Feminist activists seeking freedom of worship at Judaism’s holiest site were once again shut out of the women’s prayer section at the Western Wall today by women who oppose their efforts.
The activists, known as Women of the Wall (WOW), have been seeking for 25 years to challenge the Orthodox customs that govern the Western Wall and limit how and where women can pray. In recent months, as their campaign has gained momentum, it has also garnered serious push back – mostly from other women.
WOW activists have described their female opponents as trapped in a male-dominated paradigm, in which they are simply doing the bidding of their “rabbi-handlers.” But actually the counter-protest is not driven by men, but by a group called Women for the Wall. The group says it is tapping into Orthodox frustration with WOW’s attempts to subvert longstanding Jewish tradition in the name of women’s rights and religious freedom.
“I just got so fed up,” says cofounder Ronit Peskin, who decided to take action after WOW declined a compromise proposed by Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky that would have allowed them to pray at a separate, less conspicuous area of the Wall, albeit with some limitations.
So in April, she and Leah Aharoni established Women for the Wall, and began making calls to rabbis and politicians mobilize a show of support for Orthodox tradition. They then helped orchestrate flood tides of schoolgirls and other women opposed to WOW, who came pouring into the women’s prayer section so that there was no room for the activist group.