Question of the week:
Are women not allowed at the Western Wall? I only see men in the pictures.
~ Susan S.
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
Did it take you longer to finish Scrolling through Scripture Unit 1 than you expected? When we launched this foundational Bible class online in November 2020, we promised you 15 lessons. As we went along, Rabbi Lapin kept adding more. Our earliest students are now completing the eighteenth and final lesson of the series. Their feedback tell us that it has been a great experience.
It isn’t too late to join. As we upped the number of lessons, we kept the same low price of $189.00. That is a bargain for an online course with a master teacher of the Torah. If you haven’t yet checked out or started this course, follow the link below.