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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.

 
 

Questioning of Women of Wall leader sparks protests

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A haredi boy throws garbage at Jewish women as they come to pray at the Western Wall on Dec. 18, 2009. Women of the Wall organizes a monthly prayer session. Miriam Alster/Flash 90/JTA

JERUSALEM – The Conservative synagogue movement is launching a campaign to protest the recent questioning and possible prosecution of a leader of the group Women of the Wall.

For more than two decades, the group has been organizing regular women’s prayer services at the Western Wall and pressing for expanded worship rights at Judaism’s holiest pilgrimage site. Last week its chairwoman, Anat Hoffman, was summoned to a Jerusalem police station for questioning.

According to Hoffman, also director of the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center and a former member of the Jerusalem City Council, she was questioned by police about her role in Women of the Wall, fingerprinted, and told that her case was being referred to the attorney general for prosecution.

“I think it was a meeting of intimidation,” Hoffman told JTA.

Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Israel Police, confirmed the basics of Hoffman’s account. But Shmulik Ben-Ruby, a spokesman for the Jerusalem police, denied that the matter has been referred to prosecutors. He said that Hoffman and her group are suspected of having acted to “hurt the feelings” of worshippers at the wall. “We are still checking and will see what will be the end in the investigation,” Ben-Ruby added.

Hoffman’s questioning threatens to further exacerbate tensions between American Jewish groups and more conservative elements within Israel’s Orthodox-controlled religious establishment.

She told JTA that she hopes to “wake the American Jewish giant” in an effort to prevent the attorney general from moving ahead with prosecution. If convicted, Hoffman said, she faces prison time or a fine of about $3,000.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the movement’s congregational arm, issued a statement declaring that Hoffman’s arrest and fingerprinting, “opens a new and ominous chapter in intra-Jewish relations in Israel.”

The group urged members to send a letter to Israel’s ambassador in Washington, Michael Oren, to inform him of “the gravity of this issue” and press his government to “take immediate steps to end the harassment of women seeking to pray with dignity at the Western Wall, Judaism’s most holy place.” (See the open letter to Oren, facing page, from Rabbi Debra Hachen of Temple Beth El of Northern Valley in Closter.)

Hoffman’s questioning comes nearly two months after another Women of the Wall member, Nofrat Frenkel, was arrested after she and other women began reading from a Torah scroll in the course of the group’s regular prayer session at the wall, timed to coincide with the start of the new Hebrew month.

Frenkel and Hoffman were informed that they were in violation of an Israeli Supreme Court ruling that, citing concerns about public safety, denied women the right to read from the Torah in the regular women’s section of the wall. The ruling resulted in the designation of a nearby site, known as Robinson’s Arch, as the place for women to pray as a group with a Torah scroll.

Hoffman scoffs at the solution, calling it “separate, but it’s not equal.” A Torah scroll the group uses was damaged by rain at the site, which lacks a covered space like the men’s section at the wall.

“It is not a place of prayer,” she said. “It is a place where we are praying, and a tour guide is walking with a tour, showing them the different archeological artifacts. And most important, we can’t read Torah there in safety because it rains on our head.”

Rabbi Avi Shafran, a spokesman for the fervently Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America, defended the limitations on women’s prayer groups.

“People of all faiths, after all, are welcome at the Kotel — as they should be,” he wrote in an essay distributed via e-mail. “Out of respect, though, for the Jewish historical and spiritual connection to the place, public services there should respect a single standard of decorum. And that standard should be, as it has been, millennia-old Jewish religious tradition.”

Promoting a “particular view of feminism,” Shafran added, “should not compel them to act in ways that they know will offend others, to seek to turn a holy place into a political arena.”

JTA

 
 

Let them pray

 

Women seek equality at Kotel

Pluralism is a very foreign concept in Israel,” said Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman. “There isn’t a word for it in Hebrew.”

Hoffman is fighting to bring pluralism into Israeli language and society. Earlier this month, Jerusalem police questioned Hoffman about her group, which regularly shows up to pray in the women’s section of the Western Wall. Late last year, one of its members was arrested for donning a tallit at the Kotel, considered an offense by the Orthodox rabbis who oversee the holy site.

“Separate but equal doesn’t work,” Hoffman said during a teleconference last week organized by Meretz USA. “And at the Wall it’s not separate but equal, it’s separate but unequal.”

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Anat Hoffman

Jerusalem is the battleground in this fight for what WOW calls women’s equality, but here in America — where egalitarianism and the ordination of women is more acceptable — the issue has struck a chord as well.

