“The Kotel” is one of the most famous holy places in the Jewish world.
“Kotel Ha-Ma’aravi” is Hebrew for the “Western Wall,” a retaining wall built by Herod the Great. It is all that is left of the Second Temple, built in 20 BCE (Before the Common Era) and destroyed in 70 CE by the Roman armies of Titus during their sack of Jerusalem.
Among gentiles it has sometimes been known as the “Wailing Wall” but that term has never been in common use among Jews. It got that name from the sound of the prayers of devout Jews who made pilgrimage there during the centuries of Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman rule.
Many visitors to the Kotel write prayers on scraps of paper and press the paper into the crevices in the Wall.
Today the Kotel functions as an open-air synagogue. It has been in the news because of controversy over the norms for prayer at the site. For 25 years, the Women of the Wall have pressed for the right to pray aloud, to read aloud from the Torah, and to wear tallitot (prayer shawls) at the Kotel. Their struggle is ongoing.
I just got word via the Women’s Rabbinic Network that Anat Hoffman was arrested again last night at the Kotel, the Western Wall, when she was there with a group from Women of the Wall and another group from Hadassah. Since I can’t find any more information on Ha’aretz to corroborate the details I’m not going to say more than that. She’s been arrested, again. I wish I were surprised.
Anat Hoffman is executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal and advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel. She is also the chair of Nashot HaKotel, the Women of the Wall. She was elected to the Jerusalem City Council and sat on it for fourteen years. She has been tireless in her efforts to seek fairness and justice for all in Israel.
In the recent past, women have been arrested at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh for wearing a too-traditional tallit, for wearing a tallit in a manner too much like a man, and for similar ridiculousness. If this is a place that belongs to the whole Jewish people, why are women not allowed to pray there? Why must women be silent and meek there? Why is only one expression of Judaism acceptable there?
Some will say that this is an unimportant matter. Who cares what the haredim do at the Kotel? What about Iran? What about security? What about the Situation with the Palestinians? What about the Arab Spring?
So it is not a trivial matter that a group of women are insisting on their right to pray at the most famous holy site in the Jewish world. This is not about the Wall. It is not about shawls. It is about women’s right to be visible without molestation or repression.
The facts are not all in regarding this latest arrest. I hope that Anat is all right. She is in my prayers tonight. But not just in my prayers: I am joining other members of the Women’s Rabbinic Network in sending a donation to the Women of the Wall in honor of her, and to help cover the legal expenses of this work.
If you would like to join me (please join me!) you can donate funds to either of these organizations. Just click on the link, and it will take you to the donations page.
The month of Cheshvan is sometimes called “Mar”Cheshvan, Bitter Cheshvan, because there are no holidays or rejoicing in it. I am sorry to say that Anat’s arrest and the continuing assaults on women’s rights in Israel make this Cheshvan bitter indeed. Let us hope that the time is coming when women can again stand at the Wall and pray, as we have done for centuries. Let us hope that some future Cheshvan is sweet.
Update: 10:58 pm, PST, Oct 16: The Women of the Wall report on their facebook page that Anat was still detained at this writing, and they show a photo of her being taken away in handcuffs. At their regular morning prayer time, two other WoW leaders, Director Lesley Sachs and board member Rachel Cohen Yeshurun, were also arrested. (Now would be a very good time to “like” their page on facebook, if you use facebook.)