Separate and Unequal at the Western Wall

The status of women at the Kotel (Western Wall) is in the news. You may have heard of The Women of the Wall, a group that meets monthly to pray together at the Kotel. Some members have been arrested for wearing prayer shawls. The controversy centers around whether these women are simply observing Judaism in the way they see fit, or making a concerted attempt to change the status quo.

Today’s guest post by photographer Rahel Jaskow addresses a different question. Documenting her claims with photos, she argues that  the status quo has already been changed. A concerted effort to enforce more segregation, and failure to improve the women’s areas, has led to a general worsening of conditions for all women who pray there.

Don’t miss the sequel: Return to the Western Wall, Passover 2013

Separate and Unequal at the Western Wall

Guest post by Rahel Jaskow

The first time I ever visited the Western Wall (in Hebrew, the Kotel ha-ma’aravi), it was a chilly winter day. The women’s section was packed with worshippers, while the men’s section was nearly empty. I assumed that the women’s level of devotion had to be much greater than the men’s.

Under umbrellas

I soon realized that my assumption had been wrong. There were dozens of men at the Kotel that day. But they were all inside the enormous amount of indoor space in the tunnel complex just to the left of the men’s section – protected from cold and rain in winter and the blazing sun in summer.

What about the women? Let’s take a closer look.

The Incredible Shrinking Women’s Section

Before February 2004, the women had about one-third the outdoor space that the men did. Unfortunately, I don’t have any digital photographs before 2005, but any search of the Western Wall or the Kotel can turn up photos that show the former size distribution. But the women’s section shrank dramatically after an earthquake destroyed the hill to the right of the women’s section in February 2004, exposing ancient ruins and sending tons of mud and rock tumbling into the women’s section. For a time, the metal divider between the men’s and women’s sections was opened and a temporary divider of plastic canvas was put up, giving the women more space outdoors. But the temporary divider – and the extra space it provided – quickly vanished, leaving the women’s section a fraction of what it had been. I call it “the incredible shrinking women’s section.”

The disparity in size

(If you click on the above photo, you can view it in Flickr, with explanatory notes showing exactly where the men’s and women’s sections are.)

 

Here’s a closeup of the women’s section, to give a better idea of its size:

The Western Wall, Jerusalem, Israel

 

The women have only a tiny amount of indoor space that provides direct access to the Kotel. To the right of the women’s section, near the lintel of a Second Temple-era gate now known as Barclay’s Gate, is a tiny room where women pray indoors. I call this room “the classroom.” Here’s a photo of it, taken on a rainy day when it was so crowded that I couldn’t get inside:

The "classroom"

[HK:  Unlike the men’s indoor section, the women’s indoor section requires climbing a flight of stairs. It is inaccessible to women in wheelchairs.]

The plaza just behind the worship area at the Kotel has changed, too. For decades, a low barrier separated much of the plaza from the worship area, and people could observe the prayer services from behind. No more: a high fence now obstructs the view.

The Western Wall from the Rear

Women’s Prayer Space within the Tunnel Complex

Now let’s take a look at the space that’s made available for women on the other side of the Kotel plaza, in the tunnel complex. Below are photos of a prayer area for women that was constructed fairly recently. From this enclosed, balcony-like structure, women may look down at the Kotel and listen, through earphone jacks, to the services that take place there on special occasions, such as a bar mitzva. But they cannot touch the Kotel from here; there is one-way glass, plus a curtain, in front of them, and the door to the staircase that leads from this structure down to the Kotel is always kept locked. (Note the lattice pattern in the wood that prevents the men from seeing the women.)

Here’s what the indoor women’s balcony looks like:

The women's gallery in the Western Wall Tunnels

 

Here’s the gate at the top of the stairs:

Gate to enclosed women's gallery, Western Wall Tunnels

 

The view from the gate, taken through the latticework:

View from women's gallery gate

 

Earphone jacks for listening to the service below (for example, if your family is celebrating a bar mitzva there):

Earphone jacks

 

Women are never allowed in the space allotted to the men; men’s space is sacred space at all times. Not so for the women. Here, we see an employee at a supply closet that is located directly inside the worship space allotted to the women:

Male worker in women's section

 

Here are some photographs taken in the synagogue built opposite and above the purported site of the Holy of Holies. Only men are now permitted entry into this synagogue, even when scheduled prayers are not in session:

Reading from the Torah

 

Here’s another photo of the synagogue:

The synagogue in the Western Wall tunnels

 

For good measure, here’s a photo of one of the light sources in that synagogue:

Synagogue lamp

 

Here’s a better look at the room as a whole. This photograph was taken almost five years ago, when women still had some access to the synagogue:

Synagogue in the Western Wall tunnels

 

Now, the women get to pray below the stairs leading to the synagogue.

Women praying below stairs

 

Within the Western Wall tunnel complex, women have no dedicated worship area with direct access to the Kotel. All they have is improvised, “unofficial” space that is dimly lit and open to tour groups, so their prayers can be interrupted at any time. They are also forced to mingle with male passersby as they pray, an odd situation for a place that seeks to enforce strict gender separation.

Here is one example, where women pray opposite the Western Stone:

Women pray opposite the longest stone

 

We can see here, too, that the women’s worship space is located along a foot-traffic route:

At the sealed gate to the Holy of Holies

 

Here we see a group of men passing behind the women as they pray. Not only is there no divider, but the tour guide also invited one of the men to recite a chapter of the Psalms while the group was there. Evidently, neither the guide nor the man who recited the chapter noticed the women praying there – or, if they noticed, they did not care.

Men praying at the gate

 

We can also see the quality of the light available in this “unofficial” prayer space for the women. Quite a contrast to the well-appointed synagogue upstairs, with its comfortable chairs and chandeliers:

Women praying opposite the gate

 

This photo shows the amount of light there a bit more realistically:

Opposite the gate

Readers may want to scroll back up to the photos of the synagogue and then look at these photographs again. Quite a difference.

Holiday Segregation

The separation of men and women is now enforced even more strictly during the week-long festivals of Sukkot and Pesah. Men and women must separate long before they approach the security inspection station – itself segregated by gender, another fairly recent development – and on their way into the plaza as well. On a recent visit during a holiday week, I watched as a religious couple moved one of the police barriers aside, opening a space so the wife could wheel the stroller with their baby inside to her husband. The photo below shows the signs ordering men and women to separate sides and the police barriers that enforce the segregation.

Segregation at Kotel entrance

 

Another view:

Segregration at entrance to Kotel plaza

 

The segregation continues beyond the security checkpoint:

Continuing segregation

 

In addition, women are strongly discouraged from going to the northern side of the Kotel plaza during festival times, as this photo illustrates:

Extended partition in the Western Wall plaza

 

Just in case visitors need an extra reminder, this sign states: “Due to the holiness of the site, complete separation between men and women must be observed here.” As the photo illustrates, such complete separation is not observed – for one thing, it’s not always practical during family visits – but those in charge state clearly that it’s what they want.

Sign demanding separation

But the northern side, where women aren’t supposed to go during festival times, happens to be where the restrooms are located. What to do?

The solution: temporary restrooms for women on the women’s side of the plaza. Here’s a sign warning the women away from the permanent restrooms, with full amenities, that they use throughout the year to the rudimentary ones we’re about to see. The signs read: “Women’s restrooms in the parking area.”

Sign: women's restroom in rear

 

OK, then. Let’s trek to the other side of the plaza and see what they’re like. From the outside:

Makeshift women's restrooms

 

Another view from the outside. The signs read: “Women’s restroom only.”

Sign: "Restrooms for women only"

 

Inside:

The entrance to the ladies' room at the Western Wall, Passover 2010

 

Stalls and sinks. That’s it. Here’s a closer view of the sinks. Notice anything missing? Soap, maybe? Towels? A diaper-changing area? Not here.

