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The Kotel Is A Synagogue
Tue, 02/26/2013 - 19:00

Regarding “Jailed For Davening” (A N.Y. Minute, Feb. 22): The desire of women and members of non-Orthodox communities to engage in prayer at the Kotel [Western Wall] is complex. I was a young yeshiva student in 1988 and recall being present when the Women of the Wall first began their monthly assembly.

In the years since, I have grown to meet and respect Jews who seek to express their love and devotion for prayer outside of the Orthodox mainstream. I believe there is a place for those who choose to worship in ways that are different than my own, and I cherish their right to do so as long as they behave appropriately. 

Unfortunately, Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin is not so tolerant. As quoted in your interview, she expresses the opinion, “If there are people that are so bothered by women davening, they can go elsewhere, to a private place.” What place might that be? I guess not the Kotel. So much for tolerance and pluralism. 

Rabbi Fryer Bodzin states that the Kotel is a public space. She is mistaken. According to Israeli law, the Kotel is an Orthodox synagogue. Rabbi Fryer Bodzin understands that a shul can and should have standards. Her shul, The Israel Center for Conservative Judaism, has some pretty strict rules about what food may or may not be brought in to the synagogue, according to its website. It has a schedule and a designated prayer book. Outsiders would not be permitted to burst into her shul and start conducting services outside the standards of the congregation.  

Rabbi Fryer Bodzin should show the same level of respect to the rabbi and congregation of the Kotel, in God’s back yard, as she would have shown at her synagogue in Queens.

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"According to Israeli law, the Kotel is an Orthodox synagogue."

I think that you've solved the problem. As we all know, the Kotel was never a sygnagogue throughout history. It was a place where Jews would generally go as individuals, to pray as they saw fit. The one known attempt to make it into a synagogue, albeit temporarily, was on Yom Kippur in 1928, and it ended in riots.

All we need to do, therefore, is to amend the Israeli law, and provide that the Kotel shall no longer be an Orthodox synagogue. Instead, it will be recognized as a holy site of national interest to all Jews, all of whom will be free to worship their in the manner that they see fit. I am sure that the Hareidi Jews who throw chairs and shout curses at the Women of the Wall will then cease these actiivities and give these righteous women the respect they deserve.

The quote above was unfortunate, since in the next answer, she clearly articulates that the Kotel should continue to have men's and women's sections (and a mixed section).