The words corruption and violence are certainly not foreign to us as we listen to the news every day. The Boy Scouts of America just came out publicly about the abuse that had been perpetrated by scout leaders on young boys over several decades. An online search for the phrase “accused of corruption” raises many examples of public officials who have ignored laws for their personal gain.
Through a successful sting operation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation caught a man from Bangladesh in his attempt to blow up the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. This thwarted act of violence coincided with the arrest of three people who set a Denver bar on fire, murdering five people in the process. The motive for setting the fire was covering up their robbery of the establishment. These are isolated incidents, but they reflect aspects of human life noted in Genesis Chapter 6 that are still very much with us.
In Jerusalem, a woman who had been arrested Tuesday night was strip-searched and detained overnight. She had not perpetrated corruption or violence. She had not tried to murder anyone. She did not attempt a robbery. Anat Hoffman is a leader of Women of the Wall and Executive Director of the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center. Members of Women of the Wall were joined by participants in the Hadassah Centennial convention for a Rosh Chodesh service in the women’s section of the KOTEL, the Western Wall on Tuesday night.
The Women of the Wall know that Israeli law clearly states: “No religious ceremony shall be held in the women’s section of the Western Wall. That includes holding or reading a Torah, blowing the shofar (ram’s horn) or wearing tallitot (prayer shawls).”
Still, the Women of the Wall respond to this law with a dedication to their mission, which is “to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.”
This struggle has been going on for years and seems to have no resolution. There have been arrests in previous Rosh Chodesh services. In this case, the police arrested Anat Hoffman for singing the Shema aloud. Uttering Judaism’s central prayer was the reason she was taken. The arrest itself and the violent treatment in the police station that followed for Anat Hoffman represent an unfortunate extreme to which the police have been building since they began detaining members of Women of the Wall.
There are many issues underlying this conflict, but Tuesday’s incident demonstrates how a liberated Western Wall is only free for some. Women who want to pray together near the Western Wall should have a place where they can, if they so desire, sing at the top of their lungs. With regards to the tallit, the Torah itself does not say that only men should wear fringes or tassels on the corners of their clothing to remember God’s commandments. Women seem to be implicitly included. Even within rabbinic law, women can choose to wear a tallit. Orthodox authorities who have ruled that a woman should not wear a tallit “like a man” were stating what I believe to be culturally-based opinions intended to preserve their preferred status quo.
It is likely that this conflict will continue for months or years to come. What may be needed is a flood of new thought, a fresh perspective that will expand the rights of women and men on the Western side of the Temple mount.
No matter how this is resolved, there is one point on which many people could likely agree – no one, man or woman, reciting the Shema should be subjected to arrest or CHAMAS, violence. If we truly believe in being TZADIK, righteous, there has to be a better way. May Jews around the world come together to find a path that will lead to justice, understanding and even unity. Amen.