Sinks in the improvised ladies' room at the Western Wall, Passover 2010

 

What about access for women in wheelchairs? This doesn’t look too promising:

Women's restroom

That’s it, ladies. Stalls and a sink – that’s all you get at the Western Wall during festival weeks. The women’s restrooms at the other end of the plaza, with all their amenities, are for men only during that time.

There is one bright spot, though: the women are sometimes allowed a bit more space during the festival weeks. But not much: it’s easy to see the placement of the temporary divider relative to the permanent one. Not a whole lot of difference, I’d say.

The view from above

 

Another view:

Temporary divider in the women's section

 

Still another view:

Temporary divider in the women's section

 

And just in case the total segregation over the holidays isn’t enough, the men now have a passage from one side of the plaza to the other that’s just for them, all year round.

Passage for men only

 

The passage on a different day (the sign says “Passage for men only”):

Men's passageway at the Western Wall

 

Forced gender segregation has spread to the Kotel ha-Katan (the “small Kotel”) in the Muslim Quarter. Only this time, the women get no access to the Kotel itself. They’re supposed to stay behind the barrier (the men, of course, are supposed to be in front):

Partition at the Kotel ha-katan

Right now, separation is strongly encouraged by a temporary police barrier. I fear that if things keep going the way they are, it will soon be permanent, with enforcement by the police.

Finally, during holiday times, extra separation is enforced, at least during the daylight hours, on the public bus system…

Segregated boarding

 

. . .  either by illegally-hired guards with megaphones that play a pre-recorded message urging such segregation . . .

Two hired ushers

(The man in the purple shirt is the shift supervisor. He’s telling me I shouldn’t be photographing him and other young men employed to keep the genders segregated on the buses leaving the Old City.)

. . .  or by personnel who work for the bus company itself – a patently illegal act:

Modesty guard at rear door of bus

As with all the photographs in this post, click on the photograph for more details.

That, more or less, is the current state of affairs. All of these changes are quite recent. I have to wonder whose idea they were . . . and who paid for them.

Here’s the post I put up a few years ago about my experiences with employees of the the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, “God’s Gatekeepers.”

Rahel Jaskow, a singer, translator and amateur photographer, lives in Jerusalem and blogs at Elms in the Yard. Her award-winning CD of Shabbat songs, Day of Rest, is available at CD Baby.

 

Check out the 2016 fashions at Hydrochic modest swimwear.

Comments

  1. Wow. A lot of this I knew and some of it I didn’t.

    I don’t go to the Kotel much anymore. The longer I’ve been living here, the less frequently I go. It’s pretty much down to taking visiting family members once a year or so. And on those occasions, I don’t pray there. I actually make a point of not praying there. I don’t approach the wall anymore. I haven’t touched the stones in years.

    I’m disgusted by it all. The politics of it, the unholiness that dominates the Kotel experience for me now. It’s a shame. If it gets better one day, I’ll be there. If I’m made to feel comfortable again, I’ll pray there. But for now, it’s a relic. It’s an untouchable thing for me.

  2. A few things:
    I haven’t been to the Kotel in a while, and thus I haven’t seen these changes yet. The reason I haven’t been to the Kotel is because I hate the Old City traffic, the pushing, the buses . . . and basically, being around too many people. And, I don’t feel like taking a stroller in such a stroller-unfriendly place.
    So no, I haven’t seen these changes.

    The second thing is that while I appreciate the view that this article brings, and the fact that it gives specificity to the claim that the Kotel is being segregated, I sense a touch of something that borders on irreverence. And that bothers me. Yes, we can say that there are problems. But we can also say it nicely – not as if women and men shouldn’t be separated at all and women are treated as such lowlifes in the eyes of everyone religious.

    And third, if it so bothers you, work to change it. Otherwise, it obviously doesn’t bother you that much . . .

  3. Rachel ends her post, “That, more or less, is the current state of affairs. All of these changes are quite recent. I have to wonder whose idea they were . . . and who paid for them.”

    The Kotel is administered by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.

    A recent petition to the Supreme Court demands that secular Jews, non-Orthodox Jews and women be given equal representation in the management of the Western Wall, and are asking the court to remove the control of the holy site from the hands of the Western Wall rabbi.

    In 2010, the government approved an NIS 85 million budget for the following five years.

  4. May I suggest the Temple Mount above? Much more meaningful and the struggle for prayer rights is very exciting and challenging. Makes the discrimination there a worthy opponent.

  5. Yisrael — I think it’s valid to ask: if this is how women are treated at the Kotel, how will they be treated if and when Israel regains control of the Temple Mount?

  6. So what do we DO? I feel like organized and persistent nonviolent protest will be the only way to change this, and I think it will take involvement from modern orthodox women (not just chiloni women like me) and from men, too. For example: what if, every single day, a hundred or more men and women went into the kotel complex (just like any other tourist or worshipper), dressed modestly etc.. At a certain time, what if the men formed a human mechitza, linking arms and dividing the kotel plaza down the middle, and women walked into the space they created? With no chanting, singing, anything– just modestly dressed women going to pray. This could be very tricky given the new wall limiting entrance to the male half of the kotel, but SOMETHING has to change, and nonviolent protest (think Rosa Parks) is probably the only way this will happen.

    This deeply saddens and disgusts me too. Every time I’ve been to the kotel lately, the women’s side is so crowded that it’s hard to touch the Kotel, while the men’s side has tons of empty space. Once this upset me so much that I couldn’t pray, even though the Kotel means a lot to me.

  7. Thanks for this thorough report, Rachel. No question it’s a bad situation at the kotel, but I have to say I’m far more bothered by the limitations on Jewish presence on Har Habayit–a far more important, urgent and complex issue, IMHO.

    • I agree 100%. The Kotel is a relatively minor, easily fixed problem compared to what we have right now on Har Habayit.

      • Manya Shochet says:

        “The Kotel is a relatively minor, easily fixed problem compared to what we have right now on Har Habayit.”

        Yes, and the Kotel is relatively minor compared to Har Habayit. But I do’t think this means the situation at the Kotel is insignificant–or all that easily corrected.

        I do agree that going up on HarHabayit is a significant and powerful act, but you can’t go up and finish Tehillim there, and preparations for going up are pretty complicated.

  8. I used to love going to the kotel, loved the buzz, the feeling in the air. i used to come home feeling uplifted and exhilarated.

    The last time i went was on succot. i came home feeling ill. i was an outsider. this is a place that has nothing to do with me or my family. It was very upsetting. We should fight for the kotel. the current status quo is disgraceful.

  9. Judy, in my opinion the two issues are not mutually exclusive. Also, please see my reply to Yisrael above.

  10. I agree with almost everything here, but there are two points of disagreement…

    First, the poorly lit Kotel tunnel areas are ONLY accessible by women without going on the PAID tour. Meaning, the women are getting a free advantage by using their access to the new back-of-the-mens-underground room to get into the Kotel tunnels for prayer. That area is not lit for prayer, and I’d like to go there as well (as that one very poorly lit spot is considered the closest area to the kodesh hakodoshim on this side of the kotel wall). But they won’t let me in that entrance, since you either have to pay for the tour or be female using it to get access to the back-area. So that’s not a lack of services being provided, that’s an area being used in an unplanned way with women taking advantage (good for them!)

    On the women’s section, 1/2 was cut away due to the crumbling land ramp area on the right. After it started crumbling the project was financed to remove it and replace it with a permanent metal bridge, which would have double the women’s area space from it’s original size. Unfortunately the Arabs pulled a PR stunt and declared a jihad to stop the Jews from undercutting the foundations of the mosques, as if removing a dirt ramp on the other side of the wall would do that. So the project has been stuck, with the ladies section losing 50% of it’s space for safety reasons (the ramp could crumble at any time, so the area is fenced off to prevent anyone from getting hurt when it does).

