If you have been to the Western Wall recently, you may have noticed that the women’s section is markedly smaller than the men’s section, despite the fact that the number of visitors on both sides is approximately the same. This leaves many women feeling disrespected, not to mention uncomfortable, while praying at one of the most holy sites of the Jewish people.
The formation of the modern State of Israel occurred in parallel to the evolution of women’s movements. While its roots are traced to the French and American Revolution, feminism emerged as a social and political force at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th . This is the period in which Zionism developed and Jews began to settle the land of Israel hoping to create a Jewish State. Since both Zionism and feminism “grew up” together, the early Zionist experience and the State of Israel provide an interesting case study of the changing roles and rights of women. Unique aspects of Israeli society, such as the central role of the defense forces and the mosaic of different populations highlight the complexity of the issues surrounding women’s rights. As a Jewish State, Israel has had to address the disparity between the traditional role of women in Judaism and Jewish law and contemporary concepts of equality. Conversely, the issue and development of women’s rights in Israel can illustrate the social, economic, cultural and military issues that characterize the Jewish State. In this lesson we try to give a survey of women’s roles and status from the early Zionists until today.