May 14, 2013
Photos and Writing By Mark S. Anshan
Mark S. Anshan is a leader in the Reform movement serving on the URJ Board of Trustees and in other roles. He is a past Chair of ARZENU – the International Federation of Reform and Progressive Zionists.
Rosh Chodesh Sivan could well be the tipping point in the struggle to achieve religious pluralism in Israel. On May 10, 2013 Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the Women of the Wall (WOW) came together to pray at the Kotel as they do each month. Together with many other supporters of WOW, I (once again) had the privilege to be with them as they assembled for shacharit services. This time however, the situation was completely different from all other Rosh Chodesh services.
By the time we arrived at the Kotel plaza, thousands of Haredi, young and old, were assembling, at the direction of their rabbinic leadership, to protest and do what they could to prevent WOW members and supporters from praying. The WOW have always prayed in the women’s section. This time they were prevented from doing so as the Haredi women arrived early to pack the section, leaving no room for others to enter the section. WOW assembled just behind the fence at the point where the men’s and women’s sections meet.
In the past WOW were subject to close scrutiny by the police, who were photographing them and watching closely for any infringement of (at that time) the regulation governing what women could and could not do in worship (i.e. not wearing tallit, tefillin or reading Torah) based on the meaning of “local custom.” In the past year many WOW members have been arrested for contravening the prohibitions then in force. Anat Hoffman, chair of WOW was arrested and held in jail for carrying a Torah and last month Lesley Sachs, director of WOW and others were arrested for wearing tallit. This time, as result of an important court ruling rendered by Judge Moshe Sobel of the Jerusalem District Court, the women were permitted to pray wearing tallit and tefillin. This time instead of watching closely and being ready to make arrests, the police and border police were out in full force to protect the women from the Haredi. At the moment I arrived in the plaza, I had a hard time moving from the security entrance through the crowd of thousands to get close to where the women were about to begin their prayers. The police formed a human chain around the group to prevent anyone getting near them – they were protecting them from any potential physical violence. Soon after, the police erected barriers that physically separated the Haredi men and women from the rest of us. But the potential for physical violence remained as the men and boys continued to shout, blow whistles and throw objects (coffee, water, garbage) in a vain attempt to interrupt the service. I took photos and watched with interest the expressions on the faces of young Haredi students (male and female) who were standing there in silence as the older Haredi men engaged in shouting and disruptive behavior. I wondered if the younger students understood why they were brought to the Kotel.
Ironically, we – men and women – were praying together as WOW led the shacharit service. The Kotel plaza, a place for prayer and meditation and ceremonies where honour is conveyed on those serving in the defence of Israel and other like occasions had been turned into a place of protest with the threat of violence. That too was an irony – women coming to pray were prevented from doing so by religious men who came to protest. Not only did they attempt to disrupt the women from praying but their conduct clearly interfered with those who were actually praying at the Kotel in both the men and women’s sections. Following the conclusion of the service, the women were escorted by the police out of the plaza area to buses that the police had arranged for to take the women safely away from the plaza. As they boarded the buses, they were met with violence by Haredi men waiting for them. Rocks were thrown at the buses creating a very dangerous situation that could have resulted in serious personal injury.
The Haredi are doing what they can to overturn the ruling of Judge Sobel. (an appeal from the Magistrates Court decision). The Israel Police had arrested a number of women the previous month for wearing tallitot. A smaller but no less threatening situation arose and the police intervened by arresting the women. The police were attempting to prevent WOW from coming to the Western Wall plaza for the next three Rosh Chodesh prayers. The Magistrates Court ruled that the women were not the ones “…who had committed a breach of the peace and had initiated the provocation” but rather “…the responsibility for the breach rests with other people who were present at the site and expressed their protest against the Women of the Wall.” The unconditional release of the women was ordered. The police appealed and Judge Sobel was presented with the situation where he had to rule on the integrity of the regulation. The police argued a number of points including the critical issue whether the women violated the Holy Sites Regulations, which state that anyone “…who takes part in the performance of a religious ceremony other than in accordance with local custom (emphasis added), which offends the sensibilities of worshipers from among the public with respect to the site in question is committing an offense.” The police argued that “local custom” meant status quo, i.e. the custom that has prevailed. Judge Sobel, citing previous case law, disagreed with the police interpretation and accepted the precedents of earlier decisions that stated the “…nature of a custom is that it changes according to the changing times, and [the phrase] should express a pluralistic and tolerant approach to the opinions and customs of others…” and accordingly, the women did not violate “…the prohibitions set forth in the Holy Sites Regulations.”
Faced with this decision, the Haredi community embarked on a demonstration on Rosh Chodesh Sivan aimed to disrupt and intimidate not only WOW and its supporters but those in authority – the government and the judiciary. The battle lines are now fully drawn and, as Rabbi Eric Yoffie wrote earlier this week “As these developments become more likely, a desperate reaction was to be expected—and the violence at the Wall is only the first round. What this means is that the Women of the Wall are wise to keep up the pressure. And it is to be hoped that Israel’s political leaders, fortified by the January elections and the expectations of an impatient Diaspora, will retain their resolve as well.”
Earlier in the year Prime Minister Netanyahu asked Natan Sharansky to make recommendations that would resolve the issue of prayer at the Kotel. The recommendation brought forward was the construction of a second prayer plaza at Robinson’s Arch that would be for egalitarian prayer. It is interesting to note that while this recommendation resulted from the efforts of the WOW in forcing the issue of how all forms of prayer should be accommodated at the Kotel, the solution only deals with one of two issues. It is a solution to the question of egalitarian prayer, i.e. men and women who choose to prayer together. The WOW’s efforts deal with another issue, that of women who wish to pray in the women’s section in the manner they choose. Thus, while the Sharansky proposal is to be welcomed and supported, it does not deal directly with this other issue that is of direct concern to women, particularly modern Orthodox.
