Members of Congress, take a lesson from Women of the Wall (WOW).
The board of directors for the Israeli-North American women’s activist group, which has petitioned for years for the same right of religious access to the Kotel (Western Wall) as the men, voted 9-2 last week to conditionally accept the proposal by the Israeli government to create a site for egalitarian worship at Robinson’s Arch, immediately adjacent to the Kotel.
Those conditions WOW will insist upon are a site equal to the existing Kotel plaza in size, budget and facilities, and that it be overseen by a pluralist body of Jewish leaders.
In other words, WOW wants Robinson’s Arch to become an equal part of the Kotel.
This is called compromise, and Congress used to be very good at it, until extremists in both Houses, but particularly the House of Representatives, adopted an all-or-nothing approach to law making.
Not that WOW doesn’t have its own extremists. In fact, 10 members of WOW, mostly from North America, issued a statement Friday, Oct. 11, saying they remain committed to praying at the Kotel, and to “the right of all Jewish women to pray together in the ezrat nashim [women’s section] at the Kotel with tallit and tefillin, [and] reading from the Torah scroll.”
One of the dissenters, Phyllis Chesler, went so far as to call the current WOW chair, Anat Hoffman, “dictatorial.”
In a perfect world, Hoffman, who once called Robinson’s Arch “the back of the bus,” may have held out for the Kotel. Now, she and her supporters — faced with powerful political opposition — opted for a pragmatic decision, one that gives them much — though not all — of what they want, and leaves them with influence over the development of Robinson’s Arch should their conditions be met.
Their decision may also have the effect of putting the boiling controversy between haredi and pluralist Jews in Israel on simmer. A little shalom babayit (peace in the house) is never a bad thing, especially in times as uncertain as these.
Again, we point out the WOW board voted to accept the proposal. Democracy carried the day.
We wish Congress would vote a little more and posture a little less. We also wish both sides could rediscover the art of compromise and respectful dissent. These are the tools that made American democracy great. Their absence makes us look weak in the eyes of the world, and that is something the world can ill afford.