Truth: I’ve wanted to use this title for years, ever since someone suggested it for the book I eventually called ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem‘.
But now is a good time to use it, since women who want to participate fully in Judaism are literally up against the Wailing Wall.
In an attempt to break the exclusive Orthodox male stranglehold on Israeli Judaism, the Women of the Wall have tried to pray there on equal terms with men for the past several years, enduring harassment, physical and verbal abuse (ultra-Orthodox bigots have called them Nazis, desecrators, whores — you name it), threats, and arrest.
Walls, of course, are a highly charged issue in Jerusalem — viz the concrete insult of Arik Sharon’s “separation wall.” My own feelings about the Wailing Wall — its name formally changed to the Western Wall when Israel annexed the Old City after the 1967 Six Days War — are mixed in the extreme. As a wall, per wall, it’s beautiful — giant, worn ashlar stones with wild self-seeded capers growing through the cracks. But as a symbol of Jewish heritage, it seems to me peculiarly inapt. It’s just part of the retaining wall of the platform on which King Herod (yes, that Herod, who was, by the way, half Arab, and whose adoption of Jewishness was opportunistic in the extreme) built the kind of lavish, over-the-top temple you expect of dictators.
But that’s not the point right now. It’s true I’m a confirmed agnostic, though it’s also true I once played with the idea of becoming a rabbi (hey, if you’re not into paradox, you’re on the wrong blog). So the last thing I’d want to do these days is don a prayer shawl and dance with a Torah in front of the wall, whether you call it Western or Wailing (in fact when I lived in Jerusalem, my fantasies about what to do at the wall veered more toward the, uh, sexually transgressive). But a woman’s right to worship is as basic as her right to vote or her right to reproductive choice. And I will, as it were, go to the wall for women’s right to go to the Wall.
The ultra-Orthodox insistence on keeping women apart — on keeping them mere spectators instead of participants — led in July to the charming sight of WOTW chair Anat Hoffman being arrested at the Wall, tussling with police officers while holding a Torah scroll. She was released only after a restraining order was issued forbidding her from coming
“into close proximity” with the Wall.
The good news: This week, that restraining order expires, so tomorrow, Friday, the Women of the Wall will return, this time in their hundreds, for their first morning prayer service of the new Jewish year. They’ll be reading from their own Torah scroll; wearing specially designed WOTW prayer shawls with representations of the four biblical matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel, woven into the corners; and ready, once more, to go jail for the right to worship.
They have my utmost admiration. As they say in Hebrew, be’hatzlacha — “may success be yours.” And ours.