Last week at Open Zion, I shared my disappointment over Women of the Wall’s abandonment of the Sharansky plan following the Jerusalem District court ruling allowing the group to continue to pray as they see fit in the women’s section of the Western Wall plaza. Two days later, Anat Hoffman published an op-ed declaring that she is now “in full support of [Sharansky’s] efforts and [intends] to be a willing and constructive partner.”
Meanwhile, another short-lived tempest followed, when Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein declared his rejection of the Jerusalem Court decision. Several hours later, he backed down. Now, Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett is planning to draft new regulations around prayer at the Wall, in consultation with Women of the Wall.
There are several takeaways here. The first is that supporters of organizations often impute farther-reaching goals to the organization than do the members themselves. Consider Hoffman’s original wording: the Sharansky plan, she said, “is not relevant for us.” Once the Jerusalem Court had granted Women of the Wall the right to pray as they wish, Hoffman considered her work done.
In last week’s post, I recounted the incident of my then 7-year-old daughter being angered by having to hive off to the women’s section at the Kotel. What I didn’t mention was that I attempted to mollify her not by promising her a toy or a treat, but by telling her about the great work done by Women of the Wall and promising that we would support them. In retrospect, I realize that while I deeply admire their cause, it is hardly identical to the kind of egalitarian Judaism I ultimately practice.
This tension is well summed up in the piqued comments I received on my post from “Rachel CY,” who identifies herself as being from Women of the Wall. Reacting to my characterization of Hoffman abandoning support for Sharanksy’s plan, Rachel CY wrote, “Women of the Wall never did ‘an about-face’! We immediately recognized the deep significance and importance of Sharansky's plan. We have always said that we support any plan that moves Israel closer to a pluralistic society.”
The commenter continued, “Our recent press release was all about re-affirming our commitment to our group's original goal...to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right as women to gather as a group in the women's section at the Kotel for prayers.”
Clearly it was this tension between focusing on the group’s mandate and the ethical allure of aiding related efforts that spurred Hoffman to first issue the statement she did, and then to write Friday’s op-ed declaring her support for the plan.
The second lesson is that progressive movements all too often splinter among themselves, rather than uniting around common values. There is certainly some strategic value in maintaining a narrowly focused agenda, but certain victories may be lost in that approach—at the level of grass-roots activism, and ultimately at the polls.
The third is that with the blogosphere being a time-compressed cacophony of shouts and whispers, messages frequently go unheard. Even today, four days after Hoffman’s op-ed was published, journalists are still describing Women of the Wall as having rejected the Sharansky plan.
Finally, the relationship between law and politics in democracies is a delicate one. With one legal victory behind them, Women of the Wall will now need to convince ministers and parliamentarians of the long-term justness and political expediency of their cause, as many others—with different, similar and overlapping agendas—seek to do the same.