Chodesh tov, everyone!
As today is the first day of the Jewish month, Women of the Wall met, that is to say, got together to pray at the kotel (Western Wall) and, per court order, hold the Torah service nearby but not at the kotel. For those of you who don’t know the background, WotW has been fighting for now like 17 years for the right to pray at Judaism’s holiest site in ways that the ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate finds offensive: in a group with women leading prayer, singing (women’s voices are problematic to ultra-Orthdoxim), wearing tallit and tefillin, reading from a sefer Torah, etc. Now, all this stuff is actually kosher for women to do according to a pretty vanilla reading of Jewish law, and WotW sidesteps a lot of possibly thorny halakhic issues by not, say, including divrei kedusha (so no barechu, no kaddish, no kedusha/hazarat ha shatz on the shmonah esrei, etc), making sure there are no men present, etc. It’s not really cutting edge halakha that they’re doing.
They’re a pretty righteous bunch, have been back and forth with the Israeli courts for years and years, finally now the decision is that they can pray at the kotel for Shacharit and Hallel, but with no tzitzit or tefillin, and then they have to move over to Robinson’s Arch, where the ritual garb can be donned and we can read from the sefer Torah. Politically, it’s a really defining issue around religious freedom–who decides what Judaism is permitted at our holy, collective, public places? Should we protect religious minorities or force them to adapt to the majority–that is, the body in power? At what expense? Even after this lukewarm court decision was handed down a few years ago, they continue to meet every rosh chodesh (at the women’s side of the kotel, 7am, day 2 if it’s a 2-day RC) to worship together and to push the envelope as much as possible (today, we wore tallitot under our coats for Shacharit and Hallel, etc.)
I’ve had a very complex relationship with the kotel generally. It used to be this real place of spiritual power for me, so obvious that the God-energy is really really strong there, it has only been the site of worship for thousands of years, after all. And then, after a while, it started to feel icky there–like there was definitely a lot of energy, but it didn’t feel all nourishing and yummy, but rather kind of weird and intense and desperate. I didn’t like the way people treated the wall as an object of veneration–that’s avodah zarah (idolotry), and isn’t God everywhere, after all?
WotW gives me a way to connect with this space that feels healthy and good. I love going there on RC mornings, all sleepy still, and davenning with an incredible group of women for the sake of Heaven, for the honor of God, and for the sake of principles and values that I hold, for trying to make positive change. That there are politics involved doesn’t make it any less about God. Rather, this morning, as we were moving through the psalms and hymns of praise, looking up at the cold blue winter sky and the smooth-rough beige stones, in an incredible group of people, I felt closer to Heaven than I’ve been in a long time. God’s there (I mean God’s everywhere), and God radiates love for all of us, both “them” (who were trying to shut us down, sure that we were tampering the purity of Divine worship) and us (insisting that this, too, is worship.)
It was a big-ish group today, there was a tour of women from Toronto who came. I got to be the gabbi during the Torah service and lead musaf, which was a pretty wonderful feeling. Most of the women who came up for an aliyah (and the woman who read Torah) got pretty emotional there, crying and saying the shehecheyanu (thank you blessing) and effusing on how meaningful it was for them to be able to take part in Torah with this group, at the kotel. Watching how cathartic it was for them drove home how extraordinary it is for all of us, how lucky it is that we have already the opportunities that we have now, and how vital it is to keep asking for more. God is big enough to give out as much as we can make room to receive.
I’m so glad you posted this — I can imagine a little bit what it was like, and it sounds awesome.
Also, this resonated: I didn’t like the way people treated the wall as an object of veneration–that’s avodah zarah (idolotry), and isn’t God everywhere, after all? — I fret about that one a bunch, about the kotel (and about Jerusalem and about Israel in general). So it’s always good to hear somebody else say something along these lines.
But I waffle especially on the kotel, because as you say, it’s been a holy place for so freaking long — we’ve sanctified it with all that kavvanah, I think, so maybe it really is extra-holy? Except I’m not sure it’s all good kavvanah — and I worry that Diaspora Jews have a tendency sometimes to imagine that “real” holiness is greatest there and that we, out here in chutz l’aretz, don’t have access to the real thing…
Anyway. My larger point is, thank you for posting this, because it is so cool. I hope to davven with Women of the Wall someday.
Gaah! That was me; I didn’t mean to be anonymous.
Hey, loved your post….but shouldn’t it be “N’Shei HaKotel”? I’m really asking that, btw, I’m cramming on dikduk in prep for summer aliyah, b’ezrat Hashem.
I’m becoming more and more disturbed about the huge chunk of space that’s been eaten out of the women’s section of the kotel. They couldn’t have moved the mechitzah a bit, instead of dividing the ezrat nashim in half? Is there any word on whether this is permanent? Personally, I think it’s a shanda for the rest of the world, everyone who visits this “holiest site in Judaism” to see it like this. Not to mention having all those women crammed into half the space doesn’t do much for one’s kavannah.
Nashot haKotel–nashot is a funny construction, not usually used, except with stuff like this.
Nashei HaKotel sounds like “the wives of the Kotel.”
As for all the other stuff–don’t even get me started on the politics of who decides what around that space…..