Culture, Identity, Religion, Sex & Gender

We are all brothers… except our sisters

Today, Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall, wrote an impassioned op-ed in the Jerusalem Post calling for calm and unity amidst the furor over the arrest of women for praying at the Kotel.
Reading it I was encouraged, sympathetic even. I wish more Orthodox Rabbis, especially Haredim and especially Israeli Haredim, gave as much thought and voice to such sentiments. I wish more of our progressive friends did likewise in the other direction.

The Western Wall, like the Jewish nation, has both visible and hidden dimensions. It seems like a public and open place, but in reality – as anyone who has touched its stones will attest – it is a place of intimacy: intimacy between a Jew and his past, intimacy between man and his God. This intimacy is created during the wondrous moment when a man leans his head on the cool stones of the Western Wall and feels in the depths of his heart that he has returned home.

There’s just one problem here; women sadly appear to be forgotten or omitted. That’s a shame since that attitude is precisely what got us to this point. Thus what is clearly a heartfelt plea against Sinat Chinam and for inclusiveness from the Orthodox, even if it doesn’t mention the non-Orthodox outright, misses the point.
Yes, Rabbi, more unites us than divides us. Except when what unites us is the Western Wall and what divides at it are a mechitza and equal treatment.
We indeed are all brothers- except our sisters, who continue to receive insulting treatment at the Wall for exercising precisely what you describe as an ideal.
It is a place of intimacy: not just intimacy between a Jew and his past, but and Jew and hers as well. It is a place of intimacy between men AND women and our God.
Rabbi, I laud your words and pray that all Jews can come to the Wall and experience this intimacy at Har HaBayit. Until all men AND women can lean their heads on those cool shamir-carved stones and freely pour out their souls to Hashem, it will not feel like a home to far too many of our sisters, wives and mothers than either you or I desire.
And unless those who advocate otherwise heed your words, “ein m’nachem lah.”

13 thoughts on “We are all brothers… except our sisters

  1. OH. until I read the article, and now I think you’re being way too generous.
    First of all, he is in no way shape or form the Rabbi of the Western Wall. He’s basically self-declared and treated as such by the press most of the time, but he is not. He is the rabbi of The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which, according to their website, “is involved in physically maintaining and renovating the area of the Western Wall. This includes paving and expanding the Western Wall Plaza, preserving the stones of the Wall, and preparing the Western Wall Tunnels for the close to 3 million visitors who have, so far, been awed by them.” They also run some educational programs. He has no actual religious authority over what happens at the Wall and was never appointed that authority.
    Second, can we talk for a minute about how “the wall” has taken on this deistic quality in his telling of the story? “All are equal in front of the Wall”; “millions of Jews from around the world imagined the Wall, impressing the image in their hearts, drawing it on the covers of their holy arks, stitching it onto their prayer shawls, and etching it onto the eastern walls of their synagogues”? Idolatry, anyone? Because that’s fun. And Jewish.
    So, says the rabbi, “the Western Wall is not a place for ceremonies or demonstrations, proclamations or tongue-lashings.” Oh really? Because I guess he’s saying they should cancel all the bar mitzvah ceremonies his organization coordinates–you know, the ones where the women have to stand on plastic chairs to peer over the mechitza to see their sons/grandsons/brothers read torah, while if they even pray aloud they can be arrested for disturbing the peace or disrespecting a holy site.
    Not a place for tongue-lashings, you say? Tell that to the impetuous little girl in the white baseball cap that told me that I wasn’t allowed to approach the wall because the top two inches of my arms were exposed. And that I might as well go walk into a temple in India with my shoes on. Because, man, did I feel like “that which unites us is 10 times greater than that which divides us” while she looked at me like I was practically naked in my calf-length skirt and sleeveless top on a 100 degree day in July.
    I’ll admit: I only went because my friend, in for a visit from the States, wanted to go. And had we been able to visit the haram al-Sharif that day, I would have gladly slung the scarf in my bag over my head and shoulders. But I’m a Jew, and this is a Jewish holy site, and I’m not to be treated as if I were going to India. Shoeless or otherwise.

