Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu and Ambassador Oren:
Chodesh Tov. As you both must know, former Jerusalem City Council member Anat Hoffman, the director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, and the Chair of Women of the Wall was today, once again, brutally arrested by the Jerusalem police, this time for holding a Torah as she and our group were leaving the Kotel.
“Holding” is not the same as “praying from;” Hoffman broke no law. She was on her way out of the area to pray with the Torah, as we have been mandated to do, at Robinson’s Arch or elsewhere. However, the rabbinical administrator of the Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Rabanut, the haredim, and the Jerusalem city police broke many laws: The haredim have consistently cursed, pushed, harassed, menaced, and physically attacked peaceful Jewish women at prayer. They have not been arrested. The rabbinical authorities have engaged in a campaign of bullying, intimidation, and in the orchestration of police arrests. Today, the police nearly tore the Torah from its cover, pushed and shoved many people, and, for the second time, arrested and detained the leader of Women of the Wall.
And all in the new month of Av. I fear for the Jews and for Israel given such baseless and bottomless hatred of Jew towards Jew, of Jewish haredim, both male and female, towards religious, learned, devoted, and faithful Jewish women who, like the daughters of Z’lofechad, are trying to claim a lawful, modest, separate-but-not-quite-equal place among the tribes.
The kotel should not be a haredi synagogue. It is does not belong to one denomination of Jews alone. Women of the Wall are, in fact, the only group of Jews who consist of every denomination: Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and who actually manage to pray together in a halachic fashion.
Such actions as the arrest of Anat Hoffman strongly confirm the “Islamification” of Judaism in Israel that is taking place today. It will become harder and harder to defend Israel as a lawful, democratic, western-style nation state when such unlawful and outrageously misogynistic actions are publicly tolerated. The public relations fallout for a country already under profound siege may be incalculable. Ms. Hoffman is owed a public apology as are all the Women of the Wall.
It is time to rein in the arrogance and brutality of the haredim who view the Kotel as their personal possession. If you do not do so, I fear we will all reap the whirlwind.
Dr. Phyllis Chesler
Co-founder of the International Committee for Women of the Wall