    Could they have instead shared some of the men’s space, of course. But given Israeli planning (ha!), they’d say they already took care of it and are just waiting for the project to resume (even though that may be another 10 years, G-d forbid).

    The bathroom business is a shanda.

  11. Akiva — regarding women’s access to the prayer space in the tunnel area, it’s restricted and at the sole discretion of whichever employee of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation happens to be on duty that day. For details, please see my post, “God’s Gatekeepers,” at the link provided toward the end of the post.

    Regarding the cutting away of the women’s section: it would have been so easy to move the mehitza, as you point out. This was done briefly (before I had a digital camera, so I have no photos of it), and then retracted.

  12. Manya Shochet says:

    This is a very important article. I’ve noticed the deterioration in the conditions at the Kotel for year, but no one else seems to think it’s important.

  13. Jenni Menashe says:

    It is obvious that the person writing this article has an axe to grind and knows very little about what is going on at The Kotel. I have worked for The Western Wall Heritage Foundation for over 12 years and I have watched the situation change for THE BETTER. For example; you mention a recently opened small covered women’s area, this is in fact the ladies section (Ezrat Nashim) of Wilson’s Arch; the covered area where the men go inside. Its is 5 times larger than it was about 5 years ago when it was renovated. It is now the ONLY place at The Kotel that has proper seats; wood with cushions which fold down. It is also the only place that is climate controlled and has excellent lighting. Oh and by the way that gate you speak about is an emergency exit for the women’s safety. In addition, there is another enclosed section for women that you enter via the men’s section. Sorry you don’t know about it. The section which you call the Western Stone is in fact the Large Stone and as tours go on in the tunnels on a continual basis (in the summer 24 hrs a day) the ladies (almost exclusively) pray in many parts including the narrow passage along this stone (which by the way has been closed off because of excavation work for the last few months). When they pray there, it is out of courtesy in order to not bother the tours in progress. Regarding Rav Getz’s Synagogue, you are very lucky to ever have gotten a picture of women in that Shul. It was built and has always been a synagogue of Mekubalim and is serviced on rotation basis by the Bet El Kollel. There has never been access to this place for women for prayers, there is no Ezrat Nashim as per Kabbalistic tradition. Women pray downstairs in what you call the women’s worship place along the foot root. This is in fact Mul Kodesh Kedoshim (opposite the Holy of Holies) and is the MOST holy place to pray as it is the closest place to the Even HaShetia (Foundation Stone/Peak of Mt. Moriah). You don’t mention that this holiest place is actually reserved for women. Funny that. Women are welcome to enter there up to 8:30 AM everyday and then on a rotation basis after that so that it doesn’t get clogged up and tour groups won’t be able to pass through. The lighting there is amazing, nothing like the photos you present. Oh and the oil lamps haven’t been there for years there are actually inside the stairwell heading up to Rav Getz’s shul. The women who pray in the stairwell, again, do so to enable the tour groups to go through easily. You mention about an earthquake that destroyed the old Mughrabi bridge. Its was in fact condemned by the Jerusalem city engineers after a massive snow fall damaged the bridge and there was fear of it collapsing. The existing temporary bridge was put in into order to facilitate the archaeological dig taking place at present. There are plans to put in a new bridge over the old path once the excavations are complete. The existing bridge was built according to the request and need of the Antiquities Authority, no Haredi institution. Last but not least the photo of the Kotel HaKatan. The barrier is there not as you say to separate the men and women, there is no gender separation there. That barrier is to allow the Arabs living in the immediate area free passage while the Jews (men and women) pray there right beside the wall. Please note that NO ONE has ever been arrested for wearing a Talit at The Kotel. Anyone arrested at The Kotel has been arrested for disturbing the peace. I’ve see the arrest warrants. You seem to have been grossly misinformed. I’m happy to set the record straight. If you have any further question feel free to contact me. I’ll be happy to show you around all the excavations and explain past, present and future why what you write is just not true and is a Hilul HaShem point blank. Next time, better research first.

    • Ruth Alfasi says:

      Kol haKavod, Jenni,

      Your’s should be a separate article all in itself. Pathetic how truth can be twisted into “fact” when one wants “equality” at all costs.

      Curiously, there aren’t very many “chareidim” (or whatever you want to call those who actually PREFER separation of the genders) replying. So, I’m here to tell you, there are millions of women who prefer not to be looked at by men, or dare I suggest it – be distracted by the reality that their husbands are distracted by other women and their provocativeness. Have you ever experienced that before???? Be real – it’s not the best feeling.

      Secondly, as long as us women aren’t obligated in time-bound mitzvot such as prayer, these “inequalities” will have a very real basis in halacha. That women come to pray is nice, but not required. While men do need more space, since more men will be there at any given time.

      you know, i’ve decided to write a blog post of my own on this, since I really think what’s missing in this article is a foundation in what it is that men and women are DOING there at the kotel – they’re praying for SOMETHING. They aren’t counting square footage!
      May Hashem hear all our prayers no matter where we are, and may those who focus their attentions on “fairness” have more rachamim and ahavat Israel, and ask Hashem to help them with their real needs. Not something so trivial as do women enjoy as much public space as men.

      • Ruth — I, too, daven separately. But being a religiously observant woman doesn’t mean I have to accept injustices, be they in behavior or, yes, in square footage.

        • Ruth Alfasi says:

          Does being Jewishly observant mean you’re able accept Jewish differences and halachic realities? These aren’t injustices. I think it comes down to having an ayin tova. BARUCH HASHEM we have the kottel! And you’re counting square feet between genders, rather than larger issues (some raised above) like Arab square-footage?

          Once we have a mitzvah, a requirement to do something, we have the yetzer hara NOT to. Men have the MITZVAH to daven, and so they have the yetzer not to. Women don’t have the requirement, so it’s actually much easier for us to do so. The reward for men is greater, as well. Doesn’t it make sense to you, Rachel, that if the men are REQUIRED to daven and in a timely manner (whereas the women can come by choice) the ikkar, the focus, should be on making the kotel a place most comfortable and accessible for men? Ultimately, our avodat Hashem, isn’t in the public sphere. Its’ private. And again, in a place of such immense kedusha, to be taking pictures to support your argument that its not equal, implies you’ve got few troubles to daven for – baruch Hashem!

          If you had to pray for something serious – a health crisis, an emergency, a loss – would you really notice the relative difference in the courtyards? And if the men’s side were filled with tefillot with your name in it, wouldn’t you be happy that their side was so full? that they had a minyan? Remember, we’re supposed to do Ratzon Hashem, not the reverse.

          • Manya Shochet says:

            Ruth, your reading comprehension leaves something to be desired. Rahel is *not* arguing against separation of men and women at the Kotel. She’s advocating a fairer allocation of the space. The amount and quality of room for women’s tefilla at the Kotel has *decreased* in recent years, while the sex-separation has moved–illegally–beyond separate areas for prayer and into extreme separation in the outside courtyard and on the bus lines.

          • Ruth,

            I do understand what you are saying. I want that to be stated upfront. What you are not realizing is that many visitors to the Kotel are not frum. They do not understand or even know the halachic differences of the sexes. Now remember that the Kotel is a hugely spiritual place and has an intense effect on people. Think of all the Americans, Canadians, English, South Africans, etc. who come to visit. Think about how their experience there shapes their views of Judaism and their relationships to Hashem. Now also remember that Judaism is passed through women.

            Making it all about the men can hinder women’s relationships with the place and the aforementioned. Whether those women(often young adults) return home to practice Judaism, marry Jews, and raise their children Jewish can all be determined there at the Kotel by their experience.

            Now do you still think the women’s side should suffer? Think of the big picture and what these things mean outside your community.

