Where Are The Women?

Question of the week:

Are women not allowed at the Western Wall? I only see men in the pictures.

~ Susan S.

Dear Susan,

We are so glad you asked this question, because it is one that we wouldn’t have ever thought of discussing. There is an old rule that if one student asks a specific question, the wise teacher understands that there are other students   also confused about the same thing. Based on this, we imagine that there are other people out there also making an incorrect assumption.  We appreciate you being aware enough to check out the facts.

The Western Wall (which also used to be known as the Wailing Wall) a revered site for prayer in Jerusalem, is divided side-by-side into a section for men and a smaller section for women towards the south end.  In Judaism, men have an obligation to pray with a quorum of ten men. If they pray alone they are not praying in the best possible way, while women get full credit for praying either with a group or individually. That helps explain why there are always far more men than women praying at the Western Wall. 

In a Torah framework, men and women pray separately. Two Biblical references to this that you might find interesting are Genesis 25:21 and Exodus 15:1-21. In the first case, whereas the English translation suggests that Isaac prayed on behalf of his wife, Rivka, the Hebrew can be read that he prayed apart from her—she too was praying but in a different corner.  The second reference shows that Moses led the men in song and prayer while Miriam led the women; both groups raised their voices in prayer, but separately.

One insight we have drawn from this division of the sexes reflects on the dichotomy that Jewish prayer is both a function of one individual facing his or her God, but also that prayer derives greater power when shared with a group. Separating the genders allows for large groups to pray together while removing a source of distraction and self-consciousness. This allows both men and women to focus on their prayers rather than on each other.

We have certainly seen pictures of the women’s side of the Kotel—the Wall—but we imagine that more news agency photographers are men and they stay on the side where they are welcome rather than intruding into the women’s area.

That said, the beautiful large plaza in front of the Western Wall is always filled with both men and women.  Some are there only to gaze in awe while others are on their way to pray. 

Once again, thanks for helping us to clear up any misconceptions.

May we all soon again have the opportunity of walking the ancient streets of Jerusalem.

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin


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11 thoughts on “Where Are The Women?”

  1. Thank you, Rabbi Lapin, Once again you have given me an answer when I didn’t even know I had a question.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      You’re welcome Barbara–
      We love doing that–providing solutions to problems that don’t yet exist. (Isn’t that what Steve Jobs did with his transformational iPad back in 2010?)
      Just one point, you graciously acknowledge me but you may not be aware that Mrs Susan Lapin has as much to do with these teachings as I do. Whatever we create, whether it is the new Scrolling Through Scripture series, or each Ask The Rabbi column, is as much the product of the two of us collaborating as are our children. So we both appreciate you telling us about our ancient Jewish wisdom being helpful in your life.
      Best wishes
      RDL

  2. Dear Susan and Rabbi Lapin,

    Thank you for so very much for the wonderfully insightful explanation of the Wall and its ancient Biblically based history. You’ve piqued our desire to one day one day experience it in Jerusalem.

    So thankful for you both and all that you continue to do!

    May God richly bless you both,
    Peter and Marsha

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Hello Peter and Marsha–
      So good to hear from you again. We appreciate your blessings and kind words.
      It’s high time we once again traveled south to your city. Soon I hope.
      Warmly
      RDL

  3. Thank you for your guidance. There is so much to be learned, but seems harder to find people to pass on knowledge.

  4. Carl August Schleg

    To Barbara-Thx for asking, ME TOO
    To my RABBI: YOU and your WIFEY never cease to amaze and help me and to better serve my own WIFEY.
    Instead of ‘Honey do chores I now have discovered that I never was so productive without HER!

  5. I was surprised and pleased to learn that women’s prayers carry weight individually or in a group while men’s are more potent in a group. Are women holier than men? I don’t ask that in a competitive way. Women do seem better able to recognize a higher power. I am not sure I am expressing myself adequately. Might be worth a segment from you two.
    It might depend on the individual. I don’t want to get in trouble here, but generally speaking men do seem to rely on women to bring godliness into the home.

    1. Linda, you are touching on an important point. The word holy is a tricky one. Even in Hebrew – kadosh – it is a difficult word to understand or define. But your basic point that men and women (in general) have different spiritual gifts is a correct one.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Linda–
      Good to hear from you. I want to respond to only one of your sentences:

      I don’t want to get in trouble here, but generally speaking men do seem to rely on women to bring godliness into the home.

      First, you don’t get into trouble with us by exploring ideas. Unlike the world of secular fundamentalism we are not frightened and so we are comfortable discussing ideas even those we personally reject. Second, whether it is right for men to rely on women to bring Godliness into the home is a question for more discussion but one thing is absolutely clear is that the home is a creation of the wife. Furthermore it is a full time job and then some.
      Cordially
      RDL

  6. Dear Rabbi,
    I am a 52 year old christian and am so blessed by your teachings. My husband wonders why did God send Satan to the earth instead of destroying him or send him somewhere else. He says: why would a loving father not protect his children rather than to let them deal with the cruelty of this world. I have tried to explain him quite some things but didn’t make my point… What would you tell him ? Thank you and God bless you !

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