Anat Hoffman reminded us that “…a poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute showed that, for the first time, a majority of Israelis support women’s right to pray at the Kotel as they see fit.” While these are significant developments with the full force of jurisprudence in support of open and equal prayer, it is disheartening to note that the new Diaspora and Religious Services Minister, Naftali Bennett from the Bayit haYehudi party is now planning to impose more regulations against women praying at the Wall. His threats of unilateral actions would undermine the Sharanksy proposal and bring about further legal challenges that could reverse the cogently written decision of Judge Sobel.
The issue of prayer at the Western Wall is important on its own merits. But it also serves as the metaphor for the larger issue of religious pluralism in Israel – a Jewish society in which all forms of Jewish religious practice and custom should be recognized and respected. For liberal Jews the very essence of what Israel should be as a Jewish state is what holds our commitment and connection to the land and the state. WOW, led by Anat Hoffman and Lesley Sachs, is to be applauded for creating the tipping point that will change the religious environment in the State of Israel. Hopefully this will be resolved in short time and Israel will avoid the necessity of seeing a March on Jerusalem mounted to force the government to do that which it knows should be done.
May 10, 2013 in St. Louis, MO: We had over 60 people and it was just perfect – outside, at least 8 different congregations represented, men and women, young and old….beautiful!
San Francisco and the Bay Area Friends of Women of the Wall Sing In! One of our longest standing solidarity groups!
NEW YORK, NEW YORK!
Jewish Voices Together gathered in Madison Square Park for their Rosh Hodesh Sivan Solidarity Minyan! Here is the first aliyah, for women with WOW tallitot!! In NYC they had 250 participants, from all Jewish denominations, supporting WOW and Jewish pluralism.
Folks from across St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota came together at Beth Jacob Congregation for an egalitarian minyan in solidarity and celebration of Women of the Wall, in partnership with Mt. Zion Temple, Shir Tikvah, and Temple of Aaron. The minyan was joyful and energetic; some photos:
When we got to the Song of the Sea, we thought of those walls of police officers protecting you on your right and on your left.
Chicagoland WOW Solidarity Event, May 10th:
Despite cold and rainy weather, over 100 women and men turned out to support our sisters in Jerusalem. A Rosh Hodesh service was held at the Daley Center in front of a replica of the Wall created by Carol Johnson. The warm and inspirational service was led by Debbie Lewis, Carla Cenker, Ricky Lewis, Rhonda Wehner. Doris Schyman read torah.
The project to hold a Solidarity Rosh Hodesh Service started with an independent Rosh Hodesh group and spread to include outreach by the Union of Reform Judaism and its affiliate congregations, Conservative and Reconstructionist congregations and about a dozen Jewish organizations including Hillel chapters and the National Council of Jewish Women.
Hadassah Rosh Hodesh group in Parkland, FL.
by Rabbi Mark Zimmerman, Conservative rabbi serving Congregation Beth Shalom in Atlanta (from his blog
Shortly we will celebrate the holiday of Shavuot which commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Our tradition teaches us that every Jew was in attendance for this magnificent, historic event — including all who ever lived in the past, and all those yet to be born in the future.
The image is indeed a very touching one. We were allpresent at Sinai, and the entire Jewish people stood together as one. The whole Jewish people standing together as agudah achat, one unified group has always conveyed a beautiful, inspirational lesson for us to emulate in every generation.
Yet sadly, that was not the scene at the Kotel this past Rosh Hodesh
. Over five-hundred women came together to peacefully pray and read words of Torah together at a service organized every month by the group Neshot HaKotel
, or Women of the Wall
. This time they had even more obstacles to overcome than usual.
In a groundbreaking ruling, the Jerusalem District Court upheld an earlier decision that women who wear tallitot at the Kotel plaza are not contravening “local custom” or causing a public disturbance, and therefore should not be arrested — as they had been in the past. The issue of equal prayer rights at the Kotel has become more prominent recently because of the frequent arrests of women participating in these special services held each month on Rosh Hodesh — which has long traditionally been considered a special holiday for women in Judaism.
During the last Rosh Hodesh service at the Kotel, the scene was chaotic as a large police presence tried to keep the the protesters and women daveners separated. Haredi (Ultra Orthodox) women had gathered in large numbers to fill the women’s section in an attempt to prevent Women of the Wall from holding their monthly service. Meanwhile Haredi men and children hurled stones and insults in the direction of these women, simply trying to gather in prayer. Absolutely appalling.
I, like many of you have long supported Women of the Wall and their efforts on behalf of religious pluralism in Israel. Yet when I expressed that support in the comments section of Jpost.com I was greeted with the typical barrage of delegitimizers, and those who deplore any expression of Judaism other than their own.
But let me say it clearly. WOW’s actions are not at all contrary to halacha, (Jewish law) but haredim throwing rocks at people clearly is a grave sin in Judaism. There is no comparison. Halacha is dynamic, and there has never been only one authoritative interpretation of Jewish law. Our Sages have taught us that there are shivim panim laTorah (seventy faces to the Torah) and many modern Jews who support WOW are also living according to Torah. So those who say WOW and their supporters don’t accept the Torah are completely misguided.
The Kotel belongs to all Jews; not just the haredim, not just the Orthodox, and not just Conservative or Reform either. But even beyond that, ethical, moral and civil behavior should be expected of all Jews and in all places — but especially in a sacred space such as the Kotel.
Others objected to my words of support saying it’s a complex issue and the sensitivities in Israel are different than they are here in America. I couldn’t disagree more. It’s NOT complicated at all. I have davened at the Kotel many times over the years, and twenty years ago I could lead an egalitarian Kabbalat Shabbat service in the Kotel plaza without incident. But today there are haredi thugs who can’t accept that anyone has a right to any interpretation of Judaism other than their own narrow definition of Judaism.
