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Thursday, April 24, 2014

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Speak up for Women of the Wall

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When the editor of The CJN asked me to write this column, I refused. Afraid of the challenge, I didn’t realize what an opportunity it was.

Democracy is founded on the principle of participation. Voting is only one format. The responsibility of good citizenship is to speak up, whether in criticism or advocacy. How do you make yourself heard? How do you get your opinion sited? I write.

All this is to explain that in the past, I supported Israel, but I now find myself in the uncomfortable position of loyal opposition.

In 2009 and again in 2010, two women were arrested for praying at the Kotel. It seems absurd to even write these lines. In 1989, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist women began to pray at the Kotel on rosh chodesh as a group. In quiet modesty, they persevered for 20 years.

Early on, there was a cartoon of two women in jail, one scantily clad the other modestly dressed. Scantily clad asked modest, “What are you in for, honey?” Answer: “Praying at the Kotel!” Then it was a joke. Now it’s real. How could it be?

How could the government of Israel criminalize behaviour that is halachically viable? The women, Nofrat Frenkel and Anat Hoffman, weren’t breaking any Jewish laws. Wearing a tallit and carrying a Torah are both permissible according to the great halachic leaders of our heritage. When the Women of the Wall (WOW) pressed their legal case to the Supreme Court of Israel, it ruled that nothing the women did was against Jewish law, but in order to keep public order, the state should find a solution to satisfy those who pray there.

“Those who pray there” was a euphemism for only one sector of the Jewish world – the haredi community. The argument is preposterous. In order to satisfy and pacify the haredi element, the state justified their disturbances, ruling that the women were a source of disorder and, therefore, must be restricted.

WOW wishes to pray according to Halachah, not haredi Halachah.

This is not religious freedom. This is not justice.

Since when does Israel back down when faced with a vocal minority that attempts to exclude the rights of others?

The kotel is not a synagogue belonging to one group. Even the army is no longer able to hold its ceremonies there. When did we give the Western Wall away?

Write to your Israeli ambassador. Write to friends in Israel. Jewish women should not be harassed by police or haredi Jews for praying at the Kotel. Speak up.

Women of the Wall may be reached through their website at http://womenofthewall.org.il/

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