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Rabbi Yitzhak, May/June 2013

WOW is the acronym for Women of the Wall who have led the Jewish people into a time of transition in our self-understanding as the Jewish People. Let me explain. For decades now the Women of the Wall have been praying each Rosh Hodesh, New Month, at or near the Kotel, the Western Wall of the ancient Jerusalem Temple’s courtyard. These women are very knowledgeable and devout Jews. Through these many years they have been determined to assert their right to have access to the holiest prayer site of the Jewish people and to pray in the way they understand as honoring both historically traditional practices as well as their well-grounded understanding of the emergence of modern interpretations of our tradition.

They have been stifled, scorned, and abused over the years by others who do not recognize the legitimacy to their claims and practices. They have been targets of violence, verbal abuse and even arrest for asserting such activities as wearing a tallit, reading from a Torah, or singing aloud within earshot of men. Most recently the women were told that they would not be allowed to say the Mourner’s Kaddish at the area of the Kotel where they have been gathering to pray.

Finally the determination of the Women of the Wall, the outrage of North American Jews, and a growing dismay in Israel has led to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recruiting the highly respected national hero, and current head of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, to find a solution to this ongoing and increasingly bitter dispute between Jews at our most sacred site.

Sharansky has just brought forth a proposal after several months of diplomatic shuttling between varying communities and hearing the views of representatives of various streams of Jewish understanding. While the proposal will still need the approval of Netanyahu’s government, it has already gained tentative approval from the Rabbi of the Kotel as well as the Women of the Wall. This in itself is a tremendously hopeful breakthrough toward Shalom Bayit, Peace within the Household of Israel. If approved, a major construction project will be undertaken to create an equally dignified space within an expanded plaza to accommodate expressions of Judaism that are more in line with the sensitivities and thinking of Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal Judaism. It is time that we as a people acknowledge the full breadth of Jewish religious expression and honor the pluralistic nature of our healthy and vibrant modern Judaism.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to the Women of the Wall who have born the brunt of the painful process that has finally led to this much overdue national discourse. May they be blessed with a deep sense of fulfillment in knowing that they have served as a transformative force for the well-being of the Jewish people. As we celebrate this 65th year of Israel’s existence, may we all gain hope through seeing progress made toward peace within the Household of Israel.

For more on Women of the Wall:

Other important groups for equality:
New Israel Fund:
Israel Religious Action Center:

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