A couple of days ago, Jewish women were detained and arrested for praying openly. This did not happen in Iran or Egypt, but in Israel. The women were arrested because others were offended as they raised their voices in ancient Jewish prayers. They were arrested because they wore religious garbs that some believe should only be reserved for men. They were arrested because they were praying to God the way they could, the way that felt meaningful to them. They were arrested for disrupting the peace, when those who taunted them loudly and even physically attacked them by throwing plastic chairs at them were allowed to stay.
I acknowledge and respect those who think it is not right for women to wear tallitot or make a minyan. I respect that they have a valid opinion and think nobody should force them to do any of these things. At the same time, I wonder why these women, who make up the group Women of the Wall, are singled out over and over again by the police.
This summer I spent a month in Jerusalem. At my frequent visits to the Kotel, I saw many people who broke the rules of the Kotel who were not arrested or detained. I saw a girl wearing a knee length skirt that was so sheer that one could see her legs up to the short shorts she was wearing underneath. I saw a man wearing a sleeveless shirt. I saw a young woman push through women who were waiting to touch the Kotel during a crowded day. She was about to push a crying old lady out of the way before I stopped her. I also saw men yell hateful things at a group of women who were praying in a way they did not like.
I was there when the Women of the Wall gathered to pray for the new month. I saw policemen and policewomen walking around with videocameras, filming the faces of each of the women. The presence of the cameras certainly distracted many of the women who were praying. I saw a policeman disrupting a woman in the middle of prayer in order to tell her to wear her tallit in a different way. I heard the women sing, and they were not very loud. The men on the other side were easily droning them out without trying. Right before the Torah service, the women headed over to Robinson’s arch to read from the Torah. They did not fight or spit or make a scene. They walked in a dignified way, quietly singing as some male supporters joined them.
Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Kotel, was quoted as saying “We try to follow the customs that our grandfathers did, what was done 100 years ago, 200 years ago, and we try to keep extremism away.” I see the way that some of the men behaved as more extremist than what the women were doing. I see a policeman walking to the women’s side and disrupting the women’s prayers more extremist than a woman wearing a tallit.
I have heard the argument that the women cause such a commotion that others’ prayers are disrupted. But I think the actions of the police, condoned by Rabbi Rabinowitz, are more disruptive than those of the women. I saw Haredi women quietly walking past women with tallitot, not paying attention to them, in order to pray in their own way. They did not seem to care about the women with the tallitot.
I think it’s time we take a look at reality. Sooner or later, there will be enough people that support these women’s right to pray that a couple extremists won’t be able to keep them away. Let’s make it happen sooner rather than later.