Torah pin-up girls for justice

I’ve written before about how outrageous  it is that Jewish women are not allowed to worship equally at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the most holy site in Judaism.

Kowtowing to ultra-Orthodox Jews, the Israeli government prohibits women from chanting Torah at the Kotel (wall). Last month the police went a step further and arrested one of the leaders of Reform Judaism in Israel simply for holding a Torah in the vicinity of the Wall.

JTA, a Jewish news service, reported that:

The chairman of the Women of the Wall was banned from the Western Wall for 30 days after being arrested for holding a Torah scroll at the site.

Jerusalem police arrested Anat Hoffman on Monday morning following the monthly women’s Rosh Chodesh prayer service. She was … ordered to stay away from the Kotel for the next 30 days.

According to the organization’s account, Hoffman, holding the Torah scroll, was leading about 150 women from the women’s section of the Western Wall in a procession toward Robinson’s Arch, where they are permitted to use the Torah scroll. Police tried to remove the Torah scroll from Hoffman’s arms and arrested her for not praying according to the traditional customs of the Western Wall.

“Not praying according to the traditional customs of the Western Wall” — a crime! Pretty depressing. But here’s the good news:

Hoffman’s group, Women of the Wall, has launched a cool, creative support campaign that can involve all of us — even as far away as Oakland, California.

WOW  is asking Jewish women around the world to take photographs of themselves holding, chanting or studying Torah, and then send those photos to the Israeli government.

Apparently the Israeli media tend to portray Women of the Wall as a handful of wacko extremists. The campaign is intended to show that, far from being a tiny minority, these brave activists speak for the vast majority of Jewish women around the world. WOW’s goal is to collect 10,000 photos by the time of Simchat Torah (Oct. 1), the holiday when we start the annual cycle of reading through the Torah.

I was delighted to find that my congregation, Temple Sinai, was on top of the WOW photo campaign even before I managed to get to this blog. On Friday during services Rabbi Andrea Berlin explained the issue, and afterwards congregant Dawn Kepler snapped pictures of Sinai women with the Torah.

Recognize anyone in the following photos?

Temple Sinai board member Janine Bloch // Photo credit: Dawn Kepler

My daughter Becca becomes a Bat Mitzvah, 2007

Yours truly // Photo credit: Dawn Kepler

Yeah! I’ve got six months to go until my Bat Mitzvah date. But I can still be a Torah Pin-Up Girl For Justice. (My term, not WOW’s. Don’t wanna get them in further trouble.)

You can too. Check out the WOW site, take part in services at your local shul, and send in your own Torah Pin-Up Girl photo.

And hey…  it makes a pretty good Facebook profile photo too.

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4 Responses to “Torah pin-up girls for justice”

  1. Janice Dean Says:

    Watching several of my friends become bat mitzvahs was an awesome experience, especially when those girls were bat mitzvahed in shuls that allowed them to carry the Torah. Although Christian (I’m a member of St. Paul’s Memorial, Jim & Lori Richardson’s parish in Virginia), I wanted to express my support and tell you how much I love your photos of women with the Torah! I had my husband take a photo at St. Paul’s yesterday when The Rev. Heather Warren was presiding over the Eucharist (a.k.a. communion) and flanked by The Revs. Jim Richardson & Nik Forti. For some reason, seeing a female priest preside over the Eucharist flanked by two male priests really moved me. We women fought for the right to be priests in the Episcopal Church, and we should stand shoulder to shoulder with Jewish women who simply want to pray and study on equal footing with men!

    • Ilana DeBare Says:

      Thanks Janice! Yes, it is moving to see women clergy when we stop and think about it. (At our temple, 2 out of the 3 rabbis plus our cantor are women, so we get a little blase about it.)

      Really, there were several thousand years when women could not even imagine playing those officials roles in Judaism or Christianity. So to see it all change in the short span of our lifetimes is amazing.

  2. Renee Kardener Says:

    Israel, land of democracy, …. Well. Is the current government telling us women that we do not have the same rights as men. Well, throughout the ages, that has been the case. But now in modern Israel, this attitude is shameful. Women partake in all aspects of life (army, politics, education, scientific development, artistic creation, and much much more.) I am wondering how Golda Meir would feel about this pathetic event.
    I was so thrilled to see my wonderful daughter at her Bat Mitzvah, and especially when she walked around the Sinai Sanctuary holding the Torah. How proud she stood and walked. I never ever want her to feel that because of her gender she does not have the same rights as these “ultra-religious fanatics”.

    Thank you, Ilana, for bring this to our attention.
    -Renee Kardener

    • Ilana DeBare Says:

      Golda Meir and the other Labor Zionist founders of the state of Israel are probably tossing in their graves at how the ultra-Orthodox have come to wield so much power in Israel — not just over women at the Wall but in other things like laws involving marriage, conversion, education and even little things like being able to drive a car in Jerusalem on Shabbat.

      The Zionists who built the state were by and large secular Jews, even atheists. They certainly did not envision the power that the small religious parties have come to hold.

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