          • “If you had to pray for something serious – a health crisis, an emergency, a loss – would you really notice the relative difference in the courtyards? ”

            Just a personal example. The time I went to the Kotel and was so upset that I couldn’t pray, I was pregnant, and I desperately wanted the pregnancy… but I got so frustrated by the huge choked mass of women on our side and the vast empty space on the men’s side that I felt like I couldn’t pray. That pregnancy ended in miscarriage, and rational or not, the two are connected in my mind.

            My next pregnancy I was TOLD that I was miscarrying, and I went to the Kotel again. I had the strangest feeling that the Kotel was bringing me a baby– I saw a happy-looking woman walking up from the Kotel with a baby in a carrier, and I felt like that was coming to me too. That pregnancy actually turned out to be viable, and now I have my daughter napping in my arms.

            Some of this comes down to having an “ayin tov,” and I suppose the next time I went to the Kotel I pushed past the injustice, but quite frankly, I don’t think that your understanding of Judaism is the only valid understanding, despite what you probably believe about mine. I think all Jews should have the right to pray at the Kotel in peace. This means that there should be a separation (even though my husband and I see no need for it), but that the separation should at least be equitable. I don’t think that I should be forced to endure a situation that makes it difficult for me to connect with G-d.

            Should African Americans during segregation have been grateful that they were allowed to ride busses at all??

    • Jenni,

      Do you seriously not see the fact that women don’t even know where their designated davening areas are as a problem?! I do! The fact that one of the areas you mention is “via the men’s section” means that women will not have access to it if busy, not know where to go once in the men’s section, and/or not know it is there at all. That means it is as good as non-existent.

      As for your claim that the women were arrested for “disturbing the peace” not wearing talit, that’s a joke. The manner in which they “disturbed the peace” was they wore talit! Why aren’t the men getting riled up and throwing chairs over the mechitza not arrested for that same offense?? Use word-play all you like, it doesn’t change the facts.

  14. Shoshanna says:

    Y’alla lets occupy the kotel

  15. Jenni, I stand corrected re the barrier at the Kotel ha-Katan. Regarding the rest, I stand by what I wrote.

    Regarding WOW: I am a former member of 18 years’ standing. Our services were always quiet. The arrests have been exclusively of women wearing tallitot… funny that.

  16. Further, Jenni — you have seen the arrest warrants? Are you sure about this? Think carefully, now: arrest warrants are issued with the name of the person who is to be arrested. As far as I know, what happens at the Kotel is that women wearing tallitot are detained and then allowed to go, hours later. No WOW member has ever been indicted.

    If you have seen ANY document pertaining to the detention of a WOW member, this could be a terrible breach of propriety and perhaps worse… unless you are an attorney acting for the Western Wall Heritage Foundation in a legal capacity. If you are not, then I ask you in this public forum: just what do you know about these detentions? Are the police acting on the orders of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation?

    I look forward to your answer, Jenni, and I am sure I am not the only one.

  17. I understood from the press that the bathrooms are temporary while the others are renovated. As for the size of the womens’ section, as others have noted, the Waqf starts protesting to the world every time Israel suggests fixing the Mugrabi gate (which would also widen the women’s area) And the world, instead of investigating the situation, accepts the Arab viewpoint. The British did not allow a mechitzah because of the Arab protests, and so it contiinues..

  18. Batya — yes, the bathrooms are temporary. They’re only in use during festival times, but they have been in use now for a few years with no improvement. This is what the women get at the Kotel during festivals, full stop.

    As for the size of the women’s section — people here seem to ignore the obvious solution: move the mehitza. What’s so difficult about that?

    • Manya Shochet says:

      Absolutely. And it’s never a good sign when people ignore the simple ideas to make things better. “Best” is the enemy of “better”. Do we really need the Supreme Court and the police to change the position of a moveable mechitza?

  19. Further to Jenni’s first comment — she writes: “In addition, there is another enclosed section for women that you enter via the men’s section. Sorry you don’t know about it.”

    Actually, I do.

    Also, she writes: “It is also the only place that is climate controlled and has excellent lighting.”

    Then, later, regarding the unofficial women’s prayer area beneath Rav Getz’s synagogue: “The lighting there is amazing, nothing like the photos you present.”

    Really? I thought you said the enclosed women’s area was the only place that had “excellent lighting.”

    “Oh and by the way that gate you speak about is an emergency exit for the women’s safety.”

    Then, Jenni, why was it locked when I was there?

  20. I am another person who hates visiting the Kotel. now with the renovations to the covered area it looks like a chasidishe shtibel in boro park complete with ungepatchked baroque (i.e. Hungarian) furnishings.

  21. Ruth Alfasi says:

    Manya, My reading comprehension is right there with my Master’s Degree, and Phi Beta Kappa double BA, thank you very much.

    You seem to have missed -context: I was replying under Jenni’s comment, re: the derth of terrain isn’t quite what the article portrays, I just think the whole argument is petty. How crowded is it on the women’s sides, anyway? Surely at any bar mitzvah, etc held there, you’ll find many more men than women, and there’s a reason for that – halachic importance of men’s vs women’s public functions and tefillot. Did you miss the Jewish stance that men NEED these additional required mitzvot because they’re actually more distant from Hashem than women? That doesn’t sound very just, to me. They get more have-to’s than we do. No fair!

    How much relative importance do you place on the necessity to daven, vs the choice. When men come to daven, they’re not only davening, they’re participating in a minyan that is fulfilling a halachic requirment. Right? Women don’t have this requirement so while I enjoy a fan in that side room they call the “Classroom” (or to be able to daven in winter without standing in a downpour) I don’t see my tefillot as essential – there. at that place. It’s relative weight, and I do think as a whole, if we’re looking towards shalom, the relative weight, halachically of men’s vs women’s need to be in a public sphere davening should be taken into consideration.

    • I believe that the idea that women have fewer mitzvot than men because they are on a higher plane and do not need them is actually quite recent. People quote it now as if it went back to Sinai, but I think it goes back only to the nineteenth century or thereabout.

      Long ago, I saw a paper that traced the reasons given throughout Jewish history for women’s exemption from time-bound mitzvot. It was fascinating, and I wish I could find it again.

      That said: whether one prays because one is obligated or because one wishes to, there is enough room at the Kotel and its environs for everyone, and it is a real pity that the space is managed as restrictively (and arbitrarily) as it now is. I know quite a lot of observant women who used to enjoy going to the Kotel but have stopped because the recent changes and restrictions make them feel unwelcome there. Does their — and my — dissatisfaction with those changes there make them — or me — somehow less observant and more focused on petty things? Honestly, I don’t think so.

      • Manya Shochet says:

        “Does their — and my — dissatisfaction with those changes there make them — or me — somehow less observant and more focused on petty things? ”

        No doubt it does, or at least some would have us think so. I was taught from the Rambam that men and women are equally obligated in prayer d’oraita; that prayer is a request for mercy and that women, surely, are equally in need of mercy. The only difference is that men are obligated in fixed-time prayer, while women are not. And I was never taught that anyone could discharge my mitzva of prayer “for me”. My prayer, at the Kotel or elsewhere, is a private act, and no one, male or female, with or without a minyan, can do that for me or instead of me.

        By the way, I have yet to see that the accumulation of academic degrees necessarily indicates more than lickspittle conformity to authority plus the ability to complete assignments. It is certainly no guarantor of insight, wisdom, or even scholarship.

        • Ruth Alfasi says:

          About degrees: I went to University of California, Santa Cruz, many years ago now – a campus so tremendously liberal (the younger sister to UC Berkeley) that grades were an option. It was so far outside the “canon,” that my courses had names such as “Vampires and Lesbians in Victorian Literature.” I did take grades and a GPA, since grad school on the Jews in Spain seemed appealing, but as a single-mother, I didn’t go, made teshuva, and find my intellectual stimulation here on A Mother in Israel, lol.

          We don’t cull halacha from the Rambam, and you’re right one prayer a day, but anywhere, any time, at all is fine. And that’s the point.

