Adopted December 10, 2012
BACKGROUND: The Kotel (Western Wall) is one of the holiest sites in Judaism. Administration of the Kotel and the Kotel Heritage Foundation is under the jurisdiction of the ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz. Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal, Humanistic, and secular Jews have no representation in the administration of the Kotel or in the Kotel Heritage Foundation, and therefore the Western Wall reflects only one type of Jewish practice.
On Rosh Chodesh Mar Heshvan, three women of the wall were arrested at the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Women of the Wall Chairwoman Anat Hoffman was taken in handcuffs, strip-searched, dragged on the ground, imprisoned overnight and issued a thirty day restraining order from appearing at the Kotel because she led a group of 250 Hadassah women in singing the Shema. WOW Director Lesley Sachs and Board member Rachel Cohen-Yeshurun were arrested, detained by police for three hours and required to promise to return to the police or to court if summoned because they wore their tallit in the normal way and not wrapped around their necks like a winter muffler. Anat, Lesley and Rachel were cited under Israeli law for “the performance of an act at the Kotel that is not according to the custom of the place, and performing an act that can lead to obstruction of the public order.”
BE IT RESOLVED that
- We, who along with the other liberal movements represent the majority of Jews in the United States and in the world, experience this situation as a call to awareness: Shma Yisrael – Listen Israel!
- We believe that the suppression of religious pluralism is an existential threat to Israel’s soul.
- We find it unconscionable that in the Jewish homeland any Jew would be arrested anywhere for the public expression of their Jewish religious identity.
- We cannot and will not stand silently when Jewish women are silenced or subject to any form of violence for reciting the Shema, the strongest affirmation a Jew can make.
- We recognize that some of our Orthodox brothers and sisters have halakhic concerns about encountering womens’ voices raised in prayer, but Judaism is not theirs alone, nor is the Kotel theirs alone, and we reject the use of violence against those they do not wish to hear.
- We affirm that in our understanding it is God’s will that all people, and all Jews (of every variety of practice) have the right to sing in praise and cry out in need to the One God in Whose image we are all made.
- We issue the following call to action to address these concerns:
- Call to Action
- We call upon the State of Israel to include in the Western Wall Heritage Foundation people who are not Orthodox, so that multiple voices and religious views can be part of the administration of the Kotel, and to include women among these members.
- We call on our friends in all Jewish groups and organizations, and especially at the Jewish Agency for Israel, to use their influence with the Israeli government, to urge it to implement such changes. We concur with the resolution passed Tuesday, October 30, during The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Board of Governors meeting in Tel Aviv, which reads in part: “Whereas Jewish women and men, of all streams of Judaism, desire the opportunity to pray at the Western Wall of Har Habayit (the Temple Mount) in a manner that fulfills their religious expression, and in an atmosphere of mutual respect and Ahavat Yisrael” and calls for “the Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel, consulting with the Committee for the Unity of the Jewish People, and working with Jewish Agency- Israel Government Coordinating Committee and other appropriate bodies, including the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, to arrive at a satisfactory approach to the issue of prayer at the Western Wall of Har Habayit.”
- We call upon Jewish Renewal leaders and all Jews everywhere to make a financial contribution to the Women of the Wall Legal and Education Fund at https://www.womenofthewall.org.il/take-a-stand/individuals-take-a-stand/legal-and-education/.
- We call upon Jewish Renewal leaders and all Jews everywhere to bring attention in our synagogues to this ongoing discrimination against our sisters each time we recite the Shema. One way to mark this is that as we sing out Shma Yisrael, our clergy and lay leaders invite everyone who is wearing a tallit to wrap their tallit around their neck, as women at the Wall are compelled to do so that their sacred garments do not get them arrested. Another way is to remove our tallitot in solidarity with the Women of the Wall. We urge the development of other creative rituals which will, on an ongoing basis, call attention to this situation.
- We call upon Jewish Renewal leaders and all Jews to write letters of protest to the Israeli government and to write letters and op-eds in Jewish periodicals. We urge our members to sign IRAC’S (Israel’s Religious Action Center) petition protesting these arrests: http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50494/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=7733
- We stand in solidarity with our friends in the Conservative Movement, who organized more than 2,500 people to participate in a global Shema flash mob as part of a campaign to promote religious pluralism in Israel. We also stand with our friends in the Reform Movement who have called for an Israeli police investigation into the incident in which Hoffman was hackled, dragged across a jail floor and put into a cell overnight without a blanket, being forced to use her tallit to cover herself. We join with the New York Board of Rabbis which has issued a statement saying, “We call upon Israeli leaders to address this critical issue in a constructive manner respecting the different forms of Jewish religious expression and a shared appreciation for holy sites,” and with the executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, who writes that “state laws defining proper religious behavior results in acts that do not preserve the sanctity, but defile it.”
- We ask those who are able to be present at the Wall with the women to do so, as a show of solidarity.
- We pray for the flourishing of religious pluralism in Israel and everywhere.