Nearly twenty five years ago, several dozen women gathered together for prayers in Jerusalem. We came from Israel and the Diaspora, and from every stream of Judaism: Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and from no denomination at all. Some of us wore tallitot. In December 1988, we prayed and read Torah together in the Ezrat Nashim, the women’s section of the Kotel, the Western Wall. When we were cursed and threatened by a handful of extremists, the late Rabbi Getz, then administrator of the Kotel, instructed that we be left to pray since women reading from the Torah, adorned with tallitot does not violate halakhah, Jewish law.
On the following Rosh Hodesh, during Chanuka, a core of women, Israeli-born and immigrants from abroad, convened to regularly constitute a women’s group prayer at that sacred spot. We have persevered for nearly twenty-five years.
Despite opposition, violence, and arrests, we kept our dream alive. We raised awareness in the courts, the media, and the public about the diversity of Jewish women’s religious practice. We welcomed and initiated thousands into joyous, autonomous women’s public prayer and celebration. Together, we have managed, financed and strategized three Supreme Court cases.
Over the years, we have been offered alternative spaces – Rabbi Getz’ own private synagogue deep in the Kotel tunnels, the Kotel Katan in the Muslim Quarter, Robinson’s Arch. However, we remain committed to the Kotel, the place sanctified by the memory, prayers, and hopes of Jews for 2,000 years.
The Kotel is a profound, simple and enduring symbol of the great in-gathering of the Jewish People. With our feet and prayers, we write a monumental narrative with which Israeli and Diaspora Jews can connect – particularly those who are disillusioned with our state. Rather than undermining Israel, we are building, offering fresh potential and spirit. People have even made aliya because Women of the Wall affirm their place in Israel.
At the Kotel, we express a dream. We propose for the first time for Jewish women from all denominations to activate our full participation and leadership in our shared, sacred public space. Women’s prayer there furthers the current and future promise of our nation and destiny. We contribute meaning and relevance to Zionism as an ongoing Jewish project.
Now, as the twenty-fifth anniversary of our movement approaches, and in the shadow of a major shift in policy on the part of some, we re-state our goals.
We—the group historically known as Women of the Wall–affirm our intention to fulfill the practices we established twenty-five years ago. We remain unalterably committed to the right of all Jewish women to pray together in the ezrat nashim at the Kotel with tallit and tefillin, reading from the Torah scroll.
These practices have been recognized in a Supreme Court decision in 2003, and reaffirmed and made explicit in the Jerusalem Court Sobel ruling of April 2013. However, the law and principle have yet to be applied. Women who pray with tallit and tefillin are taunted and harassed at the Kotel. Defying the law of Israel and court rulings, the current administrator of the site has barred Jewish women from access to any Torah scroll at our sacred site.
We respect the right of all Jews to pray according to their varied customs. The State of Israel must desist from relegating control of the holy site to an extreme faction that excludes the legitimate prayer practices of other Jews, particularly women.
We call for the State of Israel, government and citizens, to reject harassment, intimidation, and the disappearance of Jewish women from sacred space, and to uphold law and principle. Rather than only one shade, the Kotel can accommodate the vibrant plurality of the Jewish People.
On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the founding of Women of the Wall, we reaffirm the principles and goals outlined here and look forward to their joyous realization.
SIGNATORIES in alphabetical order
Miriam Benson, Esq.
Dr. Phyllis Chesler
Dr. Bonna Devora Haberman
Dr. Norma Joseph
Cheryl Birkner Mack
Dr. Shulamit Magnus
Dr. Vanessa Ochs
Dr. Bonna Devora Haberman – Israeli founder of Women of the Wall:
972 54 737-4410, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Shulamit Magnus:
216 342 5054 email@example.com