Questioning of Women of Wall leader sparks protests
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Questioning of Women of Wall leader sparks protests

An open letter to Ambassador Oren

I have been following the recent events in Israel concerning the Women of the Wall.

I was shocked by the Nov. 18 arrest in Jerusalem of Nofrat Frenkel for asserting her religious right to pray at a designated area near the Kotel. Forbidding women to express themselves by singing and reading Torah in what should be a public holy space is deplorable.

Then I read that Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, was brought in for interrogation and fingerprinting on Jan. 5 and could be charged with violating laws because she was holding a Torah near the Kotel, the Western Wall of the Temple Mount.

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Rabbi Debra R. Hachen

I am a rabbi. I hold a Torah every week. I read from it freely in our congregation here in the United States. I respect differences among Jews on issues of women’s participation in worship and will defend the right of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel to follow their version of Jewish law in their private spaces. Sadly, they will not respect my rights and go so far as to take a public space – the Kotel – and have it designated as an Orthodox synagogue.

I love Israel, have family there, and visit often. I have prayed in the past with the Women of the Wall.

I am angered and appalled that other Jews are allowed to taunt, bully, spit at, swear at, and throw objects at women who are praying at the Kotel. The protection of the religious needs of Orthodox Jews at the expense of other Jews is intolerable in a modern democratic country. It would never be tolerated here in the United States.

Israel is not the United States. I know that. I therefore hold Israel to a higher standard. We Jews have had our religious rights suppressed down the centuries throughout the diaspora. Israel should be the one place where every Jew is respected. The area of the Kotel belongs to the entire Jewish people, not to one stream of Judaism. Sadly, the way the control of the Kotel has been given over to the ultra-Orthodox has caused me to stop praying there on my visits to Jerusalem. When I bring groups from my congregation to Israel to the Kotel, it is often a depressing and confusing experience for them instead of an uplifting spiritual one.

Please, Ambassador Oren, do something. I heard you speak eloquently at the Union for Reform Judaisms’s biennial just a few months ago. I know you are a serious Jew. I have read that you were also surprised that you were not given the full facts when the Frenkel incident unfolded.

Please do what you can to help your government understand that these actions against women not only reflect poorly on Israel’s image in the world, but they drive a wedge between American Jews and eretz Yisrael. Do it for the sake of k’lal Yisrael. Do it for the sake of ahavat Yisrael. Do it for the sake of Jewish women who love God, Israel, and Judaism. Do it for the sake of our daughters and granddaughters, who should not have to beg for the right to pray at the Kotel. Do it because it is a chillul haShem, a desecration of God’s name, when women like Nofrat and Anat are disgraced for reaching out to God and claiming their rightful place in Judaism. Do it because religious extremism in Israel is a growing issue that threatens the moral center of our beloved homeland.

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