“The battle they face is hard for us to imagine here, where we have comfortable Jewish lives that enable people a degree of religious expression that isn’t possible right now in Jerusalem,” said Rabbi Jarah Greenfield of Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel of Bergen County in Maywood. “The fight they’re taking up is in my mind for Jews everywhere.”

Rabbi Elyse Frishman of Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes has been involved with WOW for some 15 years, and this latest confrontation illustrates a growing recognition in Israeli society that a problem exists, she said.

“There is a perversion to the ‘religious’ claiming this part of the Wall at the Temple Mount as a synagogue — and as an Orthodox synagogue,” she said. “Women of the Wall has done a great deal to promote this issue publicly.”

In 2005, WOW lost a 17-year Supreme Court battle that would have granted women legal protection to don tallitot and read from Torah scrolls at the Western Wall. The group continues to pray at the Wall every Rosh Chodesh, but in order to hold services with Torah readings and tallitot, the organization must go to a nearby archaeological site called Robinson’s Arch. The disadvantages of the site include an entrance fee, Hoffman said. Entry to the Western Wall is free.

“We are not enjoying all the different services that people enjoy at a holy place,” she said.

WOW isn’t looking to do away with gender separation at the Kotel. According to Hoffman, the organization seeks equal rights for women to pray — with all of the accoutrements — within the women’s section. The organization is halachic, she emphasized, and wants to expand women’s rights within the boundaries of Jewish law, not to abrogate that law.

Supporters agree that there is room for co-existence.

“Any reasonable or thoughtful voice calling for creation of an Israeli society in which religious pluralism can flourish is a voice that would recognize a need to afford Orthodoxy the same privileges,” said Rabbi Adina Lewittes of Sha’ar in Demarest.

At the center of the debate is the Orthodox grip on Israel’s religious institutions and regulations. It’s an issue that goes back to the very foundation of the state, Lewittes said.

“As the Reform and Conservative and Reconstructionist and even secular Jewish movements are gaining more and more ground in terms of communities being developed in Israel,” Lewittes said, “maybe what we’re seeing is the pushback.”

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first premier and himself a secular Jew, placed Orthodox institutions in charge of the country’s religious institutions as a way to encourage Orthodox support for the fledgling state, said Samuel G. Freedman, a Columbia University journalism professor, New York Times religion columnist, and author of the 2000 book “Jew vs. Jew.”

“They needed Orthodox allies,” he said of Israel’s founding fathers. Many Orthodox circles were against the creation of the state at the time and this was a way to draw them in, he added. Now, the religious parties have become a powerful political force within Israel.

“They bring a lot of bloc votes to the elections,” Freedman said. “It makes it difficult for a center-right government to stand up to them. They bring more votes and more political clout than the Reform and Conservative movements and Jewish feminists do.”

Women’s prayer at the Wall is not a religious issue but a political one, Frishman said, acknowledging the clout of the religious parties. Because of this, the solution for WOW is going to come one step at a time. She pointed to Yotzma, Barnert’s sister congregation in Modi’in, which was the first non-Orthodox synagogue in the country to win partial government building funds.

“Ultimately, what we want to do is change people’s attitudes,” she said. “This issue will actually draw more Jews to Judaism because it opens doors.”

 
 

NIF fracas: Defending Israel or destroying democracy?

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Jewish right-wing activists dressed as Arabs demonstrate in Jerusalem against the New Israel Fund on Jan. 30. Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)/JTA

JERUSALEM – A campaign against the New Israel Fund — a U.S.-based organization that funds civil society activists in Israel — has sparked a fierce debate over the limits of free speech, the financing of NGOs, the dictates of loyalty to the state, and, ultimately, over the fundamental values of Israel’s Zionist democracy.

The questions cut close to the bone on both sides of the ideological divide. For example: Are left-wingers using Zionist money to undermine the foundations of the state? Or are right-wingers trying to gag nongovernmental organizations critical of Israeli policies and actions? And to what extent are the government and its agencies involved in trying to silence their critics?

At the center of the storm is the Goldstone report on alleged Israeli war crimes during the fighting in Gaza last winter. (See related story, Will Israel's response to Goldstone be enough?.)

Most Israelis see the report as biased, based on flimsy evidence and false assumptions, and part of a concerted international campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state. The attack on the New Israel Fund was part of an angry Israeli backlash against Goldstone. But was it a bona fide attack on an organization accused of undermining Israel’s international standing or a premeditated onslaught against civil society?

