The Kotel Doesn't Need Liberating - We Do

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The main goal of the Women of the Wall is "to achieve legal and de facto recognition of our rights, as women, to pray as a group and aloud, to read from the Torah and to don prayer shawls in the women's section of the Western Wall." This is what appears on the Women of the Wall's website. People like me who despise the Orthodox rabbinical establishment in Israel as it is, should, it would seem, enthusiastically support these women's obstinate struggle to pray as is their custom at the Western Wall Plaza. I wonder myself why their struggle appears to me to be without reason, not to mention harmful.

It's possible to understand how over the generations when Jerusalem was controlled by other nations, Jews could view the Western Wall as possessing religious and historical symbolism. But those days have long since passed and today the Western Wall symbolizes almost everything except the monotheistic ideal that Judaism once sought to bequeath to the world.

Several weeks after the Six Day War, the Mughrabi Quarter by the Western Wall was demolished. The narrow side alleyway where Jews would come to pray until 1948 was then replaced with a plaza, which serves as the parade ground of a regional empire that has yet to learn to separate religion from state, as well as the traumas of the past from the hopes of the future. It is a plaza that today symbolizes everything that is bad about this place and this society.

Fundamentally, it symbolizes the tie between inflexible nationalism and ultra-Orthodox violence. Over both of these phenomena gaze six ugly menorahs shaped like candles which ensure that the kitsch appearance of the Holocaust that institutional Israel loves to nurture won't pass over this place either.

The symbolism of the Western Wall as it is with all symbols and ideas, has become corrupted and worn out over the years. Like many other symbols of the country and society around it, the power of the Western Wall as a symbol has weakened. Values that were once lofty ideals that past generations, living in entirely different circumstances, dedicated their lives to accomplish have by now become, years after those values were realized, a useless organ that has gone gangrenous, poisoning the entire body. There are no "liberators of the Western Wall of our time," which is how these women are described - a description intended, not coincidentally, to echo Israeli nationalism. The feeling of unease only grows when one opens the Women of the Wall's homepage and finds the famous photograph by David Rubinger of the Israeli paratroopers reaching the Wall in June 1967, and next to it the photograph of some of the leaders of the Women of the Wall's struggle.

The establishment of a whole campaign that recently enlisted three left-wing female Knesset members (who probably can't remember the last time they set foot in a synagogue ) is missing the ultimate point for which these women are struggling. It would be well for the progressive branches of Judaism in Israel and the United States, which are funding most of the progressive religious activities in Israel, if they would abandon the struggle over the holy places and join the struggle over holy values.

It is impossible to struggle against the Orthodox monopoly in Israel without struggling against the symbols of clerical, nationalist Orthodoxy that bows down before them. The civil struggle must focus on creating an entire new cast of symbols. In place of a chauvinistic Judaism, violent and insular with the Western Wall as its symbol and fortress, a religious reform movement must arise here that will struggle for a set of alternative values. With all due respect, the struggle for the rights of several women wearing funny-looking kippas to wrap themselves in colorful prayer shawls and don phylacteries next to a stone wall, which encloses a 2,000 year-old Herodian road, doesn't interest anyone except for the news media looking for sensational headlines. This struggle won't really change the day-to-day lives of Israelis who come to the Western Wall once every 10 years equipped with a note in hand and a cardboard kippa on their heads.

Concentrate on the struggle for people's right to live and die free of the chains of the rabbinical establishment. Fight for the right of communities to appoint both male and female non-Orthodox rabbis. And most importantly, fight against the alliance between Orthodox clericalism and racist nationalism in Israel that threatens peace in the entire region.

The Western Wall, dear female friends, doesn't need to be liberated. We must liberate ourselves from the Western Wall.

Anat Hoffman and other members of the Women of the Wall.Credit: Michal Fattal

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