Women of the Wall

By now I’m sure many of you have heard about today’s monthly Women of the Wall gathering. The short version is that the police, allegedly present to protect the women from those who do not believe they have a right to daven at the Kotel, approached many of the women, said they weren’t permitted to wear talleisim, and took the names and id of three women who’ll be “further investigated.” You can read more about it in the JTA and Jerusalem Post, or check out a blog post by one of the three women (who happen to all be rabbinical students). You can also watch their reaction in this interview on YouTube.

Police, defying the mechitzah, to teach Deb how a woman ought to wear her tallis.

It wasn’t long before I spotted the photos on Facebook, counting several friends among them. Based on the two photos included in this post, I decided to talk to Deb (pictured) about her experience today and each month she joins Women of the Wall for their Rosh Chodesh davening.

Right off the bat, Deb made clear that she hasn’t historically connected to the kotel as a place where she’s wanted to daven. However, she finds that the more she goes with Women of the Wall, the more she wants to go. It’s the community Women of the Wall is fighting to create that speaks to her more than the wall itself.

She told me, the group is “called ‘women’ but it’s actually creating a space for all who want to daven there, who have the right to access this public, Jewish space.” The group’s mission states they “seek the right for Jewish women from Israel and around the world to conduct prayer services, read from a Torah scroll while wearing prayer shawls, and sing out loud at the Western Wall – Judaism’s most sacred holy site and the principal symbol of Jewish people hood and sovereignty.” Deb appreciates that they’ve also created a “queer-friendly space,” and that they “call attention to the need for spaces that are friendly and welcoming to all. There are folks who identify as genderqueer and trans who are invited to lead services, read from the Torah, and take on other roles. Likewise, Women of the Wall creates a welcome space for all genders, including male-identifed folks, to participate in the Torah services” that they hold at Robinson’s Arch after they move from the Western Wall.

Wearing a tallis in a hijab-like manner is apparently permitted.

When I showed Deb the two photos from Facebook, she said that she feels like she’s being “singled out each month” by the police, because she wears a tallis that is more traditionally considered a man’s, and not a colourful tallis that might be more “feminine.” Today, a policeman asked permission of Anat (co-founder of Women of the Wall) to demonstrate, using Deb and her tallis, how women should properly wear a tallis like a shawl. The idea being that this would avoid the 2001 law that makes it illegal for women to perform those religious practices “traditionally done by men” at holy sites, like reading from the Torah, wearing tefillin or a tallis, or blowing the shofar.

“He folded it up, and put it around me like a fake scarf… Of course I unfolded it and ended up wearing almost like a hijab instead!”

Her other response to the police? She davens extra loud when she’s with Women of the Wall. I asked if that was a way of protesting the police interference, but she corrected me. “The truth is that I’m extra loud so that the women feel a presence. And it’s for the policemen, so they hear the truth of the davening, rather than the protest of the women. Because that’s really why I am there: so that I can pray and sing and so can any other person. I guess I like to think I bring some davening confidence…”

Her confidence, and the monthly return of so many woman (and folks of all genders) reminds us that they’re fighting over a public space. A Jewish space. And women (and those who identify outside the gender binary) have just as much right to pray in public as men.

7 Responses to “Women of the Wall”

  1. I don’t think the Kotel is the place for you to do these gender games. I find it deeply disrespectful that you choose this holy site as your laboratory for different types of Jewish ritual.

    Simon · May 23rd, 2012 at 2:34 am
  2. yeah, Simon, those disrespectful women who throw chairs and bottles and scream horribly offensive slurs at men and force them to stifle their voices and arrest them for holding Torah scrolls, shame on them. oh… wait…. yup disrespecting holy sites with gender games is a big problem in Israel, but I’m not sure it’s these righteous women who are to blame.

    justin · May 23rd, 2012 at 8:57 pm
  3. Just who was playing gender games when Adam was created (it is in the Midrash) androgynous?
    Could it have been God?

    Meir Einayim · May 24th, 2012 at 5:01 am
  4. There’s nothing laboratory-ish about women davening with tallit and tefillin. For heaven’s sake, it’s discussed and disagreed on in the commentaries (some say it’s permitted, and some say it’s permitted without blessings), and it’s mentioned in the talmud and midrash. So-called religious men: get over yourselves. *Your* games are not about Judaism, they’re about power.

    Kol Ra'ash Gadol · May 24th, 2012 at 8:41 am
  5. Folks might also find this blog post interesting. Written by my buddy Becky, a rabbinic student who identifies as genderqueer, and was at Women of the Wall as an ally, it delves into questions of gender and privilege.

    TheWanderingJew · May 24th, 2012 at 9:49 am
  6. “I don’t think the Kotel is the place for you to do these gender games. I find it deeply disrespectful that you choose this holy site as your laboratory for different types of Jewish ritual.”

    [Face palm]

    Jeff · May 24th, 2012 at 10:05 am
  7. Simon, these women are not playing “gender games” or using the kotel as a “laboratory.” If anything, the minority of extremists are so doing.

    TheWanderingJew · May 24th, 2012 at 11:27 am

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik