Western Wall highlights women's struggle for religious equality

These days, interfaith solidarity is important in struggles for justice. And so it is with the quest for women’s equality in faith traditions across the board.

This week on Interfaith Voices I spoke with Sue Morningstar, a rabbi of the Jewish Renewal Movement who is an international vice-chair of a group called “Rabbis for Women of the Wall.”

This group seeks gender equality in the way Jews pray at the Western Wall (or “Wailing Wall”), in Jerusalem. It’s the holiest sight in Judaism, and the rules about praying there are enforced by fundamentalist Orthodox rabbis in Israel.

There is even a physical partition that separates men from women. Some women have even been threatened with serious jail time (years, in fact) for “offenses” like wearing a prayer shawl or reading aloud from the Torah at the Wall.

The latter threats make me glad that the Vatican doesn’t have a way to jail Catholic women who call for women’s ordination as deacons and priests! But the overlap in our struggles was most apparent when I asked Rabbi Morningstar what the Jewish Renewal Movement was about.

She said that Jews of that tradition take ancient laws, find their deeper meaning and interpret them for our contemporary age. She noted that the ancient laws restricting women did not take into account the great women leaders of Jewish history, from Sarah to Miriam to Deborah who freely prayed aloud to God.

Sound familiar? The women’s movement in the Catholic Church, indeed the whole church reform movement, does much the same thing. We look at ancient laws and customs, and interpret them in the light of the deeper meanings of our tradition as proclaimed by Jesus in the gospels. And we celebrate the great Catholic women whose leadership is a model for our times.

Our segment on this topic ends with a moving reading by Joy Ladin, perhaps the only Jewish person on the planet to pray on both sides of the partition at the Wall. She is a transgender person, who celebrates her identity as a woman.

Here is the link to this week’s show.


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