          You know, Maya, I absolutely adore your blog and miss your posts so glad you’re back. And I feel for any woman who has such an experience as yours. It pains me to hear. And you’ve helped me reconsider my views. But I’m also aware of what my husband says often, “Where it’s difficult – that’s where the tikkun is.” By overcoming your feelings of distraction, annoyance, etc I do believe you merited your daughter and I’ve read all about her birth on your blog (smile here).

          Perhaps I’m just not sensitive enough. My daughter goes all the time to the kotel because she lives there, and doesn’t complain. I go on the rare occasions I’m in Yerushalayim and while truthfully, I’ve never found it croweded EVER, I have stood in the side room in the rain, before knowing about the tunnels. Not a great experience, rather romantic, maybe, but I really never considered it an injustice against women.

          Finally, I’m in Tiberias where Xian missionaries are a VERY REAL PROBLEM and feel little if any interest in making sure the kotel first meets the sensibilities and interests of non-Jews. Why should frum Jews’ sensibilities be shaken at the most holy site, by tourist interests? If smoking offends the host, should the host allow it, or maintain her house-rules and ask her guests to do so outside. Surely you don’t see the kotel as equally, religiously important to every nation, as well?!

          Tzniut: If you’d like to claim historical connection to the Kotel, then you’d also have to place Judaism in it’s historical and social context, as well – non-Jews have traditionally been much more “tzanua” than they (or us) are today. Even to this day traditional women in many third world countries (i have family in Mexico, for example) wear long scarves over their hair and were boring, modest (in taste and price) dresses at a decent length, etc. They’d rarely step foot in a church, in rural areas, without such traditional feminine attire.

          In this day, with the drastic differences between secular views of the female body (and yes, my focus at UCSC was on the objectivication of the female body). Most interestingly, feminism has moved away from this stance – that women aren’t well served by a society that enshrines and worships beauty and the body rather than depth. A very Jewish concept, actually, that’s been lost.

          If you look at feminist theory, you’ll see the same concept as in Judaism – “My eyes, sir, are up HERE!” Respect me, don’t sexualize me.

          I’ll end with a make a huge claim – perhaps if everyone of the women who comes to daven at the kotel came properly attired, the bracha and the rumblings in shamayim, on a ruchaniut level, would be so great, our zechut so tremendous, that Hashem would turn the hearts of the powers-that-be and they would gladly, graciously and enthusiastically make more space for us.

          Motivate Hashem to answer your tefillot – l’vatel to the Razton of HaKadosh Baruchu, and He’ll l’vatel to yours.

          • “I’ll end with a make a huge claim – perhaps if everyone of the women who comes to daven at the kotel came properly attired, the bracha and the rumblings in shamayim, on a ruchaniut level, would be so great, our zechut so tremendous, that Hashem would turn the hearts of the powers-that-be and they would gladly, graciously and enthusiastically make more space for us.”

            In other words, women must work twice as hard to get half the credit, if even that.

            I don’t agree that we have to jump through those kinds of hoops just to get basic fair treatment.

  22. Ruth Alfasi says:

    Rahel, I’ve just posted my response to you, particularly about the reasons why women are exempt from time-bound mitzvot, on my new post, http://www.yeshivathamekubalim.org/2013/03/response-to-separate-but-unequal-at.html.

    I think it will surprise you, the Kabbalistic reasons for this.

    • Obviously you can drum up halachic or kabbalistic reasons for the current situation at the kotel; I’m sure someone could even find reasons why women should be barred from the kotel altogether. But anyone who is making halachic or kabbalistic arguments about the current situation is missing the point.
      The point is that many people who pray at the kotel have no interest in your particular brand of Judaism, and do not want it forced down their throats at a site that is holy to them.
      Why do people think that Haredim own the kotel? Haredim weren’t part of the military force that liberated it, they are not the ones who pay for its upkeep, and they are far from the only ones who visit the kotel and see it as a religious site. Really, how did we end up in this situation where only their perspectives are respected on this issue?

    • Relating to what you said above. Men have no obligation to make a minyan at the kotel, if that was what they wanted, they could find them in the Jewish quarter too. People doven at the kotel for the connection to Hashem, because it is a special place. This specialness and emotional connection is true both for men and women. To tell the truth, most of the women who pray there are probably saying tehillim or some sort of techinot (special requests). So I think that relating to the actual obligation of prayer is missing the point.

  23. Rahel,

    Thank you for posting this! Ironically, just last night this came up in my family! My husband, brother-in-law, and father-in-law were watching family videos of Israel in the 1960s. Oh my gosh! The Kotel was a different place!! The video was of a bar mitzvah. It was taking place right up at the front by the wall against the mechitza. The women were looking over the mechitza and listening right there. The man filming was able to catch them on the video. I pointed it out; my BiL responded, “they must be standing on chairs”. But they weren’t! The women were all very frum, my husband’s grandmother included. (And not only were they able to do that, they were wearing sleeveless dresses! You can’t do that by the Kotel now either. That’s neither here nor there just interesting when discussing change.) The entire place looked foreign to my eyes. I was devastated by the loss of something I’ll never experience. The men in my family all agreed. As men, they still felt the changes were ridiculous. My BiL is going to Israel for Pesach and said he does not plan to go to the Kotel cause he doesn’t like how it is now. These were men saying this! Anyone that says you are being petty, or that this change has only been felt by select women is wrong.

    • Sorry to be a late comer to this–but just wanted to add that my family visited Israel in July 1967 when I was 5 and then I did not return until 1979. the kotel we visited in 1967 had no mehitza. These were the pictures I grew up with–NO MEHITZAH!! Then I saw pictures of my cousins’ bar mitzvahs in the early 70s and there was a mehitza . . . but the women definitely could follow the bar mitzvah with ease and no one though there was any problem with that.
      When I was last at the kotel a year and a half ago a woman interrupted my sh’monah esrei (private mincha) to ask me if I kept taharat hamishpacha . . .

  24. I think you have made some valid points.

    If you want to do something about this, why don’t you send a link to the women (even to the religious ones) members of the knesset and ask them to see what they can do about it.

    Access to the toilets, having an equal size women’s section. It is possible to start with asking them to check out the reasonable ones… and start from there.

    Aliza Lavi in Yesh Atid, Ruth kalderon. and the others
    the 3 ladies in Bayit yehudi
    Maybe they will be able to take up the cause.

  25. Manya Shochet says:

    Ruth .Alfasi–“That women come to pray is nice, but not required”. Logic please? the Kotel is not a shtiebel and, as you yourself have pointed out, much of the prayer that goes on at the Kotel is *exactly* the kind in which women are equally obligated. And neither women nor men are “required” to pray davka at the Kotel.
    “Obviously you can drum up halachic or kabbalistic reasons for the current situation at the kotel; I’m sure someone could even find reasons why women should be barred from the kotel altogether.”
    –Channa

    Precisely, Channa, you took the words out of my mouth. We do not pasken from the kabbala, either.
    And the Kotel is not a shtiebel and does not belong only to one narrow group. A minimum acceptable halachic standard would be less alienating and more inclusive.

    “”“Where it’s difficult – that’s where the tikkun is.” By overcoming your feelings of distraction, annoyance, etc I do believe you merited your daughter….”–Ruth Alfasi

    Sometimes I think in our desire to be good little non-threatening, non-feminist maidelach, we go out of our to be to be self-abnegating to the point that we think it somehow virtuous to nurture our own souls. Wanting a little open space to pray at the Kotel on a regular day, to be able simply to reach the Kotel itself, is a reasonable request, especially when, as Rahel pointed out, there is plenty of room for all.
    An unwillingness to ask for even this minimal request seems to me rather a lack of zeal. What if Chana, had responded to Eli, “Uch, I’m so sorry , mumbling like that, in a place where I might have distracted you men! I should have just stayed home and let Elkana mention me in his prayers. The Mishkan is no place for a nice Jewish girl.”
    Would Eli still have blessed her? And would Hashem still have answered the prayer that she never offered?

