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Shabby treatment for Women of the Wall

To the Editor:

I am writing as a friend of Israel, but rather disappointed.

Recent events in Israel, most notably those dealing with women at the Kotel, have dramatically highlighted the fact that in many ways, non-Orthodox streams of Jewish life have less freedom and are treated rather poorly in Israel, having fewer religious freedoms than anywhere else in the free world. I most strongly support Women of the Wall in their efforts. The recent arrest of a young medical student carrying a Torah, and the more recent interrogation of Anat Hoffman, is OUTRAGEOUS!

My own daughter’s bat mitzvah was facilitated by Women of the Wall, specifically with the gracious help of Anat Hoffman. She is far more learned than many Jewish Orthodox men I know. At the Kotel when we gathered for my daughter’s bat mitzvah on Rosh Hodesh in the summer of 1996, there was huge dissension. The females in my family were on the women’s side of the mechitzah; the males were on the other side. The Women of the Wall
surrounded the females, unfortunately expecting rude, perhaps violent behavior from the Orthodox males, truly lacking in respect or understanding of Jewish values.

My family on both sides of the mechitzah prayed quietly; we did not expect to be screamed at or spat upon, yet we were. My daughter will never forget this behavior by her supposed co-religionists.

Where in the Torah does it say to spit on women? Where in the Torah does it say to intimidate them? Where in the Torah does it suggest that they be stoned or screamed at?

Photos of the Kotel, prior to 1967, do not even show a mechitzah. Yes, women are seen praying on their own half of the wall, but there is no distinct division. And more importantly, nothing I’ve read states that women are forbidden to carry a Torah or participate in the mitzvot of "leyning," or chanting. What would Rashi think if he were living now? Would his daughters’ knowledge embarrass him? Why is THAT history not valid and valuable for our times?

Statistics I’ve read state that the government of Israel spends upwards of $450 million a year in support of Jewish religious programs. It pays the salaries of more than 3,000 rabbis, all Orthodox, and only 1 percent goes toward Conservative and Reform rabbis. Fully halachic weddings performed by Conservative rabbis in Israel are not recognized as legal by the Israeli government. With all that is going on in the world, with all of Israel’s problems in the media, why would the government not want to end this most ridiculous embarrassing separation of Jews vs. Jews to continue?

Israel is permitting ultra-Orthodox extremists to control public life and block other caring and devoted Jews from fully realizing their spiritual lives. It seems to be the country’s intent to send a message that Israel is not committed to democratic religious principles. This has its greatest negative impact on our young people.

The Israeli government must deal with this before the problem escalates; it cannot be ignored. As staunchly as I support Israel, I will not let these matters pass. It is MY Kotel, too.

Sandy Wasserman
Plainview, N.Y.

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