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Praying For Peace: A Rabbinical Student Reports On Rosh Hodesh At The Wall
Thu, 05/09/2013 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week
Jenn Maggin
Jenn Maggin

As I pushed through the jampacked Kotel on Rosh Hodesh Sivan, thousands of religious girls pointed at my kippa and screamed in my face. Not only did they stick out their tongues, but they made the shape of a gun with their hands and rotated between pointing it at their heads and pointing it at mine. Scanning through the faces of the young girls, I wondered if in a different setting, we could’ve been braiding challah or lighting Shabbat candles together as friends. Some of their eyes leaked with hatrid and disgust, while some overflowed with intrigue, curiosity, and at times boredom. A large portion of the girls seemed to be mulling about, happy to be spending time with friends, and waiting for us to leave.

Squeezing my body through the mob, my stomach tightened—my breathing shortened—my legs shook uncontrollably. Overstruck with anxiety, I felt despised and alone. Whistles being blown, men screaming and throwing chairs and water bottles, police holding back violence — it was absolute chaos. I needed to find Women of the Wall. Trying desperately to obtain some sort of security, my heart swelled with relief when I found Women of the Wall praying peacefully between the men and women’s sections of the Kotel. I blocked out the hostility coming from every direction when I saw the genuine smiles of my group and our supporters as we sang “Hallel.” Suddenly, I no longer felt alone, and I joined along in the prayers and the camaraderie. Women and men wearing tallitot, kippot, and tefillin danced and rejoiced in prayer, despite the surrounding pandemonium. As I prayed and ignored the raining furniture, I reminded myself that the protestors are my fellow Jews and not the enemy.

I’m a Jewish American woman, and I wear a kippa. No, this is not part of a makeshift Purim costume, and no, this is not a secret attempt at hiding my frizzy curly hair from the world. It is a religious choice. When I wear a kippa, I remind myself that God is above me, and I demonstrate pride for my Jewish culture. I make a statement that as a Reform Jewish woman, I value equality. Today was the first day I felt comfortable wearing my kippa at the Kotel, and in the future I look forward to fulfilling the mitzvah of praying with a tallit at the Kotel.

This year I am blessed to be spending 10 months in Israel on OTZMA, a volunteer leadership program run through the Israel Experience and Masa Israel Journey. In the beginning of my Israel experience, I felt discriminated against when I went to the Kotel on Yom Kippur and was told by security guards to hide my kippa and tallit in my backpack. It seemed like a You’re on Candid Camera or Punk’d sort of TV show because it didn’t feel real.  I felt alone in the battle for religious tolerance and respect for women. OTZMA’s emphasis on leadership encouraged me to stop complaining and get involved with Women of the Wall. I met Anat Hoffman, Lesley Sachs, Alli Cohen and the inspiring group of women who pray at the Kotel with tallitot, tefillin, and kippot every Rosh Hodesh. I was instantly hooked.

As a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College: Jewish Institute of Religion, a future rabbi, chaplain and community leader, it is my duty to work with others to protect human rights. This is why I am completing an internship with Women of the Wall. Whether I am promoting the newsletter, visiting the Knesset, or simply gluing papers into our prayer books, I know I am investing my time in a meaningful cause.

After praying, celebrating, and most excitingly witnessing a bat mitzvah ceremony, we concluded our Rosh Hodesh service, and the police escorted Women of the Wall supporters onto buses to ensure our safe exit. As protestors spit at the buses, banged on the windows, and threw rocks, I couldn’t stop thinking to myself: Why are Jews hating Jews?  What about K’lal Yisrael and Tikkun Olam? We should be united as Jews, working together to repair the world. We should be joined together in a covenent with God, celebrating a beautiful religion and a shared history. I felt as though the thousands of protestors viewed us as their enemy, but we are not their enemy. We simply want to pray freely at the Kotel and celebrate our Judaism in the way we feel called to.  

