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Posted in: Judaism, Feminism, Gender, Psychology & Law, Israel

Published on Oct 10, 2013 by Phyllis Chesler

Published by Times of Israel and Huffington Post.

The Unwavering Dream of Women of the Wall

Earlier today, on October 10th,2013, 6 Heshvan, this statement was issued by Women of the Wall (WOW) in Jerusalem and in the Diaspora. It clearly states that WOW is not going to compromise for a site that is not the Kotel—even if that site is dubbed "The Wall," or close enough to "The Wall."  Here is our statement.

Nearly twenty five years ago, in December, 1988, we and several dozen other Jewish women gathered to pray in the ezrat nashim, the women's section of the kotel, the Western Wall, in Jerusalem. We came from every stream of Judaism: Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and from no denomination at all. We prayed and read Torah together, some of us wore tallitot.

When we were cursed and threatened by extremists, the late Rabbi Getz, then administrator of the kotel, noted that our prayer practice did not violate halakhah, Jewish law.

Thereafter, a core of women, Israeli-born and from abroad, constituted a regular women's group prayer group in the women's section of the kotel, a practice continued unbroken for the past twenty five years.

We, in Israel and in the Diaspora, original founders and activists who have joined since, have managed, financed, and strategized three Supreme Court cases, raised funds for, purchased, and delivered a Torah scroll for the women in Jerusalem, raised public awareness, and prayed together at the Wall. We have maintained our dream– of pluralist, inclusive Jewish women's group prayer at the Western Wall, with Torah reading, talit, and tefillin– despite harassment, violence, and arrests.

Over the years, we have been offered alternative spaces, including the kotel katan, the "small kotel." We refused. Our quest is for prayer in the place sanctified by the hopes, prayers, and memory of Jews for 2,000 years, alongside other Jews.

Ten years ago, we were offered the Robinson's Arch archeological site as an alternative to the Wall. It will be fixed up, improved, they said. We refused, for the same reason.

Now Jewish women have been offered another version of the Robinson's Arch proposal. The area will be altered. The name of the holy site will be appropriated and bestowed on the archeological site, also to be called, "the Wall." You will be with other Jews whose prayer practice those in charge of the kotel also do not tolerate.

We reject this, and remain committed to our original goals.

The kotel is the place of sacred Jewish memory; the symbol of Jewish hope and longing and of the great in-gathering of the Jewish people. There, Israeli and Diaspora Jews connect – including precisely, those disillusioned with Israel, not least, by the current management of religion there. We offer hope, fresh potential, and spirit. Jewish women who have been alienated by religion come with us; some have even made aliya because Women of the Wall affirm that they have a place in Israel, because we say that to be a Jew and to be a woman are mutually fulfilling, neither diminishing the fullness of the other.

Our dream, and the urgent need for it, remain, unchanged. Now, as the twenty-fifth anniversary of our movement approaches, and in the shadow of a major shift in policy on the part of some, we re-state it.

The legal right of Jewish women to our goals was recognized in a Supreme Court decision in 2003 and reaffirmed in the sweeping Sobel ruling of April, 2013. However, full realization of these rights has not yet occurred. Women are harassed and attacked at the kotel for praying as we do—which the Sobel ruling explicitly recognized as in accord with the "custom of the place," which has evolved greatly since the kotel returned to Jewish hands in 1967—and since our own prayer there for a quarter of a century. Yet, defying the law of Israel and  Court rulings, the current administrator of the site has barred Jewish women from access to any Torah scroll—including our own— there.

We respect the right of all Jews to pray according to their customs. The State of Israel must not continue to relegate control of the holy site to any faction that suffers other Jews on their terms only.

Policy in the State of Israel — regarding any issue– cannot be decided by threats and intimidation. To do so would be to cede the very principle of a State under law.

The State of Israel must reject any policy that demeans or degrades women in public space or that causes their removal from Jewish sacred space because they adhere to our prayer practice.

The kotel must be a place of Jewish ingathering and inclusion, of mutual accommodation and respect. Our group models those qualities in our own practice, a model that is crucial, at the kotel, in particular.

On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the founding of our group and our dream, we, the group known historically as the Women of the Wall, affirm our intention to realize the goals we established then and to which we remain unalterably committed.

SIGNATORIES (in alphabetical order):

Dr. Susan Aranoff, NY, USA

Miriam Benson, Esq., CT, USA

Cheryl Birkner Mack, Jerusalem, Israel

Dr. Phyllis Chesler, NY, USA

Rabbi Helene Ferris, NY, USA

Dr. Bonna Haberman, Jerusalem, Israel

Rivka Haut, NY, USA

Dr. Norma Joseph, Montreal, Canada

Dr. Shulamit Magnus, Cleveland, OH and Jerusalem, Israel

Dr. Vanessa Ochs, Virginia, USA

Israel Contact: Dr. Bonna Devora Haberman, 054 737-4410, bonnadev@gmail.com


North America Contact: Dr. Shulamit Magnus 216 342 5054;  (Israel: 050 84 24 000) smagnus@oberlin.edu

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