Friday, December 4, 2009

Letter regarding Women of the Wall

I wanted to write about this article on Haaretz that came out last month:
Police on Wednesday arrested a woman who was praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, due to the fact that she was wrapped in a prayer shawl (tallit).

The woman was visiting the site with the religious women's group "Women of the Wall" to take part in the monthly Rosh Hodesh prayer.

Police were called to the area after the group asked to read aloud from a Torah scroll.
Facebook update: Israel has joined the group "Nations that arrest Jews for dressing like Jews".

I wanted to write about this, but didn't. Partially for time, partially because I always feel a little weak commenting on the female side of gender issues. "This upsets me because it is very clearly wrong" just doesn't tell the full story. I could reference other writers and draw from them, but since I lack the personal experience to ground it, it always feels like I'm quoting a talking points memo.

Leon sent this to me; it's a sample letter to the Israeli ambassador condemning this outrageous arrest. I'm posting it here to encourage as many people as possible to participate. It doesn't take long to write a letter and send it; please do so and ask your friends to as well. And next time I'm in Israel, I plan to daven with the Women of the Wall as much as I can.
(From Shulamit S. Magnus - Associate Professor, Jewish Studies and History Chair, Program in Jewish Studies, Oberlin College)

Many asked me this past Shabbat about the Women of the Wall and what we can do to help.

Here is something simple, quick, and effective: send emails to the Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren. Use your own language-- which should be respectful, if forthright-- or feel free to use or adapt from mine, below. Use your contacts and encourage others to send an avalanche of these to the Ambassador; the Embassy and Consulates are Israel's nerve endings abroad. They will register and report on Jewish public opinion and are our best, most direct form of influence.

The other is to ask every Jewish organization with which you are affiliated-- Federation; women's groups; camps; Zionist organizations of whatever stripe; shuls; schools-- to do the same, and to raise this issue in each and every contact with counterparts in Israel, ceaselessly, as was done, lehavdil, with Soviet Jewry, until Israel does right.

When YOU go to Israel, seek out this group, and daven with them.

Below, the text of my email to Ambassador Oren AND THE EMAIL ADDRESSES TO USE:

To: ''; ''
Subject: from Professor Shulamit Magnus Arrest women for praying at the

Dear Ambassador Oren,

I write to express my outrage at the arrest of a woman for wearing a talit and reading from a sefer Torah at the Western Wall.

What a disgrace that the only place in the world where such an action could be taken without the denunciation and intervention of the State of Israel is Israel itself. For shame! To what depths have we descended in our capitulation to religious fundamentalism, intimidation, and coercion that a law in the Jewish State actually criminalizes Jews praying in prayer garments and reading from the Torah anywhere in Israel! Are we to compete with the Byzantine Christians, the Ottomans, the British, and the Jordanians in restricting religious expression at this site, for whose liberation brave soldiers gave their lives so that we might all have free access and expression there, after centuries of oppression and restriction?

We ask you to convey to the Government of Israel our shock and indignation -- and our profound disappointment in our beloved Israel-- that such a policy could be tolerated, and our expectation that remedy will be forthcoming immediately so that this sacred site of Jewish memory and connection will be a place of mutual respect for the plurality of Jewish prayer customs, from which intolerance, fanaticism, misogyny and coercion, not women at prayer,
will be banished.

Respectfully yours,

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