Western Wall is for everyone so give women equal access

The Kotel, or the Western Wall, in Jerusalem’s Old City, is Judaism’s holiest site. It belongs to the Jewish people. All of them, male and female.

That is why we support Women of the Wall, a movement seeking to permit women to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah out loud at the Kotel.

The struggle of women at the Wall goes back more than 20 years, when a small group of women tested the waters by reading from the Torah at the Kotel in 1988.

Since then, as more Jewish women have aligned with this cause, arrests and physical brawls have taken place at the Kotel. And no wonder. This issue touches a nerve.

Yet it is no simple black-and-white issue. Orthodox religious sensibilities matter, and we respect the desire to preserve tradition. But certain issues trump even long-standing tradition.

Our story this week describes a local effort to join Women of the Wall’s campaign to flood Israeli leaders with photographs –– 10,000 in all –– of women studying, reading from and embracing Torah scrolls.

As one local member of Friends of Women of the Wall told j., “The question is what kind of Jewish values are at work? We’re not seeing tolerance and pluralism and openness.”

We know some actions of Women of the Wall — in particular donning tfillin and tallit, and clutching Torah scrolls — can be provocative, and that they offend the religious sensibilities of many in the Orthodox community, both in Israel and abroad.

Yet we also assert that no one denomination or sect of Judaism has the right to determine what is or is not kosher for all other Jews, especially in a place that means so much to the Jewish people. And most especially when that single sect seeks to limit the rights of all Jewish women.

This does not have to be a “my way or the highway” fight. On the table right now are common-sense solutions, such as setting aside certain times of day to allow women to pray at the Kotel in the manner they choose.

But the entrenched oligarchy that controls the Kotel today will not compromise. Neither will Women of the Wall drop its campaign or defer to patriarchal small-mindedness.

Therefore, the Israeli government, which represents all Israelis and, in this case, all Jews, must intervene and do the right thing.

Jews everywhere have the right to weigh in on this issue. We have made our voice heard here. We urge others to make their voices heard as well.