The campaign against the NIF was conducted by an organization called Im Tirtzu, which describes itself as “an extra-parliamentary movement to strengthen Zionist values” and boasts a video endorsement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It claimed that 16 NIF grantees — among them Physicians for Human Rights and B’Tselem, human rights organizations active in the Palestinian territories; Breaking the Silence, a group of soldiers reporting on Israeli army violations of moral norms; and ACRI, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel — had provided Goldstone with material contributing to false charges against the Israel Defense Forces in informer-like actions that were tantamount to betrayal in a wartime situation.

“The results of these groups’ activities caused significant diplomatic damage to Israel and harmed the country’s capacity to defend itself militarily,” Im Tirtzu said, adding that NIF was largely to blame because it had funded these “anti-Zionist” organizations.

In late January, young Im Tirtzu members dressed as Hamas fighters demonstrated outside the Jerusalem home of NIF President Naomi Chazan waving placards depicting Chazan with a horn emerging from her forehead. The text on the placard read: “Fact! Without the New Israel Fund there could be no Goldstone Report and Israel would not be facing international accusations of war crimes.”

The horn was a play on words, the Hebrew “keren” meaning both fund and horn, but critics say it also had obvious anti-Semitic connotations that many found offensive.

Im Tirtzu used the image as well in advertisements placed in several Israeli newspapers. The Zionist Organization of America has seconded the criticisms of the NIF.

The New Israel Fund says it knows that many of the minority rights groups it backs in the name of empowering the disenfranchised and fighting discrimination in Israel also take positions that the NIF does not endorse, such as calling for an end to Israel’s Jewish character. NIF officials say that while they do not agree with everything their grantees do or say, revoking their funding would be inimical to NIF’s goal of promoting free speech and strengthening Israel’s minorities.

“They’re using me to attack in the most blatant way the basic principles of democracy and the values of Israel’s declaration of independence; values of equality, tolerance, social justice, and freedom of speech,” Chazan declared.

In dismissing the Im Tirtzu case against the NIF as baseless, Chazan said that the materials the groups allegedly transferred to Goldstone are mostly in the public domain. And even if they were not, it would be the duty of the groups to pass on what they know — that is their raison d’être as human rights groups.

Far from giving succor to Israel’s enemies, the grantees were trying to create a better Israel, Chazan said.

The NIF and its defenders note that its work goes well beyond organizations focusing specifically on Palestinian rights. It also funds civil society groups dealing with a host of domestic Israeli issues, such as providing women’s shelters, supporting Ethiopian immigrants, and challenging the Orthodox monopoly on Jewish religious practice.

Earlier this month, a group of leading Israeli academics, writers, actors, directors, and political activists, including novelists Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua, placed a full-page ad in Haaretz expressing “disgust at the campaign of incitement and hatred” being waged against Chazan, the NIF, and the organizations it supports.

Several U.S. Jewish groups on the left side of the political spectrum issued their own statements slamming the anti-NIF campaign on similar grounds. The tenor of the anti-NIF campaign was criticized as well by Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League.

In late January, 13 of the 16 NIF grantees slammed by Im Tirtzu fired off a letter to President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin complaining that the Im Tirtzu attack on the NIF was part of a larger pattern encouraged by “senior government officials.” In other words, it was more than a one-off campaign by a young, marginal group but part of an anti-democratic trend for which the government was setting the tone.

They gave some examples: Interior Minister Eli Yishai backing claims that organizations that help refugees and asylum-seekers “aim to destroy Israel”; Netanyahu denying the legitimacy of Breaking the Silence testimonies on the Gaza war; Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon referring to Israeli human rights organizations as “enemies from within.”

Others see the specter of an impending clampdown against civil society.

Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall and director of the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, an NIF grantee, was questioned and fingerprinted by police in early January after taking part in an all-female prayer session at the Western Wall that involved the use of a Torah. A week later, ACRI director Hagai El-Ad was arrested while monitoring a protest against Jewish settlement in the Arab neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah in eastern Jerusalem and released as soon as the case went to court.

Were these isolated cases of police folly or part of a pattern dictated from above?

There is no hard evidence to suggest that the Netanyahu government is planning to curb civil society or that the police action had the prime minister’s blessing. What is clear is that Netanyahu is deeply concerned by what he calls “Goldstonism” — moves in the international community aimed at delegitimizing Israel.

The prime minister says he sees three existential threats: Iran; a Palestinian state without adequate security arrangements; and rampant Goldstonism. That means that Israeli organizations the government feels contribute to delegitimization of the state could be seen as serious threats to national security. But the government does not seem to be considering operative moves against them.

Moves, however, are afoot in the Knesset. The Law Committee, headed by Yisrael Beiteinu’s David Rotem, whose party has proposed that Israeli citizens take loyalty oaths, has set up a subcommittee to examine the sources of funding of NGOs active in Israel. Some of the committee members aim to ban funding by foreign countries, which is seen as interfering in Israel’s internal affairs. Most of that funding is from European countries for left-wing NGOs.