Roger Baldwin stated, "Silence never won rights. They are not handed down from above; they are forced by pressures from below." We are the pressures from below, and I believe that Women of the Wall will ensure that women have the ability to pray freely at the Kotel once and for all. Today I watched mothers hold their babies in their arms as they prayed. I pray that one day my lovable two-year-old niece, Sarina, will pray alongside and peacefully share the Kotel with Haredim and the entire Jewish people. The Kotel is meant to unite us, not to divide us.

Jenn Maggin graduated from University at Buffalo with a B.A. in English, and in June 2012 she completed an M.A. in English Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Jenn volunteered this year on Israel Experience’s OTZMA, the year-long service leadership program for recent college graduates. Jenn is currently interning with the Israel Religious Action Center and Women of the Wall in Jerusalem. She will begin her dream of attending Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion this fall.

Anat Hoffman, Hebrew Union College, HUC, Kotel, Rosh Hodesh, wall, Western Wall, Women of the Wall

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It is YOU Mr/Mrs/Ms Ehad HaAm who does not understand.

Israel has enemies all around and you can be sure that the efforts of wow, women of the wall, is NOT helping the situation, and is not making Israel any less vulnerable, has v sholom, on the contrary.

They (wow) do not pray “For” peace , they prey “On” peace.

Ehad HaAm, if you are genuinely grappling with this issue, then see what “minyan” means to Jews and what “minyan” means to wow and to the reform/progressive(regressive)/conservative “sects”. And this is just ONE of the abberations they practice- it is All forbidden . The Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Hertzog of blessed memory, cautioned all Jewish people to know that these “sects' ” teachings and approach are NOT JUDAISM! He wanted to save those Jewish people “trapped” in these sects .

You'll be surprised to learn that I daven in an Orthodox shul, with separate seating and a minyan that would meet even your definition. At the same time, I also appreciate that not all Jews follow this observance. Jenn and WOW are not attempting to impose their definition of a minyan on anyone and are certainly not attacking anyone who davens in a different way than they do. Why then are you and your colleagues so up in arms about how the and they choose to daven.

And what's up with all this praying "for peace" and "prey on peace" play on words? Do you seriously think that WOW is threatening the existence of Eretz Israel? From what I read, WOW was simply celebrating rosh hodesh, including saying Hallel. For this they deserve to be attacked?

What percent of Jews in the States or Israel do you think davened that day? So here are some women who actually want to daven, and they are attacked, verbally and physically! Do you realize what a hillul hashem this behavior represents? Tisha B'Av is not that far away and Chazal teaches us that the reason for the horban was sinnat hinam. Jews were killing Jews within the walls of the city even as the Romans were attacking. My point -- with the reference to all the enemies surrounding Israel right now --- is that sadly nothing has changed in the past 2000 years.

It is a tragedy that some people believe that what is acceptable to them personally, is also automatically acceptable to other people or even the the Al-mighty. Your chessed, your “kind- hearted” thoughts on this wow (women of the wall) problem, sadly takes not into account that actions contrary to Torah actually drive the world to destruction, has v sholom. “The world stands on Torah”-in Pirkes Avos, so when a Jew does something contrary to Torah calamity happens. Sinas hinam is “baseless hatred”, not hatred which has a base - in this case a hatred for the the public display of the contradiction to and defiance to Torah that wow represent which in effect is a hillul Hashem. I hasten to add that most of the people (like Jenn) in that group have been tricked into their publicity stunts, but the ringleaders have genuine contempt for Torah authority, and some too are mercenaries, getting hefty cheques for their “trouble”.

So any hillul Hashem threatens Jews, Israel, the world. The mitzvot are directly linked to the very particles of matter of which the world is composed, with the souls of Jewish people as facilitators. If you were to internalize this you would drop your “day job” and join a frum kollel immediately. Wow is attacking the walls of Yerushalayim, and you as a frum Jew are letting it happen? Come on now, I must have convinced you by now. Every Jew is responsible for every other Jew. The opposition we have to wow, women of the wall, can only be out of love , pure love of all Jewish people, not hatred as you suggest. As an analogy, letting a child pour boiling water on themselves -a normal person would not do that.

