Support Women of the Wall in Jerusalem
Tikkun and our interfaith (and atheist-welcoming) Network of Spiritual Progressives unequivocally support the right of women in Israel to pray in any way they choose at the Wall (site of what is believed to be the ancient Temple), despite the attacks on them by Ultra-Orthodox men who in turn are backed by the Israeli government in their “right” to determine who gets to pray at the Wall and how. The claim of the ultra-orthodox to such a “right” is completely illegitimate. The Wall has historically belonged to the entire Jewish people, and not simply to its men. Yet in the past months women praying at the Wall who have donned prayer shawls (Tallit) and Tefillin or who have attempted to read the Torah aloud have been physically assaulted by ultra-orthodox men and arrested by the Israeli civil authorities for violating the ultra-orthodox restrictions on women’s prayer.
Judaism is not the only religion to have corners of reactionary treatment of women, even though in the past it has also had some practices which advanced women’s rights far beyond what was available to women in other religions (for example around divorce). The recent attempts by former Pope Benedict (the former Cardinal Ratzinger) to silence or expel from the Catholic Church American nuns who have championed social justice and called for the ordination of women into the priesthood, and his expulsion from the priesthood of Father Bourgeois for supporting women’s ordination, the “honor” slaying of women in some Arab Muslim countries and the denial of many civil rights of those women in some Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia, the assault on women’s rights to have control over their own bodies that has been central to some strands of American fundamentalist Christianity—all represent the tip of the iceberg of continuing discrimination and fear of women in some religious circles. These fears and the new rigidity that they have assumed in the past two hundred years may be a product of the growing resentment many have toward the breaking down of traditional communities by the global capitalist marketplace and its culture of individualism and selfishness. Yet instead of that resentment taking the form of explicit resistance to the culture and economics of capitalism, it takes the totally illegitimate form of patriarchal resistance to women’s equality.
We at Tikkun are therefore particularly proud to point to the many in all branches of Judaism who have been speaking out against this discrimination and in particular have championed the Women of the Wall. Particular credit goes to the Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement in Jerusalem and its director Anat Hoffman, but there are important voices in every branch of Judaism now making themselves heard in defense of the rights of women in Judaism. They are highlighted in the statements below as Women of the Wall prepare again to pray at the Wall on the new moon (Rosh Chodesh). We commend all of those in all religions who refuse to accept the distorting impact of patriarchy, no matter how deeply ingrained in past “tradition” those patriarchal practices have been lodged, and support all attempts to save Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and all other religious traditions from the distortions that such practices inevitably generate. Meanwhile, please read the material below and bring it to the attention of your friends and community.
–Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor, Tikkun and chair The Network of Spiritual Progressives www.spiritualprogressives.org
Rabbis from Five Denominations Call for Protection And Support of Women of the Wall
In 2010, 400 Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal
rabbis signed a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, Jerusalem Mayor Nir
Barkat and the Jerusalem police asking them to protect Women of the Wall.
For the letter, go to http://tinyurl.com/24kv3st
Today, Orthodox Rabbi David Kalb called on all Orthodox Jews in Israel to be at the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Rosh Hodesh (the monthly festival welcoming the new month) to pray and to put themselves between ultra Orthodox protesters and Women of the Wall.* (See Rabbi Kalb’s full quote below.)
In recent days, posters have been plastered in Haredi (ultra Orthodox) neighborhoods in Jerusalem that translate: “Help! The Western Wall is being trampled and desecrated by a group of women called “Women of the Wall” who are planning to desecrate the Western Wall on Tuesday Rosh Hodesh Nisan 5773 at 7:00 am. Male and Female Worshippers: Please attend Rosh Hodesh prayers at the Western Wall on that day and protest against this desecration of holiness. All those who consider important the place from which the Shechina (indwelling Divine presence) will never move should come to protest and raise your voice!”
Rabbi Fredi Cooper, President of The Reconstructionist Rabbinical
Association (RRA), states, “I want to express the pride that our (RRA) members feel for the women who courageously continue to pray openly at the Wall. Just a few weeks ago I was on a Rabbinic mission represented by all streams of Judaism and was disheartened when two of my female colleagues were detained for praying with devotion at the Wall (while wearing a prayer shawl). As we usher in the month of Nisan may we usher in a time of freedom and redemption for all who bring their hearts in prayer to the Wall.”
