by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
in the Jerusalem Post
Anat Hoffman, head of Women of the Wall (WoW), was trapped by her own rhetoric.
For decades she claimed that WoW simply wanted to pray in its own fashion, despite dozens of editorials and statements from WoW leaders about forcing traditional women to “change their world view,” in the words of its late founder, Rivka Haut. Now that American Reform and Conservative leaders agree this new space is adequate for alternative prayers, how could Hoffman argue, especially with the Reform movement paying her salary? So her core supporters have left; Vanessa Ochs calls her “a pawn of the liberal movements,” while Phyllis Chesler says Hoffman was “used.” They and Shulamit Magnus refuse to betray their quest to change the “Jewish sacred space” – to leave no site at the Wall that accords with traditional Judaism.
Gabriela Geselowitz complains that the compromise means “if I want to pray at such a holy site in a way that feels meaningful to me, I have to go to a part that isn’t from the postcards.” The problem remains that had the site not maintained traditional standards, none of those postcards would exist.
We can only join together when we surrender what “feels meaningful to me” in favor of what is shared by us. What Forward editor Jane Eisner calls “the area of the Wall considered most holy” is only so because it has felt the tears of millions of traditional Jews, none of whom could comfortably pray there had the site not maintained traditional norms. When the ad-hoc “Women For the Wall” called for a show of support for the status quo, they brought more women to the Wall on a single day than WoW does in a decade.