezritch who heard from the Holy Baal Shem Tov who heard from Elijah the prophet that anything that you do that has no opposition is not worth doing…

If I was the Chief Rabbi of Israel ..I would get all the rabbis together and I would stand with flowers to greet all the holy women who are coming to the holy wall….

I’m absolutely ashamed of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel…You know what the problem is with the religious these days? They are so afraid of each other instead of being afraid of God…You know if you ask the Chief Rabbi today, he won’t ask what does the Torah say? What does God say? He’ll ask: ‘what do the other rabbis say?’

You know it says in the Mishna: ‘In the generation that the son of David will come, the face of the generation is like the face of the dog’ [Mishnah Sotah 9:15]

Rabbi Meir Shapiro exlained this with the most unbelievable Torah. If somebody was to look down from space and see a man and a dog on a leash you would think that the dog is the leader, until they come to the corner and the dog doesn’t know where to go. He looks  back and waits for his master to give him instructions….Pnai HaDor– the faces of the generations- refers to the leaders…the leaders of the world are like dogs .. , they don’t do what they think is right…..when they come to the corners, they look back to see what the others think…

What’s the difference between a restaurant and a hospital? In a restaurant everyone has same menu, you don’t like it, give it back. In a hospital, G-d forbid, everyone should have the same food, they’d soon be dead….

Is the Torah a restaurant or a hospital?

Not everybody needs the same thing, some women  don’t need to go to the Kotel, the Satmar Rebbetzin doesn’t need to doven at the Kotel with a minyan, the Satmar Rebbetzin doesn’t need an aliya. 

There are women who do. 

Is the Torah so small that it can only cater to the Satmar Rebbetzin?…

What you do is not for all women, some don’t need it. 

You’re not speaking in the name of all Jewish women…there are some yidden that need Rabbi Schach…some need Lubavitch…some yidden need something else…everybody has their own needs…

You know everybody today talks about giving aliyot to women.  

In 1966 when we opened the House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco, I see a girl, depressed, standing off in the services. She kept showing up at our services and one day I asked her “Why don’t you hold your head a little higher?”  The craziest thing is that Shabbat morning, she says to me “Can you maybe  give me an aliya?” Gevald…we gave her the  highest aliya in the world. 

She went back to New York and I never saw her again. Twenty three years later I’m sitting on an airplane going to Israel next to a beautiful young man who is going to yeshiva. We start talking and he says: ‘You know my mother knows you well’…It was the son of this girl. She married a rabbi and this holy young man was their child…so it was worth it, right?”…

Another story. I’m doing a concert in Paris….a young lady comes up after the concert and says I want to tell you a story. “I came come from a very religious home in Boston..I wanted to draw, to be an artist. My family kicked me out. I got  a scholarship in Paris that was just enough for school but not enough for rent and food. So I took up with the first young man who offered me his kindness. I moved in with him and four years later he proposed. He was overjoyed to marry me, but asked if I could please convert to become Catholic. Sure, why not? I was supposed to convert on a Sunday. The Shabbos right before, I was walking around Paris and  I passed by the synagogue. I don’t know why but decided to walk in. They had  just taken out the Torah. The rabbi approached me and said ‘I’d like to call you up to the Torah’. (It was a reform synagogue.) At that moment, it was clear to me that G-d was calling me. I said the bracha over the Torah and I mamash made a vow  to never convert, never marry a non Jew. I want you to introduce you to my real boyfriend’ and out comes a cute Jewish boy from Paris with the cutest peyos…

You know, the Torah is a hospital. This girl mamash needed an aliya to save herself and God is big enough,  there’s enough in the Torah. The Torah gives you whatever you need at that moment..sometimes you need strength and sometimes. you need joy…we have millions of Jews …the Torah is there for everything you need and for everyone …

I gotta  tell you one thing. It says in the Yotzer Or bracha ‘oseh chadashot-doer of new things’, ‘baal milchamot-master of war ’ and then ‘matzmeach yeshuot-sprouting redemptions’. It takes a long time …to matzmeeach yeshuot,  you sometimes have to make milchamot…and if something is important for you and you don’t want to fight for it, you’ll never do it…you have to hold out…

You know, what you have to do before you go to the holy wall?…the night before…you have to come by yourself to the wall and say Tehillim…

The heilige Baal Shem Tov said 300 years ago that before Messiach is coming Chava/Eve will find her place back in the world…

One time after a concert I went down to the Holy Wall…and there was a chatan and kallah…and we starting singing with them… the police came and started to make a tumult and we left…at that time i was still a little bit naive , thought maybe you can talk to them….and Meir Fund and I went to the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem…thinking you could talk to them…I said ‘it’s beautiful that a woman  comes and you stand there and measure her skirt…you need a longer skirt and every yiddeleh that comes you check. Why don’t you have people to greet the people and say mammish-how much the holy wall is waiting for you? Who needs police? ‘ You know what he said? 

‘Who needs non religious people at the kotel?! Who needs them in the first place?’ 

That means the yiddeleh who was waiting for 20 years to go to the holy wall…that the wall wasn’t waiting for him…I said to Meir…let’s get out of here…this person hates Jews…we walked out..I said ‘Now I understand why G-d had to kill 6 million..because if there were 6 million more Jews there wouldn’t be enough police…so God had to kill 6 million so the chief rabbi has it easier at the holy wall…

I want to tell you something…you know what the hardest thing in the world is? …to fight somebody and still have compassion for them…because you have to do what you have to do…

You need a lot of patience…you’ll have to be strong as lions…Why do we say when we finish the Torah “Chazak, chazak ve’neetchazek”? (strength, strength and be strengthened) …after God shows you something, you need a lot of strength to bring it down to the world…you need a lot of strength.

 Why should it be that only men have minyanim at the holy wall? 

Why shouldn’t women, why not?

You are opening the gates for hundreds of Jewish women. 

It needs to be clear to you that you’re paving the way for generations to come…”

As Reb Shlomo Z’L did. 



Originally written for the 2014 Kol Chevra. Yaasher Koach Gadol Meod to Emunah Witt HaLevi for producing these wonderful and important yearly compilations.

Written by Rabbi Itzchak Evan-Shayish. , ,

About the Author
Rabbi Itzchak Evan-Shayish (Marmorstein) is a passionate student of the teachings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook (1865- 1935) He is doing pioneering work in bringing Rav Kook to the public through classes, writings and creative musical and dramatic presentations in Israel and all over the world. He is the gabbai and educator at Beit HaRav Kook Synagogue in Jerusalem. He is the chairman of Ohr LeRayah, a Jerusalem based organization dedicated to sharing the universal teachings of Rav Kook with the whole world. ( He is a musmach of Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, Z"L , Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach Z’L and Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi Z'L.
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