Let us consider the context of this “battle” at the kottel”. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has tens of thousands of missiles that it threatens to launch into Israel. The last time they did so, they reached as far as Haifa. Today, their missiles have a longer reach and are far more powerful.

Right next to them, in Syria, a civil war rages and chemical and biological weapons may very well reach into the hands of Islamist terrorists who would not hesitate to use them against Israel.

With each passing day, Iran gets closer to crossing the red line to nuclear capability. And, were it not for Israel’s Air Force, even more weapons purchased from Russia would have fallen by now into the hands of Hezbollah.

To the south of Israel, hundreds of tunnels bring thousands of rockets from Egypt into Gaza and into the hands of Hamas. While not very accurate, these rockets have already reached Ashdot and Ashkelon. How accurate do they have to be once Tel Aviv is within range?

And while all this is happening, Jews are attacking Jews for praying at the kottel!

We have just concluded the period of sefira when, among other things, we mourned the deaths, at the hands of the Romans, of tens of thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s students. According to tradition, the reason why they died is because, while brilliant is their knowledge of the Torah, they were guilty of not respecting each other.

As Kohelet lamented thousands of years ago, there truly is nothing new under the sun. Pity that we have learned so little from our own history.

These women are the product, in many cases, of their parent's faulty upbringing- no respect for true Judaism.

Any compromise to allow these women to make a hillul Hashem at one of the holiest places that Jewish people can visit, is a victory by ignorance over wisdom.
The pain felt by Jews and Jewish women all around the world and the pain felt in Shomayim, in Heaven for the public ignorance these women ( Women of the Wall) represent, counts for nothing in the eyes of these and other “egalitarianists”. The “egalitarianists” ignore halacha at one of the most Holy places for ALL Jewish people, the Wall (the Kosel). That is what “egalitarian” means to them - equality for all people to do as they please EXCEPT for the Jewish people, who it appears, must be prevented at all costs from following Judaism in the way as it pleases Jewish people to do , but also as it pleases G-d for His Jewish people to do according to Jewish Law, halacha.

These women have no derech eretz. It is truly time they moved out of their childlike mind-set for the good of all Israel everywhere.

The Women at the Wall should not even pray at Robinson's Arch. They are not tzniusdik (they are not modestly dressed) and have a belligerent view of Torah amongst other things. Why should other Jewish women be subjected to the sight and sounds of such a group as they ? Why should we women relegated to have to endure this sight? No one should be rewarded for misleading the public.

Women of the Wall DID NOT liberated the Western Wall for me nor for anyone else, on the contrary, the Women at the Wall appear to be fighting against the Torah.
And who said Israelis are not interested in the Wall (the Kosel)?
They are interested and we are interested, all Jews together.

The "women of the wall" "prey" on peace, they do not pray for peace. "It is a religious choice" is no excuse when it is against Judaism. If Jenn, as a woman has a problem remembering that Hashem is above her then she indeed has a problem and this problem cannot be resolved by associating with inappropriate role models as she do, if indeed you are Jewish, for many people in reform/progressive/conservative sects are not Jewish.

Let me get this right. Women who pray at the kottel while wearing a kippa, tallit and tefilin (as did Rashi's daughters), have no derech eretz. But people who curse at them, spit at them and throw chairs at them, do have derech eretz. Also, the ones being cursed and spat upon are the ones who are beligerent and not the ones who are doing the spitting, cursing and attacking.

And men do not wear a kippa to remind them that Hashem is above us, but because.....

That said, I am in awe of your ability to discern when Shomayim is in pain.

Rabbi Dr. Zivotofsky said about tefillin on women “The Rema (OC 38:3) rules that it should be discouraged, and the Gra (comments to OC 38:3) contends that women are prohibited from wearing them.”

