Many well-meaning people have asked: Are the aims of Women of the Wall (WoW) religious or political in nature? Does this group wish to simply pray after its own fashion or force change upon the rest of us?
Recent events leave little room for doubt. Early last week, WoW Chairwoman Anat Hoffman published an essay in The Forward entitled “Women of the Wall (WoW) Is Fighting For Ultra-Orthodox Women, Too.” And yet, her op-ed was oddly tone-deaf to women in the Orthodox community. She calls them “ultra-Orthodox.” Why? Why do liberals give every ethnic and religious group the right to name themselves except charedim? Why the necessity to use the pejorative word “ultra”?
More to the point, referring to those opposed to WoW as “ultra-Orthodox,” as Hoffman does, is factually inaccurate. Women for the Wall – the group leading the legal fight against WoW – is not, in fact, led by charedim. But Hoffman cannot imagine that traditional women from all circles – even more than men – disapprove of her activities, so she paints them all as dreaded “ultras.”
One of the leaders of Women for the Wall relates an incident that occurred shortly after its founding that neatly captures WoW’s intolerance and ignorance. Five years ago, a Jerusalem-based media organization learned about the then-new group, and invited both Women of the Wall and Women for the Wall to appear before journalists to discuss their differences.
When the day arrived, representatives of WoW stood outside, refusing to enter the room, much less hear what Women for the Wall had to say. They waited until Women for the Wall had left before entering to deliver their own prepared remarks. That was their level of appreciation for the concerns of other women.
On the morning of Rosh Chodesh Tammuz last week, WoW remained true to its script. Women for the Wall and other groups arranged a special davening service, wishing to demonstrate the extent of female opposition to WoW.
Since WoW wished to pray on its own, simple politeness and respect for other women would have dictated that it not disturb the women already there. WoW had three options: to pray at an alternate site at the Western Wall that had been set up by the government years ago. Going there would have meant praying as it liked and avoiding conflict and the noise of the larger service. The other two options were going behind barriers set up by the police while fighting to be heard or planting themselves in the middle of the far larger group of traditional women to maximize interference with everyone’s prayers.
You’ll never guess which of the three options WoW chose.
As it did a month earlier on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, WoW refused to go behind the area cordoned off for it, deliberately pushed other women out of its way, and stood in their midst. WoW then proceeded to sing and shout as loudly as possible to prevent other women from participating in the larger service. Hoffman even pushed a woman trying to video its activities, deliberately stepping on her feet to get her to leave.
Hoffman may write of “freedom and equality” of other women, but in actuality WoW pushed other women, moving some younger participants to tears. WoW has demonstrated none of the inclusion or tolerance it preaches.
If WoW is supposed to break down the “patriarchy,” why is it primarily disturbing other women from praying? Its behavior does not coincide with either of its stated goals – to pray or to change Orthodoxy. It is difficult to explain its actions as motivated by anything other than animosity and disgust towards women who revere traditional Jewish practice.
All traditional women ask is for a space where they can pray undisturbed by a group hoping to change them. WoW, however, rejects praying anywhere other than in the main sections of the Kotel, no matter how well-apportioned, unless the Reform movement (which pays Hoffman’s salary) is satisfied that the space is of similar prominence to that used by millions of traditional Jews every year.
WoW is not merely engaged in a political fight; it is deliberately choosing a path of confrontation and acrimony. If Hoffman really wanted Orthodox women to be empowered to make their own choices when practicing Judaism, she would respect those who choose to follow tradition. But she doesn’t, thus revealing her true colors.