Review of Women of the Wall by Phyllis Chesler and Rivka Haut

This has been an amazing discovery. While this book only tells one piece of the feminist struggle within Judaism, it is an interesting piece. Coming from an American and Christian perspective, it seems odd that it was ever illegal for women to pray together anywhere. The legality of this act fluctuates at the Wall, specifically this is the western wall of the Jewish Temple. I cannot understand how people justify violence toward a group of praying women, but this is something these women have regularly faced as they endeavor to hold prayer services at this most holy of Jewish sites. Surely, other religions suffer such problems within their ranks as well, but this book focuses on the women who are working to open up such prayer.

The book is presented as a series of essays from various members and outlined in four parts. It begins with an explanation from some of the women as to why it is important for them to pray at that specific site and their experiences with prayer there, then it moves to a legal and political analysis and then expands on the denominational views of its members and finally to Halakhic theory and ritual objects. It concludes with a look at Jewish feminism, feminism and religion. All denominations have their feminist theories and feminists and it is important that we all don’t tear each other down. Supporting each other’s endeavors is an important part of feminism that I don’t think happens nearly enough.

These women are fighting to pray at the Wall today in a group of just women. Others are fighting for egalitarian prayer. While many secular feminists may see these as unimportant (as the writers have found to be true in their experience along with many religious feminists), I tend to agree with these women that it is of utmost importance. Yes, there are many feminist and gender equality issues out there to fight for. Many may be life and death situations that seem far more pressing. But I will offer up this thought process in support of these women:

For those of us with in God, there is no greater ally in any endeavor than He is. If we cannot pray to him for help and guidance in our endeavors, they are surely doomed to fail. If we cannot pray in any way that we feel moved to at any time and in any place, than we will not be able to move the mountains we are trying to move. We are taught that God is essential in all things and that He can make all things happen. How is praying to Him in whatever way we feel led to do not the most important thing for us to have in order to achieve the rest of our goals?

This may not make sense to secular women, but I hope that it does to women of all religions. If we cannot appeal on our own behalf to God, independent of men, then we really can’t do anything at all. This book talks about this important fight. It is definitely a stand to make. Check out the book for a better understanding of just how important it is and can be for Jewish women to go to their holiest site and sing prayers to their God together and with each other’s support.

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