In December 1988, women from North America and Israel in Jerusalem for the first International Jewish Feminist conference spontaneously decided to pray on Rosh Chodesh Tevet at the Kotel. They brought a Sefer Torah and gathered on the women’s side of the mechitzah.
They were physically assaulted, and thus was launched a decades-long effort, still unrealized, to allow religiously observant women to pray at the Western Wall with tallit, tefillin and Torah.
Last month, I spent 10 days in Israel, mostly in Jerusalem. I abstained from visiting the Kotel even though I was there on Rosh Chodesh Tevet, even though the event 28 years earlier was a significant moment in my own Jewish feminist journey. I became involved in the International Committee for Women of the Wall, a world-wide network supporting Women of the Wall in their ongoing efforts. By August 1989, I was in rabbinical school; one of my teachers that first year was Shulamit Magnus, a scholar of Jewish history and an observant Jew who was one of the Torah readers that December day in Jerusalem.
There are many news reports available to provide updates on the current political and religious debacle around permitting all Jews to pray as they wish at this holy site. My view of the overarching issue emerges in the following excerpt of an interview drawn from a documentary broadcast on Télé-Québec this past December, entitled “Ma Foie,” which explores a young Québécois’ quest to find his own place in his religious tradition:
“Women in Judaism, like women in any religious tradition, are going to have varied perspectives on this notion of limits on their religious or social roles.
“That’s why I think, for me, my consciousness as a young girl, in terms of becoming aware of feminism vis-à-vis Judaism was a very rich encounter but not always an easy one. So I saw the lack of egalitarianism, the lack of opportunity for women traditionally and questioned: can I stay in?
“In the end, through my explorations – which included the more typical late adolescence pulling back – I re-entered with even more fervour and even more of a sense that this is my tradition, I belong, and I need to claim my place at the centre, exactly who I am.
“By that time, there were lots of women, certainly all over North America, exploring that intersection of feminism and Judaism, and saying: ‘Hey, we’re not second class citizens.’ Maybe some of those prayers or the lack of obligation of women to pray at a fixed time – which is part of traditional Jewish law that exists – doesn’t mean that I’m excluded. I’m in the stories – as they say, women hold up half the sky. So many of the stories and characters in our sacred narratives give models of incredibly strong women – I had incredibly strong women in my family – and I knew that I had a role to play.” http://tinyurl.com/jfcrfno
Jewish girls and women: it’s not because you are a woman that you can’t pray at the Kotel in Jewish prayer garb. It’s because people believe you shouldn’t do such things because you are a woman.
Never believe that you can’t learn that text, lead that prayer, or lead our people because you are a Jewish girl.