On Rosh Hodesh Sivan, just days before Shavuot, the Torah was locked out of reach for the hundred women who came to pray with Women of the Wall and celebrate and with six 12-year-old b’not mitzvah girls at the Kotel.
I arrived early that morning to find pad locks on the mehitzah and a three meter barricaded section between the men’s and women’s sections. The administrator clearly did not want a repeat of last month’s events when one of the hundred or so Torahs available for use at the Kotel was used for a women’s Torah service.
There is no halachic reason why women cannot read Torah in a women’s only Tefilla group in the women’s section and there is no legitimate legal reason why women cannot read from a Sefer Torah at the Kotel. In fact, the opposite applies. Our sacred texts clearly state that a woman can read from the Torah and the April, 2013 Sobel decision explicitly says that women are allowed to read Torah in the women’s section. So why was Natai Groen, a WoW supporter, detained for trying to let women use just one of those many Torahs available for use at the Kotel? Evidently you don’t have to actually break a law to be detained in Rabinowitz’s realm.
So, just days before the holiday where we celebrate Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah) to all Jews, women are being told that Judaism is being revised, the giving of the Torah didn’t really happen the way the Torah reports it did. And six young women who spent a year preparing for their b’not mitzvah were shown that they were not actually admitted into Jewish adult life because In Rabinowitz’s dominion women don’t really count. If you are a women there is no Torah for you.
Why the keys to the kingdom, to the holiest site in Judaism, were handed to the Haredim, after we finally regained access to the Kotel in 1967 is a nagging question. After all, all Jews were welcome to worship at the Temple, so why aren’t all Jews welcome to worship at the Western Wall, the symbol of our national sovereignty?
Sadly, this is unlikely to change. The negotiations for the new pluralistic third section of the Kotel broke down when the government dissolved and seem unlikely to be re-opened by the new government that has already acquiesced to the Haredi demand to maintain the “former” status quo.
In Tel Aviv, this same drama is being played out, by the inclusion, exclusion and sort of inclusion again of non-Orthodox rabbis at the Tikkun Leil Shavuot being held at the Tzayta Theater. The non-Orthodox rabbis will be allowed to teach in a session that will run parallel to the main section. But it took world condemnation for the events’ organizers for this clearly separate and not equal concession. Last year, over 1,500 people from all streams of Judaism attended the event.
The religious reforms that were loosening the Haredi grip on Jewish life in Israel are being reversed and a tsunami wave of official discrimination is on the way. When the Israel’s chief rabbi David Lau can demand to approve all Knesset legislation and there aren’t mass protest rallies in the streets, it is clear that the warning sirens are being sounded and we are not running to higher ground. I can only hope that Israel’s civil rights and religious rights do not drown in this reactionary wave of intolerance.