Israel’s Women of the Wall, a group that supports egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, has made headlines twice in the past few months. In December, it was because they attracted the star power of Sarah Silverman, and this past week, it was because they attracted retribution from violent opponents. One fact that hasn’t made many headlines, however, is that they have accomplished their goal, and their continued agitation seems to be without just cause.
To be clear, I fully support the idea of egalitarian prayer at Judaism’s second holiest site. Such prayer, however, is not only possible but is actually occurring, at a third plaza at a section of the Wall known as “Robinson’s Arch.” Although I haven’t yet been there myself, Real JStreets was just there in December and captured this scene:
Although the original plans for this section had to be scaled back due to anticipated objections from Jordan and from Palestinian Arabs who have no apparent stake in the decision, the new plaza seems quite adequate to fulfill the need. Yes, it is new, it is not the exact same spot on which Jews have been praying for two thousand years. Egalitarian prayer is also, in the scope of the history of Judaism, relatively new, so the new plaza seems fitting. Women of the Wall members have already read from the Torah at the new section. Mixed bar and bat mitzvahs are occurring there. Both the original site and the Robinson’s Arch site are holy for the same reason – their proximity to Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount.
The Women of the Wall, however, according to their website, have dismissed the Robinson’s Arch site out of hand, without giving any reason. It would seem that they simply are unable to accept that their organization has become obsolete through success. Such obsolescence is what most activists dream of, but, I suppose, once it arrives, it must be a difficult adjustment. In this case, the Women of the Wall seem to resist making such an adjustment, and continue to demand that women who prefer the traditional quiet, individual prayer in the women’s only section should not be allowed to make this choice. Religious freedom, however, means absolutely nothing, if such freedom is available only to liberals. Those who choose to maintain traditional practices and customs must be permitted to make that choice, or any illusion of religious freedom is just that.
The fact that so few Americans are even aware of the egalitarian option at the Western Wall, while the Women of the Wall protests garner so much attention, evidences nothing more than that the American media is only interested in news from Israel when it can paint Israel in a negative light. The Think Progress blog, hardly friendly to Israel, inaccurately stated in this report that “the wall does not currently have a space set aside for ‘pluralistic prayers.’” Even JTA did not mention the Robinson’s Arch section its report. Evidence that Israel is truly a pluralistic society has, as is so common, once again been ignored. While I don’t agree with claims that the Women of the Wall are themselves anti-Israel, they are allowing themselves to be used and manipulated by a media that is.
It is time for the Women of the Wall to concede their victory, to accept their success. It is time for them to pray in the way they choose at the location that has been designated for that purpose, and to leave those who do not follow their practice in peace.