If we succeeded at pushing the government to find a solution on a matter as sensitive as the Western Wall, then we can also push Israel’s leadership — from a perspective of self interest — to make other, equally positive decisions.
By Batya Kallus
Last Sunday, following a 27-year struggle by Women of the Wall, the Israeli government approved a plan to create a new pluralistic, egalitarian and feminist plaza alongside the ultra-Orthodox prayer plaza at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. This is first and foremost a victory for Jewish feminists. But imagine — a group of Jewish religious women engaged in grassroots feminist activism, who really only wanted to pray together on Rosh Hodesh according to their custom and never imagined themselves as heroines, have upset the balance of power in the battle of religion and state, and catalyzed transformative social and political change.
Together with representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements, I was one of two women who, for two-and-a-half years, negotiated this agreement to achieve equality and justice for Women of the Wall (WOW). My participation in the negotiations gave me insights that were more far-reaching than simply where and in what way Women of the Wall would pray at the Western Wall.
As I sat at the negotiating table, I thought about the significance and meaning of recognition. The government recognized the legitimacy of Women of the Wall. It recognized the Reform and Conservative movements, and by doing so, it recognized the majority of Jews who don’t fit the standard Israeli belief that orthodoxy is the exclusive legitimate form of Jewish religious expression.
I learned that the government had a very strong self-interest in achieving an agreement, and this was a powerful motivating force. The government hated that there was an ongoing conflict between ultra-Orthodox prayer goers and women attending WOW services at the Wall. The arrests of more than 50 women, including two American rabbis, provoked a deep crisis with Diaspora Jewry, who were appalled by the thought of women being arrested for wearing tallitot and singing out loud.
If it were only a matter of a few annoying women, perhaps the government would not have stepped up to the plate. However, our refusal to be silenced, and the international outrage over these arrests between 2012-2013, compelled the government to invite us to the table to find a solution — together. From this I...Read More