  2. littlerose- very interesting take. but why are you apparently more than willing to abide by the modesty standards of the haram al-Sharif, but not willing to cover your shoulders at the Kotel? I understand that you are Jew and do not want to be told how to practice your own religion, but covering your shoulders seems to me like an even more basic act of modesty than wearing a skirt as opposed to pants, which you apparently had no problem doing.

  3. Yeah, I also thought (dan l’kaf zechut notwithstanding) that this was a pretty obnoxious piece, even apart from the obvious inconsistency of designating the women’s prayer activies as divisive while allowing any number of other “ceremonies or demonstrations, proclamations or tongue-lashings.”
    The idolatry of the Wall is troubling to me, but seems pretty much par for the course at this point (and certainly not limited to any one group). What makes me crazy is that the Wall has been basically taken over by the ultra-Orthodox, who crowd in near the wall and often actively discourage others from getting close. I know a number of other Orthodox people who don’t feel comfortable there, to say nothing of the non-Orthodox, who are told in a hundred ways all the time that they’re not so welcome. Whatever the wall is, it’s certainly not (simply descriptively speaking) a place where people leave aside their conflicts and join together as brothers or whatever.
    I mean, maybe it’s all for the good, insofar as maybe we can actually focus on, you know, God instead of a building. But still, I don’t see that much to applaud in this piece.

  4. Littlerose is correct. There is not a position of Kotel Rabbi. The official title is הממונה על מקומות קדושים.
    Littlerose adds “He is the rabbi of The Western Wall Heritage Foundation…”
    And using this authority, with no zoning hearing, with no public tender, and in violation of the law,he expanded the prayer areas and has now constructed a “men only may walk here” path that allows men to walk across the Plaza are, to the men’s section, without interacting with women.
    He has succeeded in getting rid of the ceremonies whereby new Olim receive their ID cards there. He has done away with ceremonies that involve the army choir-since it is mixed.
    Monday and Thursday tunnel tours are for Bar Mitzvah families and friends only. I was told “Bat Mitzvah girls are not restricted to Monday and Thursday morning to celebrate their simchas, so they must nit come on Torah reading mornings.”
    To Arnie: Where do YOU draw the modesty line? Must married women cover their hair? May teenage girls where pants? May a young couple hold hands in public (gay or straight)? Why not expand such modesty restrictions to the whole Jewish Quarter, or the whole Old City, or the full Holly city of Jerusalem? And who shall set those standards?

  5. but covering your shoulders seems to me like an even more basic act of modesty than wearing a skirt as opposed to pants, which you apparently had no problem doing.
    I obviously can’t speak for littlerose, but lots of women just like skirts and especially in the summer, find them more comfortable than pants. I’m guessing she was dressing to suit herself and her own standards, not conceding with the skirt and defying with the shirt.

  6. I will submit to being told by Orthodox Jews or Conservative Jews or Jews in a community I’m not familiar with to put on a kipah. I won’t hear of it from a Reform Jew. I am one and I’ll define my own standard of dress in Reform communities.
    But the Kotel, which I actively avoid, does happen to belong to all Jews. As such and being one, I’ll decide what it’s appropriate for me to wear there.

  7. To David: You say “But the Kotel… I’ll decide what it’s appropriate for me to wear there.”
    Yes YOU will. But that decision has been removed from the hands of women.

  8. To David: You say “But the Kotel… I’ll decide what it’s appropriate for me to wear there.”
    Yes YOU will. But that decision has been removed from the hands of women.

    Have YOU ever approached the wall without a kippah? Would you? Have you seen anyone make the attempt?

  9. Under the circumstances, debating about attire at the Kotel is like a fashion show during the Kriyat Torah.
    The issue is that when women daven at the Kotel, and especially if they wear Tallit, and davka if they leyn Torah, they are subject to harrassment, abuse and arrest.
    I don’t care what you’re wearing when you pray to G-d. I’m glad that you’ve come to the Kotel to do so, and that you’re doing it at all.
    I’m not sure whats more offensive; that a woman was arrested for davening at the Kotel or that anyone was regardless of gender.

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