Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Kotel: Carrying Forth the Prayer

Women of the Wall during a previous Rosh Chodesh - Photo by Tanya Hoffman

Like many Jews all across the world, I spent my hours last Thursday night anxiously waiting for the sun to rise in Jerusalem some 6,000 miles away. As I was preparing for bed in the Western Hemisphere, a crowd of women were gathering at the southwest corner of the Kotel. Because of the size and emotion of the crowds that day, each one would have to enter plaza gates alone and thread her way through the masses of angry faces, jeers and taunts. Each woman would be carrying – or wearing – the telltale sign of her conviction: a tallit.

And each one would know that on Friday, May 10, 2013 more than any day in the past 25 years, her presence and her courage would be needed at the Kotel. Whether she was afraid didn’t matter. What mattered was her presence and her prayer.

The Kotel circa 1942 - courtesy of Podnox
The Jews are a people defined by prayer. There are many who would disagree and who would mistake prayer for religiousness, or for something they don’t embrace. But in the end, it’s how we carry and exhibit that prayer inside that says the most about who we are as a people.

The idea that crowds of people could actually be angry with a group of Jewish women for praying at the Western Wall seemed amazing to many who watched the events unfold on their computer screens that night. Jews – both women and men – have been coming to the Kotel to pray, to seek refuge and to reaffirm heritage for thousands of years. Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Renewal Jews have davened at the Kotel for decades, if not centuries, just as have an equally diverse spectrum of Orthodox and Haredi Jews.

Photo by Andy Ratton
Aloud or in silence, each has prayed their own way, and in their own voice. And none can be said with any certainty to not have reached God’s ears.

But what seemed incomprehensible to me was not that there had been feelings of betrayal and scorn toward the court decision to let women don tallisim at the Kotel, but that on a day that Jews everywhere attached to spiritual expression, there was anything but joy being expressed at the foot of the Kotel.

“Rosh Chodesh,” explains Chabad on its website,  “means the “head of the new (moon),” and indeed it is a day—or two—of celebration marking the start of a new lunar month.”

Photo by Shoshanah
 The ones fulfilling this mitzvah that morning strove not to discredit or subtract from others’ prayers, but to add their voices to it and strengthen it. However unorthodox their exaltations sounded to the conventional ear, their prayers voiced what sages have been saying for millennium: that it is only in unity as a diverse and disparate people that our voice can really be measured, and can really be heard.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Multicultural Jew: Women of the Wall: Latest Developments

The Multicultural Jew: Women of the Wall: Latest Developments:  - And further updates.

Women of the Wall: Latest Developments

Please be sure to read the latest update that came out just after this posting. 

The air has been a bit lighter for supporters of the Jerusalem-based  Women of the Wall. Last month Israeli courts ruled that women who attend services at the women’s section of the Kotel are not breaking the law, and that those who were arrested by Jerusalem police on April 11 for wearing tallisim should never have been detained.

One couldn’t help pick up the sense of optimism and excitement in the organization’s this last Sunday's press release, either, noting that support is gathering for a women's Rosh Chodesh service, May 10, with transportation plans for attendees already in the works.  

It will be interesting to see how many turn out and what kind of reception the group receives at the wall now that they are permitted to wear their tallisim.

In an interview earlier this month, board member Cheryl Birkner Mack noted that complaints and interruptions of Women of the Wall services only seem to occur when their attendance has been previously announced. She said that when the women’s group has turned up without announcing it on their website or in a press release they have been able to pray together without police or bystander interference.

"The real proof I have … is that we have on occasion, including about three months ago, gone unannounced (to pray at the Kotel) on a day that was not Rosh Chodesh and encountered no opposition, no problem, no police, no security, nobody at all coming over and saying what you’re doing is forbidden," said Birkner Mack, who suggested that those who seemed bothered by the service know that they could easily adjust their arrival time to miss the hour or hour-and-a-half prayer services.

But now that the group has the law on their side so to speak, have things changed?

Torah service, 1980s. Women of the Wall
Well, maybe. Even though the attorney general announced Monday that he would not appeal the court's decision, there may still be efforts by members of the government to limit women's ability to pray at the Kotel with Torah and tallisim. Today (May 6) Israel's Minister of Religious Affairs, Naftali Bennet said that he plans to propose new regulations that would restrict etiquette at the Kotel.*

A new women’s organization has also stepped up to the plate to announce its objection to the 25-year-old organization’s presence at the Wall. Women FOR the Wall (better known as W4W), says it wants to ensure that “the experience (of praying at the Wall remains) profoundly meaningful” for all women. It’s unclear whether this means that women who wish to hold an integral service of their own and don tallisim are not welcome in the women’s section.

Multicultural Jew will be following these developments this week, and will follow up with our new interview with WOW on Sunday May 13 Pacific Time.

Please share your own thoughts on this matter. Is Women of the Wall speaking for you? Are they speaking against what you believe?

Photo courtesy of Michal Patelle

* Shortly after posting, Women of the Wall released a statement on its FaceBook page concerning earlier announcements by the attorney general and minster of religious affairs. It would seem that WOW's confidence that its major battles were over was premature. 

It is indeed a troubling time in the Jewish homeland.

Share your thoughts; Israel's unity thrives through dialogue. What do you think will inspire consensus?