Leaping forward or left in the dust…

The Sharansky Plan features a proposed permanent egalitarian space in the Robinson’s Arch area. This is what it would look like. (photo credit: JTA) {Post by Melissa}

I have had many questions recently about my feelings about the proposed and so-called “Sharansky Plan” to fix the issues of davening spaces at the kotel and to make it more accessible to all Jews. I’ve been hesitant to share what I think because I am very torn, but I like to share my opinions when they are requested, so I’ll do my best to pull apart my conflicting viewpoints.

To start with, I have to commend Natan Sharansky for stepping up to the plate on this one. I know it can’t be easy to be in his position, but this is a big step forward and shifting the realities of the kotel as a space for all Jews. His plan to expand Robinson’s Arch to be a continuous part of the kotel plaza and with full access to the public is brilliant. This is more than a trichitza – it is a new space for egalitarian Jewry to daven in a way which is meaningful and consistent. I think it is amazing that the plan has been endorsed by American Jewry across the spectrum and accepted by Women of the Wall. There are many logistical issues to be sorted through, but if it comes together, it will be a huge step forward for egalitarian Jews.

That said, it is a step backward for me and other women who hope for the ability to sing and dance and pray aloud at the kotel who are not egalitarian.

While it is hard to say if the kotel police will arrest women for praying aloud at the kotel when not wearing tallitot and who are not affiliated with Women of the Wall, the precedent has been set and this plan does nothing to counter that. The mechitza section of the kotel will essentially remain a Charedi synogauge, and the newly expanded egalitarian section will be governed by the Jewish Agency.

Where does that leave Modern Orthodox Jewish women who are looking for women’s tefillah? Where does that leave all the Orthodox supporters of Women of the Wall? Where does that leave seminary girls who want to sing and dance and celebrate together in the holy space? Where does that leave a non-egalitarian woman who wears a talit or wants to say kaddish for a loved one?

From what I can see, it leaves us standing in silence in the minuscule women’s section – not exactly the big win for everyone that many would like to believe.

So while I want to celebrate the (potential) leap forward for my egalitarian friends and celebrate the liberation of part of the kotel from Charedization, I can’t help but be saddened that they have left their fellow supporters of women’s tefillah at the kotel in the dust.

The women's section remains that that small shady area between the brownish mechitza wall and the white tarp/bridge. (Photo by Melissa)

The women’s section remains that that small shady area between the brownish mechitza wall and the white tarp/bridge. — And anyone who wants to claim Kol Isha as the reason, look at this photo and tell me you *must* daven close enough to the women’s section to hear us. (Photo by Melissa)

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18 thoughts on “Leaping forward or left in the dust…

  1. Dear Melissa,
    In my opinion, you have written the most important English language post on Women of the Wall and the Sharansky plan among the hundreds that have surfaced in the past month.

    I write this as a Women of the Wall board member.

    I usually write short comments. But I am going to write a repetitive and wordy response. It is from my heart.

    Women of the Wall have yet to formalize a position on the plan because we actually have not seen it. Until such time we are not ‘accepting’ it (as reported in the media) – but rather our position is that we are extremely pleased to see the issue of women’s prayer at the Kotel being taken seriously, being debated, discussed and researched .. We are also pleased to see that according to the news reports anyway, Sharansky’s plan will promote religious pluralism (i.e Israelis are getting the hang of the idea that there is more than one way to be a good Jew!). All this is a tremendous victory for us. For these reasons we will never be an obstacle to any plan that promotes religious pluralism.

    HOWEVER …
    We still have a battle ahead, one we have been fighting for 24 years and apparently have not yet achieved much progress. Perhaps we need someone like you to help us.

    The battle is for the right of women to pray as they wish in the women’s section at the Kotel. Or as you put it, the battle for ” women who hope for the ability to sing and dance and pray aloud at the kotel who are not egalitarian”

    Do you understand what I am saying?

    Women of the Wall are not egalitarian.

    We have failed miserably at the task of getting people like yourself to understand that YOU are US. WE are YOU!

    We want to achieve the right for women to pray as they see fit in the women’s section of the Kotel.

    No more. No less.

