Esther Calling: Open Letter to Conservative & Reform Jews

Like you, I support the flourishing of egalitarian prayer. As we pursue this goal in Israel, I ask you some important questions. I would appreciate your kind and prompt attention:
  1. Are you aware of the “Rabinovitch clause” in the proposed Mandelblit agreement concerning prayer arrangements at the Kotel that allots exclusive jurisdiction to the ultra-Orthodox administrator – under the authorization of the chief rabbis? Rabinovitch alone will determine and enforce prayer practice in the women’s and men’s prayer areas. Under Shmuel Rabinovitch, the chair of the all-male ullra-Orthodox Western Wall Heritage Foundation (WWHF), praying women were arrested and our tallitot and tefillin confiscated – humiliating behavior about which many of you expressed outrage. Rabinovitch continues to disallow women from entering with and reading from a Torah scroll. The WWHF agenda is at least as explicitly narrow and exclusionary as the Elad organization whose administration Reform and Conservative leaders vehemently opposed at the Robinson’s Arch site.
  2. Are you aware that the “Rabinovitch clause” contravenes Israeli law – established by the Sobel decision in the Jerusalem District Court (April 2013) interpreting the 2003 Bagatz (Supreme Court) decision – stating outright that women’s prayers – with tallit, tefillin and Torah scroll are part of the accepted custom in the women’s section at the Kotel?
  3. Are you aware that the “Rabinovitch clause” constitutes a severe setback to religious freedom and pluralism in Israel, rewards bullying and violence, and consolidates power in the hands of forces that “disappear” women from the public domain – causes about which many of you have previously expressed concern, and must not now fall silent.
In addition,
  1. Are you aware that 8 women convened as the current WoW board took their decision to effectively cede all women’s rights at the Kotel without the due process required by Israeli NGO law—in violation of the registered and intended purposes of WoW to promote women’s group public prayer in the women’s section at the Kotel with Torah and tallit? 
  2. Are you aware that the current WoW board refuses to convene a proper, legally constituted general assembly where the matter can be discussed and decided by the members and supporters of our 25 year effort, and has no mandate whatsoever to enter an agreement with any party on behalf of WoW?
BDH w tallitThe Reform and Conservative Movements have benefitted from women’s perseverance to pray in the face of tremendous adversity over decades. With our bodies and souls, we have promoted Jewish diversity, women’s inclusion and full membership in the Jewish public.
I call upon Reform and Conservative Jews to re-evaluate the collateral damage that every Jewish woman and man stands to sustain as a result of the agreement your leaders are preparing to autograph.
Here are a couple of current articles:
In her scroll, Esther councils to repeal the edict.
Call upon your leaders to erase the “Rabinovitch clause”.
In sacred space, we ought to conduct ourselves with our finest sacred values.
Do not let your leaders bargain away women’s hard-won freedom to practice where we choose – in the women’s section at the historic, symbolic center for which we yearn – in exchange for a foothold in sacred space.
With your help, we will keep a place for you here.
I end with a precious quote from the Megilla that prompts awareness, motivates transformation, and activates responsibility to prevent an edict against Jews from being fulfilled. In Shushan, the power was in the hands of a bungling foreign king; in Jerusalem, we have achieved, and our children defend Jewish freedom of religious practice:
מי יודע אם לעת כזאת
“Who knows whether it isn’t for a moment like this that you have attained your power?”
Please do not hesitate to contact me for any needed clarification.
Longstanding founders, members and supporters of WoW, and Jewry throughout the world look forward to your prompt responses with anticipation – before the edict is sealed.
Please write on the fb page: Referendum: Women at the Kotel.
With blessings for a joyous Purim,
Bonna Devora Haberman, Israeli founder of WoW

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