Liprap’s Lament has written an excellent post based on the recent news story of a woman arrested at the Western Wall in Jerusalem for wearing a prayer shawl and reading aloud from the Torah. I’ll be the first to tell you I know very little about Judaism and I found her post very enlightening and informational regarding the role of women in Jewish religious practice and ceremony.
I’ve taken the liberty of cutting and pasting Liprap’s post here but please do go directly to her website for expanded information on this issue. Her post includes several pertinent links that I did not include here.
Anyhow, a couple of days ago, this was brought to my attention:
Police on Wednesday arrested a woman who was praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem due to the fact that she was wrapped in a prayer shawl (tallit).
The woman was visiting the site with the religious women’s group “Women Of The Wall” to take part in the monthly Rosh Hodesh prayer.
Police were called to the area after the group asked to read aloud from a Torah scroll.
Police said they arrested the women in the wake of a High Court ruling, which states that the public visiting the Western Wall is obligated to dress in accordance with the site’s dress code.
That highlighted part is the mechitzah separating the men on the left from the women on the right. The reasons for the smaller area for women are based on orthodox halachah (Jewish law) and how differently it obligates women to perform the ritual of prayer.
Tellingly, the women were busted only when they wanted to read aloud from the Torah – orthodox interpretations of halachah forbid the sound of a woman’s voice being heard in a ritual setting, forget about women actually reading from the Torah. But keeping women gagged has not been advocated by the High Court, so the police had to make do with hauling one away for wearing a spiritual garment that, once again, under orthodox interpretations of halachah, is forbidden to sit around a woman’s shoulders.
Yes, the Wall is a holy site for Jewish people world wide and one must be respectful of the other denominations of Jewry that worship there. But this is indicative of a serious problem that, if peace with Israel’s Middle Eastern neighbors ever comes to pass, the Jewish state may well rip itself apart over.
And, if that does happen, I know who will be ready with the first excuse:
More than most other ultra-orthodox Jews, such as Agudath Israel, Neturei Karta objected to Zionist aims of founding a state before the coming of the Messiah. To bolster their opposition, they cite tractate Ketuboth, verse 111 of the Talmud, which is interpreted as forbidding strife with gentiles in order to form a Jewish state, on the grounds that the destruction of the temple is a punishment from God, which would be rescinded by God. They further rely on an apocryphal legend, according to which God, the Jewish People, and the gentile nations made a pact when the Jews were sent into exile. under the pact, the Jews would not rebel against the non-Jewish world that gave them sanctuary and Jews would not immigrate as a group to the land of Israel. in return, the gentile nations promised not to persecute the Jews too harshly. Neglecting the history of persecution of the Jews, which many say voided this pact, Neturei Karta argue that by rebelling against the pact, Jews were rebelling against God.
It’s so nice to have the extremism within one’s own religion and culture laid out for all to see. It lets you know where the slightly less extreme elements of it all will go to as a last resort in the face of, say, women who only want to pray at Jerusalem’s present-day holiest site for Jews and who get arrested and called “stupid” by rabbis in governmental positions…and even by other women.
…beginning early in 1989, WOW was met with serious and continuous violence. Ultra-orthodox (haredi) men threw heavy metal chairs at them over the high barrier that separated men from women. One young girl was hit and had to be hospitalized. Canisters of tear gas were thrown into the womens’ section.
Ultra-orthodox women, often following male orders, sometimes on their own, uttered terrible curses, and tried to silence the quietly praying women in every way possible. They shrieked, circled, raged, and made awful faces. They pushed and shoved a pregnant Bonna Haberman who was holding onto the Torah with all her might. At one point, the government of Israel actually hired women to physically remove the women– not for disturbing the peace but for praying….
…How ironic! All over the world, including in Israel, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Jewish women are rabbis and lead their congregations, both male and female, in prayer. Orthodox women in Israel, the United States, Europe, and Australia, pray together in women’s prayer groups in which they chant from the Torah. More recently, orthodox women began to pray together with orthodox men in partnership minyanim (prayer quorums). This has included both women and men chanting from the Torah and receiving previously male-only honors.
Only in Israel, and at the site most holy to Jews, at a site where soldiers are sworn in, and national celebrations are held–at that place, Jewish women were, (and still are), prohibited from praying aloud in a group with a Torah.
Although I care deeply about Jewish womens’ religious rights in Israel and of course, about all womens’ right to both practice their religion–and to not be coerced into doing so–the struggle in Jerusalem is an intra-tribal matter and important in its own right.
However, as the Intifada of 2000 continued to rage against Israel, as did the United Nations, Muslim terrorists, and Western academics everywhere, I did not have the heart to join the jackal chorus against the Jewish state. Rivka and I decided to dedicate our book to the state of Israel and to refrain from writing articles or giving interviews to the non-Jewish media on this subject.
But such silence is not possible forever. Is Israel head and shoulders above Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia in terms of womens’ rights? Absolutely. But our struggle also proves that justice for Jewish women is quite imperfect in the only Western-style democracy in the Middle East.
Women have not forgotten thee, O Jerusalem, but a decades-long tribal and denominational conflict will threaten them and, in the process, threaten world Jewry. These problems must be addressed. It is the reason why I still have this link on my blogroll, as this sort of discrimination extends beyond prayer and into the fabric of every woman’s life in Israel, no matter what denomination she is. It is the “problem that has no name” that Judaism in general has never handled well, because the orthodox interpretations of halachah are still seen as the standard for observance, even by secular Jews.
Orthodox interpretations, however, are interpretations that are not done in a vacuum – those Talmudic tracts show evidence over and over again of the ways in which rabbis have been influenced by the customs of the rest of the world. Now that many of them are in Israel, they want to behave as though they are in a vacuum, but there really isn’t a leg for them to stand on. The day will come when they will be taken to task, and all that will be left is for them to wail that the Messiah didn’t start the current state of Israel, so all of you are just stupid stupid stupid!
There’s some Talmudic logic for you right there.
Sadly, this state of affairs has never been surprising to me, not since I was in grade school. The house of Israel is a case study in warfare from outside forces staving off an inevitable clash in a house that has been divided for centuries – heck, from Biblical times, even. These recent arrests at the Wall are one of many ways in which the cracks are showing.
Just something to think about.