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MKs join hundreds of women praying at Western Wall, defying law

Hundreds of women – including MKs Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), Stav Shaffir (Labor) and Michal Rozin (Meretz) –  gathered at Jerusalem’s Western Wall in honor of Rosh Hodesh (first of the Hebrew calendar month, today, Nissan) Tuesday morning. They joined the usual group of women from the Women of the Wall movement, who go every month at 7 a.m. to pray there on the other side of the barricade separating them from the men – but are often harassed and prevented from doing so – and even at times, arrested.

Hundreds of women at the Western Wall, March 12, 2013 (Tomer Persico)

According to the regulations at the Western Wall, as determined by its chief rabbi, and backed by the state authorities (the legal issues are a bit more complex and nuanced –  to read more, click here)  women are prohibited from wearing tefillin (phylacteries) or tallitot (prayer shawl) or reading from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall. Women of the Wall have been protesting this practice for over two decades.

Anat Hoffman, who launched the movement in 1988, and heads the Israel Religious Action Center, has been arrested more than once for wearing a prayer shawl or reading from the Torah scroll at the Wall. While police often stand back and allow them to proceed, 10 women from the group were arrested, making headlines.

Tuesday morning, several female MKs joined hundreds of women at the wall, in a show of support, bringing with them their parliamentary immunity. MK Tamar Zandberg: “I am a secular woman, this is the first time I have worn a prayer shawl, but I came in solidarity with this feminist struggle.”  No one was arrested, but Zandberg said police tried to stop her from entering the area with a prayer shawl. “I just forced my way in,” she said. The large number of women, and the fact that several MKs were among them, likely prevented arrests today.

Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman, MK Stav Shafir (Labor), MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) (left to right) at the Western Wall, March 12, 2013 (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Such protests both highlight and challenge the lack of religious freedom for Jews in the Jewish state itself, and gender inequality in what Israel deems to be Judaism’s holiest site.  I wonder what would happen if enough MKs and hundreds of people showed up to the weekly protests in the West Bank against occupation, and that other Wall.

 

Women of the Wall pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. March 12, 2013 (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

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  • COMMENTS

    1. XYZ

      This has nothing to do piety or religious feelings. This is a demonstration and provocation, period. They claim they want to pray in “Judaism’s holiest site”. Well, the Wall is NOT Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount is, and so if these WOW women want to pray at the holiest site, they should make their demostrations there in front of the Muslim Waqf. They would make short shrift of them.
      Secondly, a really pious Jew would never do anything to offend another Jew’s feelings. Whether they like or not, what these WOW people are doing is viewed as offensive by other Jews, justified as this feeling may be or not. Making “machloket” or dispute among Jews, paticularly over something like prayer or other religious observance is a particularly serious infraction.

      Finally, they claim this is over an issue of “religious freedom”. If that is the case, would Sara Silverman’s Reform Rabbi sister allow a large group of Haredim to come into her congregation and, if they were the majority that day, agree to have the way the service is conducted changed to the Orthodox manner in the name of “religious freedom”? OF COURSE NOT! The only solution is for these people to move to the Robinsons’ Arch site and let them do whatever they want. That way no one steps on anyone else’s toes and the tradition of prayer at the Wall remains unaffected.

      Reply to Comment
      • sh

        The wall was never a synagogue, at best it’s an outer wall of an area that once housed the Temple. People used to pray there individually; most of the time there was no barrier between men and women, never mind rules and regs about how to pray.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jews_at_Western_Wall_by_Felix_Bonfils,_1870s.jpg

        Over the ages no Orthodox person worth his or her salt went up to the Temple Mount. Most of them still don’t. And the politicians who decided to allow the Orthodox to make the whole of that vast expanse – especially “cleared” and cleansed for them in June 1967 – their own private synagogue, continued their not madly kasher ways without a care in the world.

        “Senior rabbis from all the denominations in recent generations have forbidden going to the Temple Mount even for those who purified themselves first in a mikveh (Jewish ritual bath), mainly claiming that it is impossible to know for certain the precise location of the area of the Temple that was forbidden to enter even after a mikveh.
         
        In recent years, researchers have sketched out the exact location of the forbidden area, and many rabbis have ruled that it is permissible to enter other sections of the Temple Mount. However, the senior-most rabbis and halachic adjudicators – Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, and Rabbi Avraham Shapira – have stuck to their ruling that it is forbidden, which is also the position of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.”
        http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3795054,00.html

        All this you already know, XYZ, but weren’t saying.
        Like the Taliban, we have politicized our religion, which has become about owning, not sharing.

        Reply to Comment
      • I was made uncomfortable by the statement from the MK – “I am a secular woman, this is the first time I have worn a prayer shawl, but I came in solidarity with this feminist struggle” – as I don’t see how this could have meaning for her if she is not herself religious in any way.

