On July 7, 2013 Rosh Hodesh Av, I witnessed the police stand idly by while ultra-Orthodox (haredi) extremists verbally and physically abused women. In the days that followed I read as blog posts ran all over the internet blaming the scene on Women of the Wall for sensationalism and provocation. These types of articles blaming women of one side or another provoke a lot of anger in readers, over an already heated and divisive topic: pluralism, or lack thereof, at the Western Wall.
The assumption is that one of two groups is to blame: Women of the Wall or the thousand haredi girls whose presence blocked us out of the women’s section that day. This is victim blaming. Blaming either group of women is like blaming a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault: she provoked him, she seduced him into violence or outrage. It is the classic sexist excuse for aggression and violence: She made him do it. My mother always taught me that no one can make you do anything. Violence is a learned response to anger when no other coping tools are taught. Anger comes from fear: fear of losing control, fear of giving up power.
Many of the headlines blamed a thousand seminary girls for the scene in which Women of the Wall were banned from entering the Kotel. However, the truth lies in the politics behind the morning’s events: Member of Knesset Gafni and Deputy Mayor Pindrus lobbied to receive permission of the rabbis who organized and paid for the buses, all with the sole intention to block out Women of the Wall’s prayer.
The police are also largely to blame, as Women of the Wall gained the legal right to pray at the Kotel on the women’s side in April 2013 and I fail to understand how it is legal to limit our movement now in that way. The police’s job is to protect the rights of all those who pray and stop the disturbance of the peace and in this instance they did the exact opposite of what the courts ruled they must do two short months ago.
But then, is easier to blame Women of the Wall and teenage girls than it is to challenge the police, to blame powerful politicians or to hold haredi men responsible for their actions.
What are we, people dedicated to nonviolence and tolerance, to do? The abuse and harassment of women and the criticism that follows are upsetting but feminist and Jewish values tell us to take the high road. As feminists, Women of the Wall does not believe in attacking other women, even if they attack us. We believe in empowering women and making the world a better place for women. As Jews, one of the tenets that unite us is that of “Respect your mother and father.” Beyond that, is respecting all others. We are taught that “A person who publicly humiliates his fellow is as though he shed blood.” (Baba Mezia 58b).
So Women of the Wall continues to take the high road but it is not easy. We trust in the police to defend us—yet they ban us and watch while we are harassed. Women of the Wall have been arrested for wearing prayer shawls while police allow haredi extremists to bring in protest signs and whistles and throw eggs in the Kotel plaza. We are full participants in the legal and political process—only to have Rabbi Rabinowitz pass an ordinance excluding women from accessing Torah and Prime Minister Netanyahu send us from one committee to another with no direct results on the ground.
We remain with strong resolve, patient and determined. We are dedicated to gaining our full legal right and the social acceptance of our prayers at the Western Wall. We are committed to working within the system to gain equal rights and to treating all women and men with dignity. We will not give in to the pitting of women against women. Women of the Wall supports the free prayer of all women at the Kotel—those who pray with us and those who oppose us alike. We will not ignore the injustices brought upon us by the police, haredi politicians and rabbis, nor will we excuse the violent behavior of protesters.
Join us as we continue walking steadfastly on the high road, with our integrity fully intact. Join us on Rosh Hodesh Elul, August 8th, 2013 at 7 a.m. at the Kotel. Write a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu to ask him to ensure women’s rights at the Western Wall, as a public holy site in Israel. Like us on Facebook to show your support. Learn more at www.womenofthewall.org.il.
By Shira Pruce