Sisterhood Blog

Women for the Wall Takes On Women of the Wall

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

  • Print
  • Share Share
Women for the Wall

Women of the Wall has in recent months attracted lots of press and public support, from Members of Knesset to rabbis and laypeople, particularly since police stepped up arresting women leading Rosh Chodesh services at the Kotel. Women of the Wall then ramped up its own efforts to illustrate that current policy there — which prohibits women from praying wearing tallit or tefillin or with a Torah scroll — is discriminatory. Now there is an additional party to the conflict: a new group called Women for the Wall.

Women for the Wall — abbreviated as W4W — was co-founded by Ronit Peskin, a 25-year-old mother of three, who opposes Women of the Wall’s goals and approach. On its website, Women for the Wall describes Women of the Wall’s efforts as “political battles” turning the Kotel into “a media circus”: They “do not belong at a place such as the Kotel. Their monthly activism threatens to turn this holy place into a site for a media circus rather than prayer, and is disruptive for all that come there to pray peacefully and connect to G-d.”

Peskin writes as “Penny, frugalista” at her website Penniless Parenting and last month began blogging about Women of the Wall/Women for the Wall at the Times of Israel.

She grew up modern Orthodox in Cleveland before moving to Israel, where she became more strictly religious. Now, “I would loosely categorize myself as Haredi,” Peskin said in an exclusive interview with The Sisterhood. She lives in Kochav Yaakov, a West Bank settlement just outside Jerusalem, with her family. This interview was conducted via email at Peskin’s request, and is presented here lightly edited.

THE SISTERHOOD: What is Women for the Wall?

RONIT PESKIN: We represent the vast majority of Jewish women who believe the Kotel should be a symbol of Jewish unity, not a place for political theater and divisiveness.

Why did you establish W4W?

The Kotel is a holy place for all Jews, the one place on earth where Jews of all persuasions pray peacefully, side by side. This is only possible if we honor the traditions that reach back for thousands of years and have held us together as a Jewish nation. I was saddened that a few individuals want to disenfranchise the majority of those who pray there.

There is very little support for the Women of the Wall in Israeli society, and they’re misrepresenting the situation to American Jewry, causing alienation and division.

What are your goals?

We want to preserve the Kotel as a place where every Jew feels comfortable praying, and this is only possible if we honor the traditions that reach back thousands of years and have held us together as a Jewish nation. The Kotel should be a symbol of Jewish unity, not a place for promoting political agendas and divisiveness.

What do you object to, exactly, about Women of the Wall?

The heads of the Women of the Wall have not been honest about their objectives. First they say they simply want to pray, but then they outline a much more radical agenda: banning traditional prayer for part of the day and destabilizing the delicate balance of religious life here in Israel that allows Israel to function as a Jewish democracy. Whatever one feels about their agenda, the Kotel should be a symbol of Jewish unity, not a place for promoting political agendas and divisiveness.

They don’t represent women, certainly not those of us here in Israel. Anat Hoffman portrays this as an issue of “women’s rights” in her speeches in America, but there is little support for this group in Israeli society. The group has a board and staff of 10, has existed over 20 years, but rarely gets over 50 people to show up on Rosh Chodesh.

They demand respect for Jewish women, but aren’t modeling it. When leaders of Women of the Wall say that the women like myself, who oppose their goals, are ignorant of Jewish law, dependent, lacking spirituality, and “subjugated” under the “iron hand” of rabbis with “ultra-misogynist views,” it’s more than a bit offensive, besides being completely inaccurate.

What worries you most about what’s been happening with them in terms of both courts of law and the court of popular opinion?

They make American Jews feel like they’re not welcome in the Jewish state, and that Orthodox Jews don’t respect them. The Israeli government should not feel the need to put American opinion ahead of the Israeli public; there is little support for this group in Israeli society.

We love all our Jewish brethren, and aren’t trying to stop people from serving G-d in the way they see fit. But there is a time and place for everything, and the Kotel should be a symbol of Jewish unity, not a place for promoting political agendas and divisiveness.

What do you think of the Sharansky plan and, if it’s problematic, what exactly do you object to?

My biggest concern is that it won’t solve the problem. The Kotel area called “Robinson’s Arch” was used by the Women of the Wall for years. Now they’ve declared the Sharansky Plan “irrelevant” and said they will insist upon praying in the “Traditional Section” even if the plan is implemented, disrupting those who simply wish to preserve the traditions that reach back thousands of years and have held us together as a Jewish nation.

In addition to Facebook “likes,” how many people are with you in W4W and how are you measuring your support?

We launched a Facebook page and Web site just some two weeks ago. Now we have hundreds of “likes,” thousands of Web visitors and more than a few journalists asking who we are. We have been amazed by the support for W4W from across the religious spectrum.

Do you go regularly to the Kotel yourself? Every Rosh Chodesh, or more intermittently?

The new light rail system makes the Kotel a hop skip and a jump from my home, which enables me to visit the holiest site in Judaism on a regular basis. Tel Aviv has nightlife, Eilat has beaches but Jerusalem has the site of the Holy Temple. Most of the W4W leadership lives in or on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

What’s next for W4W?

We are going to bring our message to the public, that the Kotel should be a symbol of Jewish unity, not a place for promoting political agenda and divisiveness. We understand the Women of the Wall have a message — but that is one that should be delivered in the Knesset, not in a place of worship.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: women of the wall, women for the wall, kotel, knesset, israel, feminism

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.