At Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, the use of racial profiling is so controversial that it is the subject of a legal challenge by human rights advocates. But what about a different type of profiling — religious profiling — and of all places at the Western Wall?
As we reported, the tables were turned at the Western Wall on Sunday when Women of the Wall held its communal prayers. Until a court ruling demanded otherwise on April 25, the police treated the group’s monthly gatherings as illegal.
But on Sunday police didn’t just let WOW pray — to do so they kept Haredi women away from the Wall. Police erected barriers by the women’s section of the Wall and only let worshippers who looked like they were part of the WOW gathering through.
Women who wore Haredi attire weren’t allowed to approach the Wall during the time of the WOW prayers. An Orthodox woman who isn’t a member of WOW but who went to join the group’s prayers, tells me that she was stopped and questioned on where she was going. It was clear, she said, that if she hadn’t been headed to take part in WOW prayers, she would have been temporarily barred from the Wall.
This situation presents a conundrum. WOW have won their hard-earned religious freedom, and are now allowed to hold prayers at the Wall. And certain Haredi women continue to show determination to disrupt their prayers, as I reported on Sunday. It may even be the case that allowing these particular Haredi women close to WOW would cause direct confrontation. So on the one hand the measures taken on Sunday could seem justified.
The tables were well and truly turned at the Western Wall this morning, as the Israeli Police, which until this spring detained women holding communal prayers, executed a mass operation to protect them and facilitate their worship.
Until April 25, the police treated the monthly gatherings by the feminist alliance Women of the Wall as illegal, and as a result detained its members. However, on that date a Jerusalem district court ruled that this interpretation of the law wasn’t correct.
As a result, at their service a month ago, they were allowed to hold their communal prayers. However, the scene was chaotic, with large numbers of Haredi protestors doing much to disturb the prayers, and some of them throwing projectiles at the women.
At today’s service, however, the scene was very different. Haredi leaders, keen to for their community to avoid the bad press it received a month ago, and instructed youngsters to keep away, in a bid to keep hotheads at bay. But the biggest difference was the punctilious organization by police, who took their obligation to protect the women exceedingly seriously.
While just a couple of months ago it was the objectors to Women of the Wall who had the upper hand at the Wall, today, they were kept away from much of the women’s section as WOW gathered. Police escorted women in to the prayer area from their buses. If you hadn’t arrived on a bus, officers asked where you were going, and only if you were participating with WOW were you allowed near their gathering. The officers covered a special walkway with tarpaulin, so that WOW participants couldn’t be seen by Haredi demonstrators — and in a worst-case scenario of object being throw wouldn’t be harmed.
Could Tzipi Livni be sweetening feminists before dropping a bombshell?
As discussed earlier on Forward Thinking, Justice Minister Livni has just announced that she is working on legislation to criminalize the exclusion of women from the public sphere. The timing is interesting — just as she could find herself in a very awkward position on women’s issues.
Women of the Wall, the interdenominational feminist group that prays once a month at the Western Wall, is waiting to see what will become of its newfound rights.
For the first time ever, women tried to hold public prayers at the Western Wall with he blessing of the state today. It was be the group’s first prayer meeting since a landmark court ruling that will put an end to the police’s habit of detaining its members.
Women planned to gather at the Wall, some of them wearing prayer shawls and phylacteries, with guarantees from police that they will respect the protection that the court afforded them.
Instead of the police, women found themselves facing off against thousands of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators. Police had to protect them from the Haredi mob.
Now, non-Orthodox religious leaders are demanding an investigation into the violence.
Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has just dealt the political establishment a trump card to clamp down on the women. This week he waived his right to challenge the permissive court ruling they received as he believes it accords with the current law, but in his decision he left the door wide open for the Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett to redefine the law and put a stop to their newly-won right to public prayer at the Wall.
If Bennett decides to alter the law, he will head straight to Livni’s office for her signature to do so. The pressure will be high on Livni, the junior party of the coalition, from strongman Bennett. Perhaps she’s making a big gesture to women in her announcement today so that, if and when the time comes to reel in rights at the Kotel, she can say that she’s only lost a battle but won the war.
Either way, the ball is in Tzipi’s court.
The rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinowitz isn’t opposed to the plan for an egalitarian prayer section there, he announced in a statement emailed to reporters yesterday. But it’s already clear that he doesn’t speak for the Haredi mainstream.
Rabinowitz is Haredi, but softer on religious issues than most Haredi leaders. This is partly because he’s a state employee and realizes that there are limits to his autonomy, and partly because his family background is more moderate than many — for example he served in the army.
“The Kotel isn’t ours to give away,” rages the editorial of the Jerusalem-based Hasidic-establishment newspaper Hamodia today, using the Hebrew name for the Western Wall. “The place of the Temple was chosen by God and the Shechinah [divine presence] has never departed from the Kotel.”
Hamodia went on to argue that the Women of the Wall fight is a proxy battle by American Reform which is trying to compensate for its failure to make inroads in to the Israeli religious scene. “The Reform Movement in the United States is using the Women of the Wall to bully the government in to giving it recognition that the people have withheld,” it claimed.
Hamodia argues that while much of the world sees the fight of Women of the Wall as a human rights issue “nothing could be further from the truth.” It insists that Women of the Wall are actually infringing the rights of other female worshippers at the Wall with their controversial monthly prayer meetings there, such as today’s gathering which resulted in two female worshippers being detained by police..
“Indeed, if anyone’s rights are being trampled, it is those of the regulars at the Kotel, the women who come — every day not just Rosh Chodesh [the start of the month] — to daven [pray], not to create provocation. These women are denied a place of quiet, holiness and dignity, where they have been coming for decades to pour out their hearts, by a group of lawbreakers that seeks to advance a political agenda.”
Hamodia portrays the Reform movement as hypocritical, writing: “How ironic that the same Reform movement that hails Israel’s Supreme Court when it rules that the Tal Law on drafting yeshivah students is unconstitutional, or that Haredi schools must teach the core curriculum, has no trouble ignoring what it when it bars the Women of the Wall from holding services at the Kotel.”
The Orthodox rabbi who oversees the Western Wall has vowed not to soften his confrontational approach toward Jewish women seeking to pray at the holy site in Jerusalem.
On Friday, police detained four women for wearing prayer shawls as they tried to start a prayer service. There have been numerous similar incidents in the past.
In an article that Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz sent to journalists Tuesday, but apparently written before Friday’s incident, he said that women trying to pray at the wall represent a “liberal-zealous” agenda.
Rabinowitz, who is an Israeli state employee, is the man behind the ban on female public prayer that the police enforces. He presents himself as caught “between two types of zealotry.”
He wrote: “From the side of the traditionalist zealots, I have been attacked because of my vigorous actions t bring thousands of groups of students and soldiers to the Western Wall. Many of these groups do not live a traditional Jewish lifestyle. From the liberal-zealous direction.”
The “zealotry” from the other direction is that of the Women of the Wall, the inter-denominational group that wants the right to wear prayer shawls, to pray, and to read out loud from the Torah at the Wall.
Discussing a Talmudic passage he wrote of zealotry: “With pretty words it asks for our protection – in the name of tolerance, of course. Under the protection of tolerance, it grows and flourishes, until it is impossible to prevent the disaster that it brings upon all of us.”
He went on to state “loud and clear” that “[a]s long as I have authority, placed upon me by the State of Israel, over the Western Wall, there will be no place for zealotry there. The stones of the Wall can teach us about the cost of zealotry. They still remember the heat of the flames, lit by the zealotry of the residents of Jerusalem, each man against his brother. Before these glorious stones, we are charged never to make the same mistake again.”
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