The article on Jerusalem Post’s website where my comments appeared was titled: “Western Wall rabbi: I am hurting and crying”. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz told the Post: It wasn’t for this Kotel that we prayed. We don’t want a Kotel of disagreement.”
Well I certainly agree. The Kotel should indeed be for all of us, praying together in harmony, each in our own respective way. The Kotel belongs to all Jews, not just those who delegitimize us. We modern Jews who identify with more progressive streams of Judaism are tired of having our voices shouted down. And refusing to even acknowledge our observance of halacha is an insult that we should no longer tolerate.
So I encourage you all to add your support to these brave women who are liberating the Kotel for the entirety of the Jewish people.
by Liora Alban, Women of the Wall Intern
I fell asleep last night as nerves and excitement swelled within me. I knew I would be waking up to the sunrise this morning in order to pray with Women of the Wall at Rosh Hodesh Sivan. Although I have prayed in Rosh Hodesh minyans before, something about this minyan felt different and more pressing.
I was working in the library last week when my friend summoned me over with, “Look! Look!” I was looking at victory. According to the Women of the Wall website, the Jerusalem District Court held that the five women arrested on April 11 were not disturbing public order and should never have been arrested. Women’s prayer in the women’s section, regardless of how this prayer is expressed, does not violate local custom and should not cause arrests.
I have lived in Israel for eight months now as a student spending her Junior year abroad and have grown to feel that this land is more my home than is the city in which I grew up. Yet the Kotel has always stood apart from this bond to Israel which I feel. This year has forced me to face the harsh reality that while I grew up in a very liberal Jewish environment that allows me to pray however I please, this is not the case for others, especially in Israel. This difference in acceptance in practice is typified by the Kotel. I ironically feel like a visitor in this place which is supposed to be my Jewish home. Instead of aligning my personhood with my religion, it sparks in me feelings of alienation and a questioning of Judaism.
I was looking at victory. As I read about the Jerusalem District Court Decision, I felt an immense sense of validation. The decision states that my way of practicing Judaism is valid and welcomed by the Israeli government. I knew that at Rosh Hodesh Sivan I would have newfound opportunity to set my own prayer pace. I would be allowed to pray, to sing, and to dance among sisters without fear of arrest and instead only with the exuberance that comes from a sense of belonging. Further, I felt a connection between the fact that my year abroad in Israel is coming to an end and that the age of gender inequality at the Kotel is possibly coming to an end as well. In just four weeks I will return to the United States. At least though I am able to see the beginning of the fruit of Women of the Wall’s labor before I go.
With this, anticipation bubbled in me last night as I tried to sleep. I could not, of course. My friends and I left our Hebrew University dorms this morning at the crack of dawn with shared eagerness and wonder. We boarded the train towards downtown, trekked through the Old City, and stopped at the stairs above the Kotel plaza. What was that hum? As we peered over the stairs’ railings, I knew I was correct. This minyan was going to be different after all.
I was shocked. The hum was coming from a swarm of Haredim who were there en masse to protest the recent Jerusalem Court Decision. I have never seen the Kotel plaza so filled and knew my friends and I would have to swim through in order to reach our Women of the Wall sisters. Swim we did. I pushed. I squeezed. I finally reached the Women of the Wall and felt at home among women and men just like me—with the same recognizable expression of both fear and elation.
Prayer began. I did not have my own prayer book, but others rushed to share with me so that I could follow along. While chanting, I was hit in the head with a wad of wet tissue paper thrown by the Haredim. We were pointed and heckled at. Instead of being scared, I was emboldened. Chanting with Women of the Wall is always the thing that moves me the most during Rosh Hodesh minyans. The chanting usually begins slow and quiet but quickly gains momentum and is joined by clapping and dancing. Sometimes we even link arms and move as one. Through this, our voices and bodies become links on a single chain moving towards the goal of freedom of prayer. Despite differences between Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Renewal, man, woman, Israeli, or not, what matters most in these moments of chanting is that we support each other and support Women of the Wall. I am reminded why my seemingly insignificant voice against a sea of Haredim and others who view my Jewish practice as illegitimate matters. I am a link.
My friends and I exited the Kotel Plaza following the Minyan. We prayed. We sang. We danced. We marched past Haredi men and women staring at us as they would aliens. We dodged dirt, coffee, and paper towels that were lunged towards us. My friends and I were rightfully shocked, exhausted, and silent. Eventually though, I unintentionally broke this silence as I shook my head and stated, really only to myself, “absurd.” Absurdity is only word I have to appropriately describe the Women of the Wall plight. My sisters and I come each Rosh Hodesh with the single goal of praying, of expressing our Judaism, peacefully. Peace is not returned to us. Why is it okay for the Haredim to protect Judaism through the protection of its holy site, by engaging in unarguably “un-Jewish” behavior? To me, this is absurd. In the midst of this morning, a male friend of mine entered conversation with a couple of Haredi boys. He asked why they were so enraged. Their answer? They view Women of the Wall as visitors encroaching on their home. This is also absurd. I am Jewish. Both of my parents are Jewish. How is the Kotel not just as much my home as it is his? Last Rosh Hodesh, sisters were arrested for wearing tallitot. This Rosh Hodesh, police officers held hands and stood in lines in order to form protective barriers between us and the Haredim. Some Haredim were even arrested for taunting us. While this is certainly something to be honored, it nevertheless represents a complete turn-around of treatment towards Haredim and towards Women of the Wall. It enhances my confusion with my place at the Kotel.
The absurdity of the situation at the Kotel has to balloon before changes can be made. The Israeli government will make and retract decisions. Haredim will be challenged by our growing presence each Rosh Hodesh. Only because of this absurdity might the world begin to question the legitimacy of Jewish gender traditions. Change might then be on the way in. While Rosh Hodesh Sivan marked the culmination of my year abroad in Israel, for Women of the Wall, it is only the commencement of greater change ahead.
