Women praying at the Wall (outside) Women at the Wall (underground)
On the new moon/Rosh Hodesh of the Hebrew month of Kislev in 1988, the year I was in Israel for rabbinical school, Women at the Wall was launched. The mission statement of Women of the Wall reads as follows: “As Women of the Wall, our central mission is to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.” Since that first Rosh Hodesh gathering, Women at the Wall has gathered for most every new moon/Rosh Hodesh to pray together. They are still legally battling the prohibition against praying at the Wall itself. Instead they have been given a location to pray at Robinson’s Arch, another section of the plaza.
On that morning in 1988, I joined about 70 other women to pray publicly as a group at the Western Wall (also called the Wailing Wall or the Kotel) . Some of us wore tallesim/tallitot/prayer shawls which some associate only with male prayer, but more significantly, (1) we carried with us a Torah scroll (from Hebrew Union College, where I was attending school.) and (2) we raised our voices together. In essence, we were considered women who were breaking Jewish law. A riot soon broke out — traditional women on the women’s side of the wall started screaming at us, and once their voices were heard yelling, the men on the other side stood up on chairs to see what the commotion was about and started yelling at us, as well. Soon the yelling turned into chairs being thrown over the barrier at us. Ultimately, the police arrived and escorted us away.
Since Shabbat is fast approaching here, I don’t have time to fill you in on all of the details (you can Google for further information), but I was disappointed to find that I would not be able to join Women at the Wall this month, since Rosh Hodesh falls tonight and tomorrow, on Shabbat, which would have created many logistical problems for the gathering.
Instead, I show you other ordinary women praying at the wall. The first photo is of the outside wall that is easily seen from the plaza. The second photo is a photo of women praying at the wall that has been excavated but that is still underground.What we know of as the Wall is much larger than what is seen — in 1968, archeologists started digging and found much more of the Wall underground, which can only be seen by special tour. Chaim and I took that tour of those excavations and tunnels today. What we learned is that the section of the Wall where the second group of women is praying is actually considered holier ground than the outside wall, since it was physically closer to the Holy of Holies, the central most sacred spot of the Temple. In either case, however, the wall (whether the one we know outside, or the one underground) was merely a retaining wall of the Temple, not part of the Temple itself.
With that I wish you all a Shabbat shalom and a Hodesh Tov, a good and restful Shabbat and a good and blessed month (of Shevat).
Note: According to the Women of the Wall website, that first gathering was Dec. 1, 1988. That date doesn’t work out by my calendar to have been a Rosh Hodesh. I will have to double-check the date.