The Woes of WoW:
The Women of the Wall as a religious social movement and as metaphor
The Women of the Wall (WoW) are a group of Jewish women, of various nationalities and diverse Jewish denominations. Their goal is to pray as a group, to wear a tallit (prayer shawl) and to read from the Torah scroll, once a month, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Most Jewish denominations, representing the majority of world Jewry, recognize the legitimacy and the right of WoW to pray as a group. Hard core orthodox Jews, however, reject their claim. The Orthodox rejection is based not on Jewish Law per se but rather on Jewish custom. They argue that Jews (in this case, Jewish women) may not deviate from the patriarchal custom of generations, which excluded women from the collective public ritual of prayer. In Israel, hard core orthodoxy, a minority in both Israel and Jewish communities outside of Israel, has the political leverage to impose its will, particularly at the site of the Wall which is run as a hard core orthodox synagogue.
This article reviews the long journey WoW has taken since it first began its practice in the 1980s. Following a discussion of the significance of the Wall for purposes of Jewish and Israeli prayer, the article reviews the legal battle launched by WoW, and the “compromise” imposed upon them by the secular Israeli courts and Israel’s government. The article ends with a review of recent events, where the Rabbi in charge of the Wall, a government employee, has launched a campaign to uproot WoW’s efforts by force. The Rabbi is using the secular police and the secular law prohibiting breach of the peace in order to secure the exclusivity of the orthodox version of Jewish worship at the Wall. The struggle has been recently reviewed by the New York Times and has not yet come to a conclusion. The article presents the struggle as not only an internal Israeli affair but also and more importantly as a struggle over the meaning of sacred Jewish spaces and Jewish worship between Jewish orthodoxy and the rest of world Jewry.
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Pnina Lahav Contact
Boston University - School of Law