Laura Janner-Klausner (Rabbi to the Movement for Reform Judaism) is right to be in combative mood. Her essay in the UK Jewish newspaper (Jewish Chronicle 31st May 2013 http://www.thejc.com/comment-and-debate/comment/108101/wall-%EF%AC%81ght-return-judaism-israel) demands a response and challenges all Jews to reconsider the place of prayer and gender in Judaism, and above all, how truly to cause a spiritual revival in our people and institutions in Israel. We have today a retaining wall that was part of the foundation of the Second Temple (not a place of prayer in the original design). Otherwise known as the Kotel it nevertheless forms one of the more ‘sacred’ spots in modern Jerusalem, and a place of automatic pilgrimage for any Jewish person wanting to connect with G-d. Yet at precisely this space gender divides. The law in Israel is clear (as taken from the WOW website http://womenofthewall.org.il/): “No religious ceremony shall be in held in the women’s section of the Western Wall.”
This includes holding or reading a Torah, blowing the shofar (ram’s horn) or wearing tallitot (prayer shawls).
I am not a feminist, nor do I think that any ‘ism’ should be allowed to dictate what the Torah says; it has enough internal power of its own for those who have ears to hear it. But to even begin to classify the above debate in gender and feminist terms is to surely miss the point. Rabbi Janner-Klausner titled her essay ‘Wall fight is to return Judaism to Israel’. THAT is the point. Jewish women should surely be allowed to worship the G-d of our Fathers as anyone else can, and here we see the real issue: what is the actual purpose and point of the Temple at all? And more critically, just who CAN or SHOULD worship there? Only as this issue is settled will Judaism, the real Judaism ever come back to life again and be returned to Israel.
Let the Prophet Isaiah speak: ‘For my house shall be called a house of prayer FOR ALL NATIONS’ (emphasis mine), Is 56:7. King Shlomo also was well aware of this and in his inauguration speech in 1 Kings 8 outlines those who may ‘spread their hands towards this Temple’. And yes, after detailing those in the Jewish community who should come, he goes on to speak of those ‘not of your people but has come from afar’. In the first century the Mashiach (Messiah) used these verses to accuse those who ran the Temple of hindering those who would come, thus undermining one of the key elements of Israel’s light to the nations: sacrifice.
From Torah it is clear that isolating gender as an issue of worship in the Temple is to be way off the mark. We should be encouraging those from the nations to draw close, make the spiritual journey to join us and worship the only G-d in the Temple. This isn’t about gender, it is about being the chosen people of G-d. Inclusion is the word that should define worship in Judaism. If, according to Isaiah, even the eunuchs have access, then surely women do too, and thus ALL those who would choose to follow the G-d of Israel and His Messiah.
Thus Judaism will be returned to Israel, not just through the women, but through all those who are called to join us.