        But she’s not a regular attendee at Women of the Wall and this criticism can’t apply to all of them. They are a group of praying women. Their understanding of Judaism may not be yours, but there is nothing to suggest that they are insincere in their prayer. As for ‘a really pious Jew would never do anything to offend another Jew’s feelings’ – have you given any thought to how offended and disparaged Jewish women may feel over the treatment that they have received at the Wall?

        The comparison with Rabbi Silverman’s synagogue doesn’t hold, because it’s a Reform congregation catering to Reform Jews, while the Wall is holy to all Jews. It’s not easy to share a sacred site in common when a community has such diverse ideas on how to pray there. I felt this myself last Easter, when I went on pilgrimage with a group of people who are far less traditional than I am, and over the course of the week we spent together I felt quite uncomfortable with certain liturgical innovations and unhappy with how they behaved in the shrine. But they were sincere in what they were doing, and I had to credit them for that. They in their turn were suspicious of me for my orthodoxy, thinking I was trying to be holier-than-thou or to change them in some way. Learning to see each other’s sincerity and good intentions was crucial, and in retrospect I think it was one of the most important parts of our worship that week. There has to be a better way to handle intra-community differences than all this infighting.

        Reply to Comment
        • XYZ

          Your statement about the situation in a Reform congregation and the Wall being different is incorrect. All Jews have rights to pray in all synagogues in the world. While the local congregation has the right to define the customs and traditions of that particular congregation, all Jews have rights to pray in them AS LONG AS THEY ACCEPT THE LOCAL CUSTOMS. The practice of many congregations on the High Holydays to limit participation to those who have purchased tickets is invalid for that reason, although I understand that it is an important source of income. The fact that people don’t want to pay represents a failure of education by that particular movement.
          Thus, my example of a group of Haredim coming to a Reform congregation and using the WOW’s argument of “freedom of religion” to take over the congregation is quite valid and is exactly parallel to what the WOW are doing at the Kotel. They should be given another site to do what they want there and not interfere with the Walls operation which has been going on continuously the current way since 1967.

          Reply to Comment
          • “All Jews have rights to pray in all synagogues in the world.”

            I understand that, but your point still feels wobbly to me. What charedim are going to turn up to services where a female rabbi is presiding? There is a huge number of synagogues with different theological outlooks, from charedi to liberal, so it’s not so difficult to find a suitable congregation for yourself. But there is only one Western Wall. This is the whole point. The synagogue of Sarah Silverman’s sister hardly has that same importance for visiting charedim.

            As for the current norms having been in place since 1967, what about norms that existed before that, when there was no mechitza even? (I’m not arguing for or against mechitzot, before that debate erupts – I’m just pointing out that ‘Well, it’s been like this since such-and-such a year’ is not really a strong argument.) Things do alter, and no tradition is ever static.

            Reply to Comment
          • XYZ

            There was no mechitza before 1948 even though the worshippers wanted one, because the British and Muslim Waqf authorities who controlled the site wouldn’t allow one. Prayers were conducted according to Orthodox tradition before 1948. No women would have worn a tallit or done any sort of things WOW want.

            Reply to Comment
    2. aristeides

      Bull. Those “pious Jews” whose feelings seem to be the ruling principles of the wall have no compunctions about tossing chairs over the barrier to hurt the feelings of other Jews, or spitting on them, or throwing stones at them.

      This doesn’t seem to earn the condemnation of XYZ.

      I’d say that the *violent* provocations of the haredim at the wall have nothing to do with piety or religious feelings but are rather political acts calculated to cement their control over site and over the behavior of other Jews.

      The only solution is to establish true tolerance, with everyone praying in their own manner anywhere they please at the site, and no one objecting.

      Reply to Comment
    3. sh

      The Western Wall was never a synagogue. At best it’s an outer wall of an area that once housed the Temple. People used to pray at the wall individually; most of the time there was no barrier between men and women, never mind rules and regs about how to pray.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jews_at_Western_Wall_by_Felix_Bonfils,_1870s.jpg

      Over the ages, no Orthodox person worth his or her salt went up to the Temple Mount. Most of them still don’t. And the politicians who decided to allow the Orthodox to make the whole of that vast expanse – especially “cleared” and cleansed for them in June 1967 – their own private synagogue, continued eating their secular, not particularly kasher habits without a care in the world.

      “Senior rabbis from all the denominations in recent generations have forbidden going to the Temple Mount even for those who purified themselves first in a mikveh (Jewish ritual bath), mainly claiming that it is impossible to know for certain the precise location of the area of the Temple that was forbidden to enter even after a mikveh.
       
      In recent years, researchers have sketched out the exact location of the forbidden area, and many rabbis have ruled that it is permissible to enter other sections of the Temple Mount. However, the senior-most rabbis and halachic adjudicators – Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, and Rabbi Avraham Shapira – have stuck to their ruling that it is forbidden, which is also the position of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.”
      http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3795054,00.html

      All this you already know, XYZ, but didn’t say. Like the Taliban, we have politicized our religion, which has become only about owning, not sharing.

