Thursday, November 19, 2009

Arrest at the Kotel

See this editorial below from the Forward. Also see: Police arrest female activist after donning prayer shawl at Western Wall (Ha'aretz) and, for more partisan views from each side: Police Arrest, Release Woman with Prayer Shawl at Kotel (Arutz Sheva blames the victim), and from Pajamas Media, The Jewish Taliban in Jerusalem. I like the suggestion here of a third section at the Kotel, but the fact is that am egalitarian section already exists, at the Robinson's Arch section of the wall where Masorti (Conservative) groups often pray. That section is much more peaceful, much more interesting and scenic and every bit as holy. The Women of the Wall have tended not to want to pray there, however.

The worn, mammoth stones tell a powerful story of Jewish spirituality, resistance, and allegiance. But today, the Kotel is speaking a language that most Jewish women and men cannot accept.

An Israeli woman was arrested by the holy wall on November 18 for the alleged crime of wearing a prayer shawl, an act of devotion common in many American synagogues. The self-named rabbinic authorities deride such behavior, claiming it is offensive to their ever-rigid standards of what they believe is true Judaism.

But for many women, the act of prayer is incomplete without a tallit, much as one would not approach the ancient stones stark naked. With this arrest, the first in memory, the authorities guarding Jerusalem’s holiest site have taken their intolerance and arrogance to a new and dangerous level. In another land, in another culture, this would be held up as the antediluvian act of the modesty police. Somehow in modern-day Israel, it is accepted.

There are ways to make the Kotel welcoming to Jews of differing practices. Writing in our Sisterhood blog, contributing editor Debra Nussbaum Cohen suggested that a third section, for egalitarian worship, be created alongside the ones for men and women. No doubt there are other creative ideas for sharing this sacred space.

Unless it is truly shared, those Jews who do not follow ultra-Orthodoxy ­ that is, most Jews ­ will feel increasingly unwelcome in what is supposed to be the touchstone of their homeland. That is something an embattled Israel can neither desire nor afford.

No comments: