Months after Women for the Wall (W4W) was established to battle the efforts of a small group of women to disrupt tefillah at the Kosel, the two co-founders are coming to the United States to report on their successes and explain their goals.
Mrs. Ronit Peskin arrived last week for a speaking tour in Cleveland, Chicago, Kansas City, Cincinnati and New York to counteract the misinformation being spread by Women of the Wall (WoW). Mrs. Leah Aharoni, W4W co-founder, is planning to come next month.
Women for the Wall began as a counterforce to Women of the Wall, a group of Reform women who, for 25 years, have been disrupting tefillah at the Kosel. WoW has already succeeded in getting an Israeli Supreme Court ruling last year that their style of prayer and ritual were not against the “local custom.”
With the support of various Gedolim, and working with the hanhalah of several American seminaries in Israel, Women for the Wall arranged for a few months in the summer for thousands of women and girls to be bused in to the Kosel for Shacharis every Rosh Chodesh.
Women of the Wall has also appeared monthly, generally having fewer than 150 women, mostly Americans who are in Israel on one-year programs or on tours that are timed so they can join Women of the Wall on Rosh Chodesh. They seek attention in the way they dress, by blowing shofaros, singing loudly and waving signs and tallisos.
Women for the Wall points to the success of their work with police and Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, Rav of the Kosel, to prevent any chillul Hashem caused by the words or actions of irritated chareidim.
Mrs. Peskin said that, for example, there had been a few who would blow whistles to drown out the sounds made by the Women of the Wall.
The conflict has become a subject for the courts and discussions with the government. For the last several years, an area at Robinson’s Arch, on the other side of the Mugrabi Gate, at the archaeological site further along the Kosel, has been made available for Jews who wished to pray in mixed groups, with no mechitzah. The government offered to expand this plaza for the use of such groups, including Women of the Wall.
However, Women of the Wall rejected that offer and demands numerous conditions pertaining to the new section’s size, appearance, management, accessibility, budget and name. Together, they mandate that the new section be treated as equal to the existing Western Wall plaza. Until their demands are met, they insist on continuing to disturb the regular mispallelim.
More recently, Women of the Wall was caught trying to break the law by smuggling a sefer Torah in a duffel bag into the Kosel plaza. The current law requires that only one of the many sifrei Torah that are at the Kosel can be used.
There have been several attempts to have an open and honest dialogue between Women for the Wall and Women of the Wall. For example, Penina Taylor, a counter-missionary expert and public speaker, and Gesher, an organization that aims to promote cooperation between Israel’s religious and non-religious streams have reached out to Women of the Wall. But they have refused all these attempts at reconciliation.
“We are dealing with tough, experienced activists,” Mrs. Peskin said. “Sincere, spiritually-motivated people would never behave the way these women behave — clowning, dancing, and singing loudly.”
Anat Hoffman, spokesperson for Women of the Wall, is also involved with IRAC — the Reform movement’s political group that went to court attempting to block separation on buses in chareidi neighborhoods, Chabad shluchim doing kiruv at Ben Gurion Airport, and other outreach efforts.
Moreover, Women of the Wall has been touring the U.S. and spreading stories about how repressed chareidi women are and that Israel is worse than Saudi Arabia in terms of granting women freedom of religion and equal rights.
Ms. Hoffman has said that the Kosel holds no special sanctity to her, but she sees an opportunity here to further her agenda. The Reform movement has recently announced that one of their main goals now is enhance pluralism and freedom of religion in Israel.
“Their real goals is to drive a wedge of Reform into Israel; their PR is hurting people’s relationship with Israel and this is what really hurts,” says Mrs. Peskin.
At a Federation National Assembly in Israel in November, Mrs. Peskin presented her goals.
“Why did we create Women for the Wall?” she asked. “Primarily for one reason: we long for unity in the Jewish nation, and were incredibly pained when we saw Women of the Wall slander Israel and traditional Jewish practice — not only to the international media, but to all of you, as well. … We were distressed that Women of the Wall was driving a wedge between American Jews and Israel.
“They present themselves as fighting for religious freedom, civil rights, and women’s rights. We started Women for the Wall to represent the vast majority of regular female Wall-goers who feel their rights are not being fought for, but trampled upon.”
Mrs. Peskin outlined the current goals of Women for the Wall.
1. Express the view of the millions of traditional and religious women in Israel and the millions of visitors who expect to see the continuation of the traditional mode of men and women davening at the Kosel.
2. Stop the violence and media spectacle at the Kosel.
3. Expose the truth of Women of the Wall’s agenda to bring the Reform pluralistic view of Judaism to Israel, in regard to conversions, weddings, funerals, the Rabbinate and more.
4. Educate Israeli and American women about the true traditional view of a woman’s role, so they might connect to Yiddishkeit in a positive way.
Mrs. Peskin and Mrs. Aharoni have written countless articles and op-ed pieces and made themselves available to the media to explain the Torah viewpoint. Part of the purpose of their current tour to the U.S. is to raise funds to enable them to more effectively communicate their message.
“This is much more than a question of a woman wearing a tallis at the Kosel. This really is a battle for the soul of Klal Yisrael,” said Mrs. Peskin.
More information about the speaking tours of Women for the Wall can be obtained by calling 856-296-8824.