Local rabbis help launch group supporting Women of the Wall

An online campaign to support women who want to pray aloud at the Western Wall has its epicenter in the Bay Area. 

Rabbis Menachem Creditor of Congrega-tion Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, and Pamela Frydman Baugh, who served at Or Shalom Jewish Community in San Francisco, are the international co-chairs of Rabbis for Women of the Wall, a group that launched this week with the sending of a letter.  

Rabbi Pamela Frydman Baugh

“The launch of Rabbis for Women of the Wall is a defining moment that far surpasses Jewish denominational distinctions,” Creditor said. “The status of the Jewish people in Israel, and therefore the world, is at stake. We, the rabbinic community of North America, have an important voice.”  

Twenty-eight signatories sent a letter Oct. 18 to seven Israeli political and religious leaders urging protection for the Women of the Wall.

Since 1988, Women of the Wall members have risked — and often endured — verbal and physical abuse from powerful ultra-Orthodox groups for publicly praying using Jewish ritual objects. The group has been permitted to pray at an alternative site, Robinson’s Arch, at the southern end of the wall.  

The letter, signed by the presidents of the Reform, Conservative, Renewal and Reconstructionist rabbinical associations, was sent to officials in Israel, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Rubi Rivlin and Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.

It calls upon the leaders, as well as Jerusalem’s mayor and police chief, to “provide protection to Women of the Wall as they pray at the Kotel … rather than harassing them” and “immediately institute and enforce a zero tolerance policy against attacking women in any way.”  

The letter also implores officials to “find appropriate and safe venues at the Kotel for Jews who are not comfortable with women leading worship or holding the Torah or reading from it to enjoy their practice of Judaism unhindered, and physically separated from other designated portions of the Kotel where women are allowed to lead worship.” 

For more than 20 years, members of Women of the Wall have fought, and lost, legal battles in Israeli courts seeking the right to pray with Torahs and prayer shawls at the Western Wall. The ultra-Orthodox groups that exert authority at the site condemn those acts.   

“With the increasing marginalization of [non-ultra-Orthodox] Judaism in Israel, every facet of our people, including [ultra-Orthodox] is in danger,” Frydman Baugh said. “When we segregate our schools, fund intolerance and arrest women for holding a Torah or reading from it, we are in need of healing.”

The launch of Rabbis for Women of the Wall comes on the heels of another campaign to inundate Israeli political and religious leaders with 10,000 photos of women teaching, studying, reading from and embracing Torah scrolls. 

Several Bay Area synagogues joined the cause by hosting photo sessions and showing the Women of the Wall documentary, “Praying in Her Own Voice.”  

The statement closes with an invitation to rabbis, Jewish organizations and individuals to join in “adding their voices to our voices” by signing the letter.

“We are the rabbis of North American Jewry, and we are here to lead and support every part of the Jewish people,” Creditor said. “When part is attacked, we all feel the pain.”

To view the letter, visit www.womenofthewall.org.il.

JTA contributed to this report.