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Cheering for Anat Hoffman

Earlier this week, Anat Hoffman was arrested for daring to wear a tallit and to pray the shema at the Western Wall.

Above: video (Hebrew) of Anat Hoffman's arrest. If you can't see the embedded video, you can go directly to it at YouTube.

Here's how one woman describes what happened, in the blog post Reflections on Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan 2012:

Coinciding with this month’s Rosh Hodesh celebration is the huge Hadassah Convention blanketing the city. Although it would have been optimum to have the Hadassah women join us on Wednesday morning for the service at the Kotel, there was a scheduling glitch and thus they descended upon the Western Wall at 11 p.m. on Tuesday night. The evening program consisted of a warm welcome from Anat Hoffman, founder and current chair of Women of the Wall, followed by Hebrew songs, led by volunteer Rabbinical students.

When the WOW members and volunteers arrived at the women’s section of the Wall to prepare for the Hadassah contingent, the police and authorities surrounded us. They were harsh in their demands that we could pass out NOTHING, not even the song sheets we had prepared. So when the Hadassah women did arrive, Anat delivered her welcoming remarks and then we all started chanting the Shema, probably the most common prayer in our daily ritual.

Immediately a policeman approached Anat and arrested her for disturbing the peace. To say that we were all shocked is an understatement. We know that there are issues with ultra-Orthodox men opposing women who don prayer shawls and skullcaps and pray out loud, but this was beyond our imagination. Anat was handcuffed, detained overnight, and eventually went before a judge on Wed. afternoon. She was ‘sentenced’ to a 30 day period in which she is not allowed at the Kotel.

In an article in the Forward (Police shackle Anat Hoffman for saying shema at kotel), Hoffman describes her experience:

“In the past when I was detained I had to have a policewoman come with me to the bathroom, but this was something different. This time they checked me naked, completely, without my underwear. They dragged me on the floor 15 meters; my arms are bruised. They put me in a cell without a bed, with three other prisoners, including a prostitute and a car thief. They threw the food through a little window in the door. I laid on the floor covered with my tallit.

“I’m a tough cookie, but I was just so miserable. And for what? I was with the Hadassah women saying Sh’ma Israel.”

I admire Women of the Wall tremendously. As I've written before (most recently in 2011: Pluralism, prayer, and Women of the Wall), I'm not entirely comfortable with the extent to which the Kotel (the Western Wall) is treated as though it, itself, were innately extra-special-holy -- but as long as the Kotel is regarded as a central holy site in Judaism, it should be a place where people of all genders can pray, and not only in the ways regulated by Israel's Orthodox rabbanut (rabbinic authority.) Judaism belongs to all of us, prayer belongs to all of us, and the Kotel belongs to all of us. Shame on those police for arresting a woman because she dares to say Judaism's most central daily prayer aloud in one of Judaism's holiest places. Shame on the system which allows only certain, Orthodox-approved, modes of Jewish prayer at the Kotel.

More importantly, though: kol hakavod (all the honor) to Anat and her colleagues for asserting our right to pray our beloved prayers aloud, wearing the ritual gear which is appropriate to our practice, at this place which has for so long focused and concentrated the prayers of Jews around the world. Anat is an inspiration to me, and so is everyone who davens with Women of the Wall. I look forward to the day when religious pluralism is as alive and well in Israel as it is here in the Diaspora. When I lay tefillin and wrap in my tallit later this morning at my shul, I will feel extra gratitude that I live in a place where I can pray aloud, in my ritual garments, without fear. May the same become true for my Israeli family and friends, speedily and in our day.


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