Gender Inequality at the Wailing Wall

It wasn’t fair!  My visit to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem should have been a moving spiritual experience but I was seething inside most of the time. The wall is said to be all that remains of the temple erected by King Herod about twenty years before Jesus was born. It has become an internationally recognized landmark. The Romans destroyed Herod’s temple nearly a hundred years after it was built, leaving only a remnant of its western wall standing. Jewish people initially began coming to the wall to pray around 400 AD and have been doing so ever since.         

Visitors traditionally write their prayers and hopes on pieces of paper and slip them into cracks in the wall.

Many sit on the chairs in front of the wall to read Scripture, pray and write their messages to God. The wall remains a holy place.  People never turn their backs to it. After praying they walk backwards as they leave the wall.

Appropriate attire is required. Several of the teenage girls who accompanied me on my visit to the wall were given pastel wool shawls to wear by the guards at the gate since their shirts were sleeveless or too revealing. It wasn’t considered respectful for women to approach the wall so skimpily clad.

The boys in our group were not admonished for their causal apparel but were given a wool skullcap or kippah, to place on their heads as they entered the area near the wall.

What made me upset was the fact that a large section of the wall was exclusively a place for men to pray. The section of the wall designated for women was very small, only about a quarter of the size of the men’s section. Consequently, the females in our group had to wait a long time before there was space open at the women’s section of the wall so we could approach it and place our written prayers in the crevices. The boys in our group were quickly finished and got impatient waiting for us. I told the girls not to hurry.

Many of them, especially the seniors graduating from high school in just a few weeks, were composing long letters to God about their future. They needed time to write before they got in line to wait their turn to approach the wall.         

The photo I took that shows the much smaller and more crowded women’s section on the right

I think the women’s section of the wall needed to be the bigger one. It’s been my experience that women are often the ones in families who do the most praying. Someone told me men aren’t as pure and sinless as women, so they need to come to the wall more often to pray. Therefore they need a bigger section. I liked that explanation.     

Prayers tucked into the cracks in the Wailing Wall

Despite the lengthy wait, the young women with me were touched and inspired by their visit to the wall. One wrote in her journal it made her feel special to know she had participated in a religious ritual established over 1600 years ago.  Another wrote that even after she had returned home, she often liked to think about her hopes and dreams tucked away in a wall many people call “God’s most holy place on earth.”

Hopefully someday the wall will be divided evenly, so both men and women have an equal opportunity to use it, or perhaps, someday there will be no need for separate male and female sections of the wall. God’s listening ear is equally available to all people all the time. It would be nice if the most recognized place of prayer in the world reflected that.

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Filed under israel, Politics, Religion, Travel

5 responses to “Gender Inequality at the Wailing Wall

  1. Religion is one way biases against women, and others, are reinforced.


  2. Reblogged this on LE ARTISTE BOOTS and commented:
    Such forward thinking on your part is refreshing, needed.


  3. Bettye,
    You really are a strong voice for social justice. I’m so grateful for you!


  4. Totally agree, GOD is not sexist; it’s a foolish human foible that’s bad for all.


  5. leiba kohn

    It would be nice to understand the reasons why instead of questioning in the name of social justice. It is just as it is and hopefully always will be.


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