Sarah Silverman's Sister After Arrest: Western Wall 'Hijacked' by ultra-Orthodox Minority

Rabbi Susan Silverman and her daughter among ten women detained over the Women of the Wall organized group prayer at the Kotel; Rabbi Silverman says she opposes ultra-Orthodox Jewish monopoly of the site on 'theological and democratic' grounds.

Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger
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Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger

The sister of American comedian Sarah Silverman, Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman, one of ten women detained on Monday for participating in prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, has told Haaretz that the group prayer at the site was not a provocation, and that she is opposed to Haredi "hijacking" of the sacred site on "theological and democratic" grounds.

Some 300 women and men gathered for the new month prayer organized by Women of the Wall, a group dedicated to securing the rights of women to pray aloud, read from the Torah and wear religious garments at the Western Wall. The organization has been attracting growing interest abroad, among Jews and non-Jews. Recently, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Jewish Agency chairman, Natan Sharansky, to find a solution to the ongoing controversy.

The ten women were arrested by police only after most of the other participants and journalists at the scene had gone. They were held in custody for three hours, and several of the women were issued temporary restraint orders from the site.

Those taken into custody included director of Women of the Wall, Lesley Sachs, along with Rabbi Silverman, a Jerusalem resident, and her 17-year-old daughter, Hallel. Following the incident, Sarah Silverman immediately tweeted: SO proud of my amazing sister & niece for their ballsout civil disobedience. Ur the tits!

Recent interest in the activities if Women of the Wall, especially among Jewish congregations in the U.S., attracted the largest ever group to join the prayer Monday night, according to the organizers. The group included foreign journalists and a delegation of veterans from the Six Day War, who expressed solidarity with the women's demands.

One of the veterans was Yitzhak Yifat, who in June 1967 was photographed by David Rubinger among the paratroopers who captured the Western Wall, in a photo that has already gained iconic status. Yifat told Haaretz: "I decided to come here and express my support for all those who wish to pray at the Western Wall in any fashion that suits them, as long as they don't do anything immoral. I'm heartbroken by all the ultra-Orthodox who decided that they own the Western Wall."

For several years now, the Women of the Wall have held monthly prayers, which are also intended to protest the High Court ruling. The High Court allotted them an area where they could pray, but for more than a year now, these prayers have ended with arrests. The Rabbi of the Western Wall and critics of the group argue that the women are provocative, and that they are in contempt of the High Court ruling.

Rabbi Silverman told Haaretz she was urged to join the prayer by her daughter, who wished to pray for the first time in her life at the Western Wall with a prayer shawl. Silverman rejected the claim that the prayer was a provocation opposed to the High Court ruling.

"I have two responses for that argument," she said, "theological and democratic, and they interconnect. Theologically, I oppose the Haredi ownership of Judaism. When a small group believe they possess the truth, and god is created in its image, it is in complete contrast to the mass revelation at Mount Sinai, in contrast to the principle of 'Kohanim kingdom,' which means that whoever participated at the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai has part of the Torah, in his way. When people wish to steal the Torah, and want it in their image, it is sacrilege.

From a democratic point of view, it is simply a distortion that there's one group of citizens who rules the rest. That's simple and we must challenge the government on this matter. The fact of the matter is that the Western Wall was hijacked by a small group, and that is a distortion of history."

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Movement for Progressive Judaism, who participated in the prayer, protested the arrests and called on the political parties to "raise the issue of freedom of worship in the Western Wall and freedom of religion, at the coalition negotiations. Attorney Yizhar Hess, Executive Director and CEO of the Masorti Movement in Israel, said that "whether we like it or not the new Knesset will have to deal with many complex issues concerning religion and state. Liberation of the Western Wall is one of these issues. How is it possible that a national symbol, meant to unite the Jewish people has become a Haredi synagogue, where women are arrested solely because they wish to pray as Jews according to their customs?"

MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) said that she intends to promote new regulations of the Western Wall courtyard so that it will be suitable for all Israeli society and not only to one sector. "Still," Lavie added, "the actions carried out by the Women of the Wall, in direct contrast to the High Court ruling, are not the way that leads to a solution. One must act to find an arrangement that suits the large and diverse groups that come en masse to the Western Wall."

Laura, Sarah, Susan and Jodyne Silverman.Credit: Beth Ann O'hara

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