The Old City is at it again. This morning, the Women of the Wall went to the Kotel for Rosh Chodesh (the new moon/month) prayers, something they’ve been doing for awhile. One of our first posts was about the arrests of Women of the Wall worshippers (as an aside – we’re quickly approaching our one year anniversary. This is very exciting).
This month was meant to be celebratory. These Rosh Chodesh events have been marred by arrests and detainments of female worshippers, but on April 25th, a few short weeks ago, the Israeli Supreme Court found that the arrested women were not disturbing the peace, and police should not detain worshipers. This was to be the first month that these women would pray in peace.
Instead, a wave of ultra-Orthodox rabbis and Knesset members called on Orthodox women and seminary girls to show up to create a physical barrier so the Women of the Wall could not pray today. From all reports, hundreds showed up. Haaretz liveblogged the event. What bothered me and intrigued me most were the following developments:
6:45 A.M. Western Wall swarming with ultra-Orthodox protestors, making it difficult for Women of the Wall to approach.
6:53 A.M. Riot police forces form a human chain, creating a barrier between members of Women of the Wall and ultra-Orthodox protestors.
7:00 A.M. Ultra-Orthodox screaming “Nazis” at police as Women of the Wall try to make their way.
7:10 A.M. Thosands of ultra-Orthodox men wearing prayer shawls, surround the members of Women of the Wall and their supporters, about two hundred men and women. Riot police forces trying to separate the two groups and allow the women to continue their prayer.
7:50 A.M. Ultra-Orthodox girls say they were said to come the Western Wall, but some were not sure why. “We were told to come here,” one said. “We thought that the women are praying at the men’s plaza,” another tells Haaretz.
8:20 A.M. As morning prayers come to a close, police form a human barricade to aid the group of women and their supporters out of the Western Wall plaza. Ultra-Orthodox protesters try to break through the police barricade.
8:35 A.M. Jerusalem Police Commander Yossi Parienti: “I hope that ahead of next month a new arrangement will be found. It’s not pleasant to see the Wall like that, it’s like a battlefield.”
8:55 A.M. Ultra-Orthodox protesters are throwing rocks at the members of Women of the Wall and at their supporters outside the Western Wall.
9:02 A.M. “No one wanted it to come to this,” Kotel Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz says. “I ask everyone: please leave the Western Wall out of any dispute.” Rabinowitz calls on Prime Minister Benajmin Netanyahu and Minister for Religious Affairs Naftali Bennet to find a solution that would be accepted be all factions. (Army Radio)
9:15 A.M. Police arrested three Haredi men suspected of disrupting the peace during morning prayers at the Western Wall.
I found it encouraging that our police force changed so quickly – a month ago, it was detaining women for the perceived violation of a law to uphold Jewish tradition. Today, it created a human chain to protect the women the Supreme Court found were not breaking any laws.
Though Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinovich had called for calm and unity, he has been crystal clear about his opposition to Women of the Wall in the past. The rabbi released a statement last November after Anat Hoffman, executive director of Women of the Wall, was arrested, stating
The Western Wall is the place of prayer for every individual in the nation, and as such, it must carefully safeguard the individual’s right to privacy and respect during the precious moments of prayer. The secret of the Western Wall is the secret of diminution which demands that each one of us minimize the traditions in which we differ and focus on what is common and which unifies us
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been my experience, or that of many others, when visiting the Kotel. Rabbi Rabinovich has regularly referred to WoW as extremist. JPost just published an interview with the Rabbi from today, in which he begs the Women to stop the monthly prayers, that such action “stabs” a certain group of Jews in the heart (so much for WordPress’s limited embedding options.. It’s Friday and I’m a bit too lazy to rip the video, upload it to YouTube, then embed it below. The whole article is here). Here’s a video of the scene at the kotel this morning, though:
I think Sophia and I have been pretty clear throughout this last year on where we stand on religious pluralism, the use of religious sites for all parties, and all that, so I won’t belabor the point. Hopefully, though, this is a beginning to a larger dialogue, with a place at the table for Reform and Conservative Judaism validated, in a way, by Israel’s Supreme Court. What could be next? Weddings performed by Conservative Rabbis in Israel? Well, I’m scared.
I just wanted to add Women of the Wall’s video of today’s events. I wonder what sort of fall-out this will create with young Jewish women. I’m interested to see what happens to those young seminary girls who showed up today – will they cling closer to their communities, or seek solidarity with their fellow women?