Police allow Sarah Silverman's niece to visit Kotel

"Woman of the Wall" teen allowed to visit Western Wall on Purim, despite ban after her detention.

Hallel Abramowitz Silverman (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Hallel Abramowitz Silverman
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Comedienne Sarah Silverman's niece Hallel Abramowitz Silverman, a 17-year-old girl who was detained earlier this month at the Western Wall after participating in a Women of the Wall prayer service, was granted dispensation by the investigations officer of the Kishle police station in the Old City of Jerusalem to visit the site during Purim.
Silverman, along with her mother, Reform Rabbi Susan Abramowitz Silverman, and eight other women, were detained in the same February 11 incident and released on condition that they refrain from visiting the Western Wall for 15 days.
They were required to sign a document committing to the agreement.
In a letter that was presented Tuesday to the investigations officer, Hallel Silverman wrote that she regretted signing the letter and had only done so because she had been “flustered and disoriented” by the experience of being detained by the police, noting also that her mother tongue is English.
“I didn’t realize that it would mean missing [the] megila [Scroll of Esther] reading,” she wrote. “I certainly never intended to limit my freedom of worship, which is a basic right for a Jewish person in a Jewish state that no piece of paper could or should deny.
“No person – man or woman – should ever be asked to wave their religious rights in a democracy or especially in a Jewish state,” the teenager wrote.
“It would mean a lot to my family and I to be able to read Megilat Esther at the Kotel on Monday... I would never knowingly sign away those rights, and hopefully one day they’ll stop asking. Access to holy sites is a universal right.”
Attorney David Barhoom presented Silverman’s letter and a summation in Hebrew to the investigations officer, who agreed to her request and granted her permission to visit the Western Wall on Purim, which in Jerusalem falls on Monday, for the traditional reading of the megila.
Outside the police station, she expressed relief that she would not have to miss the reading and added that she thought it was wrong that she was detained “for such a natural activity as praying at the Western Wall.” She added that she looked forward to the “moment in history” when the law is changed.
In 2003, the Supreme Court upheld the right of the Women of the Wall, an activist group, to pray at the Western Wall according to their custom, but in the same decision ruled that this right was “not an unlimited right” and that the rights of others who might be offended by different customs should also be protected, as well as emphasizing the importance of maintaining order and preventing violence at the site.
The police have interpreted the law in recent years as allowing women to wear colorful tallitot around their shoulders, which police refer to as “female tallitot,” while prohibiting the use by women of larger “male tallitot,” which are blue and white or black and white, and worn folded across the shoulders.
Susan Silverman said that it was “ridiculous that a small sect of people could affect the lives of the rest of the population” and called for “democracy” to be enacted at the site.
The rabbi said that it was “hard to feel sensitive to people who draw up laws against other peoples’ right to prayer,” when asked whether the sensitivities of others needed to be taken into account at holy sites, Jewish or non-Jewish, adding that offending the feelings of others in a democracy could not always be prevented.
“It’s not my job to keep some people from having inappropriate thoughts,” Silverman said.
The Supreme Court ruling in 2003 also stipulated that a section of the Western Wall further south of and separated from the Western Wall Plaza be designated as a place of prayer for the Women of the Wall and non-Orthodox groups, and that the government ensure that the site is upgraded to be an appropriate place of prayer.
The site has not been adequately upgraded, however, and is not available in the evenings.
The same ruling stated that if these arrangements were not made within 12 months, the government would be obligated to set up appropriate arrangements for the Women of the Wall to pray at the Western Wall Plaza.