I am the Ras in the State of Israel vs. Ras et al, the case that Appellate Judge Moshe Sobel decided in April, and I am a member of the Women of the Wall.
Sobel affirmed the lower court’s decision that there was no basis for our arrest at the Kotel, and that Women of the Wall had the right to pray at the Kotel according our own minhag – out loud, wearing tallit and t’fillin, and reading Torah. His decision said that the custom of the Kotel is not necessarily Orthodox.
But our struggle is far from over.
On Sunday, Israel’s religious services minister, Naftali Bennett, announced the opening of a new platform at Robinson’s Arch, an archeological site that has been used for egalitarian prayer. The platform essentially is an open deck that is reachable by a ramp from the current prayer platform. It does not touch the Kotel and is not accessible from the plaza. The “improvements” to the space as it had been are that it will be available 24/7; be stocked with an ark, Torah scrolls, and siddurim, and be under the supervision of Reform and Conservative rabbis. This new, “improved” prayer space will be used by egalitarian and pluralistic groups, thus leaving the Kotel firmly in the hands of the charedim.
This new platform leaves Women of the Wall, a pluralistic t’filla group made up of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and nondenominational women who have prayed together for almost 25 years, with no place to pray.
Bennett plans on instituting a legal statute that will restrict the Kotel to ultra-Orthodox prayer and nullify the Sobel decision, or at least that’s what he is telling Israelis.
When we heard Bennett’s proposal, Women of the Wall’s board decided that this separate and clearly not equal decision, an obvious violation of our civil and religious rights, could not be taken lightly.
We decided to emulate the American struggle for civil rights with a 24-hour sit-in at the Kotel. We brought our siddurim and tallitot, along with blankets and provisions, and we prayed and studied together. We always had at least a minyan of women throughout the long hours of the night, and then in the heat of the day. We ended early, out of respect for a large prayer vigil called for 5 p.m. on Monday.
Unlike the charedim, who have organized mass protests at the Kotel every Rosh Chodesh since the Sobel decision, we did not bus in thousands of people to fill up all the available space. We did not throw chairs, rocks, hot coffee, or dirty diapers at people as they prayed (or at anybody else at any time). We did not disrupt other worshipers by blowing shrill whistles or using loudspeakers to drown them out. We did not bring derogatory protest signs to the Kotel, in fact; we brought no signs.
Unlike our adversaries, we did not act like bullies.
Our vigil at the Kotel proved that the Women of the Wall fit in peacefully with everyone else who prays there.
So why are the bullies winning?
Why is the government of Israel ceding Judaism’s holiest site to the charedim? The Kotel belongs to all Jews, not just to a small minority of the most extreme and un-inclusive, anti-Zionist among us.
And why is world Jewry allowing this to happen?