Hanukkah is the celebration of our freedom to practice Judaism. Over 2,000 years ago, our ancestors stood up to tyranny and fought for this fundamental right. They won a military victory against the Syrian Greeks and rededicated the Temple, which had been desecrated, in Jerusalem. We commemorate this every year, it is a part of our collective memory.

Today, in Jerusalem, another battle for the right to practice Judaism is being fought on that same holy ground. Today, a small minority, is trying to disenfranchise 90 percent of Israel’s Jews and an even larger percentage of world Jewry from the freedom to worship at the Kotel.

Two weeks ago, as a response to the pressure that the leaders of liberal Jewish movements in Israel and the Diaspora have been putting on the government to implement the plan for a third pluralistic section of the Kotel, Shas and United Torah Judaism (haredi parties) along with a handful of other coalition MKs introduced a draconian bill to limit use of the Kotel area beginning at the dung gate including any structure above or below ground, the plaza, the Northern sections, and anything else that is part of the Kotel area. This would kill the government approved plan, the current use of the Southern wall and the hard won court battles of Women of the Wall.

The local custom of the Kotel is to be dictated by the chief Rabbinate of Israel and comes with a hefty price of six months in jail or a Nis 10,000 fine for anyone who defies the new order. The offenses include: any religious act that does not fit the “local custom” including women wearing tallit, tefilian, praying out loud, singing, processing or reading from a Torah, blowing a shofar, or anything else they can think of. Women of the Wall’s executive director Lesley Sachs said, “The law, in effect, makes a basic act of emancipated Jewish womanhood illegal in the Jewish State.

The other offenses include not being appropriately dressed, playing musical instruments or making a speech without prior approval, smoking, and animal slaughter. Not surprisingly, blowing ear-piercing whistles and assaulting other women are not included as punishable offenses.

The parties that introduced this bill are the same parties who demanded no change to the status quo regarding religious matters are part of their coalition participation. They envisioned it to mean no changes to the status quo of conversion and kashrut standards but the status quo seems to be whatever the haredi parties say it is on any given day.

The Jerusalem Post reported that Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform movement in Israel, said: “The purpose of the law is to make permanent the Orthodox monopoly in opposition to the prayer customs of millions of Jews in Israel and around the world, and in opposition to the democratic values of the Israeli government.”

A recent development, has been the government’s announcement that this bill and other controversial bills dealing with building in the territories and the anti-muezzin laws are being tabled until after US President Obama leaves office.

As civil rights are being trampled in the US even before Trump is anointed, oops takes office, we are seeing the same anti-democratic, anti-human rights, anti-civil liberty behavior from Israel’s own extreme right. They appear to be hoping that the American Jews weakened condition in America can be used to their advantage in Israel.

Last Rosh Hodesh, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation goons refused to allow me to enter the plaza with my tallit until I refused to move until the police came and then I was humiliatingly patted down, because it was possible for me to be hiding a Torah Scroll under my coat, before they let me in. I am going to have start bringing toilet paper and my toothbrush to the Kotel again.

This Hanukkah, Women of the Wall will again light menorahs in the women’s section. I suspect that it will not go smoothly as the Western Wall Heritage Foundation has been flexing their political muscles and the level of their harassment and physical violence of women at the Kotel is increasing every month.

May the lights of those menorahs shine bright and help chase away the darkness of these days. May the Maccabees battles for the right to be Jewish endure!

 


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