Sunday, April 14, 2013

The women (with a small "w") at the Wall: Solving a Real Problem at the Kotel

It has now become a monthly event. Each Rosh Chodesh, a group of women enter the Kotel plaza and deliberately pray with a Tallit, sometimes even going so far as to recite Kaddish. (Personally, as they claim to be Orthodox, I'm not sure how they recite Kaddish without a minyan, but we'll leave that aside for now.) Invariably, the police enter the picture, detaining the law-breaking ladies. Yes, their actions are technically against the law, drawing the international press, which loves this stuff, as it brings all-coveted clicks on the news sites, which then understandably draws international condemnation from American Jewish groups (and some Israeli ones as well).I still have difficulty understanding why people think we can forge some type of peace agreement with the Arabs, when we can't even agree among ourselves about which Jews can pray where and how at the Western Wall.
A few points:
1. I wish the Orthodox establishment and thus the police would ignore these women, and then they'd have their davening and move on. Somehow, people fail to recognize that protesting against them was precisely what they wanted, furthering their agenda and garnering them the press they so badly needed.
2. The Kotel isn't where we should be exerting our energy. While it's an important location, we pray there (and fight about it) at the cost of forgetting that it's the retaining wall of the Temple Mount, which - whether you pray there or not - is the holiest site in Judaism. I wish we gave a fraction of the attention we pay to the Kotel to Har Habayit (the Temple Mount).
3. Sadly, I don't find the Kotel to be that great of a place to commune with God. I try not to daven at the Kotel too often. Sure, I visit - but I want the place to stay special and unique to me, and not just another shul that I daven in. Moreover, davening there is often not that spiritual of an experience for me, for a simple reason: it's a circus. Even on non-Rosh Chodesh days, when women aren't protesting and getting arrested, there are usually ten minyanim within twenty feet of where you're davening. People still walk around asking for money. Tourist are taking pictures. Chabad helps people lay tefillin. All great things, none of which make for a spiritual experience. For this reason, whenever I'm invited to a Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel, I try to daven beforehand at shul near my home. It makes for a much less pressured (and safer) drive into Yerushalayim, and a far better prayer experience. In addition, when I daven in the Kotel, I try to daven inside the Cave (all the way to the right, as far in as I can. There's plenty of wall for everyone, and there's much less traffic there. I find I can concentrate on my prayer there far more.)
4. The "Women of the Kotel" who want to wear tallit and tefillin aren't the women whose needs we should first address. Their complaints have made me that much more aware of the injustice to all women at the Kotel, who are crammed into a far more cramped space than the men, with almost no area covered from the elements. Many cannot pray near the wall itself, often at the same time that a huge swath of the men's section is entirely empty.
To my mind, before we begin to talk about the claims of the "Women of the Wall", we need to address the needs of the women of the Wall.
First and foremost, the current mechitzah must be moved to the left, to address the simple lack of space and make the plaza more equitable.  But that, to my mind, would not be sufficient.
There's already a women's balcony in the covered cave of the men's section - but it's behind the men, with no access to the Wall. I propose that an additional Women's section be installed (with a full mechitzah) to the left of the men at the far end of the "Cave". This would give women more access to the Kotel itself and also afford them a location to pray covered from the elements (rain in the winter and hot sun in the summer) where they could meditate and worship in relative peace.
Only after we address the real needs of the women of the Wall, should we consider turning our attention to the Women of the Wall - which I'll address in a different post.