Israeli Women's Prayers Hit Reactionary Wall

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.

An Orthodox worshiper at the Western Wall tries to silence women praying communally with the Women of the Wall prayer group.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.

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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.

Interrogation and Warnings

"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.

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Physically attacking someone is wrong and indefensible. That doesn't excuse another person for in-your-face public violations of Jewish law at the remnants of the holy Temple. All Jews should act in accordance with the Torah at all times.

This article goes to great lengths to describe the emotions of extremists on the left, while dehumanizing the extremists on the right, neither of whom are abiding by the Torah.

Observant Jews believe that tefillin and all it's precepts are based on G_d-given authority. If there's been some mistake in the transmission regarding who is meant to wear it, perhaps we're also mistaken for painting it black, wearing it on our foreheads and not literally "between our eyes" as the written Torah states. If a person doesn't believe the mesorah is correct, whether man or woman, why do they want to wear tefillin anyway?