Jewish Journal


A realistic goal for the good Women of the Wall

by Shmuel Rosner

December 24, 2012 | 8:13 am

(Photo: Courtesy of Women of the Wall)

Rachel Cohen Yeshurun, board member of Women of the Wall, posted two comments at the end of my recent article on WoW (Women of the Wall and supporters: you have four options to choose from). In her comments she respectfully disagreed with me – and I found them worthy of reading and another round of response. I'll try to be brief as my main thesis was laid out quite elaborately in the previous post.

First, Cohen Yeshurun's comments:

PART I: You miss one very important point about Women of the Wall and complicate matters unnecessarily. We are a pluralistic women’s prayer group. Pluralistic means we have Orthodox members who wish to pray in the women’s section at the Kotel. Pluralistic means that some of the women wish to pray wearing a tallit and/or kippah and/or tefillin. We wish to hold a women’s service including torah reading in the format that we have developed that accommodates all our participants. This can easily be done at the Kotel, very few people who pray there regularly even give us a 2nd glance. The men are so loud there that our ‘out loud’ prayer is not even heard by anyone outside our little circle.

PART 2: The solution is simple: The government must abolish the current law that states “... No religious ceremony shall be held in the women’s section of the Kotel etc...”. Then the police force or the army if necessary, should enforce the law and protect the women. The threatened violence against WOW does not come from the mainstream Orthodox or even the Haredim. It comes from the extreme elements - and we have seen in the past years how these elements back off when the rest of the country pushes back hard. (women in the back of the bus, Beit Shemesh, Shabbat parking lots come to mind)

Now my response to the few sentences in Cohen Yeshurun's comments with which I disagree:

1. "This can easily be done at the Kotel". Obviously, it can't be "easily" done. Years of struggle weren’t enough to make it happen; years of being right in principle didn't move the government toward easily solving this problem. The Supreme Court thought that it was easier to ship WoW minyans to a different location. So pretending this is easy is the recipe for keeping with the current strategy – one that does not seem to work.

2. "The solution is simple". Well, it is not. It requires that "the government must abolish the current law", as Cohen Yeshurun suggests. But why would the government change the law? Why would the prime minister expend political capital on something that is going to be a headache for him with religious parties, and might become a headache for Jerusalem's police force with religious demonstrators? Assuming that to abolish the law is a "simple" solution is living in la-la-land. In a democratic system such as the one we have in Israel, politicians abolish laws when they have good reason, including political motivation, to do so. Understanding and accepting this truly "simple" fact is the first step for any activist wanting to be effective rather than merely being right. I'm not sure if Cohen Yeshurun's comments represent the thinking of the entire WoW organization; but if they are, I suggest they confer with someone who is able to inject some measure of realism into their struggle (and I feel it's necessary for me to restate what I said in my previous post: I support WoW's struggle, and think it is an outrage that women can't pray as they wish at the Kotel).

3. "[T]he police force or the army if necessary, should enforce the law". Well – yes. However, the police and the army should also have priorities. Guarding the border, saving lives, fighting terror, arresting thieves - all of these are likely to come before safeguarding WoW's right to pray at the Kotel. So my assumption would be that Israel is not going to send the military to guard a monthly prayer at the Kotel, and is not going to send the police to handle fiery demonstrations all over Jerusalem when such a prayer takes place. This isn't a matter of right and wrong, of what should or should not be done in an ideal world. It is a matter of setting priorities rationally – a point I was making in my previous article, by invoking the chief of police's dilemma (see the article here – and look for the paragraph under the headline "Why is he right").

4. "[F]rom the extreme elements". I'm not sure where this information comes from, but I'd like to make three quick points related to it:

a. In the world of Jerusalem religiosity, it is often the extremes who set the tone of the whole community.

b. "Mainstream" Orthodox elements might not be part of the opposition to WoW, but I also don't see them rushing to support and defend the WoW – and when the majority or "mainstream" is silent and indifferent, extreme elements have the preponderance of influence.

c. Cohen Yeshurun is right to argue that "these elements back off when the rest of the country pushes back hard" – but this disproves rather than proves her point. In the WoW case, "the rest of the country" doesn't seem to care much, there's no pushback and hence no backing off. If WoW believe that they can rally the troops to the cause and change the calculus of politicians and police officers – if they can make politicians believe that suppressing WoW's wishes is going to be more costly for them than keeping the status quo – then by all means, let them pursue it (and you'll have my vote). One has to wonder though why such support hasn't materialized thus far. It might be a sign that it's just not there. 

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