An Arresting Development In Jerusalem
Wed, 10/16/2013
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The “crime” of praying as a Jew has a long, and dishonored place, in Jewish history.

For centuries, Jews have risked arrest — or worse — at the hands of non-Jewish authorities for engaging, often clandestinely, in Jewish prayer. It happened during the Inquisition in Spain, during the Holocaust in Nazi Europe, during the communist era in the former Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain lands of Eastern Europe.

As painful as these examples of religious discrimination and intolerance are, it is more painful when Jews themselves are responsible for curtailing the rights of other Jews to follow their conscience.

This has become an increasingly frequent occurrence, and the subject of headline news, in recent days in the Jewish state.

During their regularly scheduled prayer services at the Western Wall, the members of the Women of the Wall activist group are regularly subject to being taken into custody by Israeli police — and, some leaders of the group claim, to being roughly handled. After years of negotiations, most recently under the auspices of Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, a proposed compromise would create a space for egalitarian prayer in the Robinson’s Arch area adjacent to the Western Wall plaza.

Many Orthodox Jews consider the sight of a women’s prayer service that includes females wearing tallit and tefillin to be a provocation, a slap at local customs.

During their occasional forays on the Temple Mount area, which is controlled by the Muslim Waqf but under Israeli security protection, Orthodox men, typically members of right-wing religious or political organizations, are subject to being taken into custody by Israeli police for openly praying. This has happened twice in the last week. “Visitors identifiable as religious Jews … [who] are seen moving their lips in prayer, or prostrating themselves … are expelled and sometimes detained,” The Times of Israel reported this week.

Israel considers Jewish prayers to be a provocation to Muslim sensibilities at a site where Islam’s holiest buildings in Jerusalem stand; further, some rabbis have banned any Jewish presence in the area where the remnants of the ancient Holies of Holies are thought to be.

The Orthodox Jews who take offense at women’s unorthodox prayers, and the Muslims who take offense at any Jewish prayers in their presence on the Temple Mount, are united in their intolerance. Fellow members of Abrahamic faiths, both claiming the first Patriarch as the founder of their respective religions, both are using prayer as tools for parochial agendas.

There a famous joke about the child who seeks admission into his family’s synagogue on Yom Kippur to give his father a message but is warned, “Don’t let me catch you praying.” When Jewish prayer ends in arrest, it’s not a joke.

editor@jewishweek.org

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You are correct about the racism and intolerance of the Muslims in preventing Jews from praying at the holiest site in Judaism. The complicity of the Israeli police in arresting Jews who pray there is disgraceful and has been going on for decades, not just since last week.

The description of the Women of the Wall insisting on wearing tefillin and a tallit as a provocative act is also correct. They do not do it because they believe that it is a religious requirement to wear these items. It is not a requirement and there is no Jewish source that says otherwise. If it was a mitzva and they really cared so much about performing mitzvot, they would do it every day of their lives, not just once a month when the TV cameras are rolling. They wear it to provoke, to mock, to insult religious Jews. The goal of the Women of the Wall is to offend religious Jews into action and then immediately slander them and accuse them of "intolerance".

Why in the world would the Women of the Wall choose to pray at the site of the Jewish Temple, anyway? These are very progressive, egalitarian women who hate inequality and discrimination, right? According to their outlook, the Temple should be the last place on earth they would want to pray. The Temple service was the epitome of discrimination according to their viewpoint. Only Kohanim were allowed to go in places in the Temple that no one else was. Only Levites were allowed to perform activities that no one else was allowed to do. Shouldn't the Women of the wall be morally outraged at this injustice? If the Temple was in operation today, wouldn't they be picketing it night and day demanding an end to the discrimination and intolerance? Wouldn't they refuse to set foot in the Temple? Yet, somehow, no one seems to notice their double standard when they try to pretend that the Temple area is so holy and meaningful and that they absolutely must pray there.

Instead of accusing orthodox Jews of intolerance, it would be more appropriate to place the blame where it belongs - on the Women of the Wall. The orthodox rabbinate that oversees the Western Wall has made a reasonable prayer space accommodation to these once a month publicity-seekers. No one is trying to deny women the right to pray as the Women of the Wall insidiously want the world to believe. The prayers of Jewish women have been treasured since the Torah's account of the prayers of our Matriarchs - Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah. It's time to stop blaming the orthodox for the intolerance, hatred and hypocrisy of the Women of the Wall.

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