|Original photo by Gil Yohanan / Ynet|
What this compromise does is allow WoW to pray as they want, sing aloud - proudly and joyfully - without concern that it will disturb anyone, and in a space where no one will bother them, a space which is also part of the Western Wall (albeit in a section a bit further down). In addition, the new section will allow for egalitarian prayer, opening up new opportunities for other Jewish denominations, which the current setup at the Western Wall does not accommodate. It's a move for equality, only rather than shake up the existing space and force people into a change they don't want, it creates a new parallel space. That seems to me to be a very sound idea. Because at the end of the day, even if WoW is legally allowed to pray in the women's section, so too are others legally allowed to protest it. And who wants to live with protests month after month? It's not a healthy long-term situation.
On the other hand, when we refer to the "Kotel" we generally don't mean the entire Western Wall of the Temple Mount. We mean a specific portion of the Wall and plaza to which people the world over flock to pray. It's the place tourists come to, where national ceremonies are held, the place depicted on postcards and etched into people's hearts as the spiritual-geographical hub of the Jewish people. What the compromise says is that the Kotel is not the symbolic remnant of the "house of prayer for all nations," nor is it even a place where all Jews can come and pray in groups according to their customs. Rather, it's an "Orthodox space," and if you don't pray according to customs that they consider acceptable, you're relegated to a "side area." And even if this area is spacious and tastefully built, it's still not "the Kotel" which everyone thinks of and comes to. (Though, who knows, maybe someday the new area will be as well...)
Besides, WoW has won the legal right to pray in the women's section. If they don't actually pray there, what was really accomplished? What good is a right when it only exists "on paper," if it's not able to be exercised? I think these are strong arguments as well.
As I reflected on this internal division within WoW, it occurred to me that - come to think of it - this could be a very good thing. How so? Because I think everyone recognizes that there are benefits to the compromise, and also problems with the compromise - so a "split" might just provide the needed solution. Namely:
Let the large majority of WoW pray in the new egalitarian section, and let a small group continue to pray in the women's section.
A small group in the women's section won't produce nearly the kind of "volume" that would disturb the men on the other side. It can be low-key but meaningful, not attracting unwanted attention. And the majority praying in the egalitarian section could start the service whenever it works for them (as opposed to doing it early, at 7am), they can sing to their hearts' content, in good conscience that they're not disturbing anyone, and they can feel that by all counts they've gone over and above to act for peace.
Both the small group and the larger group, rather than being saddled with protests, can simply focus on spirituality, joy and sisterhood.
In effect, the small prayer quorum would be doing a "mishmeret," a guard duty of sorts, exercising - and thus preserving - their right to be in the women's section. And still, at the same time, the compromise agreement would be honored. So it really doesn't even need to constitute a "split." Each group can be recognized by the other as performing a valuable service as part of one and the same cause. Even further, it could be a monthly rotation of different women from WoW who do the mishmeret and daven in the women's section.
I think such an approach would also be a healthy energy to put out into the Jewish world. If both factions of WoW can see one another as providing a necessary piece of the puzzle, functioning in different but complementary capacities, maybe with a little time, effort and bridge-building, we can encourage Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews to look at one another the same way.
So, what do you think?