Read the Torah, go to jail

Talk about religious persecution: Did you know that there’s a country where it’s illegal for Jewish women to wear a tallit (prayer shawl) or read from the Torah?

Yup. You guessed it. Israel.

I just have time for a quick post today, but wanted to share a New York Times story about a new wave of protests by women seeking equal rights to worship at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

You can read it here.

Israel started out as a  fairly secular, socialist-oriented state back in 1948. But over the years, both Labor and Likud parties have relied on small religious parties in order to form coalition governments. And so the Orthodox Jewish minority has come to wield great power in Israel over things like who is considered Jewish, how people are allowed to get married, which religious schools and institutions get government funding, and (yes) whether women are allowed to worship equally at the most holy place in Judaism.

This isn’t new. Orthodox men have spat on and stoned women who tried to pray at the Wall for decades. The Times reports that 20 years ago, a group of Israeli feminists took the issue to the Supreme Court and were told that — even though it is legal for women to pray as they want elsewhere in Israel — women wearing tallitot and reading from the Torah at the Wall was not in the interest of public order. Instead, they were given a separate area on the back of the bus — oops, I mean around the corner in a little archeological garden.

Recently there seems to be a renewed drive by religious feminists to claim a place by the Wall. Last month a 28-year-old Israeli who is part of the Conservative movement in Judaism was the first woman arrested at the Wall for wrapping herself in a tallit. The police accused her, according to the Times, of acting provocatively and upsetting public order.

Now other women seem to be rallying around the issue too…

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3 Responses to “Read the Torah, go to jail”

  1. Mary Says:

    Ironically — if that’s the word for it — neither my daughter nor the girl she’ll be sharing a bat mitzvah date with have the right of return to Israel. I can’t really expand on that comment without frothing at the mouth, so I’ll stop.

  2. Ilana DeBare Says:

    I suspect what Mary is referring to is the fact that the Orthodox rabbinate determines “who is a Jew” in Israel, and thus who is allowed to immigrate.

    And they insist on the very narrow Orthodox definition of a Jew as someone who is born to a Jewish mother — so children with a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, or a mother who has converted to Judaism under a Reform or Conservative rabbi, wouldn’t be included. Even if they could recite the entire Torah while standing on one leg.

    Another instance of how the Orthodox have used the political system in Israel to wield disproportionate power and impose their beliefs on others.

    There are other debates we could have about the “right of return” in Israel — for instance, how an American Jew who had never set foot in Israel would be allowed to immigrate in a nanosecond while a Palestinian refugee whose grandparents had actually owned a home in Jerusalem would not be allowed to move back.

    But heck, it’s the holidays. I don’t want to start a blog war today.

  3. Laurie Says:

    My daughter went to Israel several years ago with a pack of 10th graders. She took her tallit with her–the one she designed herself to wear at her bat mitzvah–excited to wear it in Jerusalem. But when it came time to go to visit the Kotel, her counselor informed her she could wear her tallit only if it was completely covered by her clothing. Ironic isn’t it? As an observant Reform Jew, my daughter has more religious freedom here at home than she does in the homeland of the Jews.

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