August 25, 2015
Amidst harassment from both police and ultra-Orthodox, Women of the Wall read from the Torah and blew a Shofar this morning at the Rosh Hodesh Elul prayer, August 16th 2015 at the Western Wall.
Women of the Wall sat all night holding on to a Torah scroll so that the group will be able to have one during this mornings’ prayer. Although the 2013 Sobel Court Ruling states that reading from the Torah at the Kotel is a part of Women of the Wall’s rights, the local regulations enforced my the Rabbi of the Wall forbid women from bringing in a Torah Scroll and deny women access to the scrolls for public use located at the site. In order to read Torah at seven in the morning, Women of the Wall came with a Torah scroll at seven pm the previous evening, while there are over a hundred Torah Scrolls for “public” use meters away, all in the men’s section. At 03:54 am, policemen at the site approached the women and searched through their items, asked them to open their bag, and when they saw the Torah scroll asked them to take the Torah and escort them to the police station. The women refused and called the Chief of Police, who was on vacation with his family. They woke him up, and he acted upon the assurances he gave last month, that if Women of the Wall get the Torah in he will not confiscate it. He ordered the policemen to leave the women alone, and thus it was possible to conduct a full prayer with a Torah.
The next challenge came at 06:30, as a huge altercation at the security gate over the issue of bringing in Shofarot. An important tradition of Rosh Chodesh Elul, the last month of the Jewish calendar and one that opens the Jewish tradition of “Slichot” – praryers for forgiveness, is to blow a Shofar horn. As the sounds of many Shofarot brought in by men were sounded from the men’s section at the plaza, the Women of the Wall were stopped from bringing in 12 Shofarot to be used by women. Again, the Chief of Police was disturbed on his vacation, and the problem was sorted. A short while later, the security decided to ban the women from bringing in their prayer books. Another phone call to the Chief of Police, who by then was pulling all his hair out, was required.
Thus, despite the struggle against the police, Women of the Wall succeeded this month in fulfilling their rights and carrying out a complete prayer with a Torah Scroll and Shofarot for Rosh Chodesh Elul. The prayer was dedicated to tolerance and pluralism in Jerusalem in the wake of the murder of 16-year-old Shira Banki. However, in the midst of the meaningful prayer, Women of the Wall experienced an escalation in the level of verbal and physical violence against them throughout the prayers. Ultra-Orthodox women and men harassed the praying women. Some yelled threats at the women, such as “(what you are doing is) punishable by death”, “Sacrilege”. In a particularly chilling moment, Dana Sharon, Chairperson of the Jerusalem Open House which organized the Jerusalem Pride March, prayed in mourning for sixteen-year-old Shira Banki z”l who was murdered two weeks ago at the march by an ultra-orthodox man who stabbed her for “sacrilege”. Just at that moment a woman came with a deafening whistle and screeched “your judgement day is nearing”. After repeated attempts to get the police to intervene, a policewoman showed up, asked the woman to stop whistling but did not confiscate the woman’s strong whistle, did not take any personal information and did not warn her of the seriousness of her verbal threats. Anat Hoffman, Chairperson of Women of the Wall, reported the Chief of Police of Jerusalem MG Moshe (Chiko) Edri, about the dramatic increase in verbal threats to Women of the Wall and demanded immediate and serious action before these threats are acted upon.
Anat Hoffman: “This Rosh Chodesh in my mind will be remembered as our most powerful celebration of the year. The devotion of the women who sat all night so that we can pray with a Torah scroll, made it possible for us to make history today. Every woman who prayed with us today got a chance to blow Shofar. That never happened before. And above all, we gave a safe and loving space to our sister Dana Sharon who is overcoming the tragedy of Shira Banki’s murder. The song for peace in Hebrew says, ‘don’t say a day will come, bring that day’. This Rosh Chodesh, we have brought the day for equality and pluralism just a little bit closer.