    By the way, all the men in my life who have seen the inadequacy of the area left to the women at the Kotel have been most sympathetic to our discomfort and indeed find the current situation unfair enough as to be a distraction unto itself.

    • Manya Shochet says:

      Whoops!

      That should have read: “Sometimes I think in our desire to be good little non-threatening, non-feminist maidelach, we become self-abnegating to the point that we think it somehow virtuous NOT to nurture our own souls”

  26. Ruth Alfasi says:

    I just don’t understand the issue here – looking back over each of the photos in this post I see what I always see when I go to the kotel – plenty of space on the women’s side.
    In my post and comments to it, I’ve expressed that maybe since I don’t live in Yerushalayim, I’m not there enough to find the visit so packed that myself and other women haven’t room to stand and daven, or sit, etc.

    Do you see more space behind the initial group of women at the wall? I do. To me, that whole entire courtyard on the women’s side is a place to be “at the wall.” Perhaps you literally mean standing dafka against it? Sorry, I didn’t read it that way, and don’t have that objective when I go. So, perhaps our objectives are different.

    In every picture i see gobs of space and yes, a clump of women at the wall itself, but I mean, is that really a difference to you? Personally, sitting in one of those chairs, is my goal.

    As for the pictures, even inside I see more available seats than women present.
    And as I wrote on my post comments, women come there as opposed to anywhere, and it’s wonderful, but we aren’t seeking a minyan as men are, in exchange for the minyan they’d be catching elsewhere, so i just see the size commensurate with the realities of crowd control. When there’s a bar mitzvah, etc it’s definitely more crowded on the men’s side. So, isn’t it fairer to them to make sure there’s enough RELATIVE space? Indeed, this reflects the realities in ANY Orthodox shul that the men’s side will be more spacious than the women’s. I’ve been in hundreds of different kinds of shuls, and in none of them the women’s side is larger.

    I’m sorry, if it’s crowded usually, and all the women there experiences it that way – then I hear you. But I haven’t met anyone else in my extended native Israeli family who’s felt that way. why not ask those present? The women in the pics sure didn’t seem very upset by their surroundings. They just seemed like they were davening and had plenty of space all around them for kids, strollers, baggage, whatever…

  27. Ruth Alfasi says:

    I get it, the arguments above reflect perspectives of those who feel halacha is something to be “drummed up.” Well, I can only wonder why with your hubris in thinking Judaism and halacha are something we drum up to fit our fancy, Hashem won’t make this all “fairer” for you.

    No, you miss the entire point, “women must work twice as hard to get half the credit, if even that,” implies that sameness without regard to halachic context = equal. It doesn’t.

    You say, “I don’t agree that we have to jump through those kinds of hoops just to get basic fair treatment.” You’re vision is on political means, without regard for religious sensitivities. Ask yourself something, if you went to say Malaysia or Saudia Arabia, and Japan, various African countries, etc…would you respect their cultural sensitivities? Would you feel inclined to be culturally sensitive, while you may not agree with those same religious and social mores? My suspicion is – yes. But with Torah Judaism, it’s a personal afront, because it’s your heritage, your kotel, your Am. And you don’t believe the tradition provides you something, but asks of you something in return.

    Why are you seeking political resolution to a religious question? Can’t you just imagine you’re in Cambodia or something and do as the natives, enjoy your prayer at what you seem to view as a historical temple, and be on with it?

    • I have had far too many conversations with people who have “made teshuva” (I worked in a camp for BTs, it’s like “making sausage”, you don’t want to see the process- it nearly turned me off to religion) to expect anything rational, let alone the possibility of ever considering that they might be wrong about something other than whether they are being machmir enough. But your idea of “Torah Judaism” is not the only game in town. I’m sure you have a straight line to God being that you hang out with mekubalim and whatnot, but some of us practice a form of “Torah Judaism” which is practiced by our parents and their parents before them in which we value giving equal respect to men and women in the public sphere. Having a ridiculously unequal amount of space and keeping the sexes separate to a greater degree than was done on a day to day basis in the Beit Hamikdash is an affront to MY religious and cultural sensitivities. The person who goes farthest off the deep end in her quest to make things right with God is not the person whose religious sensitivities get to carry the day.

      • Ruth Alfasi says:

        Listen, insisting that we’re being treated “unjustly” and there’s a political solution for this misses the point to this entire discussion – the kotel is a religious place and women are davening to HASHEM. So daven to Hashem to make more space, if you really feel there isn’t enough for you to daven, as well. But ask, humbly. Don’t demand from what you perceive to be unfair men holding all the reigns – surely Hashem is just using them as the shaliach for His will?

        If your stance vis a vis Torah Judaism stems from your family’s longstanding (2/3 generations) tradition of picking and choosing which mitzvot Hashem would like from you today, also misses the point. Mitzvot are HARD – that’s why there’s zechut in doing them.

        I sure hope when someone near to you “makes teshuva” and finds satisfaction in doing more mitzvot, you don’t discourage them in your general grudge-holding towards anyone different or more particular in their efforts to actually please Hashem by doing His mitzvot. We aren’t “baal teshuvas” in opposition to you. It isn’t serve Hashem, your God, or the Such-and-Such Family. Seems your ability to value difference and diversity is only as broad as your definition of your own filtered reading of our Torah tradition. Everyone else needs to step aside and make room for you? Why can’t we all just get along and focus on Hashem say your pray, with tears, and be considerate of the needs of others around you to also say their’s. I saw pics in this article with three women and maybe three rows of empty seats. Why is that a problem for you? I don’t see overcrowding. I hear anger, perhaps at who’s there – religious Jews – and perhaps a panic attack when faced with fewer of your own kind than makes you feel comfortable.

        “Stay far from scoffers,” Pirkei Avot.
        In the meantime, daven – if you really see in those photos and in daily life a “rediculously unequal” amount of public space, without accounting for the obvious reality that in any other shul the men’s section is proportionately larger than the women, because they do have public ritual mitzvot we don’t. Not sure how much space you need, or what you’d find yourself doing in it, but whatever.

        May Hashem bless you with shalom, humility, yirat shamayim and an ayin tovah.

        • Sorry that my view regarding women threw you off. I’m at least a tenth generation orthodox ordained rabbi. I can only speak of the views of my grandfather, as I was not privileged to meet his father. There is no Mitzvah to give women a smaller place to pray. Yes, some mitzvot are hard, so what? That doesn’t abrogate our responsibility as partners with God in determining the halakhah or in ensuring that outside of the 4 amot of halakhah people are treated fairly. Nothing gets channeled directly from God. Halakhah is not in heaven and we have a responsibility to see that it answers to its own higher moral principles.

          You write “Don’t demand from what you perceive to be unfair men holding all the reigns – surely Hashem is just using them as the shaliach for His will?”
          I suppose that the man who withholds a get from his wife is just doing His will by holding the reins?

          Just because something has to do with religion doesn’t mean that politics are not involved. look at the political situation in Israel, look at the way the office of the chief rabbi and the rabbanut are run. No politics, right? I guess it’s all God’s will, and it just happens to be channeled through political maneuvering an bureaucratic inanity?

          As I said, my attitude towards many ba’l teshivas comes from having worked for a well-known kiruv organization. It’s no secret in the kiruv world that the easiest targets are people who are unstable, disaffected, and unsatisfied with their lives. Over and over again I saw their weaknesses preyed upon, their mental issues ignored, and those who asked serious questions scoffed at and ultimately given up on in favor of the lower hanging fruit. It’s very easy to push such people to extremes. On the other hand I have friends and family who on their own became religious in a gradual normal process. Not through institutionalized brain washing. None of them ever use the term “making teshuvah”. They simply became more religious.

