One Rosh Chodesh (the observance of the new month) in 2000, I joined a group of other women who had gathered to pray toward the back of the Women’s section at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. At that time, women were still not allowed to pray close to the Wall while wearing a tallit, to raise their voices and sing out loudly in prayer, to read or chant from the Torah. Women had, however, been granted the right to join in prayer toward the back of the women’s section, and to read from the Torah at another location far from Judaism’s most holy site.
I still can vividly recall the experience: a group of probably 30 or so women—Reform, Conservative, Orthodox—joining together joyfully and exuberantly in the words of Psalm 96: “Sing to the Holy One a new song; sing to the Holy One, all the earth!” After dovvening (praying) the Rosh Chodesh service, we moved to another spot and read from the Torah. I was buoyed up by these Women of the Wall who had been fighting so hard for so long for the right to pray in the manner that reflected their own beliefs about their Jewish observance.
At the same time, I found it a truly frightening experience. Surrounding us were many ultra-Orthodox women who were yelling that we had no right to pray there in that way. I had never before experienced this type of violent extremism so directly.
This week marks an historic moment in Israel’s history. The Israeli government has finally agreed to give recognition to Reform and Conservative Judaism at the Western Wall, by creating a permanent and official, fully-egalitarian space at the Western Wall. There, men and women can pray together without gender barriers, women can read from the Torah and wear tallitot, families can pray together to celebrate life-cycle events. The new egalitarian section (which we visited in our travels last summer) will officially be registered in Israel’s Law of Holy Sites. Furthermore, the plaza in front of the Western Wall is now designated as a public space that is no longer under exclusive Orthodox control.
This decision officially recognizes that there is more than one way to be Jewish, more than one way to pray, and more than one way to connect to Jewish tradition and embrace Jewish identity.
I am so grateful to all of the men and women who fought so hard for so long to make this change come to pass, especially Anat Hoffman, the former Director of the Israel Religious Action Center, and the women who have been a part of Women of the Wall. I am also grateful that I had the chance to play a very small role, that Rosh Chodesh back in 2000, when I joined my voice with theirs, hoping and praying that someday, we would be able to sing a new song.
Click here to read the Reform Movement’s Statement.