Critics of the Women of the Wall—female Jewish advocates of the equal right to prayer at the Western Wall by reading aloud from the Torah and wearing the religious garments of tallitot and tefillin (considered traditional for men only)—assume that it's comprised entirely of female Reform Jews. However, some feminist Orthodox women have been migrating towards the movement and now make up two of their eight board members, according to Haaretz.
Dr. Hannah Kehat, the founder and executive director of Kolech, speculates the reason behind the shift: "Because it is now perceived more as a struggle of women against men – in this case against ultra-Orthodox men and the police – it has become easier for Orthodox women to join the cause." The newer Orthodox woman to assume a board position, Leora Bechor, took this step just a week ago after years of discomfort at what should have been the highest point of her spiritual life:
“If I wanted to daven, I wasn’t going to go to the Kotel because I never felt comfortable there. It kind of felt like being in an ultra-Orthodox shul. But once the arrests and detentions started, I said to myself, ‘Enough already. This is my struggle, too. Those women are fighting for my right, too, as a Jewish woman to pray at the Kotel. And that’s when I joined.”
The other Orthodox board member had joined as soon as she made aliyah (became a permanent Israeli citizen) in 1995 and has now been serving as a board member for 10 years.
Elana Sztokman, the executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, says it's not as much of a contradiction in terms as outsiders may think. At it's core, she says, Women of the Wall is a women's prayer group, which is “an Orthodox invention. They’ve been around since the 1970s in the United States, and you find them in almost every major Orthodox community there. This is why JOFA has always been in favor of Women of the Wall.”
Ironically, the biggest victory for Women of the Wall, the Natan Sharansky-devised establishment of a third, egalitarian section of the Kotel where a unisex group of visitors can do as they please, leaves its Orthodox members (who still want to pray in women-only groups) unsatisified. They're not afraid to say so, either: "I think it’s terrible, absolutely awful."
Image via Getty