Fighting for Freedom at the Western Wall
American Reform Rabbi Elyse Frishman, who serves Barnert Temple in Franklin Lake, N.J., was detained last Friday as she prayed at the Western Wall while wearing a tallit, or prayer shawl. Following this incident, which occurred just before the last night of Hanukkah, Haartez published an op-ed by Rabbi Frishman recounting her experience. She writes, in part:
We began to move through security. All of us wore our prayer shawls and carried our prayer books. There were rumors: No women permitted to bring prayer books or prayer shawls today! Contrary to rumor, prayer books were permitted – but for the first time, no prayer shawls. A decree had been issued – illegally, randomly – that women could not have prayer shawls today. Security began to confiscate them. Some men walked in with prayer shawls. Most women had theirs removed.
There is no law in Judaism against a woman wearing a prayer shawl. If anything, the law from Torah (Numbers 15:38) is: “Speak to the children of Israel and say to them that they shall make themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations…”
We gathered quietly at the rear of the Western Wall to pray. One woman came over to me and asked quietly, “May I stand with you and pray? I wanted to wear my prayer shawl, but I’m afraid.”
Two police officers walked over. One said in Hebrew, “You are not allowed to wear the prayer shawl.” Pretending, I said politely in English, “Excuse me, I do not understand.”