Treading on sacred ground

For the Women of the Wall and those defending adherence to tradition, the fight for the Western Wall didn’t end in 1967

By MELANIE LIDMAN
February 28, 2013 15:37
Anat Hoffman arrested during Women of the Wall service

Anat Hoffman arrested during Women of the Wall service 370. (photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)

 
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What enabled Judaism to survive for 3,000 years, through exiles and pogroms and assimilation and tragedy and rapidly changing cul- tures? Was it the religion’s ability to adapt to changing times or the way observant Jews insisted on maintain- ing strict rules without changing anything? For Anat Hoffman, the chairperson of Women of the Wall (WOW), the richness of Judaism lies in the challenges and the questions. From an early age, Jewish children are encouraged to pick apart minuscule parts of holy texts, to dissect them and examine them from different angles, to learn what the sages said and to add their own opinions, building on the commentary of the rab- bis or confronting them head on with a new idea or objections. For the past 24 years, Hoffman has led a group of women challenging the ultra-Orthodox con- trol of the Western Wall. Every month, they gather for the service that celebrates the new month.

“What’s happened to this whole fantastic tradition of arguments?” Hoffman asks in her office in Jerusalem, sitting under a shadowbox frame displaying the bag that held her personal effects when she spent the night in prison in October after police arrested her for pray- ing aloud at the wall. “The State of Israel has taken one faction of the Jewish people and has given it state power. The argument ended. It’s bad for Orthodoxy, it’s bad for religion, it’s bad for the state. The playing field should be leveled so that there is competition in this market, as well as may the best rabbi win. I have no problem with the Rabbi of the Western Wall objecting to what I’m doing. I have a problem with the fact that he’s telling the police what to do.”

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