    Yes, some of us wear a tallit. Yes some of us wrap tefillin. Yes, we are from all the denominations of Judaism including ones that believe in egalitarianism.

    But..

    Women of the Wall are not egalitarian.

    Seminary girls who want to sing and dance at the Kotel. Women only kabbalat shabbat at the Kotel. Non egalitarian woman who wants to wear a tallit at the Kotel or say kaddish …

    Those women are US!!

    This is why I am willing to be arrested each time I participate in our Rosh Hodesh tefilah.

    It’s not for egalitarian services – we have Sharansky and Robinson for that.

    I am willing to get arrested wearing my tallit in the women’s section at the Kotel on Rosh Hodesh so that seminary girls can continue to hold joyful kabbalat shabbat at this awe inspiring site. So that any woman, of any denomination can say kaddish out loud or wear a tallit or read from a Torah scroll in front of the ruins of our beit hamikdash – (may it be speedily rebuilt in our day)

    Melissa, please join us for Shaharit and Hallel on Rosh Hodesh Sivan 5773. (Friday May 10th 7:00am).

    Rachel

    p.s. I would be so happy if you would contact me if you would like to talk more.

    • Thank you Rachel. I appreciate you taking the time to write such a thorough comment.
      If you read my post carefully, you may notice I did not say that Women of the Wall was an inherently egalitarian group, in fact I believe it is a major women’s tefillah group. That said, I do see and appreciate your sentiment and agree that the message of Women of the Wall supporting *all* women’s tefillah is not well conveyed.
      I think now is a key time for an organizational statement conveying what you have here! What a great statement it would be to show that while this is a supported and exciting step – it is not officially accepted or recognized as a solution. I know I am not alone in saying that as a long time supporter and like minded woman, it would be nice to feel like I hadn’t been left behind in this trying quest.

  2. I’m sorry, I’m still confused. I have gone on four women’s missions to Israel with Lori Palatnik. She herself leads about 6 missions a year (a mission there has just begun). Each time there is singing and dancing at the kotel Friday night. I myself have participated in it, most recently 18 months ago, and it is for many a highlight of the trip. But I just checked with her to ask if there has ever been any incidents and she said “no.” What are non-egal women being prevented from doing?

    • Again, I don’t know that it will happen, I was just following through based on what has happened. Anat Hoffman was arrested for davening outloud while leading a Maariv women’s minyan. Friends of mine have been told to stop dancing or they would be arrested. Yes, these incidents were tied to WotW, but they set a precedent which I am unwilling to sweep under the rug.

  3. I think that recent pictorial history of the kotel on mom in israel’s blog showed the orthodox women’s issue well. The area for women-only davening at the kotel has grown smaller and smaller. Because the women’s side is directly on the other side of the men’s mechitza, women’s voices can be heard. Consequently, women have to pray in silence in order to not disturb men who may or may not be directly on the other side of the barrier. I think the only way that orthodox women will be able to openly sing and dance at the kotel is if there is an indoor women’s structure built on one side of the wall – leaving the wall itself exposed within the structure, but having a soundproof and weatherproof three-sided building that can house a few hundred worshipers. That way, women who want to daven apart from men, but sing or speak the liturgy above a whispered mumble, can have that option.

    • I really hope it doesn’t have to come to that, nor do I think it should have to. The men’s section is very large and there is plenty of room for them to be elsewhere. I often can’t even hear myself think with all the noise they are making, I can only imagine being in the midst of it and on the other side.

  4. A very well thought out post. Thank you! But seriously, I think that everyone has to get a grip – women exist and, surprise surprise, they have voices and sometimes they even daven. To propose that men would be offended by this is ridiculous and surely, anyone (men) who does find the existence of women who want to connect with Hashem offensive, should not daven so close the mechitza on the women’s side!
    PS – I am an Orthodox woman who would never consider wearing a Tallis or putting on Tefillin, but I have no problem with women who do want to do that. From my understanding, while it is not a mitzvah for women, there is no halachic prohibition that prevents women from putting on Tefillin – I could be wrong so feel free to correct me!

  5. Pingback: Thoughts about the Women of the Wall | tuxeliana

  6. Pingback: This isn’t a solution | tuxeliana

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