To all women who wish to pray at the Western Wall,
This Friday May 10th, Women of the Wall will gather, as we have for nearly 25 years, for Rosh Hodesh prayers at the Kotel. This month is different from past months; we have received the legal ruling of the Jerusalem District Court to pray freely on the women’s side of the Kotel. After many months of intimidation and arrests, we gather this month in celebration of this and in great anticipation to pray peacefully, each woman according to her own custom. We are happy to invite you all – Haredi, Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Renewal, Reconstructionist and unaffiliated Jews – to join our women’s prayer.
We know that there are new groups organizing to recruit women to come to the Kotel early on Rosh Hodesh and protest our prayer. We hope that these groups, who know little about Women of the Wall, are not coming to the Kotel to provoke conflict, but to pray. Such fringe groups have organized just in the past two months, since media has begun to gather at the Kotel on Rosh Hodesh. Though each group has a right to assemble and to claim their 15 minutes of fame, Women of the Wall eagerly awaits the day when all women pray, free of media and police alike. Please know that there is no reason to be threatened by pluralism; the truth is quite the opposite, Women of the Wall respects all Jewish denominations and each woman in the way in which she chooses to live.
If you are a free-thinking woman recruited by these groups that wish to provoke a fight at the holy site, we urge you to take a moment, listen to our prayer and see our honest intent. If the mood strikes you, you are welcome to pick up a copy of our siddur and pray with us.
For those women coming to pray on Rosh Hodesh, nothing could make us more proud. It is because of the years of prayer and struggle of Women of the Wall that you can finally do so freely now. We have faced cursing, physical assault, spitting and more on the journey towards women’s religious freedom at the Kotel. We have done so in order to pave the way for women like you, who begin now to gather in groups at the Kotel, and it gives us great pleasure to see you organize, so long as it is for the purpose of raising the spiritual ground of the Kotel and not to protest our peaceful prayer.
When we arrive at the Kotel on Friday, we will all have a choice, to be on the side of baseless hatred of Jew against Jew or to pray with Women of the Wall for unity amongst Jews. We welcome you to join us as we pray side-by-side, each woman as she believes but with respect for the other.
We look forward to sharing our sisterhood with you,
Women of the Wall
My Thoughts as We Embark upon a New Initiative in Support of Religious Pluralism at the Kotel
by Rabbi Dan Goldblatt, Beth Chaim Congregation, Danville, California; President, OHALAH (Renewal), International Vice Chair, Rabbis for Women of the Wal
We live at a moment of great blessing in Jewish history. There has been a great healing of old patriarchal wounds and we have women rabbis, cantors, chaplains, and liturgists. For centuries, we were taught that Kabbalah was an expression of the divine feminine albeit articulated by men. Today, thank G-d, we are blessed to have this coming through the beauty of women’s voices.
In our holy land of Israel, we stand together with the Women of the Wall and all those who hold dear the words that speak to our hearts from the Torah, “B’Tzelem Elohim . . . In the image of G-d, the Creator made them, male and female G-d created them. (Genesis 1:27)
We pray that the day has come when, women, created in the image of the divine, can worship, sing out, chant from Torah, and if they choose, wrap themselves in tallit, tefillin standing at the Kotel, the resonant symbol of the holy places of our tradition.
We stand with them and make an unequivocal commitment to do all that we can to ensure that Israel honor its commitment to all of Klal Yisrael in its wondrously diverse, pluralistic and egalitarian splendor.
by Rabbi Menachem Creditor, in honor of my hero, Rabbi Yonina Creditor
My hope is renewed at the possibility of Jewish Pluralism in Israel given the amazing moment we marked today, as a Jerusalem District court upheld a ruling that five women who had been detained at the Western Wall for wearing prayer shawls traditionally used by men and singing were not disturbing the public order. (The police had challenged a ruling last Thursday by a magistrates’ court upon the detentions.)
Rabbis for Women of the Wall launched in October of 2010, with rabbinic leadership representing all streams of Judaism, and recent statements by Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld make it clear that Modern Orthodoxy’s support for Jewish Pluralism in Israel is growing.
Thanks to the leadership of my fellow founding cochair Rabbi Pam Frydman and incoming cochair Rabbi David Kalb, I know the path forward will be led by resonant rabbinic power and infused with wise, loving, collaborative rabbinic vision.
It is my prayer, as I conclude my term as co-chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall, that the political power of Charedim in Israel declines and that Charedim do not become targets of Jewish hate. Pluralism is not limited to progressive streams of Judaism. The path ahead must include our whole family.
It is my prayer that the State of Israel see itself as the safe heart and nurturing home of the Global Jewish People, affirming Jewish Pluralism and Jewish family. The Diaspora is a legitimate expression of Jewish Peoplehood, and the State of Israel has an obligation to support every Jew in the world.
It is my prayer that yearning Zionists, those who love the State of Israel that is and are passionately committed to building the State of Israel that has yet to be, step up and do their part in defending our People’s Home. Jewish critique of Israel is only authentic when it is borne in and of love for our People’s Home.
It is my prayer that women, at the Kotel, in the Galil, in Buenos Aires, in Australia, Johannesburg, and San Francisco never again experience the violence and persecution they have endured monthly for almost twenty years, all the while channeling the fire of Deborah the Warrior and the song of Miriam the Prophet.
It is my prayer that Jews around the world continue agitating for Jewish Pluralism in Israel, so that no one - no human being - ever again have their voice silenced for being who God created them to be.
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Iyyar 15, 5773 // April 25, 2013
Women of the Wall was contacted by the filmmakers behind the J Street Documentary, in solidarity and support for our struggle!
