When a group of askanim came up with the idea of inviting women who value Jewish tradition to come to the Kosel early Friday morning, which was Rosh Chodesh, for a special tefillah gathering as a response to the Nashot haKotel (Women of the Wall), they were hoping for a sizable turnout.
They didn’t imagine that a crowd estimated by the police to be between twelve and fifteen thousand women would respond to these calls by Gedolei Yisrael and arrive from all over Eretz Yisrael by 6:30 a.m. on Rosh Chodesh Sivan. These ehrliche women filled up the entire ezras nashim (women’s section) of the Kosel; subsequently, the Nashot haKotel were unable to reach the Kosel itself, and were forced instead to take a position on the edge of the plaza, where they were ringed by a heavy police presence.
Organizers were thrilled at the turnout, but expressed deep dismay at the inappropriate conduct by a handful of male protestors, whose actions cast a shadow over what was otherwise broadly seen as a kiddush Hashem.
Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Executive Vice President Emeritus of the National Council of Young Israel, one of the askanim who helped organize the gathering, told Hamodia Sunday morning that the point was “to show who the real women who care about the Kosel are, and to show that our numbers are much greater than theirs. We wanted the media to know that there is another side to the story. The ultimate goal is to protect kedushas hamakom, tznius and minhag hamakom.”
He estimated the Nashot haKotel group that showed up on Friday to be less than a hundred.
“You can imagine how early the thousands of women and girls had to get up in order to be there at 6:30 a.m.,” Rabbi Lerner said. “The mass turnout was testament to the emunas chachamim of Torah Jewry, and the importance that Gedolei Yisrael have given to this issue.”
Rabbi Lerner, who was in the Kosel plaza early Friday, said that he had mixed feelings about what transpired. He heaped praise on the vast majority of participants whose conduct was admirable, but strongly condemned the actions of “10 or 15 crazy guys who caused a chillul Hashem,” by hurling water bottles and shouting taunts.
As the self-proclaimed Women of the Wall were surrounded by barricades as well as a heavy police presence, he doubted that any of the women of Nashot haKotel got hit by the projectiles.
“The fact that two police officers were hurt is very bothersome. The police exhibited the utmost professionalism and caution,” he said.
Participants expressed chagrin over the fact that the mainstream media chose to ignore the thousands of women who davened peacefully and instead focused only on the few moments of conflict caused by irresponsible individuals.
As one participant observed, “It was such a beautiful tefillah, and it’s a shame that all they write about is that somebody threw this or that.”
The efforts won praise from veteran Israeli askanim, one of whom told the organizers, some of whom are American-based, “you woke us up, you gave us warning.”
“We in the U.S.A. who deal with Reform on a regular basis, better understand their goals,” Rabbi Lerner said, warning that the Kosel campaign is only the beginning.
“They don’t want a solution at the Kosel, and they are not looking for sincere tefillah,” he said. “This is all part of an agenda. First it’s the Kotel, then chief rabbinate, then civil marriage and divorce, then conversions, etc.”
The Reform movement has only a tiny following in Israel; the primary support for Nashot HaKotel is from the Reform movement in America, which is placing enormous pressure on the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency.
The threat to the status quo at the Kosel has elicited a united stand from a wide variety of groups. The call to gather at the Kosel received endorsement from Hagaon Harav Aron Leib Steinman, shlita, as well as Hagaon Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita. Shas radio reported that Hagaon Harav Ovadiah Yosef, shlita, had strongly supported the idea, as did leading Rabbanim from the Dati Leumi sector.
Hagaon Harav Aharon Feldman, shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Ner Yisrael in Baltimore, has also endorsed the concept.
Askanim also expressed grave concern about the suggested solution plan proposed by Natan Sharansky, the Chairman of The Jewish Agency, who has been tasked by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to find a solution to the demands by the Nashot Hakotel, and the reform movement’s demand for equal space at the Kotel.
They pointed out that his idea to create a third section at the Kosel that would be used for egalitarian prayer services, which would presumably also include chillul Shabbos and Yom Tov, is deeply worrisome on numerous counts.
That area, now known as the Robinson Arch, is to the right of the ezras nashim on the other side of the Mugrabi Gate and runs along an unexcavated part of the Kosel.
“When Chazal declare that Hashem promised that the Shechinah will never depart from the Kosel HaMa’aravi, it includes this area as well,” Rabbi Lerner said.
According to the Sharansky plan, the pathway to this egalitarian section would be the very first option visitors to the Kosel would have.
“Many Jews who don’t know better would make the first right into this section,” he said.