Sunday, January 16, 2005

Women and The Wall

I was never one of thsoe people who was into praying at the Kotel (Western Wall). I found it annoying to cram into a small space with a bunch of women who, though busy praying, seemed to have forgotten basic manners. I really didn't like praying there on Shabbat or other holidays - while the men found it a spiritual, uplifting experience, I found it annoying not to be able to pray with a minyan (quorum of men, required for certain prayers). I am used to singing in the synagogue with the group, while at the Kotel if I, as a woman, starting singing out loud I would be shushed immediately, or worse.

Also, I never felt a connection with the concept that the Kotel was the closest remnant of the Holy Temple - if anything the connection for me was that for hundreds of years other Jews had found it meaningful, so I was going to a place my ancestors had prayed at.

In short - I was not a Kotel fiend. I felt like I had no place there and it certainly held very little meaning for me.

Then I met the Women of the Wall.

The Women of the wall are a group of Anglo and native Israeli women who do not accept the various Supreme COurt rulings forbidding them to pray, as a group, in front of the Kotel, as this practice (women praying together in a group) is against what the court decided was "Orthodox" rule. They are considered to be an extremist/fringe group, and many rumors and ridiculous comments swirl around the controversy. My favorite comment ever, which was printed in a newspaper, was "Are the Women fo the Wall married? If so, what do their husbands think of this? Does this means their husbands are home, taking care care of the house and kids while these women are out there praying and doing this horrible abomination?" Check out their website for more accurate information.

Anyway, when I first started praying with the group, which meets every Rosh Chodesh (first day of the Jewish month) at 7 am, at the back of the women's section of the Kotel, I felt like I had finally found a "home" in the Kotel. I could finally pray as I was accustomed, with a group, with the singing I so cherish, yet be at the Kotel. The woman who frequently served as the leader, Rahel, has a beautiful voice, and it was uplifting and meaningful to pray with these women.

But then I started noticing things that bothered me. Some of these women, though by no means all, weren't really there to pray. They were there to make a point. There were some women who would come clad in tallit (prayer shawl) and kippah (skullcap) - both items traditionally worn by men in orthodox Judaism - but never actually open their prayerbooks to pray! Some of these women told me they only pray once a month, with the group, but not during the rest of the month. As much as I enjoyed the prayers, i began to feel uncomfortable with my participation.

Now, i am not saying I disagree with the point being made. I support what i had hoped was the point of the Women of the Wall which is: That the Kotel belongs to all Jews and it is not for one group of Judaism to say "Our way is the only correct way of doing things, and we will make your way illegal". I would be very upset if, let's say, the Sephardi Jews convinced the Supreme Court that only prayers said in the Sephardi tradition will be allowed at the Kotel, and Ashkenazi-style prayers will be illegal. Ashkenazim can still pray, but they must do so in accordance with the Sephardi tradition.

Which is why the Supreme Court's April 2003 ruling was fine with me. It delineated a portion of the Kotel, known as Robinson's Arch, at the corner of the Southern Wall excavations, as a place where groups that did not follow the Orthodox tradition could still pray - be these women's groups, Reform groups, Conservative groups, etc.

As long as all groups had a place they could pray according to their own beliefs, I was okay with not being able to pray in a women's group at the Western Wall Plaza itself. To me, the Southern wall is equally as holy as the Western one, though I know this is not the classical case.

Anyway, after the Women of the Wall continued to pray at the Western Wall (As opposed to Robinson's Arch) evern after the Arch had been prepared for them, I decided to stop praying with them. I felt my beliefs were not in line with the groups. And though, despite my now somewhat menaingful connection the the Kotel, I still am no big Kotel fan.

Which is why I surprised myself, when I asked one of my nursing school friends to come pray with me this past Tuesday, Rosh Chodesh Sh'vat, at the kotel. She and I both had some things we wanted to pray for - for me, I wanted to pray that things with B. should continue to go as smoothly and wonderfully as they have been for the past 3 months, and that whatever G-d intends to happen to us should happen in a good time, without difficulties or stress.

I almost totally forgot that the Women of the Wall would be there - and I felt somewhat embarrassed as I slunk past them, hoping they wouldn't notice that I was walking right past the gorup to pray by myself. I don't know why I was so embarrassed - to be honest, most of the women never talked to me during the year I prayed with them, and I doubted more than one of them would have recognized me.

But then I began to pray and I finally felt a connection - the spark of holiness that I suppose thousands before me have felt when praying at the kotel. And yes, it still had to do mostly with those that had come to pray before me at the exact same spot. What became of their hopes and prayers that were whispered in pain or anguish, what had they given thanks for at this very spot? I thought how Jews all over the world imagined this place as the antenna receiver for their prayers. And so, I too, am now a woman of the Wall. With or without the group.


Blogger amechad said...

You bring up some good points. This coming from someone committed to expanding halakhic roles of women and ensuring that what is halakhic be recognized as such. On one hand, WoW is a halakhic tefila group (and not an "alternative" or non-halakhic group and therefore has EVERY right to pray at the Kotel) and is a wonderful group. On the other hand, there are times where their desire to be multidenominational weakens their halakhic point (even if the halakha itself is not incorrect) and overtly political (as you expressed in the reasons why you stopped going there).
WoW as a halakhic tefila group should be supported but they must frame their argument in terms of its halakhic legitimacy, as well as arguments for klal Yisrael.

6:21 PM  
Blogger MatzahNacho said...

Hubby and I took our first trip to Israel in fall of 2003 and we walked to the Kotel every day. For some reason we woke up at like 4:30am every morning, so as soon as the sun rose we went to the Wall. I loved it there. Even now when I'm praying the Amidah at the synagogue we attend (we sing in unison through the Kedushah), I often remember being at the Kotel with my head resting against the stone that was in front of me somehow every time we went. When I was at the Wall I didn't sing the prayers, just spoke them quietly as I do when I pray at home. It appeared most of the other women there were reciting Tehillim, the same way, speaking quietly.

When I was at the Kotel I dressed the same way I do when I go to our synagogue, a longish skirt, sleeves below by elbows, and a hat, minus the tallit that I do usually wear to Shabbat morning services which is acceptable and even somewhat encouraged at the Conservative synagogue we attend. I would never wear something to the Kotel, or in any Orthodox setting, that would be considered inappropriate, but I don't understand why there would be a problem with women praying in unison in the women's section at the Kotel.

8:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was a beautiful post.


7:18 AM  
Blogger tafka PP said...

Great post, dear. Hope your prayers were heard.

Now I have to get you to join one more "Women" organization and my work here will be done ;)

2:09 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

I can understand the urge of Women of the Wall to pray in the traditional male fashion, given the context of a western society which denigrates traditional women's roles and idolizes career and money. That's not to say that I agree with it.

I had an interesting conversation with one of the supporters of women of the wall. You can find it at:

6:10 PM  
Blogger Passionate Life said...

Hi Noa,

Here are some of my thoughts and well wishes on your very encouraging relationship.


8:10 AM  
Blogger Noa said...

Passioante life,

Wow---Thanks so much for that beautiful POV of our (B and I) relationship.

I appreciate the wishes and, BH, there will be a very happy posting in the near future.


3:00 PM  
Blogger muse said...

I don't like imitating men. Our prayers can be a bit different, besides the basic required ones. When at the Kotel or Kever Rachel or even at my seat by the wall in my local shul, I just try to reach G-d.

5:16 AM  
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