I just returned from Jerusalem to news about the latest round of arrests of Jewish women for the crime of wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) and organizing a women’s prayer service at the Western Wall.
I have written before about my antipathy for that place. In my past two visits I haven’t even bothered descending the steps to go see it. This latest appalling arrest is a great example of everything that’s wrong about the site.
The “Women of the Wall” who organize these forbidden prayer services is comprised of a few modern Orthodox women alongside women from the liberal religious streams, including female rabbis. They have not been able to peacefully complete a full service in quite a while. Yesterday it looked like it might be different.
Monday’s service, though, on the first of the month of Adar, was markedly different from services over the past 24 years: The women were allowed to pray with prayer shawls and were arrested only after the service. And much of the difference can be attributed to the presence of four veterans, all members of the 55th Paratroop Brigade, who fought their way into the Old City of Jerusalem on June 7, 1967, and are known locally as “the liberators” of the Old City.
Long ago the Wall became an Orthodox synagogue. Like pretty much every other religious institution in Israel, the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) have taken it over. The Women of the Wall have been persecuted since they formed in 1988. More recently, the suppression of Jewish pluralism has been extended to the upper plaza outside of the Wall’s synagogue area. I’ve personally witnessed the harassment of groups from Birthright and the Conservative Movement standing in circles and singing. What a wonderful way for Israel to demonstrate Jewish unity.
Lately the Prime Minister has taken notice and asked Jewish Agency head (and famed Soviet refusenik) Natan Scharansky to look into a solution. My proposal would be to tear down the mechitza (gender separation fence) and make it a public park and monument. People who want to pray there can do so privately. It doesn’t need to be a synagogue of any kind. This, of course, makes too much sense so it will never happen.
As a secular humanist, I have no attachments to the “holiness” of the place and no need to pray there. As a Jew I’m disgusted by the high-handed self-righteousness of the Haredim who are now in complete control and by the authorities who are complicit in this farce.