כל הנשמה תהלל יה, הלליויה
Let all that has breath praise Yah, Halleluyah!
Last Wednesday morning, I went to the Kotel.
When a Jewish man goes to the kotel he can go to the men’s section. He can wear a kippah, tallit, and tefillin if he chooses. If he does not have these things, other men will likely offer them to him for his time at the wall. He may pray on his own or he may pray in a minyan, a group of Jews. These minyanim pray aloud, with men leading different sections of the service, and read from Torah. There are approximately 300 Torah scrolls on the men’s side of the wall, which means that it’s pretty easy to snag one if you’re a man wanting to read Torah.
The women, who have much less space allocated than than the men do, have 0 Torah scrolls. Women are not permitted to pray loudly. They are not permitted to read Torah. They are not permitted to wear tallitot or tefillin. They are not even allowed to pray aloud in organized minyanim.
Last Wednesday morning, I went to the Kotel wearing my tallis. Last Wednesday morning was Rosh Hodesh. For over 25 years, the Women of the Wall have been fighting against Orthodox control of the Western Wall, asserting that all Jews have the right to pray at the Kotel. Once a month, on the first or second day of the Hebrew month, they hold a protest at the wall and try to have a service. Their members have been arrested countless times and subjected to intense counter protests.
Last Wednesday morning, for the first time, multiple Torah scrolls were brought into the women’s section. Last Wednesday morning, for the first time, I saw Jews attack a Torah. I saw men with black hats shove a man without one to the ground. He fell so that the holy book his Jewish brothers sought to rip from him was cushioned against his chest.
Last Wednesday morning, I prayed over the sounds of small boys running around the women’s section with piercing whistles because their rabbis told them to. I prayed over the shouts of men and women who thought that what we were doing was wrong. I formed a barrier with my body to keep women who didn’t believe in the rights of other women from taking our Torahs away from us. I scolded a child who tried to rip my tallis away from me and tried to rip tefillin off of a female classmate. I bent to his level and calmly asked him to tell me what I was doing wrong. He screamed “מספיק נאצי!– enough, nazi!” in my face and ran off.
Last Wednesday morning, I helped other women who won’t pray with a mechitza– a gender binary-based barrier– to form a mechitza so that women who couldn’t pray without one still felt safe, as male photographers and counter protestors came to the women’s side of the wall. Last Wednesday morning, I saw men standing on chairs on the men’s side of the wall, holding prayerbooks, lending their support through their own prayers.
Last Wednesday morning, I used my body as a block, locking elbows with fellow rabbinical students to keep counter protestors from taking or defacing holy words. I felt immediate threat to my body as people were shoved into me and tried to shove through me, as they screamed at me for daring to pray. I felt my heart pound with life and with commitment to equal treatment. I felt my voice soar.
Last Wednesday morning, I heard the line “כל הנשמה תהלל יה, הלליויה- Kol Haneshama T’halel Yah!- Let everything that has breath praise God!” louder than I ever have. Last Wednesday morning, for the first time, I felt like a full person at the Kotel.
(This Wednesday, I had damn well better find out that being a full person while female is still possible back home.)