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April 07, 1989 - Image 36

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-04-07

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Tear-Gas Incident Highlights
Dispute Over Women At Wall




Special to the Jewish News


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t was the first time tear
gas had been used at the
Western Wall since
Judaism's holiest site had
come under Israeli control in
A group of 50 women
gathered at the Wall early on
the morning of March 20 to
mark the Fast of Esther
preceding Purim with a
prayer service. They were at-
tacked by ultra-Orthodox
Jewish men who reportedly
threw chairs over the mechit-
zah separating men and
women. Some men entered
the women's section. Others
threw rocks and bottles.
"I was terrified," says Gila
Svirsky; one of the women
who had come to the Kotel to
pray and sing.
Police did not intervene un-
til they were summoned by
the Ministry of Religious Af-
fairs that oversees the site.
The police fired two tear gas
canisters at the men's side of
the mechitzah. A man threw
one of the canisters over to
the women's side. Worshipers
of both sexes were driven
from the Wall.
According to the Jerusalem
Post, Rabbi Yehuda Getz,
chief rabbi of the Kotel, pro-
mised the women beforehand
that they would be protected.
Rachel Levin, a 20-year-old
U.S.-born Hebrew University
student was injured by a chair
thrown in the riot and re-
quired hospital treatment.
Her attacker was not
This pre-Purim fracas was a
more violent replay of an in-
cident that occurred in
February. The same group of
women had gathered at the
Kotel to welcome the new
month of Adar I. Then, too,
chairs were hurled at them
from over the mechitzah.
The fierce reactions these
women have inspired point to
the minefields women must
negotiate as they try to
redefine their role in tradi-
tional Judaism. They are do-
ing so in public — at the most
visible and symbolically
charged Jewish site —
because they have chosen to
wed acts of faith with a
political message: Judaism is
for women, too.
Women are not barred from
praying at the Kotel; one sec-
tion of the wall is set aside for
them. The Kotel group's in-
novation is that it is meeting
on the women's side of the
metchitzah as a community,






Scuffle at the Wall: A policeman confronts an Orthodox man who tried
to prevent women from praying as a group.

not as individuals. Their
weekly Friday morning
prayer gathering has at-
tracted little attention. What
appeared to arouse the ire of
the ultra-Orthodox men —
and women — at the Adar I
Rosh Chodesh (new month)
gathering is that the women
donned prayer shawls and
began to read from the Torah.
Group members maintain
that women reading from the
Torah is not against
Halachah (Jewish law) and
that while the custom is
almost unknown in Israel, it
has been making inroads as a
public act of tefillah, or prayer,
in North America, even
among Orthodox women.
But Zevulun Or-Lev, direc-
tor general of The Religious
Ministry, said that the pro-
hibition on women holding
services is "tradition in
Israel, and this tradition is
law and cannot be changed?'
It's no accident that most
members of the Kotel group
are North American-born
Israelis or American women
now studying in Israel.
Members function as a com-
munity despite their
disparate religious
backgrounds, according to
Bonna Haberman, one of the
group's initiators.
"There are Reform,
assimilated, ba'al teshuvah,
Reconstructionist. What's im-
portant is that they are able
to transcend these barriers.
The relationships are more
important than the ideology,"
she says.
The group attempts to live
within Halachah. When the
women pray together, they do

not recite the prayers re-
quired for a minyan, like Kad-
dish and Borchu, she
Haberman led the women
in a self-examination session
after the Adar I incident. At
the meeting the women,
many of them college
students, grappled with what
some saw as a conflict bet-
ween prayer and Torah on the
one hand, and political ac-
tivism on the other.
Some advocated caution —
studying the Halachah more
deeply or establishing greater
community support — before
venturing out into the public
again. Others expressed
sadness that they were par-
ticipating in acts that caused
Jews to hate each other. One
woman chastised the others
for expending so much energy
when Israel had so many
more serious problems.
At the next Rosh Chodesh,
the group met privately. But
the March 20 attack will not
drive the group underground,
Haberman says.
The following day, four of
the group's activists appealed
to the High Court of Justice
to order the Religious Affairs
Ministry to show cause why it
will not allow women to read
from the Torah and wear
prayer shawls at the Kotel.
The activists took this step to
guarantee the women's safe-
ty at the Wall since the
Religious Affairs Ministry
and Jerusalem police have
been unable to do so, Haber-
man says. "Decisions have to
be made to protect us?'
Feminism is still a dirty
word in Israel, according to






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