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Who May Pray At The Western Wall?
hen Israeli police arrested
Anat Hoffman for alleg-
edly disturbing public
order at the Western Wall when her
women's prayer group continued to
sing the Shema out loud after being
ordered to stop, they shifted the
focus from how best to accommodate
all worshippers at Judaism's holiest
site to the matter of reportedly using
excessive force in upholding the law.
On Oct.16, Hoffman, executive
director of the Reform movement's
Israel Religious Action Center and
chair of the Women of the Wall, was
leading 250 women in prayer in the
women's section to celebrate the
new month of Cheshvan, a common
monthly observance of the 24-year-
old organization. Worshippers
included women visiting Jerusalem
to mark the centennial conference
of Hadassah: The Women's Zionist
Organization of America.
Hoffman wore a tallit at the service
by the Wall, exacerbating her arrest.
In 2003, the Israeli Supreme Court
upheld a government ban on women
wearing tefillin or tallitot or reading
from a Torah scroll or blowing a sho-
far at the Wall.
Instead of a policewoman follow-
ing her to the women's restroom,
as was past practice when she was
detained for leading women in prayer
at the Wall, Hoffman this time claims
she was abused. She says once in
custody, she not only was ordered to
strip naked, but also was chained and
dragged on the floor, bruising her.
"It was awful," she told JTA.
She says she spent the night in a
cell without a bed, alongside three
other prisoners. She was released the
Anat Hoffman leads a group of women in prayer at the Western Wall.
next morning after agreeing to stay
away from the Wall for 30 days.
The incident brought global atten-
tion to Israel's lingering controversy
over gender equality and religious
freedom. Israel's Reform and
Conservative movements continue
to seek legalization of non-Orthodox
Jewish marriage in Israel and funding
for non-Orthodox rabbis.
The 2003 Supreme Court ruling
upheld Israeli law barring a religious
ceremony "contrary to accepted
practice" at a holy site or one that
may "hurt the feelings of other wor-
shippers" — both vague restrictions.
Ever since, the Women of the Wall has
clashed with police and ultra-Ortho-
dox religious leaders over the group's
efforts to gain the right of all women
to pray there "with Torah, tallit and
voices raised in song."
Neither the government nor the
haredi leadership seems to want any
part of addressing the prayer turmoil
as Women of the Wall pressure inten-
sifies. The net result has been contin-
ued detainment of women who pray
at the Wall in defiance of the law.
Was the singing of the Shema that
Hoffman was leading really that intru-
sive for others? Should the Women of
the Wall be limited, as the Supreme
Court ordered in 2003, to the spot
near Robinson's Arch, south of the
Western Wall Plaza, that is reserved
for alternative egalitarian services?
Hoffman and other women break
Israeli law every time they wear a
tallit at the Wall. They are embrac-
ing a custom traditionally expressed
by men in accordance with Orthodox
Jewish practice. But to claim the
behavior of these women is blas-
phemy that "undermines the sanctity
of the Wall," as Wall Rabbi Shmuel
Rabinowitz so indelicately put it this
past summer, only serves to agitate,
not help lessen, the religious war
among the streams of Judaism within
the Jewish state.
There's merit in the Israel Religious
Action Center's petition drive seek-
ing Supreme Court approval for the
Western Wall Heritage Foundation
to include non-Orthodox Jews in its
decision-making. Israel's court sys-
tem seems the best avenue to effect
change in governance of the Wall.
Smart people should be able to fig-
ure out how to allow diverse spiritual
expression at the Wall without unsolv-
able conflict. As Hoffman put it: "I
respect Jews who pray differently
than me; and I understand that many
women do not wish to wear a tallit."
Given more and more Jewish
women do wish to pray at the
Western Wall with a tallit, the issue is
how to permit that peacefully and in a
sensitive way that doesn't infringe on
the religious rights of others.
Israel's police minister, meanwhile,
should fully investigate Hoffman's
claim of abuse while in police cus-
A Perfect Shidduch To Improve Literacy In Detroit
he Metro Detroit community
has always been one of action,
not apathy. Rather than bemoan
difficult times, we work together to solve
A great example of this is the recent
collaboration between the Detroit Jewish
community and Beyond Basics to provide
a solution to the illiteracy epidemic plagu-
ing our children. Detroit has the highest
illiteracy rate in the country at 73 percent.
Any plan to successfully revitalize
Detroit must include providing children
with the education and tools to succeed.
November 1 ® 2012
Limited resources in Detroit
Public Schools make it nearly
impossible for teachers and
principals to provide the indi-
vidualized attention needed to
help students struggling with
literacy. Now two successful
literacy programs, Beyond
Basics and the Detroit Jewish
Coalition for Literacy (DJCL),
have formed an exciting part-
Beyond Basics is a nonprofit
organization that provides literacy educa-
tion to children in the lowest-
performing schools in Detroit.
In as short as six weeks, children
are typically brought up to read-
ing at grade level.
This is accomplished through
one-on-one tutoring in a dedi-
cated Beyond Basics room at
the student's school, utilizing a
highly successful reading pro-
gram. Success is ensured by con-
tinued reading in one-on-one
sessions with "reading buddies."
The reading buddies are volunteers trained
to listen to children read and provide
assistance and encouragement.
In addition to literacy initiatives,
Beyond Basics has a publishing center
where children have books they have per-
sonally written, printed and bound. It also
has expanding horizons programs, provid-
ing children with activities they would not
otherwise be able to experience.
Founded and facilitated by the Jewish
Community Relations Council of
Metropolitan Detroit, the DJCL engages
hundreds of volunteers from local Jewish
organizations and benefits kindergarten