Fighting Over the Western Wall

Haaretz brings you all the news and views following the arrest of Women of the Wall's chairwoman Anat Hoffman and the debate over practicing rites by the wall.

Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of the advocacy Women of the Wall, was arrested last week for reciting the Sh’ma prayer aloud at the Western Wall. Hoffman claimed that under intense police pressure, she signed a court order barring her from the holy site for 30 days.  

Hoffman's reportedly brutal arrest drew harsh criticism and condemnation from many U.S. religious organizations and women’s groups. In response to Hoffman’s arrest, and as an act of solidarity, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism organized a national flashmob in which it asked participants to upload videos to a special Facebook page called "Hear O Israel: The Global Sh'ma Flashmob”. 

Haaretz blogger Bradley Burston urged all Jews, to  come together at the Kotel on November 15th to recite the Sh’ma in protest of  Orthodox  Judaism's control over Jewish holy sites.

In a direct reply to Burston, former Haaretz editor-in-chief David Landau suggested that Hoffman’s actions at the Western Wall were a “cynical charade” aimed at portraying Israel as a "benighted and misogynous backwater". Since Orthodox Judaism is the official state-religion of Israel, wrote Landau, Hoffman’s arrest was justifiable.

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, former President of the Union for Reform Judaism, wrote in response to Landau's article: "You can’t be a liberal without a commitment to religious freedom and the equality of women." He argues that in Israel, a liberal democracy, religious freedom at the wall is a right, not an option.

In her op-ed, Elana Sztokman, Director of The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), responded to Landau, claiming his article neglects the fact that "women are Jews too." She argues that criticism of the right of women to pray openly at the Western Wall supports the monopoly of a radical fringe of Orthodoxy that believes that women should not be seen or heard anywhere.

Jewish World blogger Arie Hasit asserted that despite criticism of many Diaspora and secular Jews, liberal Jewish groups in Israel are making a noticeable difference in the way the Israeli government treats the different sects of Judaism.

Jewish World blogger Rabbi Eliannah Yolkut compared  the arrest and treatment of Anat Hoffman to that of Pharaoh’s treatment of the Jews in Egypt. "As the moral face of modern Jewry, Israel must protect its vulnerable citizens and begin upholding all its citizen’s religious rights", wrote Yolkut.

Allison Kaplan Sommer addressed both Landau's op-ed and an opinion piece written by Haaretz's Chaim Levinson, saying Hoffman’s arrest at the Wall illustrates many of the problems facing Israel and the Diaspora today.  Kaplan Sommer calls on  Israelis and Jews in the Diaspora to "build partnerships that strengthen our mutual interests, and discuss our disagreements when they inevitably flare up, not stomping away."