Otniel Schneller of the Kadima Party wants to go a step further, proposing the establishment of a full-fledged parliamentary commission of inquiry to probe the conduct of the NIF and its grantees. Schneller says he is against the absurdity of Israeli civil society “paying organizations like Physicians for Human Rights to slander us,” and wants to stop the NIF from supporting anti-Zionist groups.

Schneller’s proposal, which he plans to submit next week, has run into stiff opposition from the left and right.

Left-wing Meretz leader Haim Oron asked who would decide who is a Zionist or what are Israel’s best interests. Schneller, he suggested, should fight the left-wing organizations with counter arguments rather than trying to cut off their funding.

On the right, the Likud’s Michael Eitan argued that parliamentary commissions of inquiry are established on non-political issues, such as corruption in soccer or water prices.

“It is unheard of for the majority in the Knesset to investigate the minority,” he fumed.

Eitan’s stand has the support of others in the Likud, like Rivlin and Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin, and it is not clear whether Schneller can muster a majority for his proposal.

Meanwhile, Im Tirtzu’s funding also has attracted scrutiny in recent days.

Liberal organizations and bloggers have been reporting that Im Tirtzu has received money from the Central Fund of Israel, a U.S.-based nonprofit that has also supported pro-settler organizations and a group that aids militant Israeli Jews accused of carrying out violence. They also note that Im Tirtzu reportedly has received $200,000 over the past two years from John Hagee, an evangelical pastor in San Antonio, Texas, who is staunchly pro-Israel but came under fire for having declared in a sermon that God allowed the Holocaust to happen as part of a plan to bring Jews to Israel.

Hagee has expressed regret for the upset caused by his remarks and promised to be more sensitive in the future. A spokesman for the pastor criticized the tenor of Im Tirtzu’s campaign against NIF.

Meanwhile the debate goes on, with each side seeking to claim the mantle of preserving Israel’s fundamental nature.

“Today the question is not whether Israel survives, but what kind of Israel survives,” said Daniel Sokatch, the NIF’s chief executive officer.

Im Tirtzu leader Ronen Shova countered that “The debate is not about left or right. The new debate is between Zionists and non-Zionists.”

JTA

 
 

Women of the Wall head arrested at Kotel

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Anat Hoffman

JERUSALEM – The leader of the Women of the Wall was banned from the Western Wall for 30 days after being arrested for holding a Torah scroll at the site.

Jerusalem police arrested Anat Hoffman on Monday morning following the monthly women’s Rosh Chodesh prayer service. She was taken in for questioning and held for five hours before she was released, the organization said.

Women of the Wall said Hoffman was ordered to stay away from the Kotel for the next 30 days.

A Supreme Court ruling prohibits women from reading the Torah at the wall; the group said in a statement issued Monday that she was just holding the scroll.

According to the organization’s account, Hoffman, holding the Torah scroll, was leading about 150 women from the women’s section of the Western Wall in a procession toward Robinson’s Arch, where they are permitted to use the Torah scroll. Police tried to remove the Torah scroll from Hoffman’s arms and arrested her for not praying according to the traditional customs of the Western Wall.

“The arrest of a woman on the first day of the month of Av is a harsh reminder of the price that Israeli society may pay for its religious intolerance and fanaticism,” Hoffman’s group said in a statement.

Police have not commented on the case.

JTA

 
 

Religious pluralism in the news, again

Western Wall arrest may spur liberal Jewish groups into action

_JStandardWorld
Published: 26 October 2012
(tags): anat hoffman
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Israeli police arresting Anat Hoffman after she said the Sh’ma at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Women of the Wall

TEL AVIV – Last week’s episode was hardly the first time Israeli police stopped activist Anat Hoffman while she was leading a women’s prayer service at the Western Wall in violation of Israeli law.

But this time, on Oct. 16, police actually arrested Hoffman — a first, she says — and the incident appears to be galvanizing liberal Jewish groups in the United States and Israel.

In the United States, the Union for Reform Judaism called for a police investigation and expressed its dismay to Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador in Washington. The United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism announced a global “Sh’ma flash mob” for Monday — a nod to the prayer Hoffman was reciting when she was arrested.

In Israel, the Israel Religious Action Center, which Hoffman leads, launched a petition to the Supreme Court requesting that the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which runs the holy site also known as the Kotel, change its decision-making process to include non-Orthodox Jews.

