Mahara”t Sara Hurwitz
I was outraged and shocked to read of the recent arrest of Nofrat Frenkel, a woman who was arrested at the Kotel, the Western Wall, for wearing a talit and carrying a Torah. Now, I know that the issue of women praying publicly at the kotel is complex. Yet, I was outraged at the thought that religious fundamentalists have cornered the right of religious and spiritual expression at one of the holiest sites in the world. And I was shocked that after all these years, we are still fighting the same battles for women to have equal access to all the gifts that Jewish ritual offers. There are days when I think that the Orthodox movement has made tremendous strides towards greater inclusion, finding ways for both men and women to express their religious selves. And then there are days, like last Wednesday, where I find myself disappointed and distraught at what the future holds. Those of us who embrace an Open Orthodoxy, let’s help each other continue to strive for greater inclusion for men and women to express their religious selves, both here and in Israel.
I asked Rivka Haut, one of the co-founders of Women of the Wall, and a beloved congregant at my synagogue, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, to respond to last Wednesdays’ incident. Rivka writes:
On Dec. 1, 1988, I had the privilege of organizing a halakhic women’s tefillah at the Kotel. Now, almost exactly 21 years later, after countless legal proceedings, resulting in three Israel Supreme Court Decisions, two films, an anthology, and many other public and private events, Women of the Wall are still embattled, struggling for the right to pray as a halakhic group at the Kotel, to wear tallitot and to read from a sefer Torah.
On Rosh Chodesh Kislev, Nofrat Frenkel, while praying with WOW, was detained by the police, interrogated for more than an hour, because her donning of a tallit at the Kotel constituted a criminal act. We do not know what further consequences she may yet be subject to.
The Reform and Masorti Movements in Israel are struggling to secure the religious rights of non-haredi Jews to pray at the Kotel according to their custom. They are stepping forward to defend the right of Nofrat, and of all Jewish women, to wear a tallit, openly, while praying at the Kotel, without being physically abused by extremists or arrested by the police.
I ask that the leaders of Open Orthodoxy join in this struggle. Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld has written a sharp and eloquent piece, a letter to Israel’s ambassador to the US, which was published in the Washington Post, defending the rights of women to don tallitot at the Kotel.
Let his courageous voice not be the only one emanating from the Orthodox world.