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Women by the Wall to pray

· The difficult life of the Movement ·

Jews in prayer beaten and arrested by the police, the scroll of the Torah  snatched from the hands of one of them. What could not happen even in the most anti-Semitic Arab countries  happens instead in Israel at the Western Wall, the so-called Wailing Wall, the Kotel in Hebrew, and is the work of the Israeli police. The fact is that these Jews are actually female Jews, that the Jew who had the Torah scroll snatched is a woman, Anat Hoffman, leader of the movement Women of the Wall (Wow): a movement born as long ago as 1988, when a group of women began to go to the Western Wall in the section reserved for women, separated from the much broader part reserved for men, wearing the Tallith, prayer shawl and tefillin (small black boxes which contain verses of the Torah and which one binds to the forehead) and carrying with them the scrolls of the Torah.

The reaction of the ultra-Orthodox, who denied them the right to read the Torah ritually and to wear the objects used in  prayer, was very violent. Since then, every Rosh Chodesh (the first of the month), the women gather to pray at the Wall, despite the attacks of the ultra-Orthodox, who attack and insult them, throw their chairs and other objects at them, call them Nazis.

In 2002, the Women of the Wall  consulted the Israeli Supreme Court about their rights to pray collectively at the Wall by reading the Torah. A first answer of the Court, which allowed them to do so in the space opposite the area reserved for women, was immediately cancelled following protests by the ultra-Orthodox. The Court  then decided to forbid them to pray in the area in front of the Wall, relegating them to a side area. Nevertheless, in particular beginning from 2010, they were attacked while travelling to the area reserved for them, arrested, beaten up both by the police and the ultra-Orthodox, who consider the Wall as an area subject to them and to be fully managed by them.

Despite the scandal aroused by these events in the Jewish American world and in the Diaspora, women have not yet found a great deal of support in Israel. The laity, in fact, have very little interest in methods of  prayer and these women are religious. Many of them belong to reformed or conservative Judaism, but there are also many moderate Orthodox, demanding equality with men in prayer.

The Women of the Wall do not call into question the separation between the area reserved for men and the one to which women are relegated, but they want to pray like the men, covered by the Tallith, reading aloud the scroll of the Torah. One thing that so far in the Jewish orthodox world women do not do, and that is the prerogative of so-called "liberal" Judaism. For the ultra-Orthodox, the matter in dispute is not the mingling between men and women, about which they have conducted many of their battles, among others, that relating to segregation on buses in Jerusalem crossing the ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood of Mea Shearim, in the name of the "modesty" of women and of not tempting the pious students of the rabbinical schools of the district (who are well-known easily to fall into temptation).

Here, on the other hand, the issue is the religious freedom of women. The ultra-Orthodox accuse them of being feminists and of wanting to wear Tallith and tefillin for this reason, and not out of a religious spirit. The police, who cannot arrest them for wearing the Tallith, or because they are feminists, arrest them because their actions disrupt public order. Then they release them, forbidding them access to the Wall for a certain period of time. Meanwhile, the battle extends, and the laity themselves in Israel are beginning to realize that religious freedom is an issue that concerns everyone, even those who do not pray.




St. Peter’s Square

Dec. 15, 2019