On June 21 I had the privilege of being with the Women Of the Wall as they held scharit services at the Wall for Rosh Hodesh. Each month women from all denominations come together to pray. This is an important organization that is fighting for religious freedom and equality in Israel. The rabbi in charge of the holy places and the Wall has continued to assert directives that make it difficult, if not impossible, for women to pray freely at the Wall as they choose. The latest conflicts involve the wearing of tallit and carrying the Torah.
This follows July 2010’s absurd conflict when Anat Hoffman was arrested for carrying a Torah. Now women are being harassed for wearing a talilt. At the Rosh Hodesh service last week, many women wore tallits. One woman was detained at the end of the service by the police for the manner in which she was wearing her tallit after she left the women’s section. The police insisted that the women wear their tallit as one would a scarf. She was held by the police for four hours, questioned, given a warning and released.
I and the Director of the Women of the Wall, Lesley Sachs, accompanied her to the police station and remained at the station until she was released. The use of police resources to enforce rulings that undermine the pursuit of religious freedom in Israel is a metaphor for the continued problem that liberal Judaism and others committed to religious freedom our facing as it works towards full recognition and moreover, the recognition of and respect for full equality for religious practice for all who choose to pray.
While for many of us praying at the Wall is not a critical element in our personal religious practice, it is an important holy place for Judaism and for those who wish to pray there. More than just a symbol, it serves as an important example of the problem that Israel faces on the critical issue of religious freedom and equality. Thus, the work of WOW is essential in bringing the issue to the forefront, together with other like minded groups committed to religious pluralism.
While I was pleased to support my friends who are devoting their time and energy to leading WOW, I was saddened that the struggle continues due to the unfortunate political climate that prevents the government from acting boldly on an issue that aligns directly with the core values of Judaism.
Mark S. Anshan