An Amazing Morning with Women of the Wall

First of all, I would like to publicly thank Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, called “the spiritual leader of the haredi world.” Rabbi Shteinman gave his blessing to a proposal from United Torah Judaism politicians to bring in busloads of haredi girls to protest against Women of the Wall. As a result there were thousands and thousands of people at the Kotel (Western Wall) this morning. Women of the Wall literally could not have paid for better publicity! Thank you, Rabbi Shteinman! We should send him some flowers or something as a token of gratitude.

Secondly, I would like to thank the Israeli Police. There were a few incidents – one friend felt scared of being crushed to death as she was held behind a barrier by police – but overall I’d say the police did an amazing job of protecting the Women of the Wall and their supporters from crowds of haredim. The haredi girls were mostly well behaved, and followed instructions from women who were clearly their den mothers or whatever they are called in the haredi girls’ yeshiva world, to stay back from the police and the Women of the Wall. But some of the haredi men clearly looked threatening. There were a few incidents of spitting, throwing chairs and plastic water bottles, etc., but overall the crowd was kept under control. The police cleared a path for us to get out of the Western Wall plaza that was reminiscent of Moses and the parting of the Red Sea.

I am very proud of my daughter, Devorah, who celebrated becoming Bat Mitzvah with Women of the Wall this morning. Thanks to Rabbi Shteinman, she read Torah in front of a crowd of thousands of people (not that most could hear her, but still…). I am certain it is a day she will remember for the rest of her life. I know I will.

As it says in Proverbs 14:28, “In the multitude of the people is the king’s glory.” A large crowd brings honor to the king, the king being understood to be God. What does it matter if many of them came to protest the smaller number of women who were praying? Thanks to Women of the Wall we had a large multitude out there.

I wonder whether one reason there was such a large haredi presence today is because the haredim feel very much under attack these days. They are not part of the new government – they got left out in the coalition discussions – and the in some ways it seems like it’s time for the secular population of Israel, which at least for now still outnumber the haredi, to fix past errors. As such haredim are being told they are not getting as many government handouts as they are used to, their men will have to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces like everyone else, their boys will need to learn some secular subjects such as math in school if they want state funding, and they will not be allowed to repress the presence of women in the public anymore. The haredi community is crying “the secular are attacking our lifestyle!” Well, yes, if your lifestyle is dependent on public handouts and gender discrimination it deserves to be attacked.

For those readers of this blog who have not been following the battle for civil rights at the Western Wall closely, you can find more information at the Women of the Wall website. What has changed lately is that last month a Jerusalem District Court judge ruled that it is OK for women to pray at the Western Wall wearing prayer shawls if they want to – contrary to earlier court rulings. Women of the Wall planned a large gathering this month to celebrate, and the haredi came up with a much larger gathering to protest. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes from here – will things settle back to “normal,” or will large crowds every month become the new normal?

The reason this battle rouses such strong emotion and such large crowds is because it is about much more than the right of a few liberal women to pray at the Western Wall according to their custom, together, out loud, wearing tallis and tefillin. Everyone understands that this is but one of the fronts in the fight for the future of the State of Israel. Will Israel be a democratic state that respects the rights of minorities (such as women who want to pray wearing prayer shawls), or will it become a Jewish Iran, run by rabbis with black hats instead of ayatollahs with turbans, but equally living in a century other the 21st?

This is one reason it is so exciting to live in Israel. It’s not just another country. Living here – and being active in these issues – is to be a part of the fight for the heart and soul of the only country in the world that really is run by Jews. Will we live up to the highest ethical ideals of our prophets? Will we be or l’goyim, a light to the nations? Or will we be a backwards theocracy, ruled by rabbis who forbid the internet? And it is very exciting to me personally to see two of my daughters, Katherine and Devorah, already very engaged as activists fighting to shape the future of Israel.

I really am not asking the haredi to give up all of their customs. If they want to pray separately, that’s fine. If their women do not want to raise their voices in prayer or wrap themselves in prayer shawls, I really do not care. I am asking – insisting – that they equally give us the right to follow our practices and customs. They are not the “mitzvah police” here to make sure we follow God’s commandments in the way their rabbis interpret them. Those issues are between each individual and God. There is no doubt in mind whatsoever that when the time comes – and those who are part of Women of the Wall are judged by God and those “ultra-Orthodox” men who spit on them are judged by God – I have no question whatsoever who will find favor in God’s eyes.

May this month be a good month, a month of blessing, and may God help us find a way to all get together and respect each other.



Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

2 thoughts on “An Amazing Morning with Women of the Wall

  • May 10, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    I am not Haredi at all, I am just a regular orthodox woman and we were at the Kotel this morning to respectfully disagree with what the Women of the Wall were doing. I wish I could persuade you to have a healthy enough respect for the tradition of the way women have prayed at the Kotel to be willing to daven your new innovative way at Robinson’s Arch. You are entitled to prat anyway you want, but to insist on praying the way you want in such an ancient holy site seems rude to me. Would I go to your Shul in a bathing suit? No, it would be disrespectful to your customs. The Kotel belongs to the ancient customs of Judaism. I imagine if a Jew for Jesus wanted to scream out hail Mary’s at the Kotel you would not appreciate it. Why? Because it goes against the customs and beliefs of our forefathers. I am a liberal person that believe people should have a great deal of freedom, but when it comes to the Kotel, I am uncomfortable seeing the ancient customs of women’s prayer and behaviors changed.

    • May 12, 2013 at 8:51 pm

      The Kotel is not an Orthodox synagogue. It is the heritage of ALL Israel — Reform Conservative, Orthodox, even secular. It’s our history, our legacy, our connection to our ancestors. Why should the Orthodox have dominion over a place that’s holy to all of us?

      Women of the Wall is NOT about egalitarian prayer — that’s a separate issue. Many members of Women of the Wall are Orthodox women who prefer to pray with a mechitza, but also want to pray wearing a tallis and out loud. If you’ve never been to Shira Chadasha check it out…


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