Anat Hoffman’s assertion that Women of the Wall (WOW) are somehow empowering the Orthodox women, reminded me of Rudyard Kipling’s 100-year-old poem, in which he exalts the virtue of colonialism as the only way to enlighten the uncivilized savages.
Take up the White Man’s burden –
Send forth the best ye breed –
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild –
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.
In her zeal to declare her own agenda, Hoffman isn’t attuned to hearing just how distasteful and patronizing her statements are to the very women she claims to be liberating.
Throughout its history, WOW have scorned the feelings of the hundreds of thousands of traditional women, who pray at the Kotel every single day. It would behoove a “women’s rights” group with under 100 worshippers to give at least some consideration to the regular denizens of the Wall. Yet instead of engaging in a respectful discussion with these women, WOW presume to educate them, “model[ing] to all Jewish women” how to conduct their religious lives or downright villify them as a “psychological lynch-mob” acting at the hands of “their rabbi-handlers.“
Just over five years ago, I co-founded Women For the Wall to give voice to the countless women who revere the Kotel and find WOW’s activities offensive. At the very beginning, we reached out to WOW in an effort to establish dialogue. They categorically refused our overtures. This continued even after tens of thousands of women participated in our prayer services at the Kotel. Over the years, various organizations and individuals have tried to facilitate dialogue. We welcomed each suggestion. WOW turned them all away.
In the past several months, WOW have escalated the tumult, pushing for a full-out conflict. Just this past Rosh Chodesh Sivan and this Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, they refused to pray at the part of the women’s section designated for them, instead breaking into a group of women and teen already praying, verbally and physically assaulting them and pushing them aside. Over a dozen women filed police reports against WOW members in the aftermath of this violence.
Every month, dozens of traditional worshippers walk out of the prayer plaza in tears. A blonde 16-year-old came over to me weeping. The Kotel is her holiest, most sacred spot. This is where she comes when the turbulence of adolescence makes it all just too much. This Rosh Chodesh, she just couldn’t stand seeing her spiritual home turn into a media circus with dozens of camera, props meant for PR visuals, and a cacophony of voices disturbing the central prayer service in which she came to participate.
Instead of enabling women to pray, WOW are driving women away. Over the years, hundreds of women have shared that they stopped coming to the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh, because they are so pained by WOW insensitive disruption.
But above all, I was struck my Hoffman’s assertions that it is only thanks to Women of the Wall that traditional women can raise their voices. Is she “stunned” that Orthodox women are just as much the inheritors of the Torah and Judaism as she is? Somehow she must have missed the fact that Jewish women have been crying out to God since the times of our foremothers. That the Sages of the Talmud modeled all of the laws of prayer after the supplication of Chana in the book of Shmuel. Somehow she failed to be moved by the songs of Miriam and of Devorah in our holy books. Maybe she has never seen women recite Tehillim (Psalms) or read the techinot, the special prayers for women that have been around for centuries.
It pains me that a woman who presumes to be speaking out for other Jewish women is either ignorant of or wilfully ignoring the rich, millennia-old tradition of Jewish prayer and service of God practiced throughout the generations by millions of Jewish women. If Hoffman and her colleagues are serious about prayer, I’m sure there are Orthodox women who would be willing to teach them what Jewish prayer is really about – not a carnival performed for cameras, but a conversation with God, who can hear a whisper just as easily as He hears a shout.
So, Women of the Wall, if you feel repressed in your Judaism, please don’t project those feelings onto us. Instead, I invite you to join one of the thousands of women’s Torah learning programs, to pray with us at the resting places of our foremothers, to dance with us at a Hassidic fabrengens, or savour the waters of the mikva.
“But God was not in the wind… but God was not in the earthquake,… but God was not in the fire; and after the fire [God’s voice] is in a still small voice.” (I Kings, 19).
We don’t need you to empower us to raise our voices. We are confident that God can hear the very recesses of our hearts.