Last Tuesday, Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center and chairwoman of Women of the Wall was arrested when she took a group of over two hundred women to pray together in the women’s section of the Wall (see my article on women at the Western Wall here). Hoffman was arrested for “disturbing the peace” and “endangering the public good,” simply because she wore a tallit (prayer shawl) and said the Shema (a Jewish prayer) out loud. Hoffman and other members of Women of the Wall have been arrested many times before, but this arrest in particular has caused an outrage across the Jewish world because of its especially violent nature. Below is an excerpt Hoffman’s official statement in response to her arrest, released two days ago:
“It was a traumatic experience. I was pulled along the ground by my wrists, strip-searched, shackled by the hands and feet and left to sleep on the floor of a jail cell with nothing to keep me warm but my tallit.
The treatment I received was designed to make women scared of entering the Western Wall complex with a tallit. Women wearing prayer shawls are common all over the world. Only in Israel does this simple act meet with such intense pressure. You have to remember that when I enter a room of Israelis with my tallit, most of them have never seen a woman wear one before.
So why do I do it? The reason is simple: if women do not stand up for their rights the religious authorities in Israel will continue to push women further and further out of sight. Hopefully the more regular Israelis see me and other women wearing tallitot, the better they will come to understand that it is not religious subversion on our part.
I respect Jews who pray differently than me, and I understand that many women do not wish to wear a tallit. But there are millions of Jewish women who do wish to pray at the Western Wall with a tallit. Enabling them to do so in peace and safety was never meant to infringe on the rights of others. It simply means that there is more than one way to be a Jew.”
Though Women of the Wall and other organizations have made great strides towards gender equality in Israel, this incident makes it clear that there is still a long way to go. I hope that revulsion at this arrest will inspire people to fight for equality in Israel.