Jan. 18, 2010
On behalf of almost a million and a half American Reform Jews, I react with dismay and alarm to the recent report that Anat Hoffman, leader of Israel ’s Women of the Wall, was interrogated and fingerprinted on January 6 by Jerusalem police. She was told that she may be charged with a felony for violating the rules of conduct at what many consider to be Judaism’s most sacred site. The action against Ms. Hoffman who is the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center, follows on the arrest in November of Nofrat Frenkel a member of the Conservative movement and a medical student. The crime: wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) not at the Wall itself, but at an area that had been previously designated a place where Women of the Wall can gather for a once-a-month worship, as they have done for the past 21 years.
These recent actions at the Wall insult all Jewish women for they are being reminded, as they have so many times in the past, that they are second-class Jews at a place that is not a synagogue but rather, an historic site of great importance to all Jews, not just those who are Orthodox. The insults to which Women of the Wall have been subjected cannot be repeated in polite company. The fact that the police have seen fit to arrest women who went to the Wall for peaceful prayer and not those who have screamed that the Nazis should have murdered these women is a stark reminder of the lengths to which the ultra-Orthodox in Israel will go to force their religious practice on an entire nation.
One must wonder why the people of Israel tolerate a religious fanaticism that is no different than what we have witnessed in Iran and elsewhere. There have been riots on Shabbat by ultra-Orthodox Jews protesting the opening of a parking lot near the entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem. There have been riots in Jerusalem protesting the fact that an Intel plant operates on Shabbat. There are now segregated busses in Israel on more than 90 routes, with demands that the number of routes be increased. There is a growing crisis in Israeli education due to the fact that there is not a core curriculum required of every Israeli student, which means that increasingly students are being exposed to a narrow religion-based curriculum and are not learning the subjects that will allow them to function in a modern society. In short, Israel is the rare democracy today that tolerates and even worse endorses religious discrimination against Jews. The promise of Israel’s “Declaration of Independence that Israel will be a homeland for all Jews appears to be nothing more than a dream.
Make no mistake: What appears to be a growing religious crisis in Israel is as much a threat to Israel’s survival as are the external threats, perhaps more so. Israel has shown that she can protect herself from armies and terrorists. Protecting herself from religious extremism may be Israel’s biggest challenge—a challenge that cannot and must not be ignored by those who care about Israel’s soul.
Rabbi Robert Orkand, President
Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA )