Laying Tefillin in Solidarity with Noa Raz

Rosh Chodesh Sivan

Marilyn Heiss
San Francisco, California

היום חמשה וארבעים יום שהם ששה שבועות ושלשה ימים בעמר
Today is the forty-fifth day, making six weeks and three days of the omer
תפרת שב מלכות
A day of compassion in a week of majesty

Chodesh Tov! Today is the first of Sivan–six days to revelation…..whatever form that takes 🙂

I fulfilled the promise made in yesterday’s post and dedicated my Rosh Chodesh Torah reading to Noa Roz and the Women of the Wall (WoW). Responding to a message from WoW posted on Facebook, I sent them the photo you see below so they can document the support coming to them from all over the world. I was glad to have my 90-year-old Russian friend Yitzchak in the photo with me. Sadly, because of circulation problems, he can no longer wear his tefillin. But he is proud and happy that I wear mine.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Women of the Wall

היום ארבעה וארבעים יום שהם ששה שבועות ושני ימים בעמר
Today is the forty-fourth day, making six weeks and two days of the omer
גבורה שב מלכות
A day of strength in a week of majesty

Earlier in the omer period, on Yom HaAztma-ut, I wrote about my complicated emotions concerning the state of Israel. That post centered around the Israeli-Palestinian relations–or lack thereof due to those presently governing Israel. That issue is only one part of why, like Jay Michaelson, I find myself in a position where I’m losing my love for Israel.

Another major factor contributing to my angst is the power the Haradi, the ultra-orthodox, have over Jewish ritual in Israel. Because of their stronghold that is legitimized by the Israeli government, I am not free to practice Judaism in Israel as fully as I can in the United States. This is solely due to my gender.

My first visit to Israel was in 1971 with USY Pilgrimage on a Jewish teen tour. This was years before egalitarianism was a part of Conservative Jewish practice, and I had no thought to wearing a tallit. This was still the case in 1980 when I was there on my second visit as a tourist, While I would consider myself a feminist at that time, I was removed from most of my Jewish practice so again, the act of wearing a tallit wouldn’t have entered into my mind.

Throughout the past twelve years, I’ve continually increased my commitment to Judaism and taken on so many rituals that were previously out of my reach–getting an aliyah, reading Torah, wearing tallit and tefillin. It only recently occurred to me that all of that is still out of my reach in most religious settings in Israel–most importantly, at the Kotel, the Western Wall.

This is difficult for me to fathom. For years now, when I imagined myself in Israel, I would see myself wrapped in tallit and tefillin, davening Shacharit at the Kotel. The travails of the Women of the Wall have shown me another story–a tale that tears my soul. Women are being arrested, detained, and assaulted for the crimes of donning tallit and tefillin, carrying a Torah, lifting their voices in prayer.

The assault that happened this week is extremely chilling, for the woman who was attacked could have been me:

MAY 13th — Noa Raz, a Conservative Jew in her early thirties who lives and works in Tel Aviv, was physically assaulted early Tuesday morning by an ultra-Orthodox man at the Central Bus Station in Be’er Sheva for having the imprints of tefillin (phylacteries) lines visible on her arms.

She had woken up several hours earlier to pray and wrap tefillin, as is part of her daily routine. “I’m very pale, so the tefillin lines are still visible for hours afterward,” she said. While she was waiting for the bus to arrive, an ultra-Orthodox man in his forties stood next to her and stared at the lines on her arms. He asked her twice if the imprints were from tefillin. She ignored him at first, then admitted they were. At that point he grabbed her hand and began to kick and strangle her while screaming “women are an abomination.” She struggled, then broke free and ran to the bus which had just pulled into the station.

There were several bystanders present, though Noa Raz stated that the assault happened so quickly that none had time to react.

Raz arrived in Tel Aviv and sent out a message about the assault on Twitter. Dozens of people responded urged her to go to police to report what had happened. Raz contacted the police the following day, fearing that a similar incident would happen to another woman.

The Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) has been working with the Be’er Sheva Police and has insisted they treat Raz’s assault as the hate crime that it is. To this end, IRAC has demanded that the proper resources be allocated in the search for Raz’s attacker, that security camera tapes be reviewed, and that the Chief of Police for Israel’s Southern District be personally involved.

Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of IRAC, stated that the assault on Noa Raz for wrapping tefillin “should not be seen as an isolated incident, but as taking place within an atmosphere of growing violence toward and intimidation of women who seek to pray freely and equally. Too often these acts of violence are tolerated. The fact that this man thought it acceptable to attack a woman for performing a religious act in private is an example of the escalation of violence targeted against women and against religious pluralists in Israel. We at IRAC are pushing the Israeli police to take this investigation seriously.” She added, “Noa, a member of Women of the Wall, is expected to join us tomorrow for Rosh Chodesh Sivan.”

Tomorrow, I will dedicate my Rosh Chodesh Torah reading to this brave group of women who are standing up for the rights of all Jews to practice fully in the land of our ancestors.

כן יהי רצון
May it be so

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