“As filmmakers, we have been following J Street for the past three years documenting their fight for the Obama Administration to take a more active role in the Middle East Peace Process. Along the way, we have encountered many groups battling for core democratic values in Israel. Perhaps none embodies this better then Women of the Wall. Women of the Wall’s struggle for women’s rights represents Israel’s great potential for pluralism and social justice.”
J STREET: the documentary stands with Women of the Wall.
ADDITIONAL LINKS FOR OUR PROJECT:
We are quickly approaching the Friday May 10th Rosh Hodesh service in support of Women of the Wall at the Daley Center at 8AM. We hope you will be able to join us. To RSVP and to see who else is coming check out our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/194539127336912/?ref=2
Please bring your own prayer book and tallit, if you can.
The details of the event are listed below:
Women of the Wall (WOW) need support in their goal of religious freedom and the right to pray aloud at the Western Wall.
On Rosh Hodesh Sivan, Friday morning, May 10, 8 am to 10 am, there will be a women-led Torah service at the Daley Center on Randolph St. in support of Women of the Wall (WOW). This gathering is intended to focus public attention on the goals of WOW and to urge action by Prime Minister Netanyahu, Commission Chair Natan Sharansky, as well as other members of the Israeli government.
We encourage everyone to join us. We are a grassroots association, Women of the Wall Chicagoland. We have obtained a permit from the City of Chicago for this event. It is clear that Diaspora pressure is making a difference!! Let’s keep it up.
By Rabbi Iris Richman
*Announcing Wake Up for Religious Tolerance! Rosh Hodesh Sivan, in Manhattan, Friday morning May 10, exact time and place TBA.*
As last time, we have applied for a NYC Parks permit, and await the results – but are receiving expedited consideration, since this is a first amendment issue.
The haftarah (2 Kings 7: 3-20) that we read in this week’s combined weekly Torah parasha of Tazria-M’tzora addresses the metzora/leprosy described in the Torah portion (though it is not the disease of leprosy as we know it today). It was an affliction that separated and isolated people and deemed them impure. In this haftarah, four afflicted men who have been cast out of the community decide in desperation to desert to the Arameans, who lay in wait to attack the Israelites. In a stunning turnabout, they find the Aramean camp deserted. Although their first and understandable impulse is to take all of the material possessions of the Arameans for themselves, upon reflection, they realize a greater truth. They conclude that they cannot remain silent and must rejoin the Israelites and share their news and their plight, even though the Israelites had cast them out.Last night we awaited the fate of our sisters at the Kotel in Jerusalem, to learn whether on Rosh Hodesh Iyyar, the morning of April 11, they worshiped in peace or were cast aside yet again by some of our fellow Jews. Five women were arrested for the “crime” of wearing a tallit and davening while female. Thanks to the wise and courageous actions of J. Sharon Larry Bavly and the two MKs who supported the women every step of the way - MKs Tamara Zandberg and Michal Rozin – the Judge found that they committed no crime – and the only disturbance of the peace was on the part of those who tried to interfere with the women davening! Copy of the decision in Hebrew attached, translation to follow. Now we have the first positive decision – clearly the most positive first step in a long and continuing journey. There will likely be many more arrests and judges before tolerance is established. I spoke to Anat Hoffman this morning, who is very happy at this vindication, and of course, is ready to continue the 24 year long struggle of Women of the Wall!
*We* must ask the question for ourselves anew – do *we* remain silent, and deny that our fates are united, or do *we* resolve to stand together as one Jewish people?Those who joined together on Rosh Hodesh Nissan already know the power and sacredness of our joining our Jewish Voices Together. If you would like to build on that experience or join in for the first time, please let us know by email and by signing up for the event:
If you can volunteer to help with social media, public relations or ushering and other help on May 10, please let us know that too.
When a woman cannot mourn….
The stones of the earth will shake.
The rains will flood
… The seas will swell
The earth will open
The Shekhina will wail!
She will moan…
Until every woman can cry
Until every woman can sing
Until every woman can laugh
So deeply that every man will feel
Called from the depths of his soul
To cry with her
To sing with her
To laugh with her
And to dance with her
Before the sun
Before the moon
Standing in the River of Life,
Holiness beating in their hearts.
Their bodies dust,
Their breath divine
Written by Jennifer Rudick Zunikoff, April 4, 2013
The Orlando Community Weekday Minyan (www.facebook.com/OrlandoMinyan,OrlandoMinyan@gmail.com)stood in solidarity with Nashot HaKotel on Rosh Chodesh Iyyar (1 Iyyar, Thursday, 4/11/13).
The Orlando Community Weekday Minyan is greater Orlando’s only ongoing daily minyan. It is traditional and fully egalitarian, meeting every Monday through Friday morning in the Beit K’nesset of the Jewish Academy of Orlando in Maitland, FL.
By Jenn Maggin
Jenn is an intern with Women of the Wall and will be starting studies at HUC Jerusalem next Fall
Criminals. Troublemakers. Attention seekers. These are just a few of the names that Women of the Wall have been called. I’ve met these women, I’ve prayed with these women, and you know what? I call these women discrimination-fighting superheroes with the guts to stand up for the human right to pray. As an OTZMA participant and a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, I am blessed to have the opportunity to intern with this social advocacy group and experience the magic.
Women of the Wall seek the rights for women to conduct prayer services, read Torah while wearing tallitot or tefillin, and sing out loud at the Western Wall. Their quest is to change the current status quo, which prevents women from praying freely at the Western Wall, to educate Jewish women and the public, and to empower Jewish women to take control of their religious and prayer lives.
