Thousands of women from Jerusalem and beyond came together at the Kotel this morning at 6:30 AM, to declare their fealty to thousands of years of Jewish tradition, to pray for all Jews on the holy day of Rosh Chodesh, the New Month, and to show their desire for silent, traditional and meaningful prayer at Judaism’s Holiest Site. Women representing the diversity of Israeli religious society occupied the entirety of the women’s section by 6:30 AM, praying silently and with dignity.
This prayer was an overwhelming communal rejection of the message and tactics of the Women of the Wall, which gathered at 7 AM — and found the women’s section already too crowded to enter. Just days ago, two of its founders admitted in the Times of Israel that their intent was to provoke change, that the Women of the Wall would “model” for the traditional women praying there how “women can take control over their own religious lives.” The thousands of women streaming to the Kotel this morning demonstrated that control can be obtained without help from American feminists, and shunned the misuse of the Kotel for political theater.
This traditional prayer gathering was hastily arranged by the Women For the Wall, a group which launched less than three weeks ago in response to the ongoing agitation of the WOW. On its website, the W4W addressed the WOW directly: “You have been engaging in political provocation at a Holy Site, and that must end.”
Working quickly, the W4W quickly assembled Rabbinic endorsements from the religious-nationalist and chareidi communities, resulting in today’s stunning turnout. “They have been doing this for 25 years, while we brought this turnout in less than 25 days,” said Ronit Peskin, co-founder of Women For the Wall. “I think that says a great deal about where popular sentiment really lies.”
Recognizing they would be outnumbered, the WOW issued a belated invitation for all to pray with them for “peace and unity,” while simultaneously belittling the vastly larger W4W as a “fringe group” and warning of “provocations by ultra-Orthodox individuals and groups.” In a statement posted to their website, the W4W noted that their leaders and members cross the religious spectrum – and responded that they will be coming not “in response to your invitation, but despite it.”
“Women from ‘all streams of Judaism’ pray together at the Wall every day, but, sadly, unity has never been the message of WOW,” said Leah Aharoni, another W4W co-founder. “The Western Wall belongs to its 10 million visitors a year, who respect the sanctity and the decorum of the site. That silent majority has finally awakened. If the WOW want us to all pray together, they will have to decide to pray with us and not try to change us.”