Reform Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson*, Executive Director of the Women’s
Rabbinic Network (Reform) states, “As a Reform rabbi with a strong commitment to Israel, I must raise my voice against the promotion of senseless hatred, ‘sinat-hinam’ being encouraged by others. As a liberal Jew, I cannot remain quiet when confronted by religious coercion in Israeli society. Like liberal Jews around the world, I must stand up and speak for Jewish values of justice, democracy, pluralism and peace. My support of Women of the Wall, whose aims for women to have the right to pray in public
and in dignity at the Wall, is an expression of these Jewish values.”
“We call for the protection of our sisters who will gather in Jerusalem this Tuesday,” says Conservative Rabbi Menachem Creditor, spiritual leader of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, California and International Co-Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall. “Women of the Wall meet as a women’s minyan (quorom for Jewish prayer). They are women praying with women as women in the women’s section of the Kotel Plaza. As a man, I have no place at the Kotel for my own organized prayer until women have that same right.”
“We call upon Israeli Police to protect Women of the Wall and every woman who joins with them in peaceful prayer,” says Renewal Rabbi Pamela Frydman who organized and co-chairs Rabbis for Women of the Wall with Creditor.
“Rabbi Riqi Kosovke (Reform) and I were called ‘whores’ for holding a Torah scroll near security at the Kotel in 2010,” says Rabbi Frydman. “The word stung in our ears and the venom in the voices yelling it was violent and vitriolic. I fear for the safety of Women of the Wall and implore the Israeli government to put an end to the senseless discrimination against women who are allowed to pray, but not together; required to cover themselves, but not with a prayer shawl; and urged to study Torah but not to read from one in the women’s section of the Kotel.”
During the past six months, there have been 46 detainments of Women of the Wall by Jerusalem police for wearing a prayer shawl during worship, and in a related incident, Anat Hoffman was arrested and detained for over 12 hours for singing the Shema [affirmation of God’s Unity] out loud.
Conservative Rabbi Iris Richman launched “Wake Up For Religious Tolerance,” a series of rallies in support of Women of the Wall that will be held on March 12th in New York (Union Square Park), Chicago, San Francisco (in front of the Israeli Consulate), Washington D.C. (in front of the Israeli Embassy), Cleveland and on the campuses of the University of Pennsylvania and Brandeis University.
“Those who support ‘Wake Up for Religious Tolerance!’ and indeed, tolerance and pluralism for all religious people, express strong concerns about the distribution of posters in Jerusalem, (pahskevilim) urging the ultra Orthodox to come to the Kotel when Women of the Wall conduct their service, for potentially volatile confrontations,” says Rabbi Richman.
“We encourage all who are responsible for these anonymous calls to action (in the ultraOrthodox community) to show themselves in public and state the objective of their call. Given the history of ultra-Orthodox violence against women at the Kotel, we call on the Jerusalem police to safeguard those who seek to pray, and not just those who seek to confront–or worse,” says Rabbi Richman.
“Most of all, we remind all Jews that we are all responsible for one another and that we can expect no peace, unless we ourselves seek peace. Let us peacefully celebrate Rosh Hodesh Nissan–on which we first became one people (b’nai Yisrael)–as one people.”
Orthodox Rabbi, David Kalb*, Director of Jewish Education at the Bronfman
Center for Jewish Life at 92nd Street Y in New York and *International Vice
Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall* has taken the matter yet further.
“I believe that different types of Jews should have the right to pray at the Kotel (Western Wall) in their own way. I might not personally agree with the way every individual approaches prayer. I might even disagree on very serious Halachic (Jewish legal) grounds. However, the fact that I might disagree or that anyone else might disagree, does not take away from their right to pray at the Kotel. I understand that there might be violence from protesters who oppose women praying at the Kotel as a group of women. I call on all Orthodox Jews in Israel to be at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh to pray and to put themselves between these protesters and these women who wish to pray to God.”
Information above was obtained from a blast from the Shalom Center under the leadership of Rabbi Arthur Waskow who has played an important role in mobilizing for human rights in this and many other domains. The Shalom Center certainly deserves your support: theshalomcenter.org/ Yasher ko’ach also to Rabbi Pam Frydman of the Jewish Renewal Movement and Rabbi Menachem Creditor for organizing rabbis in support of the Women of the Wall.