It was a picture for the ages. Hundreds of women gathered in the early morning at the Kotel, the Western Wall — the proud, defiant symbol of the spirit of the Jewish people. A golden, glimmering-in-the-sun remnant of a connection to the First and Second Temples, a glorious past. The iconic site of the liberation and unification of Jerusalem in 1967, a moment that made every Jew shiver with pride and weep for the possibility of a present filled with promise, renewal and peace.
This is the Jerusalem to which Jews have turned in prayer and in hope for more than 2,000 years.
Today, on the morning of Rosh Hodesh Tammuz, the celebration of the new moon, the voices of women ascend and fill the space. These women’s voices — so offensive to the ultra-Orthodox haredim (those who are in awe of God) because of their supposed power to arouse and confuse and distract — lift up the verses of psalms that our tradition ascribes to King David, whose own sins robbed him of the honor of building the First Temple.
On this day honoring the moon, the Divine Feminine, these verses of praise — Hallel, one of the most joyful and achingly beautiful liturgical delicacies in all of Judaism — is offered up by the women who stand tall against a patriarchal past that today threatens them physically and spiritually.
In a wonderful flourish of exquisite irony, these women stand around the base of the Wall, while we, the men supporting them, are well behind them, behind a screen, or mechitzah, that for centuries has kept women in the back, unseen, unheard from, on the periphery.
But not today. And if our prayers are answered, not tomorrow.
In the diaspora of North America, women and men are rapidly healing patriarchal wounds and women have taken their rightful place as rabbis, cantors and contemporary liturgists. The Shechinah, the feminine aspect of the Divine — the most imminent encounter with God, according to our mystical teachers — is being experienced through the voices and teachings of women after centuries of denial and exclusion.
But here in the Holy Land, the struggle has just begun.
The Women of the Wall gather every month to affirm the yearning for healing and wholeness. Today we, the men supporting them, join our voices to theirs, fully behind them, like the legendary angel Raphael, the angel of healing who has our backs.
And behind us there is another kind of wall: rows of police manning barriers to keep at bay the ultra-Orthodox who spew hate and vitriol. They bear signs that say, among other things, “Provocation Women.” They scream at the men who stand between them and the women. They hurl invectives and raw eggs and demand that we leave.
But we are not moving. We turn our backs on this hatred and continue to join our voices to the courageous women who will not go away. These women are the future of Judaism in Israel. They represent the hope for a Judaism that is freed from the bondage to an ultra-Orthodoxy that has been wrapped around the State of Israel like an umbilical cord since its birth. Like every religious stream of our people, ultra-Orthodoxy must be one among many and not threaten the organism that it nourished in its formation.
The Women of the Wall sing and their voices are sweet, honoring God as Source of compassion and healing. These women know something about birthing the future and their voices tell us assuredly that the future is promising. And it is nearer than anyone would have dreamed such a short time ago.
We sing “Hallelujah!” We sing it from the depths of our being. We sing it in the presence of the Western Wall. We sing it led by women who are showing us the way. It is strong and warm and loving, and it is time.
Rabbi Dan Goldblatt is president of Ohalah, the Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal, and an international vice chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall. He has served as rabbi of Beth Chaim Congregation in Danville for two decades.