May 12, 2011
Standing Up for Women’s Rights in Israel
by Ravid Tilles, student at Masa Israel’s Schechter Rabbinical Seminary Overseas program
On Rosh Hodesh, the first day of the month of the Jewish calendar, brave women, known as the Women of the Wall, enter the female section of the Kotel praying area and conduct a morning service. Hoping to create a communal prayer option for egalitarian women at the most sacred prayer space for modern Jewry, the Women of the Wall’s presence is very unique. Usually women who visit the Kotel must pray quietly and alone because in most Orthodox communities, men are prohibited from hearing the voices of women. While a physical divider still separates men and women at the Kotel, the Women of the Wall pray as loudly and passionately as the men on the other side.
During our year in Israel, my wife, Yaffa and I knew that we wanted to show our solidarity with the Women of the Wall. But in supporting the fight against the religious status quo, we worried about our safety. In the past, individuals have thrown things at the Women of the Wall and one time there was such a commotion over their presence at the Kotel that some of the women were arrested.
On the morning of Rosh Hodesh Adar, my wife Yaffa and I decided to brave the rain and the 30 degree weather and go. Committed to showing our support for egalitarianism in Israel and protesting the non-egalitarian nature of the Kotel prayer space, we woke up at 6. Though security guards initially prevented me from standing next to the dividing wall, I eventually convinced the half dozen police officers that I was with the group as a supporter, and they permitted me to stay.
Protected by massive security surrounding the women from all sides, Yaffa and around 50 women of all ages, prayed in the back of the women’s section of the Kotel, while I, and a handful of other supportive men, joined in with the community. Interestingly, this was the first time that I had ever been on the side of the mechitza that was separated from the major action of the service. The women were filled with joy as they danced together and sang the Hallel prayer.
Before that day, it seemed to me like the government prioritized the interests of the ulta-Orthodox communities over those who affiliate with liberal strands of Judaism. Whether revealed through tax exemptions, army service exemptions, or even the fact that the Kotel is controlled by ultra-Orthodox rabbis, the government seems to have taken sides with the ultra-Orthodox. But on Rosh Hodesh Adar, I felt that, for once, my interests were being protected. Finally, my religious freedoms and rights to pray at the Kotel with women were being preserved.
As I prayed at the Kotel with the Women of the Wall, I felt proud to be in the State of Israel which protected my rights, Yaffa’s rights and other women’s rights to experience the land of Israel in a religious way.