          The question of women’s exemption from certain mitzvot is irrelevant. The kotel is a public religious space, not a shul. There is no reason whatsoever not to aportion the space if not equally, then at least more equally than is done now.

  28. Manya Shochet says:

    Ruth Alfasi, nothing in halacha is against taking the needs, even the comfort and aesthetic needs and preferences into account as far as maintenance and use of space at the Kotel.

    Rabbi Berel Wein has said that the spittoons in the old world Orthodox synagogues of Chicago were a main spur to the increase in the number of Conservative congregations. “Because we always did things this way. We don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water . But sometimes, y’know, we’ve got a *lot* of bath water.”

    • True, Manya. As for the idea that the mitzvot are hard — well, some are easier and some are harder, but as far as I’ve learned and read, Judaism has never glorified self-mortification. And the idea of asking God to solve one’s problems — certainly, we can and should ask for help, but we also believe that God helps those who help themselves. “Ve-ha’aretz natan li-vnei adam” — God gave the world to human beings (to protect and improve, as I see it).

  29. The point that the women have less space and worse conditions – fine.
    The way it was stated – NOT fine.

    It definitely shows that the author was a longstanding member of WOW. She sounds like she has an axe to grind. And the way she grinds it is a chillul Hashem, Enough is enough.

    BTW – have you ever been to the Kotel early in the morning, before all the men go off to work? Because there are about ten women and the mens’ section is bursting at the seams. (We’ve been there, and seen it, from both sides of the mechitza.) Yes, in the middle of the day, there are more women. Know why? Because women are the ones who more often have jobs that allow them to go to the Kotel in the middle of the day (teachers? secretaries? half-day jobs? stay at home? work at home? yom chofshi?).

    Do you want to say that we should be switching the mechitzas based on time of day? Oh – and what about on chagim? Are you going to tell me that the numbers are equal? Because honestly, they’re still not. And I have never found the womens’ section at the Kotel to be too overly packed except in the middle of Chol Hamoed and/or during the huge Birkat Kohanim. And I went to the Kotel for years. When they enlarge the space, it is large enough. You don’t like it? Tough nuggies.

    • Littleduckies — I have a feeling that there is no way at all that I could have written about the issue of women’s space at the Kotel without provoking disapproval from some quarters. I suspect that if I hadn’t included so many photos, I might have been accused of not having told the truth. Not necessarily by you, or by anyone in particular, but I believe I have grounds for that suspicion. Since the photos prove the point beyond doubt, people who aren’t comfortable with the message have to find fault with the messenger. My tone is too much this or not enough of that (not reverent enough or too feminist, heaven preserve us), and my having been a member of WOW for eighteen years automatically makes me a dubious source when it comes to anything religious as far as they’re concerned. Needless to say (but I’m saying it anyway), I don’t agree with that point of view.

      In my opinion, what it comes down to is this: If the message can’t be discredited, perhaps the messenger can be. I’ve seen this kind of thing happen before, and it’s always interesting when it does.

      • I have no problem with the pictures. Nor do I disbelieve you.
        However, that said, I take issue with the *way* you wrote it. It sounds like you have a major chip on your shoulder (which you obviously do, if you were a longstanding member of WOW).

        It’s funny that you say that, “if the message can’t be discredited, perhaps the messenger can be.” You know, I get the feeling from what you wrote that you see me the same way . . . vda”l.

        It could even be that I agree with you. In fact, maybe I do. But the way you wrote it is a chillul Hashem. And that’s that.

        I am glad you have the time and energy to respond to every single comment here, and I am glad you have the time and energy to kvetch about the Kotel. Fact is, I simply don’t have that energy – or time. I apologize in advance for the few days it might take me to respond, and I apologize for taking so long for this response.

        If you really want a change, you can try to get one. But one thing I will tell you is that you’ll only get cooperation if you work with someone, not against them.
        If you act like you know everything, and you sound threatening and feminist, NO ONE there will want to work with you. If you come across as a reasonable person who wants to help everyone feel comfortable at the Kotel, then maybe you’ll get somewhere.

        Ah – and I repeat: Go to the Kotel early in the morning. There will be about ten or fifteen women there, and the mens’s section will be bursting at the seams.
        Men have stuff to do in the middle of the day.
        Women, apparently (especially those who can spend all day at the Kotel) apparently do not, or at least, not as much.

        • P.S. – You want to put on tefillin? No problem, just do it at home to avoid issues of yehura. And learn the halachot so that you don’t violate any. You can’t put on tefillin if you have any gastrointestinal disturbances, because they are violations of “guf naki”. You want to put on a tallit? As long as it’s obviously made for women, and you do it in your home to avoid issues of yehura – no problem. Can you make a bracha on either of those? Well, depends who you ask, and what eida you’re from.
          And, did you know that every halacha of tznius except kisui rosh was originally mandated for men? Bet you didn’t . . .
          So, don’t label me as “anti” and “closed-minded” before you really know what you’re talking about.

          • Littleduckies, you just proved my point. Because of my membership in WOW, you assume I have a chip on my shoulder and then teach me about the proper use of tallit and tefillin by women. You imply I have too much time on my hands. And you assume that I have judged you as anti and closed-minded.

            Nice dan le-khaf zekhut there. Oh, I forgot: dan le-khaf zekhut doesn’t apply to feminists or members of WOW. They all have axes to grind anyway. No need to judge them favorably; we all know what they’re about.

            Not so, Littleduckies, not so. And I cannot judge you in any way because I have never met you.

            But you seem to have pigeonholed me very neatly.

          • Also, how is my post a hillul ha-Shem? That’s a serious accusation, and one that is made far too easily these days, in my opinion. But if merely writing about the situation is bad enough to warrant its being called a hillul ha-Shem, what does that say about the situation itself?

            As for working with the Western Wall Heritage Foundation to change the situation… ya think?

          • It won’t let me reply to your comment, for some reason . . .

            And yes, I think that people join groups that agree with their viewpoints. Just like people only join LLL if they want to promote nursing. Duh.

            Pssh, you’re also dan l’chaf zechut. I am too tired to argue, so let’s call it a draw, okay? Or, if you like, you can say you won. Doesn’t matter that much to me . . .

            Again, there is a way to write, and there is a way to write. The issue is not with *what* you wrote, but with *how* you wrote it. If you don’t/ can’t see that, I’m sorry. But that doesn’t negate what I am saying.

            Actually, it is quite understandable that you would not understand what the issue is with the tone of your article – you wrote the article.
            Somehow, though, I expected that you would try to look at it from a more objective viewpoint and try to understand what my issue with the tone of the article is. I’m sorry if I overestimated you.

            If you want to make a change, working with those in charge might be a better way to do it than ranting on a blog, don’t ya think? It’s all about protektzia . . .

    • Little Duckies wrote: “However, that said, I take issue with the *way* you wrote it. It sounds like you have a major chip on your shoulder (which you obviously do, if you were a longstanding member of WOW).”
      As the host blogger I felt that this post was written in a very evenhanded manner, with no inflammatory tone and no more commentary than necessary to make her point and explain what we are seeing in the pictures.
      The chilul Hashem is when secular Jews and tourists come to the Kotel and see these conditions for women. The point of posting about it publicly is to create public awareness so that the situation can be changed.

  30. Ruth Alfasi says:

    To Hannah, Rahel, MJ, and Manya, I wrote this post with our rather unpleasant rescent exchange here in mind, after unexpectedly spending yesterday in the oncology ward of Rambam Hospital and meeting an old friend of Gilad Shalit’s.

    My husband and I are religious, not one-dimensional “chareidim” but chardalim, for the record, and he spent years in the Israeli army; we have a son entering the army in two months and we are usually described by most who meet us as surprisingly warm and open-minded, while inspiring emunah.

