Women of the Sit-in

“We will have a sit-in… We will use the toilets [at the Kotel],” was what Anat Hoffman had to say in response to a new area built specifically to accommodate Women of the Wall by the Israeli government.

Think of a place that is dear to you, a place you hold sacred. Would you ever be able to use such language about it? Are these the terms you use to think of that place?

Though Anat Hoffman pays lip service to the feelings of reverence most Jews have for the Western Wall, she sees the place as an “opportunity,” a convenient battlefield for her never-ending struggle to get respect from those she has no respect for.

Though American Conservative and Reform leaders view Hoffman as the champion of their agenda in Israel, they understand that the needs of their movements are only one part of a complex picture. This is why they can see the value in and be positive about the government’s move to construct a new section for egalitarian prayer.

About ten years ago, one of the left-wing Israeli parties ran a very truthful elections ad. “If the political stances that had been unthinkable 20 years earlier, such as talking to the PLO, had become the norm,” the reasoning went, “we will be sure to make things that are unthinkable now, such as dividing Jerusalem and granting Palestinians the right of return, into facts on the ground in not so distant future.” Israelis even have a term for these tactics – the salami method.

Anat Hoffman, who is a long-standing Meretz activist and one of the founders of the uber-left Women in Black fringe, has applied the salami method to her fight at the Kotel. She has set her sights far, at a goal that seems unattainable at present – transforming the Western Wall, the holiest site accessible to the Jewish People, from a religious shrine into a secular “national monument.”

And this is why no solution will ever satisfy her. Hoffman pines for a day she envisions 50 years down the line, when nobody would remember the Kotel as a place of prayer conforming to millennia-old Jewish conventions. But she knows she can’t get there just now. Instead, like slicing salami, she seizes every opportunity to chip away yet another piece of the local tradition.

In 2003, the High Court ruled that Women of the Wall should be provided with an alternative site and so an entire section was constructed for them at the Robinson’s Arch section of the Kotel. The issue had seemed to come to rest, until WoW identified an opportunity and using a ridiculous excuse of lack of protection from the elements at Robinson’s Arch, launched a full-blown PR campaign for their right to do as they please at the women’s section of the Kotel, despite disturbing the thousands of women who come to pray there regularly.

In April, a local court ruled that Women of the Wall were permitted to pray in the women’s section, since the present law doesn’t define local custom, so WoW promptly launched a new campaign to be allowed to bring in a Torah scroll. Playing off their usual repertoire of victimhood, WoW decried the “exile” of the Torah, conveniently omitting the fact that the regulations preventing outside Torah scrolls apply to everyone, men and women, in an attempt to curtail theft.

After months of talks about Natan Sharansky’s idea of an upgraded section at the Robinson’s Arch, the Israeli government speedily constructed a 4,800-foot platform, complete with a Torah ark, tables, prayer shawls and all that is needed for prayer. It is open freely around the clock. It is big enough to accommodate about 450 worshippers, twice the number of people joining Women of the Wall on a good month. And I am sure the authorities will be happy to provide movable mechitzas (dividers) to accommodate the separation of genders Women of the Wall claim to need.

I am sure that there are members of WOW that would seek compromise for the sake of unity and their ability to pray undisturbed. But it seems their voices of moderation are being shunted to the side by others, whose agenda is far from prayer.  Women of the Wall’s leadership  rejected the compromise out of hand, calling it “crumbs,” because while there are many sincere women in the group, their leader has squeezed all that she could out of this opportunity and has moved on to her next slice of salami.

Anat Hoffman’s vehement, angry response showcases fully that it is control she desires, not prayer. It’s a classic case of give her an inch and she’ll take a mile.

Hoffman has gotten her inch to the tune of 5,000 feet. May be the time has come to stop cutting into the prayers of the overwhelming majority?

About the Author
Leah Aharoni is the Founder/CEO of SHEvuk, a business consulting firm, which helps companies grow by effectively marketing and selling great services to women. Drawing on her training in Organizational Psychology and extensive background in entrepreneurship, education, and international communications, she also channels her passion for women's empowerment into coaching women to succeed in business and personal goals. When not working or spending time with her feisty sabra kids, Leah enjoys learning and teaching self-development Torah, as brought down in chassidic sources. Find out more at www.SHEvuk.com.
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