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Thousands sign on for Shema flash mob

(JTA) – More than 2,500 people signed up to participate in a global Shema flash mob as part of a campaign to promote religious pluralism in Israel.

The gatherings early Monday afternoon came two days after Conservative Jewish congregations were asked to dedicate a recitation of the Shema to the topic as well. 

The actions were a response to last week’s arrest and alleged roughing-up by police at the Western Wall of Anat Hoffman, leader of the Israel Reform Action Center and Woman of the Wall. Hoffman was wearing a tallit and leading the Shema prayer at a Rosh Chodesh service for about 200 women. 

By the time of Monday’s flash mob, 2,537 people had joined a Facebook page created for the event. Rabbi Steven Wernick, executive vice president and CEO of the United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism, had asked people to post video of their Shema gatherings. Responses came in from across the United States, Israel and England. 

The Reform movement has called for an Israeli police investigation into the incident in which Hoffman said she was put in shackles, dragged across a jail floor and put into a cell overnight without a blanket, being forced to use her tallit to cover herself. 

In 2003, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that women cannot wear a tallit or tefillin or chant from a Torah at the Western Wall.

“The question of religious pluralism is an existential threat to Israel’s soul,” Wernick told JTA last week. “I find it unconscionable that in the Jewish homeland any Jew would be arrested anywhere for the public expression of their religious identity.”

Wernick said that among the steps he is taking is pressing to have the issue placed on the agenda for the Oct. 28-30 Jewish Agency for Israel Board of Governors meeting in Jerusalem, and setting up a meeting about the issue with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On Monday, Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador in Washington, released a statement saying that he regards “with utmost seriousness” the concerns raised with him by American Reform and Conservative leaders about Hoffman’s arrest. Oren said he is working with Israeli authorities to determine exactly what happened. 

He added that while Israel respects “the rights and sensitivities of all worshipers,” those rights “cannot always be reconciled entirely.” 

For example, he wrote, Israel’s Supreme Court has agreed that the Western Wall should be administered by the rabbi of the Kotel, who is Orthodox. A nearby area known as Robinson’s Arch is reserved for egalitarian prayer groups. 

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