The Women’s Rabbinic Network deplores the recent actions of the Israeli police, Israeli government, and the religious and administrative powers of the Western Wall, in the detainment, arrest, and imprisonment of Anat Hoffman, on Rosh Hodesh Heshvan, this past week, for wearing a tallit and praying the “Shema.” She was accompanied by hundreds of women participating in the 100th anniversary of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.
Women of the Wall’s efforts over the past 25 years, to create a gathering place for prayer for women of all denominations and beliefs, is a singular one in the Jewish world. The arrest, imprisonment, and cruel treatment of Anat Hoffman, a founder and organizer of Women of the Wall, and director of the Israel Religious Action Center, is an affront to Jews everywhere. It is a condemnation of the values of religious freedom and tolerance. The Western Wall is not, as some believe, an ultra-Orthodox synagogue. It is a symbol of Jewish peoplehood and sovereignty, a Jewish home that must be open to all people, a religious site that must protect the religious rights of anyone who wants to pray there.
For the past 3 years, since the arrest of Nofrat Frenkel on Rosh Hodesh Kislev 5770, November 18th, 2009, police and governmental response to the presence of Women of the Wall’s prayer service has increased. Police now routinely remove women from the prayer service, bring them to the local police station, detain them, fingerprint them. These actions are deplorable anywhere, especially in the State of Israel. Women must not be treated as second class citizens. Any efforts to silence women at the Wall, to discourage our attendance on Rosh Hodesh, will be met with continuous resistance and renewed commitment to participation in prayer services at the Wall, out loud and with great strength.
We will never submit to the efforts of the authorities of the Western Wall to silence the voices of women. On this occasion of Hadassah’s centenary celebration, in which the efforts of women to build the Jewish state are highlighted, it is a crime to see a woman arrested for a behavior which so many women take for granted everywhere except in the Jewish homeland. The Reform movement and the Women’s Rabbinic Network support the efforts of Women of the Wall and the Israel Religious Action Center to challenge the status quo at the Western Wall. The most meaningful response to this offense is to renew our commitment to women’s services at the Western Wall. As it is states in Isaiah 62:1:
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.
We recommit to our efforts to make Israel, Jerusalem, and the Western Wall a place of safety and security. We will continue to fight to have an Israel that is truly an embodiment of our hope for a Jewish homeland that stands for freedom, justice, and peace, a true democracy that values the participation and religious commitment of all Jews.
Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson, Director, Women’s Rabbinic Network