“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”
This story isn’t just about women’s rights: “Jews Rally Around Woman Arrested for Praying at Western Wall.”
Jews from Manhattan to Mozambique held prayer vigils [last week] to protest the arrest and incarceration of an Israeli feminist as she was leading 250 American Jewish women in prayer at the Western Wall.
The Oct. 16 arrest of Anat Hoffman, who co-founded Women of the Wall to enable Jewish women to pray together at the wall, has elicited outrage, especially from American Jews, the vast majority of whom do not practice Orthodox Judaism.
The wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism, has segregated prayer sections for men and women. Israeli regulations on holy sites forbid “conducting a religious ceremony contrary to accepted practice” and “wearing unfit attire.”
Hoffman was officially arrested on charges of “disturbing public order.”
Police have recently begun to arrest women praying at the wall for wearing black and white prayer shawls, the type traditionally worn by men. Hoffman was wearing a brightly colored shawl worn by many Women of the Wall members.
In the temple, women were kept outside the inner house of God and restricted to the court of women. Even further out was the court of the Gentiles — which suggests that this story is fraught with theological meaning for those who are, like me, Gentile Christians.
This story illustrates a central and pervasive dispute in the Bible and reminds us that this dispute continues even today. It’s the millennia-old argument between inclusion and exclusion. Was Abraham chosen by God to except him from the rest of humanity? Or was Abraham chosen in order to bring the rest of humanity to God?
The clearest biblical statement of this clash — albeit a lopsided, biased and mean-spirited polemical description of it — can be found in the book of Jonah. The prophet Jonah took one side of this dispute. The author of the book of Jonah took the other.
We can also see the lines of this dispute clearly drawn in the conflict between the earliest Christians in Jerusalem and our own English Bibles. Did God raise up the dwelling of David “so that all other peoples may seek the Lord” — as the prophet Amos said according to the apostle James? Or did God raise up the dwelling of David so that God’s exceptional people “may possess the remnant of Edom” — as our modern English Bibles translate that identical passage from Amos? (See Amos 9:11-12 in an English translation, then compare with Acts 15:15-17.)
This remains the central argument, the essential dispute, among Christians today. “We are God’s children,” all Christians say.
For some, that means we are exceptional and special, elect and uniquely blessed so that we will be given “the remnant of Edom” — the plunder taken from our unblessed cousins, those others who are not God’s children (women, gays, the “unsaved,” the un-elect, etc.).
For some that means we have a calling and a commission. It means we have an exceptional obligation to invite and include “all other peoples” (the same “other peoples” ex-cluded by the first party).
The irony is that this ancient argument continues even among Gentile Christians — people whose faith, by definition, is dependent on the triumph of the most radically inclusive arguments of the most radically inclusive faction.
It really is deeply, deeply weird for Gentile Christians to still be insisting that women — or anyone else — be kept to the outer courts of their houses of God. That requires not just hypocrisy, but ingratitude.