Tuesday, November 24, 2009

865. A shanda

This is old news now (a whole week) but worth spreading at any time. A woman was detained (not arrested, but taken to a police station for questioning) at the Kotel for wearing a tallit. I respect the fact that some find it offensive to see a woman in a tallit, and understand the need for both single-sex and egalitarian areas of the Wall. More than that, however, I support the right of everyone to pray as they wish in a public place—especially one that represents the strength and unity of the Jewish people. This group of women, which happened to include some of my dear friends and teachers, did not behave disruptively, go into the men's section, or dress immodestly. Their tallitot were under their coats so as not to attract attention. (Which is sad. I'm proud when I wear a tallit, for the heritage it signifies, the visible connection to other Jews. You'd think that in Israel, of all places—a country whose flag is a tallit—this symbol could represent and be embraced by all, not just half the population.)

What right does anyone have, especially in a democracy, to violently disrupt peaceful, heartfelt prayer because it doesn't fit one particular interpretation of what prayer should be? What right did men have to enter the women's section if women aren't allowed to enter the men's section? How can I consider Israel my home if Israel limits my ability to observe the religion that makes it my home? In the words of Nofrat Frenkel, the woman who was detained, from this article in the Forward:

"The morning of Rosh Hodesh Kislev, November 18, was a cold Jerusalem morning. We stood, 42 Women of the Wall, and prayed in the women’s section. Our tallitot were hidden under our coats; the sefer Torah was in its regular bag. There was no booing, no pushing, no shouting. We were surprised that our service passed off without any disturbance, and we thought that, perhaps, they had already become accustomed to our presence and that we could even read from the Torah, opposite the stones of the Kotel. Then, just moments after we had removed the sefer Torah from its bag, two men entered the women’s section and began abusing us. All we wanted was to conclude our prayers in peace, so we decided to forgo the Torah reading there and go, as on every other Rosh Hodesh, to read the Torah at the alternative site. As we were exiting with me carrying the Torah, a policeman met us and began forcefully pushing me toward the nearby police station. Our pleas and explanations that we were on our way to the alternative site were of no use. I was transferred for questioning to the station at David’s Citadel. All I had on me was my tallit, my siddur and a sefer Torah.

In my interrogation, I was asked why I was praying with a tallit when I knew that this was against the Law of the Holy Places. I am an Israel Defense Forces officer, a law-abiding citizen, a volunteer for the Civil Guard — I have never incurred even a parking fine — and the idea of having broken the law was most trying. Nevertheless, I cannot allow my basic right to freedom of religious worship to be trampled because of a court ruling given years ago.

It is most doubtful that this ruling would be accepted today. In the wake of the Conservative and Reform movements, during the past 10 years, people in the Orthodox world have come to understand that the woman’s place is no longer restricted to the kitchen. Feminist Orthodox women are demanding to take an active part in Jewish life. Egalitarian Orthodox synagogues, in which women don tallitot and lead services, are popping up like mushrooms after rain. The “public’s sensitivity” has changed.

The Kotel belongs to all the people of Israel. The Kotel is not a Haredi synagogue, and the Women of the Wall will not allow it to become such."

Here are some other articles and commentary about the incident:

Woman wearing talit at Kotel detained (The Jerusalem Post)

A Wall For Us All (Forward editorial)

Police arrest woman for wearing prayer shawl at Western Wall (Ha'aretz)

Tallits bring out the worst in people (myjewishlearning.com)

Wear a Tallit... Go to Jail! (an excellent blog post by a rabbi about why it's really halakhically OK for women to wear tallitot)


Laura said...

OY! This breaks my heart and not in a good way (like the Kotsker Rebbe way)...I too am a tallit wearing woman. I too believe that no one, NO ONE has a right to interrupt the peace and sanctity of prayer of another person at the Kotel...let alone the lashon hara that has been written about Nofrat. This is a shanda, a scandal, a horror for our people done to one of our own. It is completely crazy, and as my teen age daughters would say "just wrong!"

We have always been an evolving religion...that is how we have survived for so long...the only way we will continue into the future.

May Shekhinah's Presence dwell with Nofrat and her family bringing them light as Chanukah approaches...and shining awareness into the pharaoh tight hearts of those who are frightened by the darkness they themselves are creating.

shalom u'vracha,

alto artist said...

Amen on these blessings!--and thank you so much for reading, and commenting so generously.