Two leading thinkers went head to head on the next best step for Women of the Wall regarding the quest to make Judaism’s holiest site a place where women can pray any way they want — even if that means wearing a tallit or tefillin.
Yossi Klein Halevi and Rabbi Rachel Beit-Halachmi, both American-born scholars at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, debated whether Women of the Wall should accept being required to pray at Robinson’s Arch or continue to push for equal access at the Kotel proper.
Women of the Wall has been meeting at the Kotel to mark the start of each Jewish month since 1988 (including some Orthodox members). Leaders and participants in the group have in recent months been detained by police for disturbing the peace by wearing prayer shawls or leading the Sh’ma Israel prayer in full voice. On Dec. 14, women had tallitot confiscated by security guards. Those who got close to the Kotel with their prayer shawls on were forced away from the prayer site by police. They included when she began to lead about 200 Hadassah women in prayer there. In 2003, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that WoW should pray at Robinson’s Arch, an archeological dig site adjacent to the space known worldwide as the Western Wall. Since 2009, in response to apparent instructions from the rabbi who oversees the Kotel, police have regularly arrested women praying at the Kotel for wearing a tallit or carrying a Torah scroll.