Today is Rosh Hodesh Iyar, the first of the month, and I’m standing in the women’s section of the Kotel. I’m surrounded by a couple hundred women pushing up against me with their prayer books, but I don’t feel claustrophobic at all—not one bit. I enjoy feeling close to them. I enjoy feeling as if I’m part of a team—one united army of women from all different branches of Judaism with the common goal of freedom in prayer. The Kotel is swamped with photographers, news reporters, and police officers watching us as if we’re plotting evil. Orthodox men stand on chairs in the men’s section. Screaming at us to pipe down and to stop the racket, they stare us down like we’re parasites. Despite the snaps of the cameras, the yelling of the opposition, and the chanting of the men, I hear only one thing: I hear the beautiful melody of the Shema. We looked up at the sky, closed our eyes, and chanted the Shema like it’s our anthem. Without a worry of the nasty Facebook comments people will make, the articles that will be written about us in Haaretz, or the police reports that may potentially be filed, we prayed together in harmony.
Last year as I walked to the Kotel on Erev Yom Kippur, I jumped up and down with excitement at the thought of praying in one of the most holy places. Unfortunately, my memories of praying at the Kotel on Yom Kippur center around my experience of having the security guards make me remove my kippa and lock my new tallit in my backpack as if it was a weapon. But men were walking in with all of these same items and not being harassed or bothered! Because I’m a woman, I’m not allowed to express my Judaism the way I feel called to? I felt disgusted, confused, and alone. Now as I intern with Women of the Wall and join them in their journey for justice, I no longer feel alone in this battle.
Today, I watched police officers question innocent women as they prayed. These were women with mile-long smiles on their faces just bubbling with contagious passion as they let out the words of their favorite prayers. Is this a crime? Are these women criminals? No, they are certainly not. Five women were taken away from our Rosh Hodesh service at the Kotel and detained. Thank goodness, these five detained women were released without any charges. The judge declared that there was no cause for the womens’ arrest and that the provocation was on behalf of those who oppose womens pray. I’ve never experienced religious discrimination. At my Reform synagogue, Temple Beth Sholom, in New City, New York, I have the freedom to pray however I would like. Not only does my experience with Women of the Wall make me appreciate the times I’m treated fairly and equally, but it also encourages me to keep striving for equality and justice in an unfair society. I am thrilled to begin interning with Women of the Wall and promote human rights. We will change this. We really will.
Women of the Wall’s response to the Jewish Agency Statement below:
‘Women of the Wall’ is pleased that the prohibition of women saying Kaddish at the Kotel shocked Chairman Sharansky but we wish that he would be equally shocked at the arrest of any woman for any act of prayer at the Kotel. We hope that Sharansky’s recommendations to PM Netanyahu in regards to this conflict will include the immediate end to all arrests of women praying at the Kotel, including women wearing Tallit and reading torah. This condition would reflect his commitment to the majority of the Jewish people he represents worldwide.
The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Chairman Natan Sharansky met today with Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, Chairman of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation to express his shock at a letter sent by the Israeli Police. The letter stated, in part, that the police would arrest women who recite Kaddish (the mourner’s prayer) at the Western Wall.
Rabbi Rabinovitch assured Sharansky that, contrary to the letter, no woman would be arrested for reciting Kaddish at the Western Wall.
Sharansky is currently in the final stages of drafting recommendations for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to decrease the tensions and ensure that every Jew in the world can pray in the manner that they are accustomed to at Judaism’s most important national and religious site.
In recent days, Sharansky has met with a number of appropriate ministers in Israel’s new government on this issue and is engaged in a last round of discussions with leading religious and public figures in Israel and the Jewish world.
Chairman Sharansky said that the growing tensions at the Western Wall highlights the urgent need to find a solution. He added that “The Kotel must continue to be a symbol of unity for all Jews in the world and not a symbol of strife and discord.”
Women of the Wall Rosh Hodesh Nissan
by Allison Cohen, a rabbinical student attending Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the first year of the program is spent at HUC’s Jerusalem campus.
As a rabbinical student, I am constantly reminded of one of the greatest skills I have been taught: the act of questioning. Who, what, where, when and my favorite, “why?” In each class, I take what I learn, question it, reason with it and apply it to society.
This past month’s Women of the Wall Rodesh Hodesh service not only celebrated the new month of Nissan, but also marked the month of the Jewish holiday of freedom, Passover (Pesach in Hebrew). During the Shacharit service, no women were detained, and just like last month, we prepared ourselves for the guards to be standing at the security checkpoint where we would exit from. As we made our way to Robinson’s Arch for the torah service, all of the women linked arms. I was linked in between two women who were in Israel for the Women of Reform Judaism’s Centennial Celebration. Everyone walked closely together as we sang Oseh Shalom. We waited for the guards to tear each other from our links, but to our surprise, no event occurred. Instead, we continued peacefully to Robinson’s Arch.
|Women of Reform Judaism’s Vice President Susan Bass & Alli Cohen (me)
As wary as I am to an unexpected, quiet Rosh Hodesh, I know I need to stay hopeful. Nevertheless, Passover reminds me that in many ways, it seems we are still enslaved today. My involvement with Women of the Wall makes me question: How can we rejoice, when we cannot even have the freedom for religious expression, even in Jerusalem?
Jews especially love to ask questions, and this is quite evident through Passover. We have just asked ourselves four, very famous questions, and as the youngest child in my family, I may never retire from having to sing: מה נשתנה, הלילה הזה מכל הלילות
(Why is this night different from all other nights?)”
However, I would like to propose a fifth question of my own: Why is this month different from all other months? This is the month of freedom. This is the month in which we recall the bitter times of our past but also the journey out of exile. Despite our past detainments and arrests, let this Rosh Hodesh and the recalling of the Passover story give reason to hope. Let it empower us to continue the struggle towards the freedom that we see just, for our own lives today.
