Friday, October 26, 2012

Anat Hoffman's Arrest at the Kotel for Praying the Sh'ma

I've written extensively about the heroic efforts of the Women of the Wall to fight for justice and alter the discriminatory status quo at Judaism's holiest site.  last week it took a turn for the worse, as the leader of W.O.W was arrested for singing the Sh'ma during a Rosh Hodesh service at the Wall.  About 250 women were participating, many of whom were attending the Hadassah convention.  American Jews have been fuming over this arrest and also over the thus far tepid response of Hadassah leaders.  I hope my Hadassah friends can prove me wrong on this one.  The news story is below regarding the arrest, followed by Hoffman's reaction and a petition for us to sign.

Jerusalem police arrested the leader of Women of the Wall for singing at the Western Wall.

Anat Hoffman was arrested Tuesday evening for “disturbing public order.” The organization posted on its Facebook page Wednesday afternoon that Hoffman was in court. “She is being accused of singing out loud at the kotel, disturbing peace,” the post read.

Two other members of the organization, Director Lesley Sachs and board member Rachel Cohen Yeshurun, were detained Wednesday morning by police for the same offense. They were released after being interrogated and fingerprinted at the police station in the Old City. According to the organization, the women admitted to wearing a prayer shawl at the Western Wall but not to disturbing public order.

Women of the Wall has held a special prayer service at the Western Wall each month for Rosh Chodesh, or the beginning of new month, at the back of the women’s section at the Western Wall for the last 20 years. Tuesday night and Wednesday morning’s 
prayer services for the month of Cheshvan were scheduled to be held together with delegates to the conference marking Hadassah’s 100th birthday.
Hoffman was arrested Tuesday night after she had begun singing the “Shema” prayer, according to Haaretz.

In 2003, Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a government ban on women wearing tefillin or tallitot, or reading from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall. 
In August, Jerusalem police arrested four women for “behavior that endangers the public peace” and wearing prayer shawls. They were forbidden to enter the Western Wall Plaza for the next 50 days, according to the organization.

In June, Israeli police detained a woman wearing a tallit at the Western Wall and later questioned her for four hours after asking her to wear her prayer shawl as a scarf. In May, three women from Women of the Wall were stopped for questioning after praying at the Wall in prayer shawls. They also had been asked to wear the tallitot as scarves rather than shawls.
To read this article in The Jewish Daily Forward click here.

Here's what Anat Hoffman wrote about her experience:

Last Tuesday I was arrested when I took a group of over two hundred women to the Western Wall to pray together in the women’s section. I was arrested for disturbing the peace and endangering the public good by wearing my tallit and saying the Shema out loud.

It was a traumatic experience. I was pulled along the ground by my wrists, strip-searched, shackled by the hands and feet and left to sleep on the floor of a jail cell with nothing to keep me warm but my tallit.

The treatment I received was designed to make women scared of entering the Western Wall complex with a tallit. Women wearing prayer shawls are common all over the world. Only in Israel does this simple act meet with such intense pressure. You have to remember that when I enter a room of Israelis with my tallit, most of them have never seen a woman wear one before.

So why do I do it? The reason is simple: if women do not stand up for their rights the religious authorities in Israel will continue to push women further and further out of sight. Hopefully the more regular Israelis see me and other women wearing tallitot, the better they will come to understand that it is not religious subversion on our part.

I respect Jews who pray differently than me, and I understand that many women do not wish to wear a tallit. But there are millions of Jewish women who do wish to pray at the Western Wall with a tallit. Enabling them to do so in peace and safety was never meant to infringe on the rights of others. It simply means that there is more than one way to be a Jew.

In the past week, I have received more love and support than I knew was possible.  Many of you have written me to express your care and concern and this has meant so much to me in these difficult days. I also thank the organizations who issued statements to condemn my arrest.  It is clear that this issue resonates with Jews from all denominations. Unfortunately, the Israeli government and the Orthodox rabbis that they have charged with administering the Wall still fail to understand that the Western Wall is holy for all Jews.  Together we can stand up against this insanity and show that the Kotel belongs to us all.

Anat Hoffman
Executive Director, IRAC

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