This is not an episode about Women of the Wall. It is not an episode about Women for the Wall. It is not an episode about the egalitarian space at Robinson’s Arch. Instead, this is an episode about fairness and respect and dignity – issues that should concern everyone who cares about Judaism, regardless of how you feel about non-Orthodox prayer at the Kotel or about women reading the Torah on the women’s side of the Wall.
Let’s be up front about the halachic facts: men have an obligation to pray in a minyan, a quorum, while women do not. For this reason, it’s not unreasonable to expect more men to come to shul than women – and that is often what happens. Moreover, assuming that the Kotel has the status of a synagogue, it’s reasonable to expect more men to come to the Kotel – and, if it’s true that more men visit the Kotel than women, the men’s section should be larger than the women’s. (Of course, we can’t ignore the fact that if the ezrat nashim were larger, perhaps more women would come in the first place.)
But based on anecdotal experience, the women’s section is frequently – usually? – significantly more crowded than the men’s section. Are we really OK with women having to squeeze in to touch the Kotel while the men have no problem doing so?
At the same time, the problem with space at the Kotel is emblematic of a problem with space in general. While as Orthodox Jews, we believe that communal prayer should not involved mixed-gender space, and that synagogues halachially require a mechitza, is there a reason that this has started to extend to places where it’s not required halachically – and that the women’s sections that exist are often treated with such disrespect?
To discuss this Scott invited the hosts of the Chochmat Nashim podcast, Anne Gordon and Shoshanna Keats-Jaskoll, to talk about the Kotel and the larger problem of disrespecting women in Orthodox spaces, in ways that have nothing to do with halacha.
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Music: “Happy Rock” by bensound.com