“Modern Orthodox not welcome”

By | January 11, 2006

Visit http://english.thekotel.org/. Note the section header “Bar/Bat Mitzva”. Click on it. Search the entire section for any mention of celebration of a Bat Mitzva ceremony at the Kotel. If you find one, let me know, because I sure couldn’t. I’ve therefore just sent the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the owners of the site, a message indicating that although my family has supported them in the past, we will refrain from doing so in the future.

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8 thoughts on ““Modern Orthodox not welcome”

  1. jik Post author

    I responded as follows:

    It is not merely “the Torah reading service at the Western Wall” from which you have excluded girls. You have excluded girls from the possibility of having a ritual service of any sort at the Wall.

    This is simply not acceptable.

    The Wall doesn’t belong only to the Jews who believe that only boys can read Torah. The Wall doesn’t belong only to the Jews who reject the legitimacy women’s tefilla groups. The Wall belongs to all Jews, and the fact that those who believe differently from you about the role of girls and women within Judaism can only observe their B’not Mitzva at the Wall on *your* (non-ritual) terms is simply wrong.

    My family therefore can not and will not support your organization.

      Jonathan Kamens

  2. jik Post author

    I complained to the WWHF and got this back:

    We were very distressed to read your letter stating your disappointment regarding the lack of mention on our website of how a Bat Mitzvah girl might celebrate at the Kotel.

    If you look at the website toolbar, you will find that there is a whole part of the site for the Bar/Bat Mitzvah child. In it, there are several subsections. The only one of those subsections that refers solely to a Bar Mitzvah boy is that which discusses the Torah reading service at the Western Wall.

    However, the other ways in which we strongly encourage youth to mark this wonderful event include family tours of the Western Wall Tunnels and having the Bar or Bat Mitzvah child guide the tour themselves. This program, which connects the child to his or her past in a very meaningful way, is geared to both girls and boys. In fact, it is very common for girls to come to the Kotel and lead their family on a tour of theTunnels (after preparation with the Western Wall Heritage guides). We have a variety of moving ceremonies that are custom made for Bat Mitzvah girls, including a convenant written expressly for Bat Mitzvah girls affirming their connection to Jerusalem. Just recently, during Chanuka, several Bat Mitzvah girls held very beautiful ceremonies in the Hasmonean Hall in which they spoke of continuing the Jewish chain of generations, and of the connection between lighting Shabbat candles, lighting the menorah, and the Temple history in this very place.

    We are currently in the final stages of preparing a program that will be on our site, called “Following in their Footsteps”, in which Bar and Bat Mitzvah children from around the world will be able to prepare their tours in advance, from their homes. It includes film clips, interactive exercises and games, models and much more – and is geared to both girls and boys alike.

    Needless to say, our Bar and BatMitzvah programs for underprivileged youth and victims of terror, which are described on our site (see Educational Programs), are for boys and girls equally. These programs include full day tours of Jerusalem, tours of the Old City and the Western Wall Tunnels, a beautiful ceremony at the Western Wall Plaza, and a full festive meal with entertainment, music, and a gift for each child. If it were not for these programs, many these boys and girls would likely not celebrate this important time in their lives.

    We, at the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, pride ourselves in the fact that we are attempting to reach Jews from around the world – observant and secular, old and young, girls and boys – to show them that we are all crucial and necessary links in the eternal chain of Jewish generations. We greatly appreciate your past support, without which we could not continue to do the things that we do, and sincerely hope that you will continue to be a part of our family.

    With blessings from Jerusalem,
    The Western Wall Heritage Foundation

  3. jik Post author


    It used to depend on whether you want to have a Torah service, but things have gotten rather more strict than that.


    I would have them, e.g.:

    • not pretend that Bat Mitzva ceremonies don’t exist;
    • not raise the mechitza so high that it is now impossible for women to hear or see anything going on in the men’s section or vice versa;
    • permit egalitarian services in the plaza;
    • permit women’s tefilla groups in the women’s section;

    There are probably other suggestions I could come up with, but the basic idea is that they should do something to acknowledge that there is a place for a Bat Mitzva ritual, at the kotel, for people who feel that such a ritual is culturally appropriate.

    And, incidentally, given what I’ve heard recently, I am not at all convinced that the WWHF would permit a girl to give a d’var torah as part of a formal Bat Mitzva in the women’s section.

  4. Elka

    Well, what would you have them do? There is no official ceremony for a bat mitzvah in the Orthodox community. I gave a d’var torah at mine, but I don’t see that special arrangements need to be made for doing that at the wall, if someone wanted to.

  5. Angwantibo / Merril

    Well, what’s the official current status of having a Bat Mitzvah at the Kotel? It seems to depend on whether or not you want to have a Torah service. Maybe they’re just trying to avoid the topic entirely as it would be sure to be inflammatory towards most – frummies and feminists.

  6. jik Post author

    So it does. But that’s really not good enough. In fact, it’s worse… By mentioning Bat Mitzva celebrations only in the context of the tunnel tour, the maintainers of the site make it clear that they don’t think there is or should be any ritual component of a Bat Mitzva celebration, at least not at the Kotel.


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