Looking ahead, maybe Pesach teaches us that we need to continue asking in order to shape a brighter future. After all, the holiday is not just about remembering the time in slavery, but the journey our ancestors took; this journey continues today. So if it is up to us, maybe we should be asking: What can we do to create an atmosphere for religious pluralism in the public domain? How can we share a site that is sacred to a variety of people? How can we allow room for religious expression when it may go against our own beliefs? How can we enable the Kotel to truly be a place for all to find meaning? Just as a journey cannot be taken while stationary, neither can our need for continued questions cease. In order to move forward with ever-changing times, we must continue to question. As a student I have learned that ultimately, life is not about having all the answers but knowing that there are always more questions to be asked.
On Pesach many sing the song Bashana haba’ah, by Ehud Manor. Translated to English, the chorus means: You will yet see, you will yet see, how good it will be, next year.
Let us make this vision a reality! Hag Pesach Sameach!
Last months Rosh Hodesh Nissan set new records for worldwide Women of the Wall solidarity and support! Not only did we pray at the Kotel with tallitot and tefillin without arrests or police intervention for the first time since 2010, but we also were supported my activists worldwide.
Here are some great examples of how even small groups showed solidarity with Women of the Wall on Rosh
Hodesh Nissan. You can do the same next month for Rosh Hodesh Iyar!
A group of only seven women in Seal Beach, California joined together for a Ma’ariv service on the eve of Rosh Hodesh Nissan in support of Women of the Wall. Although this group is starting off small, they plan on holding a ma’ariv service each month until women in Israel are given the right to pray in peace.
Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline, Massachusetts davened Musaf outside in solidarity with Women of the Wall. Rabbi William Hamilton of Kehillath Israel says they hope to continue this until the dreams of religious equality at the Kotel are realized. He hopes Kehillath Israel can be a model for communities everywhere who wish to help makes these dreams reality.
College students are also getting involved! The Hillels at Brandeis Univeristy, The University of Pennsylvania, List College, and more brought students together in solidarity with WOW!
Thank you to our activists for your important work. We look forward to even more involvement on next month’s Rosh Hodesh Iyar!
by Rabbi Iris Richman Pesach/Passover 5773/2013
The celebration of Pesach and the reading of the timeless Haggadah from year to year requires a deeper and broader understanding. We are not just obligated to tell the ancient story, but we are also required in each generation to see true liberation through our own eyes and in our own times.
It is not just that the ancient Israelites went out mi-mitzrayim. We did that to arrive somewhere else. As our Torah and Haggadah tell us, the liberation was to enable us to achieve a holy purpose. “God took us out from there in order to bring us and give us the land that God swore to our ancestors.” (Deut. 6:23)
For each of us, that liberation mi-mitzrayim may mean something different. In the literal sense, being liberated mi-mitzrayim means the original Exodus that took us from Egypt. Yet, Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav said: “The Exodus from Egypt occurs in every human being, in every era, in every year and even on every day.” Moreover, mi-mitzrayim also means from the narrow places – meaning that this liberation that we require and celebrate is not only from Egypt, but also from those narrow places that constrain us and prevent our full spiritual and religious expression as Jews.
Tonight, as we give thanks for that ancient liberation which enabled us to enter the holy land of Israel, let us remember that the process of liberation is not complete. As the next verse of the Torah makes clear, this liberation was infused with obligation. We were liberated in order to worship God for our lasting good.
When we celebrate what God did for us – us is neither male nor female, not Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform or Renewal. It is simply us, the Jewish People.
Let us join our Jewish Voices Together and say that all Jews must be liberated to serve God and to worship each in his or her own true way, especially at the place that God showed us, where our ancestors united to worship – the Kotel/Western Wall.
Let us envision a next year in Yerushalayim/Jerusalem where women and men alike can worship at the ancient site of the Kotel, free from harassment or arrest, including those who wear tallitot and tefillin containing verses of Torah in order to be brought yet closer to God.
Let us see, this year, through our own eyes, religious tolerance and love for one another in supporting one another to each achieve our highest holy purpose
Rabbi Iris Richman Pesach/Passover 5773/2013
Email for more information: JewishVoicesTogether@gmail.com
by Sherree Beth KaneGraber
Rabbinic Intern, Newburgh, NY USA
Today’s service & Torah reading is dedicated to The Woman of the Wall.
About 25 years ago, in shul one Shabbas morning a man came up to me and told me that I should not be wearing a tallis. He was rather unpleasant in his tone.
The man interrupted his prayer to approach me to tell me what I couldn’t wear.
I was confused! Part of why I was confused was that I was wearing a scarf.
Rather than tying it, I wore the scarf on my head, loosely flowing onto my shoulders. I loved my silvery grey fringed Shabbas scarf. Occasionally I wore a white linen hat, but most of the time I chose the scarf because the enveloping feeling while praying felt right to me.
It felt natural. It became part of my Shabbas ritual. In Parshat Vayikra we read about ritual. The parsha describes in graphic detail what, when and how the korbanot, offerings, are to be made.
Korban, the word for offering, is based on the Hebrew root koof reish beit, karav, which means to draw close; the Hebrew word for near is based on this same root.
Our ancestors had ritual which helped them facilitate feeling closer to Hashem. There were many kinds offerings, which included animals of various kinds, oils, as well as flours.
Today our rituals are different than those of our ancestors, however we too seek closeness to Hashem and pursue spiritual experiences.
When we put on Tallit, there is a ritual. Some people first recite a prayer as part of their preparation, and also check to see if the tzittzit, fringes are all intact.
We hold the tallis in front of us as we recite the b’rucha shel mitzvah, the blessing of commandment (Baruch…) לְהִתְעַטֵּף בַּצִּיצִית ….
Blessed are You, our G!d, Ruler of the Universe, Who makes us holy with Your commandments,… and commands us to wrap ourselves in fringe
We kiss each side of the attarah;
We swirl the tallis around to cover our body /
Some people wrap only around their head / some of us wrap the tallis around our entire body and say a private meditation; and them lower to let the tallis rest on our shoulders.
