April 13, 2024
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Opposites Detract: Sitting Down with W4W’s Ronit Peskin

Under the guidance of Rabbi Pesach Lerner and others, Ronit Horwitz Peskin and Leah Ahroni are the co-directors of Women for the Wall established in 2013, who are in opposition to Women of the Wall, the denominational women’s prayer group that meets at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh. Peskin is on a speaking tour across America and Aharoni will do her tour in February. Peskin says her goal is to protect the integrity of the mesorah of the first millennium.

Peskin describes herself as “wife, mother and blogger, a modern Haredi/out-of-town yeshivish with Chassidic influence.” The American high school graduate completed a year of seminary study in Israel and another year in Brooklyn. She is married, has three children (is pregnant with her fourth) and lives in KohavYaakov on the West Bank “because it’s where we can afford to live. I’m not a settler,” she said. Her husband, who works as a security guard in Jerusalem schools, has taken time from his job to care for their children while she travels.

Peskin seeks to preserve what she calls the “established patterns of women’s worship” at the Kotel. The activities of Women of the Wall “bugged me,” she said, “They pray in a way that is controversial and just leads to fighting.”

“Why is Israel so controversial?” asks Peskin. “It’s one thing if there is no option and another thing if you want to not observe the rules…I don’t understand why we as a Jewish community have to do things to increase the fighting.” She states that Woman of the Wall have appeared on anti-Israeli media and “lied about religious Jews and the subjugation of women. The other side of the story needs to be heard. I wanted to see how to stop the controversy.

“I don’t think the whole world has to be involved. Issues in the family should be dealt with within the family.” Peskin says that since Natan Sharansky and Minister of Religion Naftali Bennett have become involved, compromise has been accepted and members of the Reform and Conservative movement as well as Anat Hoffman (Director of Women of the Wall) have considered accepting the alternate site near Robinson’s arch. Orthodox WOW members have not accepted this arrangement because Orthodox WOW members do not want to pray in an egalitarian section.

Israeli courts designated an alternate area for prayer in front of Robinson’s Arch, a distance from the Kotel Plaza. It is open to women who wished to pray with the Torah, tallit and tefillin, and Conservative and Reform communities. For the Orthodox women of WOW, this was not satisfactory.

Peskin says she believes WOW members “had to pray with Haredi women in order to foment revolution in the lives of Orthodox women” and says that “Women of the Wall is not about prayer but rather about revolution…Our rights were being trampled upon by Women of the Wall…You need a certain atmosphere and rules of decorum to keep the place holy,” she declared. “I don’t know any Orthodox women who would pray without a mechitza.

Orthodox members of WOW agree that the mechitza is essential and is one of the reasons they seek to pray in the women’ section of the Kotel Plaza. Cheryl Mack, an Orthodox woman and founding member of WOW, resigned from WOW to head Orthodox WOW (Orthodox Women of the Wall)” a group Peskin derisively called “OW-OW.”

Peskin claims those who will not move to Robinson’s Arch “have lost their direction. There are “two subsets: those who want to promote egalitarianism and those who want to change Orthodox women…

“Our goal is not to banish them … we would like them to simply be respectful of the women praying at the wall and have respect for the atmosphere of the Kotel. OW-OW want to change Orthodox women. They are being deliberately provocative.” She acknowledged that a “subset of the religious community has been nasty or violent to the Women of the Wall, but claims “these people do not represent the religious community….

“Our goal is to stop the violence and the nastiness toward Women of the Wall. We don’t support Women of the Wall, but believe in treating all with respect. To this end we have been so successful going from throwing chairs to blowing bubbles in the space of seven months.” She noted that Rabbi Aaron Lieb Shteinman, a 99-year old rabbi considered one a leader of the Lithuanian community, has said violence is not allowable.

“I’m getting my feet wet. Leah (Aharoni) is coming in February,” said Peskin. She considers the speaking tour “expensive but important. Getting our word out is one of our goals. After the ‘Wall’ we want to continue representing the traditional community honestly, to correct the misconception about the Orthodox community and show both sides.

“The Torah way is to treat people with respect and dignity, and the few people that are nasty to the WOW are going against the Torah and are an embarrassment to the Jewish people. We’ve been trying our best to get them to stop their bad behavior. We don’t plan on limiting our issues to the Wall.” Peskin added, “We are concerned about the Orthodox community being misrepresented in the media.”

Asked about the source of her funding, Peskin identified “a private sponsor who wants the message out,” She said “Our sponsors want to remain anonymous.”

Rabbi Daniel Rockoff, the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Union-affiliated synagogue Beit Israel, Avraham & Voliner (BIAV) in Kansas City, in conjunction with the JCC, sponsored Peskin’s appearance. He described her as “not a scholar or a community leader, but rather a young mother and blogger passionate about her message.

“I asked her ‘what is your goal—that Women of the Wall move or that they be eliminated?’ She answered, said the rabbi, “We really don’t want them at all but the second best would be to go to Robinson’s Arch.”

By Maxine Dovere

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