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        Actually, SH, from my reading of the history, the plaza wasn’t cleared [of its Palestinian residents, whose homes were bulldozed away overnight under cover of darkness, before any courts could intervene] for the sake of the haredim but for all the Jewish people.

        This was the message the paratroopers were sending when they came in support of the women.

        Reply to Comment
    4. sh

      What do I have to do to get a comment onto this page?

      Reply to Comment
    5. sh

      Seems to be a problem with trying to respond to a person. The post doesn’t appear.
      Last attempt. This is in reply to XYZ.

      The wall was never a synagogue, at best it’s the outer wall of an area that housed the Temple. People used to pray there individually; most of the time there was no barrier between men and women, never mind rules and regs about how to pray.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jews_at_Western_Wall_by_Felix_Bonfils,_1870s.jpg

      Over the ages no Orthodox person worth his or her salt went up to the Temple Mount. Most of them still don’t. And the politicians who decided to allow the Orthodox to make the whole of that vast expanse – especially “cleared” and cleansed for them in June 1967 – their own private synagogue, continued their not particularly kasher ways without a care in the world.

      “Senior rabbis from all the denominations in recent generations have forbidden going to the Temple Mount even for those who purified themselves first in a mikveh (Jewish ritual bath), mainly claiming that it is impossible to know for certain the precise location of the area of the Temple that was forbidden to enter even after a mikveh.
       
      In recent years, researchers have sketched out the exact location of the forbidden area, and many rabbis have ruled that it is permissible to enter other sections of the Temple Mount. However, the senior-most rabbis and halachic adjudicators – Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, and Rabbi Avraham Shapira – have stuck to their ruling that it is forbidden, which is also the position of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.”
      http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3795054,00.html

      All this you already know, XYZ.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Carl

      Whilst I instinctively applaud the actions of these women, as an atheist I’m left scratching my head a bit, wondering why they don’t apply their commendable efforts and politics to the real world: god not being real and all. That said, I’m sure some of them do.

      Sh, count to ten and click your heels: works wonders.

      Reply to Comment
      • Susan

        Carl, this is the “real world”. Women’s equality is an important issue in all aspects of Jewish life. This is not unimportant. It affects the thinking of Jews all over the world whether they are religious or atheist. women’s spiritual equality is necessary for women’s equality. The idea that women’s issues are not important is unfortunate. This action is just as important as ending the occupation and it may even be connected.

        I know atheists who attend services at my synagogue and yes, the women and men are not segregated and the women wear tallitot. I don’t see any magical thinking going on here. I see a demand for the women’s rights.

        Reply to Comment
        • Carl

          Susan if you’re an atheist, you can’t have ‘spiritual equality’ because you don’t believe spirits exist. The real world is that which exists, not what people imagine exists.

          Currently women face systematic discrimination and exclusion in the real world, in almost every part of society. If I could wave a magic wand and create religious equality, I would. But the right to stand in front of a wall and talk to the man in the sky would fall a long, long way behind sexual violence, economics and in Israel especially, the increasing exclusion of women from the public sphere.

          Reply to Comment
    7. sh

      I counted to 1000, abandoned the project and came back a couple of hours later to say goodnight. Hope someone can sweep up the débris and just leave one so XYZ has something to read. Thanks Carl. And goodnight.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Nice to see parliamentary immunity extending the political action space. Religion will never go away, which is reason enough for aligning with some within it. Pluralism is a kind of committee vote where each member is voted insane by all the others in turn (from Bertrand Russell).

      Reply to Comment
    9. Piotr Berman

      This is not the first controversy with Women of the Wall, and before I tried to informed myself by reading comments on ynetnews, some of them being informed and eloquent.

      Summary of three sides:

      A. The dark side of WotW is the wish that Jewish supremacy in the Eretz Israel would be equally shared by “all Jewish people” rather than by “all Jewish men”. This is not explicit in WotW activity but in the political activity or statements of the participants in other contexts, most of who, but not all! are “perfect Zionists”.

      B. Sh summarized it well: over the ages the location was just a public place visited by Jews of both genders who prayed there.

      C. The rebuttal of B: this sad state of affairs was the sad consequence of the oppression by Ottoman authorities who disallowed attempts to convert the location to a synagogue in which the restrictions on women could be enforced. Conversely, the imposition of the rules of an Orthodox synagogue was the major achievement of 1967 that the heretical women want to take away. Even under Ottoman oppression the women praying at the Wall would refrain from male religious symbols. This side of the discussion was not well represented because ynetnews violates the rules of a proper Jewish website, e.g. just today they show a picture of a woman (Tzipi seems to make some news).

      Reply to Comment
    10. Jenny

      I don’t understand the blatant idolatory regarding the wall.
      people don’t seem to get that it’s the outer wall of Herod’s palace – built by Romans for a non-Jew. (and please spare me all the bad archaeology from ynet and other Israeli publications etc etc) – it is a wall. It is, never was, part of any temple. Nor was it even Jewish.
      as I say, I think it is idolatory.

      Reply to Comment

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