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Women of the Wall

Beginning with the Book of Exodus, throughout history, and to this day, women have served as agents of change and voices of redemption. In fulfilling this sacred role from the time of the Torah to the present, women have been essential leaders in the fight for religious freedom. The current series of events surrounding the Women of the Wall, presents us with an opportunity and even an obligation to support those fighting for the religious rights of women in Israel. These events are reminders that while we are all Jews with differing approaches to ritual and halacha, we are tied together through shared devotion to the One God and a shared history.

The extent to which non-Orthodox religious freedom in Israel is limited by the authorities is alarming. As such, the Reform Movement is urging the Israeli government to enforce the law at the Kotel in an equal and just manner, and to end harassment of women gathering there for prayer. We also urge Israeli authorities to allow gatherings for civic and religious purposes by all responsible Jewish groups in the plaza area of the Wall, as was customary in the past. 

Rosh Chodesh, which literally means "head of the month,” is the holiday that marks the beginning of each Hebrew month. Each month begins at the time of the new moon. In ancient times, after the new moon was sighted, someone would go to the top of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem with a long pole of wood. He would set the end of his long wooden pole on fire and wave it around until he could see someone on another hilltop waving his own pole. The second person waved his pole until he could see a third person waving, and so on until the message reached Babylonia.

In contemporary practice, Rosh Chodesh celebrations begin with the recitation of birkat ha-hodesh at the conclusion of the Torah reading. Birkat ha-hodesh is a special prayer that articulates our hopes for the month to come, from peace and prosperity to success in business, good health, and piety. The prayer includes an announcement of the day or days on which Rosh Chodesh will fall, and the name of the month that is about to start.  


Many communities meet to pray and celebrate Rosh Chodesh together each month. The Women of the Wall meet at the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem to celebrate Rosh Chodesh as a community.  Last Shabbat, About 6,000 haredi protesters had gathered at the men’s and women’s sections of the wall to protest the 30th anniversary of the Women of the Wall, shoving, hitting, and spitting on the 150 female worshippers. Unfortunately, the police do not help, and in fact, protects the Haredi community, turning a blind eye when witnessing physical and verbal abuse. Religious freedom is constantly at risk in Israel, and the Reform Movement has taken a central role in speaking out in support of the Women of the Wall.


Their message is clear: The Kotel belongs not just to one individual,group, or denomination but to all Jews.


I first had the opportunity to meet Anat Hoffman, one of the founders of Women of the Wall in 2005, when she came to speak at Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles.  Her story of the struggle of worship equality was new to me.  I had never known a personal world without religious freedom.  Until I went on Birthright in 2001, I never thought that if I went to pray at Judaism’s holiest site wearing a tallit I could be thrown in jail. Although now you are free to wear a tallit, when approaching the metal detectors, if one is spotted in within your belongings, you are subjected to extra screenings, while other men and women are waved through. 


I had the wonderful chance to pray with the women of the wall during my year studying in Jerusalem, and also when I returned to Israel in 2017. On Rosh Chodesh Iyar, I read Torah at Robinson’s arch, surrounded by a group of women who were willing to be chastised or hit by items thrown at them, to pray. Since then, I have been a strong supporter of this group and I look forward to the day that they can pray in equality at the Kotel 


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