“There is no voice around that table for women, for the paratroopers who liberated the Wall, for the variety of pluralist voices,” said Hoffman, who also heads Women of the Wall. “We want to dismantle this body. If the wall belongs to the Jewish people, where are the Reform, Conservative, secular?”

For now, however, there is no grand coordinated strategy to challenge the laws governing Israel’s holy site, which bar women from praying while wearing a tallit or t’fillin, or from reading aloud from the Torah. In a 2003 Israeli Supreme Court decision, those rules were upheld on the ground that “local custom” at the wall did not allow for such practices.

So with Women of the Wall intent on continuing its practice of organizing a women’s prayer service at the site every Rosh Chodesh — the beginning of the Hebrew month — another incident likely is not far off.

Hoffman’s arrest during Rosh Chodesh service on the evening of Oct. 16 garnered more attention than previous incidents, in which she was detained but not arrested. Hadassah, which was holding its centennial celebrations in Jerusalem, had sent some 200 women to pray with Hoffman, giving a significant boost in numbers to the service. There were about 250 women there.

After Hoffman was arrested, she claims Israeli police chained her legs and dragged her across the floor of a police station, leaving bruises. She also claims that police ordered her to strip naked, and that she spent the night in a cell without a bed. She was released the following morning after agreeing to stay away from the Kotel for 30 days.

Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said Hoffman’s claims about her treatment are “not accurate and not right.”

As the incident received wide coverage in the American Jewish media, the condemnations of Hoffman’s arrest poured in, particularly from women’s groups such as the Women’s Rabbinic Network and the National Council for Jewish Women. Hadassah’s national president, Marcie Natan, said that Hadassah “strongly supports the right of women to pray at the Wall.”

Yizhar Hess, executive director of Israel’s Masorti movement, as Conservative Judaism is called outside of North America, said that if Hoffman actually is charged with a crime, it would force a re-examination of the rules governing the Western Wall.

“It’s not an easy experience to be accused in criminal law, but it will take this debate to a different phase: What can be done and what cannot be done in the Western Wall plaza,” Hess said.

Hoffman says she wants the courts to allow her group to pray at the wall for one hour per month, and ideally wants the wall’s council to allocate some time for prayers without the mechitzah — the divider that separates men and women. She sees an opening in the Supreme Court’s reliance on “local custom” as the basis for upholding the current rules. The Israel Religious Action Center’s petition aims to change who defines “local custom.”

Reform and Conservative Jews are allowed to hold services at Robinson’s Arch. It is at the Kotel’s southern corner, and it is not adjacent to the plaza.

Shari Eshet, director of the Israel office of the National Council of Jewish Women, said legal initiatives are the best way to effect change on the issue.

“With all of the screaming and yelling and American Jews banging on the table, at the end of the day this is a land with a court system,” Eshet said. “We need to find another way to bring this back into the court system.”

Leaders of some religiously pluralistic American Jewish groups admit that their efforts on this issue have not worked so far. Some hope that Hoffman’s arrest will galvanize their constituents anew.

“This is a moment for us to think differently,” said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. He said his organization was considering an array of options and that more details would be forthcoming in the next few weeks.

Rabbi Steven Wernick, executive vice president and CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said a new strategy is needed.

“We’ve been very reactive thus far to these circumstances when they come,” he said. “Whatever strategies that we’ve been doing previously are not enough because this issue in recent years is getting progressively more difficult and troublesome.”

In Israel, groups working for religious pluralism face a dual challenge: They are fighting legal and legislative battles on a range of issues, and most Israelis are not motivated to join the fights — especially when it comes to the Western Wall.

“Israelis view the wall as something not relevant to day-to-day life,” Hess said. “What could have been a national symbol to connect Jews from all over the world is now only an Orthodox synagogue.”

Women of the Wall could attract more of an Israeli following if it linked its cause to other religious freedom issues, Rabbi Uri Regev, president and CEO of the Israeli pluralism organization Hiddush, said. “As emotionally attractive and justified as Women of the Wall is, there are bigger and more compelling issues,” like legalizing non-Orthodox Jewish marriage in Israel or funding non-Orthodox Jewish rabbis, he added.

Hoffman says she hopes diaspora Jews will push the issue with Israeli leaders. Wernick says he wants the Jewish Agency for Israel’s board of governors to put the issue of women praying at the Western Wall on its agenda. He also is pushing for a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about it. But United Synagogue will not press for a new Israeli law on the matter, he said.

“We’re not Israeli citizens and we respect Israel’s right to determine its own course,” Wernick said.

Hoffman says, “The Western Wall is way too important to be left to the Israelis.”

JTA Wire Service

 
 
 
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