Women of the Wall: Inspiration and Disappointment

A cornerstone of my time in Israel has been embracing Judaism in egalitarian settings- through chanting Haftorah at services, giving dvar torahs at meals, leading limudim for my fellow nativers, and–for the first time in my life–chanting a torah aliyah.

Therefore, I was eager to attend the Women of the Wall (WOTW) service for Rosh Chodesh Tevet at the Western Wall. Based in Israel, the WOTW is a multi-denominational Jewish feminist organization whose goal is to secure the rights of women to pray at the Western Wall in a format that includes singing, reading aloud from the Torah and wearing religious garments. Every Rosh Chodesh members and supporters gather at the Women’s section of the Kotel to conduct a davening that includes a Torah service.

This was my first time at such a service, and I was shocked at the behavior I encountered. During the entire service, Haredi women were yelling and disrupting our service, and as we walked out, Haredi men cursed and spat at us. My friends told me this is a regular occurrence, and today is actually the first time they were able to bring a Sefer Torah into the Women’s Section, and get through the entire service.

The Haredi violent actions floored me completely. How ironic that they purport to be doing “Avodat Hashem”- worshipping God – praising Hashem’s name and acting in the name of the Torah. Really? Spitting at another Jew, cursing at another Jew, or pushing another Jew for simply praying is acting in the name of God? What happened to “derech eretz kadma la’Torah” (decency and kind behavior should precede Torah)? What about “ve’ahavta le’reacha kamocha” (love your fellow Jew as yourself)? It’s as if a fog has shrouded their vision and prevents them from seeing clearly and realizing how detrimental and counterproductive their conduct is.

One of the women who yelled at us during the service was shouting that we are “korot et hatorah” but “with the letter ע instead of א.” This is a Hebrew play on words. “קוראות” the with the letter א means reading, whereas “קורעות” with the letter ע means ripping. So this woman was correlating our reading the Torah with ripping the Torah. I asked her why it bothers her so deeply that we are leading a Torah service. She exclaimed that it isn’t fair for us to come and cause a commotion every Rosh Chodesh when other women simply want to pray. I told her to look closer at who is causing the commotion. We, too, simply want to pray, whereas the ultra-Orthodox women were the ones yelling, disrupting, and demonizing a group of girls who practice Judaism in a manner different from them.

Despite the yells and disruptions, my friends were truly moved by the service, and some were even brought to tears. As it was the first Rosh Chodesh in which a Torah service was completed, they saw that determination paid off. It was a sense of a milestone being met, a place where persistence brought progress.

After the service, as we were escorted out of the Kotel, Knesset member Itamar Ben Gvir (Religious Zionist Party) came up to the barricade separating us from the protestors and yelled that we are desecrating the Kotel. I yelled back at him that he and his people are the ones desecrating. I never thought I’d yell at a Knesset member in my lifetime, but here we are! It was clear to me he was doing this to promote his image and his brand. He is a known agitator, and attracts followers and media attention through intolerance and provocation. While many of the Haredim really believed they were fighting for the sanctity of Judaism, Itamar Ben Gvir was using our prayer as a political tool.

The intolerance I experienced at the Kotel illustrated to me the deep schism between Diaspora and Israeli Jewry, between tolerant and intolerant Judaism. While disheartening that the Israeli religious right views egalitarian trends as a threat, it motivates me to keep on praying, leyning, leading, and striving towards a more accepting Jewish world.

About the Author
Abby is a student and volunteer on the Nativ College Leadership Program. Originally from Israel, she moved to Silver Spring, MD as a baby and grew up there with her parents and twin brother. Inspired by Jewish concepts of Tikkun Olam and the Jewish refugee narrative, she hopes to go to law school and work in human rights law. Back in the US, she led a student advocacy group called F.A.I.R- Fans of Asylum and Immigration Reform, taught at Temple Emanuel Religious School, and was a teacher’s assistant at CityDance School and Conservatory. During her free time Abby loves to take dance classes, play backgammon (and win of course), and read!
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