    You might be interested to know – In early Elul, a year and a half ago, Rav Alfasi and a minyan of his talmidim performed a pidyon nefesh with kavanot of the Kabbalah for Gilad and three weeks later – Gilad was home. e spent months trying to do the pidyon nefesh – each time, something would prevent him and he grew more and more concerned that time was running out. The video has been on YouTube and our website since, and it’s inspiring, I believe, to see the power of Rav Yehudah’s tefillot. Men come to him often and say that when he says the prayer for our chayalim, they can FEEL the power of it.
    I hope you can, too. I believe in your prayer and other’s at the kotel, and sorry, after my experience yesterday, feel even more strongly that if the mother of “R”(in my post) goes to the kotel to say a few tehillim for him – she really won’t be concerned about the “injustice” of the size of the women’s section. She’ll be too busy hoping Hashem hears her prayer.
    I hope you’ll read my post and come away with a more nuanced view of both “chareidi” (which seems to be a term used more broadly by non-chareidim, than chareidim themselves) and hillunim, and our mutual relationship with Hashem. We’re all living messy lives far more so that the flat term ‘Chareidi”allows, and far more so that the equally flat “hillunim”, as well.

  31. Rahel,

    I wonder how many of the recent changes would have been made had it not been for the aggressive and incessant provocations by Women at the Wall and other such groups. Provocations intended to change the status quo in the opposite direction. Your group created this backlash, and bears the lion’s share of the blame for it.

    I have a feeling that you and the Women at the Wall are secretly happy that you’ve succeeded in getting these kinds of reactions, because you know they make it more likely that the courts will intervene on your behalf. And that they’ll gain you sympathy from people who don’t realize that this is all your doing. Congratulations.

    Lisa

    • Lisa,

      I’m quite sure that the new structural changes at the Western Wall were made to fulfill the vision of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which wants to implement stricter standards of gender separation at the Western Wall, and that they have nothing at all to do with WOW. Some of the changes go back several years — certainly before the recent lamentable developments in the relationship between WOW and the police (or whoever is giving the police their marching orders).

      Women of the Wall has been davening every Rosh Hodesh (except for those that fall on Shabbat) since December 1988. I was a member for approximately 18 years — from around 1994 to 2012. In all that time, the prayers I attended (and had the honor to lead) were quiet and uneventful. On the few occasions that there was trouble, it was caused by outside elements who had arrived specifically to cause it and lurked in ambush, waiting for us to begin our service. Our group usually spotted the troublemakers even before we started praying.

      To my mind, praying at 7:00 a.m. nearly every Rosh Hodesh for almost a quarter-century doesn’t come under the category of an aggressive act or a provocation.

      As for my or anyone else’s being “secretly glad” of whatever it might be: Lisa, allow me to congratulate you on having attained the high spiritual level that allows you to see into the hearts and souls of others. I trust you will use this great gift, which is very rare indeed, responsibly and wisely.

  32. Israeli Mother says:

    Your article would be impressive if it weren’t for the fact that I actually live here in the Yerushalayim area and see the truth instead of your version of propaganda.

    The reason for the increased separation and mechitzot is that those areas are PACKED with people during the yomim tovim. Same with the buses. It’s a very good thing that there are many more bus personnel on hand during the chagim — those of us who actually live here know just how crazy getting on the buses can be at those times and the increased need for separation for tznius reasons that goes along with it.

    And it is a service to the women who are visiting the kotel that there are extra bathrooms just for them so that at times like birkat kohanim, when there are thousands upon thousands of people filling the kotel plaza to daven and be a part of birkat kohanim and women would never be able to reach the bathrooms comfortably they still have a way to use the facilities.

    When I go to the kotel to daven I feel inspired and I don’t feel crowded or upset that the women’s space is smaller — I guess my mind is on other things at that time, like getting closer to Hashem and davening and such.

  33. Israeli Mother, the separation on the buses is illegal. Even Haredi women don’t want it, but they cannot speak out publicly for fear of reprisal against themselves and their families. The increased separation at the Kotel may be justified during prayer times, but not during ordinary times, even on festivals. I have been there during hol ha-mo’ed on various festivals (during ordinary times, not birkat ha-kohanim) and have never seen crowding of the kind that would justify keeping the entire area constantly separate.

    As for the bathrooms — what justification is there, halakhic or otherwise, for forcing women to accept such rudimentary facilities? No soap, no towels, no changing area. Isn’t there a halakha that one doesn’t degrade existing conditions for people? Fortunately, things have changed since then.

    I know quite a few religious women who have stopped going to the Kotel because the recent changes make them feel upset and unwelcome. I don’t think that’s evidence of a flaw in their character (or mine). I think it’s an indication that something is wrong with the situation and needs to be changed.

    As for my post being propaganda — I don’t agree, but you have every right to hold a different opinion. I’m not out to tell anyone what to think, or to change their minds. My photos show the reality on the ground and speak for themselves.

  34. Chana Luntz says:

    There appears to be some confusion regarding the obligation for women to daven in the comments on this post. I have written a reasonably comprehensive post on this on mail-jewish (I had tried to post a URL, but the server keeps objecting to it, I will try and post separately).
    In short, according to the Shulchan Aruch, Aruch HaShulchan and Mishna Brura, women are obligate to daven – according to the Aruch HaShulchan three times a day, according to the Mishna Brura two (maariv is optional). Rav Ovadiah is the only posek of note to hold that women only need daven once a day, and even he requires it to be a full Shmonei Esrei. This psak is very dubious for Ashkenazim and there are strong voices that disagree even for Sephardim. The idea that women only need to say one thing once a day is a limud zechus of the Magen Avraham, trying to justify why it is that the frum women of his time did not daven, even though all the sources say that they should. He acknowledges that this is difficult to justify from the Ashenazi rishonim (who generally hold that tephila is drabbanan). I agree that we do not posken from the Rambam and the kabala, but people ought to be aware of the sources that we do in fact posken from.Shabbat Shalom Chana

  35. Chana Luntz says:

    The server still won’t let me post a url, but if you search for Mail Jewish Digest, then look for Volume 59 Number 10, I set out in detail the various sources (in English) on womens obligation to daven.

    Shabbat Shalom

    Chana

  36. Chana Luntz says:

    Note subsequent to the post I directed you to above, I found a discussion of
    Rav Henkin in Shut Bnei Banim Chelek 2 siman 6 on Rav Ovadiah’s position. Rav Ovadiah acknowledges that in order to hold that women are only obligated in one Shmonei Esrei a day he is forced to say that the Rambam went back on his position in the commentary on the Mishna, because in that commentary he makes it clear that he holds that women are also obligated fully in the rabbinic aspects of prayer. To my mind Rav Henkin in Shut Bnei Banim Chelek 2 siman 6 convincingly shows that the Rambam did not go back on his opinion in the perush hamishnayos, leaving us with what has to be the logical and most straightforward understanding of the Rambam, that if women are obligated in the mitzvah d’orisa (which he is clear they are), then whatever it was the Chazal instituted to define how that mitzvah has to be carried out also applies to women, which involves at least two, if not three, services a day. Shabbat Shalom Chana

  37. Netanya says:

    When was this written?
    I was in those new restrooms in January and they were actually quite nice and looked nothing like this. They were permanent, had real sinks, nice floors, attendants restocking the toilet paper, and were very clean.

  38. Update: Rabbi Rabinovich told a Knesset committee that there is not enough space for women and they are planning to expand the women’s section and make the mechitza more user-friendly: http://www.amotherinisrael.com/kotel-rabbi-shmuel-rabinovich-more-space-for-women-at-western-wall/

Trackbacks

  1. […] Furthermore, the issue of women davening at the kotel in the same comfort as men is an issue for all Jewish women, non-orthodox or orthodox.  To see a fantastic expose on how women are slowly being squeezed out of the western wall, please see a post on Hannah Katzman’s blog entitled, Separate and Unequal at the Western Wall. […]

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