A Wall for All?

Upon moving to Israel a big question in my head was if/how I would interact with Women of the Wall. I have written about the group before, and after the experience of a close friend of mine this month, I had to speak out again.

Ten days ago was Rosh Chodesh Elul. A particularly auspicious time in the Jewish year where we are to focus on reflection, teshuva, and preparing for the holy of holies. Yet, when a friend of mine donned her talit to pray with Women of the Wall (as she does in her shul every single morning, whether in the US or Israel) – she was arrested by the Israeli police.

In the past, women have been detained for carrying the Torah and a myriad of other things, but this time was different. Lorraine was actually arrested — for having worn a talit “like a man.” Apparently wearing a striped-talit folded up onto the shoulders, instead of a small colorful one that is more draped around the shoulders, is “behavior that could lead to endangering the public peace.” This is now a criminal offense in this democratic state. My friend was one of four women arrested that day for this offense. This is unlike any experience in months past.

I have a very hard time wrapping my head around this entire situation and was very grateful when WOW posted a piece from Lorraine in her own words. Knowing her well, I can hear her speaking to the police and see her sitting in the police station, but even if you can’t, I am sure you can imagine some other loving and gentle yet passionate woman in your life in her shoes.

Take a moment to read the post and really think about it. I’ll wait.

Regardless of how one feels about the halacha here, I think it is hard to argue that it should be a criminal offense to wear a large striped talit, which the government has declared to be for men and not women. The kotel is not a (insert-denomination-here) Orthodox synagogue. It is a communal holy site for all Jews, and the fact that one can be arrested for praying in a way which is widely recognized and authenticated is abhorrent. Israel is a democracy, and it takes great pride in being unlike the regimes which surround it, but I have to say that when I read about Lorraine’s experience  (as well as those who get hit, kicked, spat on, and more in other parts of the country for various “reasons”) I’m not so sure we’re really keeping up the standards of inclusivity and democracy we claim to have.

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4 thoughts on “A Wall for All?

  1. Everyone’s supportive of their own freedom of speech, but as soon as someone speaks up with a point of view that differs suddenly it’s a different story… Democracy is tough citizenship: if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen. :-/ (grrr!)

  2. The experience of coming to the Wall as a completely non traditional-Orthodox woman is very mixed. The site holds such meaning, and is special like no other – especially to those of us whose non traditional-Orthodox relatives actually fought for the territory in Israel’s wars, instead of praying for victory from afar. However, on the three occasions that I visited the Kotel, I found the people on the women’s side to be extremely rude. Women (obviously “regulars”) who were touching the wall praying for a VERY lengthy time pretended not to notice that I was waiting for a chance to touch it with my fingertips for a moment, and slip my letter into a crack. Then, when I made my way closer, I was elbowed and given nasty looks. Perhaps if I had worn a floor length skirt and a head covering, I would have been treated differently? Or, perhaps Kotel etiquette is in a shameful state regardless? Either way, certain sects seem to believe that they have a holier-than-thou sense of superiority when it comes to the Kotel. This is not the Israel that Herzl had in mind.

  3. Going to Israel, for an Egalitarian Jew, is a complicated thing- my homeland, which is also the only place I’d even think of going where I can’t practice my religion freely.

    It feels really good to have someone stand up and speak out about this problem, who doesn’t need to do so for their own needs.

  4. Wow. I didn’t realize who it was that got arrested. Horrible.

    The Women of the Wall, wearing tallit, etc. aren’t for me, but her experience sounds really demoralizing 😦

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