Kotel Proposal Insufficient
Wed, 04/17/2013

In all the excitement about Natan Sharansky’s proposal for the Kotel (“Equal Prayer At Western Wall” and Editorial, April 20), the following is forgotten: It banishes the Torah from the women’s section at the Kotel and, ironically, also banishes the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Renewal denominations from the Kotel.

Why is this being greeted as a breakthrough solution? Robinson’s Arch is already available for mixed-gender egalitarian prayer for a small number of worshippers during limited hours. Sharansky proposes to expand this archeological site — something that will probably never happen. The archaeologists will fight it as will the Waqf [the Islamic group with control over the Temple Mount]. Even if there is no opposition, the project could cost $200 million and take 10 years.

Even then, it will not satisfy the mission of Women of the Wall, the only group that has been the driving force behind all the lawsuits and headlines, namely, the right to pray in a women-only group in the women-only section at the Kotel with a Torah, tallit, and out loud.

Once again, women who want to pray together with Clal Yisrael—especially Orthodox women — have been ignored by Sharansky, the media and North American streams of Judaism. This is ironic because, unlike traditional Orthodox and haredi groups, these streams have been trying so hard to include women in their religious practice.

Manhattan

The writer is a founder of the International Committee for Women of the Wall, and co-author of “Women of the Wall. Claiming Sacred Ground at Judaism’s Holy Site.”

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Do women who are made deeply uncomfortable by the presence of "women-only groups in the women-only section at the Kotel who pray with a Torah, tallit, and out loud" have any rights? Such as the right to pray according to their traditions? Traditions which view women praying with a Torah, tallit and out loud as forbidden and an affront? Is there any interest in being respectful to the sensitivities and needs of those women? They are also full and sincere Jews. Many of them would not be permitted by their traditions to pray in the presence of the women-only group you describe, and so they would effectively be banned from the Kotel if such groups were permitted in the women-only section. No proposal could possibly provide equal prayer space to every group in Judaism. We would have dozens (at least) of prayer spaces. Sharansky's compromise does not satisfy many traditionalists and does not satisfy Orthodox women's tefillah groups, but doesn't it address the needs of the vast majority of the Jewish people?

I am a religious Jew and fairly well versed on Jewish law and traditions. I do not know of any law or even tradition that prohibits women from praying in the presence (10-20 meters away) from a women only prayer group, no matter whether that group is wearing tallitot, singing out loud, whatever.

How is it that the proposal "banishes the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Renewal denominations from the Kotel"? Genuinely confused. Can you explain?

Phyllis Chesler makes the argument as forcefully as could be wished. But it is still hard for me to understand the delusionary stance of the traditionalists who cannot see in women full human beings or in the Women of the Full full and sincere Jews. Nor can pierce the logic of Sharansky's attempt to read a mealy-mouthed pseudo-compromise as a victory for talmudic reasoning or common sense. Either you respect women's rights to be halachic agents of Jewish Law or you don't. The ultra-Orthodox rabbis don't, can't in their present state of mind. Sharansky obfuscates and fools no one but himself.

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