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Posted in: Judaism, Gender, Psychology & Law, Israel, Women of the Wall

Published on Nov 07, 2013 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for The Times of Israel

Drawn to Holiness: Women of the Wall Speak to the President of the Jewish Federations of North America.


Very late last night, I posted a group statement that we emailed to President Silverman and also had delivered to his Jerusalem hotel. The passionate prose was written by Dr. Shulamit Magnus; I wrote an Introduction to what was a team effort. This group of women are amazing: Learned, religious, accomplished—and each drawn to holiness, drawn by holiness into what has turned out to be very long journey. I am so proud of us, the signatories on this Open Letter: Susan Aranoff, Miriam Benson, Cheryl Birkner Mack, myself, Bakol Gellar, Rivka Haut, Norma Joseph, Shulamit Magnus, and Vanessa Ochs. More signatories are in process but what matters is what we are saying, not who we are, not how many of us there are.

Sh'ma Israel: Our Inalienable Rights as Jews and as Women

The Jewish Federations of North America are holding their two day meeting in Jerusalem this Sunday and Monday, November 10-11. There is one panel which deals with Women of the Wall, but the panelists chosen are all in favor of the Kotel remaining a haredi shul; they favor banishing the sefer Torah from the ezrat nashim at the kotel and banishing all non-orthodox denominations.

Some panelists see this as the only way to obtain "peace" given that the haredim, both male and female, want a silent female presence in a shrunken part of the Kotel. Various Jewish denominations—none of which fought lawsuits or put their bodies at risk—are eager, finally, for a "place in the sun," a dignified site in the Holy Land in which to hold simchas—and, if not at the kotel then near it, out of sight of clal Yisrael. They have been excluded for so long that a "little bit of something" seems like a starting point for further progress.

I wish that they were able and willing to remain with us at the Kotel proper–the real and only Kotel because they, too, deserve to be there.

PM Netanyahu is eager to retain the bloc votes of the haredim who want the women out of sight and out of mind, but he does not want a breach between his government and powerful North American Jews, who tend to be liberals– and, poor man, he does not want Israel's reputation to be further denigrated by those who have sought to gain negative press attention for Israel and to thus pressure the Israeli government into "doing something." Such voices have claimed that Israel has put women "at the back of the bus," that it is no better than….but trust me. If we, the founders and international supporters of Women of the Wall had Muslim counterparts who had waged a similar struggle in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or Afghanistan—or in most Western mosques —they would have been be-headed long ago.

I have personally been demonized for my passionate and unyielding support for Judaism and for Israel for a long, long, time. For that reason, I have never discussed this particular issue in the non-Jewish media and prefer to air my views in the Israeli media.

This letter-statement went out to Gerrald Silverman, President of Jewish Federations of North America. It was strategized earlier today by the original founders and international supporters of Women of the Wall. The passionate language was crafted by Dr. Shulamit Magnus

Our Statement

Nov. 7, 2013 4 kislev tash'ad
Mr. Gerrald Silverman
President and CEO of Jewish Federations of North America
Wall Street Station P.O. Box 157
New York, New York 10268
execteam@JewishFederations.org

Dear Mr. Silverman,

We the undersigned, Zionists, and original founders, activists, and supporters of the Women of the Wall, affirm that we maintain all our original goals, which are: women's group prayer, out loud, with Torah scroll, and the option of prayer shawls (talit) and phylacteries (tefillin), in the women's section of the kotel—the site sanctified by 2,000 years of Jewish devotion.

Our commitment to all these core goals is unwavering.

Our place is at the kotel, with other Jews, where we and all Jews must be able to pray in peace and dignity under the full protection of the State of Israel.

No alternate site, under any conditions, is acceptable, and we will be bound by no agreement to the contrary.

It is deceptive to label other sites "the kotel" or the "Wall" when that is not the case. We must have a clear understanding that certain powers and people are willing to accept being banished from the kotel—even if that means that women who are unwilling to be similarly exiled will also banished from the ezrat nashim. All know that Robinson's Arch is not the kotel and no deceptive advertising can change that.

This is not about archeology. It is about memory, sanctified by thousands of years of Jewish hope, prayers, and dreams. Place matters. If it didn't, we would not be in Israel, with all the sacrifice that thousands have made and make daily for that privilege, rather than Uganda.

Any proposal that would leave the kotel under the administration of one segment of Jewry, which tolerates other Jews there only on its terms, is an unthinkable concession to hooligan politics that would only encourage further such bullying. No State under law, much less our beloved Israel, can make policy, about any issue, under threat of intimidation and violence, or as a concession in current or future coalition jockeying. The State of Israel must administer the kotel site in a manner consistent with the principles enshrined in its Declaration of Independence, which guarantee equality of citizenship to all, specifically including women.

Our group is composed of women of all denominations and no affiliation. We are Jewish women who wish the options for prayer at the kotel that Jewish men have enjoyed since 1967, as one of the many innovations in practice at the kotel since it returned to Jewish hands. We represent Jewish women's solidarity as Jews and as women, and exemplify as do few if any groups in contemporary Jewish life, pluralist inclusion, mutual respect and recognition in prayer. Our pluralist religious practice is extremely precious and needed in the Jewish world. Our place is at the kotel.

The legal right of the current Board of the Women of the Wall under Anat Hoffman to alter the very nature of the group, in violation of the by-laws under which Women of the Wall was chartered as a non-profit, is vulnerable to challenge.

Our right to prayer in our custom at the kotel was recognized by the Supreme Court of Israel in its ruling of 2003 and affirmed in the sweeping Sobel ruling of April, 2013.

We bless the desires of others for additional options for prayer, near the kotel or anywhere else, but insist that this not be at the expense of our legally recognized rights and our inalienable rights as Jews and as women, and caution that a short term solution that rewards violence and intimidation as tools of public policy is also dangerously short-sighted.

On legal and moral grounds, our position is clear:

We will pursue fulfillment of Jewish women's legally acknowledged and inalienable right to group prayer, with Torah scroll, talit, and tefillin, at the kotel.
Thank you for your attention.

Signed:

Dr. Shulamit S. Magnus with the Original Women of the Wall and current activists:
Dr. Susan Aranoff
Miriam Benson, Esq.
Cheryl Birkner Mack
Dr. Phyllis Chesler
Bakol Gellar
Rivka Haut
Norma Joseph
Dr. Vanessa Ochs
(Signatories in progress)

Contact in N. America: Dr. Shulamit Magnus smagnus@oberlin.edu 216 342 5054
Contact in Israel: Cheryl Birkner Mack 054 535 9572 02 672 9572


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