The Rabbi also says “Regarding Rashi’s daughters, one can argue that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. However because the notion of Rashi’s daughters wearing tefillin appears only in late twentieth-century writings, and does not seem to appear anywhere before that, this would indicate that it is, in fact, a myth.”

There is never an excuse for violence. Never! But you knew you were provoking it when you entered a group of over ten thousand people who had objected to what you were doing.They were there for that reason. Sticking out their tongue at you will not cause any lifelong trauma.I guarantee it.I hope that our Holy Oral Torah will unite all Jews.

Flavor, do you realize that the mere presence of Jews praying at the Wall or, for that matter, simply living in Israel, is offensive to most Muslims and to groups like Neturei Karta? By your "logic", Jews should leave Israel because our mere presence there is "provocative" to some people. Not sure how you can guarantee that being spat upon, cursed and physically attacked will have no long term effects, though Jenn comes across as a remarkably sincere well adjusted person which is far more than can be said of her attackers.

Here is a suggestion. Summer vacation time is coming. Take a trip to Europe. Be sure that you/your husband and sons wear kippot in public places. Don't do anything provocative like wear an IDF tee shirt. When you come back, write another lettere to the Jewish Week about how being subject to verbal and physical abuse has no effect on you.

The earliest leaders of the Rabbinic movement were slaughtered in the arena in Roman times. That generation was massacred by the hundreds of thousands, and pushed out of Israel. Since that time, Jews have remained in exile on the Rabbis watch. Why the Orthodox are so secure in the notion that they have figured out the true path to G-d's love is a mystery to me.

As Jews, we must keep improving, and searching to better ourselves, which includes treating women and no-Jews with greater respect. I support your cause and stand in awe of your courage!

Wow! Thank you for sharing your amazing experience at the Rosh Chodesh ceremony. I must admit that I shed a tear of joy when I witnessed the young woman having her Bat Mitzvah while surrounded my such a loving community of prayer.

The hate I witnessed that morning was puzzling and saddening. I hope that through reflection, continued Jewish text study, and a little bit of independent thinking, many of the men and women from seminaries and yeshivas will come to realize that just because some women practice Judaism in different ways than they are accustomed to (eg. singing aloud), it does not mean that they are not Jewish or that it is against Halacha. Interpretations of Halacha change and I always love hearing progressive voices from their communities - feminist voices especially - that are not afraid to remind the Jewish community that we are all made B'tzelem Elohim.

The violence you encountered cannot be justified under any circumstances, but it doesn't validate your "meaningful cause". Putting aside the fact that women were always allowed to pray freely at the wall, and that a minority should not dictate a majority, Judaism is not up for debate. You do not "celebrate a beautiful religion" by distorting it into something else.

The thought of celebrating Rosh Hodesh at a church or a mosque has never crossed your mind, and for good reason. Similarly, the fact your sect insists on labeling its set of beliefs as Judaism does not give you the moral right to exercise your freedom of religion in a place of worship that belongs to someone else.

Hey, ReformMuslim - Just out of curiosity, who do you think that the Kottel "belongs" to? And how does Jenn's davening there translate into her dictating anything to anyone? As for Judaism not being up for debate, Judaism is ALL about debate. Go to your bookshelf and open up any Talmud volume. Now, open it at random page. Start reading. What do you see? No doubt a debates as to what the halacha is. Not only that, but the opinion of the minority is recorded and preserved for posterity.

Why do you and your insult-hurling friends feel so threatened by someone who actually wants to daven, not because she has to, but because she wants to?

wow, women of the wall, already lost their battle before it started, as in Talmud and by poskim since the Talmud, what they do and say is not allowed -it is already against Jewish Law, halacha! No debate and machlokes wanted or needed.

The Talmud records those discussions that WERE for the sake of heaven. That IS why they were recorded.