By Michele Chabin
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
A woman wearing tefillin touches the Western Wall. Women in Israel are prohibited from wearing tefillin and prayer shawls at the Western Wall.
JERUSALEM (WOMENSENEWS)--Noa Raz, a young woman waiting to board a bus, was recently attacked by a man because her arm bore the imprints of tefillin straps, which Jewish men wrap around their arms during morning prayers.
"You're an abomination," the man shouted while kicking her.
The episode occurred on May 11. The man is a member Israel's haredim--ultra-Orthodox Jews--community, whose stringent religious practices, and increasing use of violence, are eroding women's worshipping rights. The incidents, some say, are occurring against the backdrop of widespread religious coercion.
In a letter to the Israel Religious Action Center, to which Raz turned to after the attack, the police said no suspects have been apprehended but that the investigation is continuing.
In another incident, Israeli police detained Nofat Frankel in November 2009 because she wrapped herself in a prayer shawl--called a tallit--while praying at the Western Wall, the holiest place in Judaism.
Police said the act violated a 2003 High Court decision prohibiting female worshipers at the Wall from donning a tallit or tefillin--a leather box worn during some worship ceremonies--and from reading out loud from the Torah.
Such acts, the court said, presented a "threat to public security" because they incited haredim to violence.
At the time of her detention, Frankel was worshiping with the Women of the Wall, a multi-denominational Jewish women's prayer group that convenes at the Western Wall at the start of every Jewish month.
During the group's 20-year existence, haredim have harassed them numerous times, both verbally and physically. Haredi men often throw chairs over the divider that separates the sexes and women have been injured.
Seven weeks after Frankel's detention, the police called in Anat Hoffman, a co-founder of the Women of the Wall, to "discuss" Frankel's behavior.
"I was interrogated," Hoffman, who is also the director of Israel Religious Action Center, recalled recently. "I was asked if I wear a tallit. I asked what they consider a tallit. They said, 'a rectangular piece of cloth with blue and white lines.' I said, 'no, I don't wear that.'"
Hoffman, like many members of her group, wears a brightly-colored prayer shawl.
"I was finger printed and warned that this is a felony," she said.
Although the case appears to be in legal limbo, thanks, Hoffman believes, to an outcry from non-Orthodox U.S. Jews, Hoffman is worried.
"Lawlessness in the name of religion may have started with the Wall, but it's moved into other arenas," she said.