This is but one of the many, beautiful rituals that we have. And we have the right and the freedom to practice our rituals and to seek our own spiritual experiences.
Here In Newburgh I can proudly, and safely wear my tallis.
The rules that are enforced at The Western Wall
הכותל המערבי are as if the Kotel was an orthodox shul.
There are women in Israel being arrested for wearing tallitot; for carrying Torah, and for raising their voices in prayer.
What would it feel like to have someone say you can’t wear your tallis or your kippah when you pray?
What would it feel like to have someone rip the Torah out from your arms?
How would you respond to being shouted down when you were trying to sing the beautiful music of Hallel?
This is what happens in our Israel on Rosh Chodesh, when The Women of the Wall meet to celebrate the new month.
In honor and support of the Women of the Wall, I would like to share with you a prayer written by Rahel Sharon Jaskow
May it be Your will, our God and God of our mothers and fathers, to bless this prayer group and all who pray within it: them, their families and all that is theirs, together with all the women and girls of your people Israel. Strengthen us and direct our hearts to serve You in truth, reverence and love. May our prayer be desirable and acceptable to You like the prayers of our holy mothers, Sarah, Rivka, Rahel and Leah. May our song ascend to Your Glorious Throne in holiness and purity, like the songs of Miriam the Prophet, Devorah the Judge, and Hannah in Shilo, and may it be pleasing to you as a sweet savor and fine incense.
And for our sisters, all the women and girls of your people Israel: let us merit to see their joy and hear their voices raised before You in song and praise. May no woman or girl be silenced ever again among Your people Israel or in all the world. God of justice, let us merit to see justice and salvation soon, for the sanctification of Your name and the repair of Your world, as it is written: Zion will hear and be glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice, over Your judgments, O God. And it is written: For Zion’s sake I will not be still and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be silent, until her righteousness shines forth like a great light and her salvation like a flaming torch.
For Torah shall go forth from Zion and the word of God from Jerusalem. Amen, selah.
When I put on my tallis; when I proudly carry our Torah around our sanctuary; when I sing Hallel on yontef; I think of the Women of the Wall.
Rosh Chodesh Nissan with the Women of the Wall
The first time I experienced early morning Rosh Chodesh prayer at the Kotel was seven years ago. My son was returning from his school trip to Poland. Parents were asked to meet their children at the Kotel at the “crack of dawn”. I dragged myself out of bed, into the cool early morning Jerusalem air with the agenda of just picking Shlomo up and leaving very quickly.
As I entered the chilly, still dark plaza, I was suddenly drawn to the Wall, to the women praying there. I decided to go down and join them. There was a minyan next to the mechitza and women were juddled around trying to hear a kaddish, a kedusha, a bit of the reading of the torah. Suddenly, I heard 3 loud bangs, and every person praying was silent, all saying the shemone esrei at exactly the same time. It was a powerful moment and at that point I decided to take upon myself going to the kotel every rosh chodesh.
The organization, Women of the Wall has been around since 1988 and have been meeting at the kotel every rosh chodesh. I had read articles about them here and there. I simply brushed it aside as a group of “crazy” women with a need to shake up the status quo. I followed the news and read about the arrests, but didn’t pay too much attention. I continued to follow my tradition of going on Rosh Chodesh, usually leaving the plaza as their group was arriving.
I have observed so many changes in the prayer experience at the kotel since that time. The women’s section has shrunk drastically, the women’s bathrooms have been moved to a very inconvenient spot, the charedi presence which was always strong has become stronger and more vocal. The mechitza got higher to the point where in celebrating my youngest son’s bar mitzvah, I could barely see, let alone hear. And the women of the wall has become The “hot” issue.
One rosh chodesh as I was leaving I observed a group of women, praying together so beautifully. I stood for a few moments listening to their hallel, when suddenly a group of police stormed the area and started pushing the women. I was shocked. I could not believe what I observed. Why were the police breaking up this otherwise most passive, peaceful and beautiful group of women?
As upsetting as this incident was to me, I continued to stay on the sidelines. A few days ago we celebrated Rosh Chodesh Nissan-the month of renewal among the Jewish People. This time I decided that I wanted to pray among this group of women-The Women of the Wall. Since the first Rosh Chodesh davening that I experienced at the kotel, I have made some changes in my own spiritual journey. I mondernized my head covering, learned how to read the torah and read in the community service at Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. I studied Megillah trope and read at this year’s megilla reading at Pardes as well.
As I approached security, Anat Hoffman, who was ahead of me, was stopped. The guard refused to let her thorough as she had a tallit in her bag. The interaction was upsetting, in particular for the 2 teenage girls who had come with Anat and had to observe this most belligerent interaction.
I finally arrived at the women’s section, where a crowd of women, Anglo and Israeli, of all denominations had already started davening. A special Rosh Chodesh siddur , put out by the Women of the Wall, was distributed to those women who needed a prayer book. Some women had never davened before. The scene was so moving. But then the yelling started. A very small group of haredi women started screaming. The davening continued,as photographers came in for the pounce like hungry tigers. One woman screamed back at the group of haredi women, otherwise the davening just continued. By 7:30 it was over.
As I observed these women, I realized that this was their platform. Are they abused, downtrodden, jealous of this eclectic, colorful group of daveners? We all have the common language of prayer, so why are they challenging it? Why are they so angry?
I realized that these women are not angry or distressed by what the Women of the Wall are doing, they are jealous that this group has found their voice, where they are feeling so isolated. I saw the pain their faces. Theirs wasn’t an angry yelling, buy a crying out-Hear Me!
And at 7:30 they were gone, on the bus heading back to their homes, to face another day. For our group, the rest of davening and the move to the Southern wall for the torah reading continued without incident. There were aliyot for all of the single women, for women who came to daven for the first time and then for anyone who wanted an aliya.
It was truly a spiritually uplifting and unifying morning.