Women: Barred from Mourning at the Kotel?
We each go through our own grieving process when we lose a loved one, but reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish is the most common ritual across our community. We stand together in remembrance of those who have recently passed or whose anniversary we are observing, gathering strength from those with us. This prayer does not once mention “death”; instead together we say, “May God’s great name be blessed for ever, and to all eternity.”
This morning, Jerusalem District Police Chief Yossi Pariente announced that he would enforce a prohibition against women saying specific prayers at the Kotel (the Western Wall), including the kaddish. Pariente explained the enforcement procedures in a letter to Women of the Wall, a group led by Anat Hoffman (director of our Israel Religious Action Center) who are arrested on the first day of each month for wearing talitot and laying t’filin at the Kotel. In this letter he referenced the restrictions that are already in existence – barring women from praying as a minyan - as well as the 2005 Israel Supreme Court decision, which prohibited women from changing the “traditional practices” at the Western Wall. This announcement comes after years of tension around a woman’s right to wear religious garb at the Kotel.
The timing of this restriction is particularly disturbing; as the month of Iyar begins, we prepare to commemorate Yom Ha’atzmaut (the proclamation of the State of Israel) and Yom Ha’Zikaron (the day of remembrance for Israeli fallen soldiers). Hoffman expressed her outrage: “The days symbolize more than anything else the unity surrounding the collective fate of the Jewish people.”
Word of the letter sent to the Women of the Wall spread quickly across the Jewish Diaspora. In fact, only hours after the letter was released, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky met with Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, chairman of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. He told the rabbi in their meeting, “The Kotel must continue to be a symbol of unity for all Jews in the world and not a symbol of strife and discord.” According to Sharansky, Rabbi Rabinowitz ensured him that the restrictions would be stepped back, although we are still waiting for that statement to be made formally.
This particular battle may have been won, but there is still a long way to go. Israel is the land that embodies our highest ideals of collectivism as a Jewish people, the land that has allowed us to reimagine our history of victimhood into one of pride and hope. As Rabbi Saperstein said when Hoffman was first arrested six months ago: “There is no denominational monopoly on the spirituality of the Kotel, and it is intolerable that any woman should be arrested for praying at one of Judaism’s most cherished sites. The role of Israeli police should rather be to protect those who pray.”
Image courtesy of AFP.