Last Shabbat, our rabbi, Joel Pitkowsky, presented a lunch and learn program at Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck that supports Natan Sharansky’s compromise, providing space for egalitarian prayer services at Robinson’s Arch (“Chaos at the Kotel,” May 17).
He advocated for changes to be made to the current arrangements, which only allow access to this area at certain times and require payment of an entrance fee to this open air “museum.” Design modifications also would provide for a ramp that would enable worshippers in this space to be able to touch a section of the Western Wall, which they cannot do under the current configuration. This plan would meet the needs of Jews committed to equal participation of men and women in a mixed minyan, primarily diaspora Jews who now live in Israel or visit Jerusalem and wish to take part in the experience of prayer in a physical space as close to the sacred and historical Kotel as they are likely to be offered by government officials in charge of the area.
This solution must be acknowledged as a compromise. Robinson’s Arch is not part of the central plaza and open space where religious Jews go to pray, but it probably represents the best arrangement that the minority of egalitarian Jewish worshippers are likely to get. But it does not address the needs of Women of the Wall. This group of dedicated women, who have been coming to the Kotel for rosh chodesh services for 20 years, does not seek inclusion in a mixed minyan. It is a collection of diverse women who are committed to or have agreed to pray as a women’s tefillah group. Their need is to be allowed to conduct their service in the section set aside for women’s prayers, with those who chose to do so wearing tallit and t’fillin. What is needed is for the Orthodox authorities to proclaim that this practice is not against halachah, and to insist that they be allowed to pray undisturbed for one hour each month. These rabbis also must assert without ambivalence that men who curse, spit, scream, threaten, and throw objects at the Women of the Wall violate the sacred space.
Their hooliganism cannot be tolerated. They are the ones who must be arrested.
If these conditions can be implemented, a calm modus vivendi will replace the indecent conflicts that have boiled over in the very space where reverence and respect should prevail. Jews across a wide spectrum will be able to find a safe space for meditation and prayer without fear of angry, uncontrolled, and unacceptable disruptions. Then, perhaps, attention can be focused on even more challenging issues pertaining to the future of Jerusalem and the elusive dream for unity of the Jewish people.