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"Women of the Wall" Protest Exclusion from Praying at Jerusalem's Western Wall

Supporters of a group of religious activists called Women of the Wall gathered at the holy site in Jerusalem for prayers on Friday. Conservative Jew Nofrat Frenkel, 28 and a fifth year medical student, was the first woman to be arrested last month on Nov. 18th, during prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Her crime was wrapping herself in a tallit or fringed prayer shawl, a ritual garment traditionally worn only by men.

The Women of the Wall, who meet for prayers at the Kotel at the start of every Hebrew month, are at the vanguard of a feminist struggle in Orthodox Judaism. via NYTimes

The group prayed in large numbers last Friday, the first day of the Hebrew month of Tevet. “We are pushing the envelope. History is made of moments like this,” said Nat Hoffman, chairwoman of Women of the Wall, which was founded in 1988.

Praying in her own voice

In a telling moment of history that invokes images of Sudanese Muslim men screaming “prostitutes” to Lubna Hussein and her supporters, as the trouser girl heroine made her way to court in Khartoum, the Jewish men shouted “Gevalt!” — expressing their revulsion in Yiddish — and called the women’s prayer an abomination. One or two threw objects and spat at them. In the women’s section, some Orthodox female worshipers joined in. via NYTimes

Translated, “Gevalt!” is closer to an extreme exclamation of “Oh my!!!” than an expletive.

One of the founders of “Women of the Wall” Bonna Devora Haberman writes via The Jewish Exponent:

Discrimination against women is among the egregious offenses against human dignity sheltered under the wing of religion. Exclusion from public places and rituals, from knowledge and positions of authority; physical, educational, and social restrictions; and the enforcement of “modesty” through invasive surveillance and dress codes are daily humiliations to which religious communities subject their female members worldwide.

In a reponse that’s reminiscent of appeals made to the women when they first challenged the prayer restrictions over 20 years ago, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich of the Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem appealed:

“What value is there to prayer when it hurts the feelings of many and is done in an environment of argument and disagreement?” He added, “It’s not for nothing that the rain raged at that time, because the heavens are crying over women who try to harm the Western Wall and the feelings of those [other women] who pray there,” and said they should seek what is common. via Israel National News

Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson, director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, and Rivka Haut, of the Women’s Tefilla Network, in a mass e-mail prior to the Dec. 17th protest, called for a day of solidarity at venues around the world in support of the right of women to pray at the Western Wall in “dignity, in safety and in shared community.”

“As with many other women’s grassroots efforts, each community, organization and institution shall develop its own program of prayer or study and shall reach out as widely as possible to its constituencies,” they wrote. “For some groups, this day of solidarity and support will be in the manner of WOW, including tefillah and the reading of the Torah. For others, the program may be a “lunch and learn” text study session; or a women’s Chanukah observance. For yet others, it might be a gathering of three or more friends in a living room or office who will dedicate their joint prayer and/or study to the Women of the Wall. Some communities may want to add to their programs a screening of Yael Katzir’s film, ‘Praying in Her Own Voice.” via Jewish & Israel News.

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