Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Praying In Her Own Voice


Today a huge article about the women of the wall in the NY TIMES. Amazing. Powerful. Too bad they didn't mention our film about the subject matter.

Jerusalem Journal
Challenging Traditions at the Heart of Judaism

JERUSALEM — A struggle for the character of the Western Wall, this city’s iconic Jewish holy site and central place of worship, is under way, and it is being fought with prayer shawls and Torah scrolls.

On Friday, sheets of rain obscured the Old City’s ancient domes. But by 7 a.m. about 150 Jewish women had gathered at the Western Wall to pray and to challenge the constraints imposed on them by traditional Jewish Orthodoxy and a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court.

Under their coats many of the women, supporters of a group of religious activists called Women of the Wall, wore a tallit, or fringed prayer shawl, a ritual garment traditionally worn only by men. Some wore their prayer shawls openly, an illegal act in this particular setting that can incur a fine or several months in jail.

Last month Nofrat Frenkel, 28, an Israeli medical student and a committed follower of Conservative Judaism, a modern, egalitarian strain, was the first woman in Israel to be arrested during prayers at the Western Wall, also known as the Kotel, for publicly wrapping herself in a tallit.

The police accused her of acting provocatively and in a way that upset public order. Ms. Frenkel said the investigation was still under way.

The Women of the Wall, who meet for prayers at the Kotel at the start of every Hebrew month, are at the vanguard of a feminist struggle in Orthodox Judaism and other more contemporary strains to adapt time-honored religious practice for the modern age. They came in droves on Friday, the first day of the Hebrew month of Tevet, to express their outrage over Ms. Frenkel’s case.

Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of Women of the Wall, which was founded in 1988, said she had never seen so many turn up in the month of Tevet.

“We are pushing the envelope. History is made of moments like this,” she said.

The group’s activities present a head-on challenge to the religious establishment, which is dominated in Israel by Orthodox rabbis who interpret and apply the rules of religious law in their strictest form.

The Kotel is defined in Israel as a national and holy site that is open to all. In practice, the women say, it operates like an Orthodox synagogue, with separate prayer sections for men and women and a modesty patrol to ensure that visitors are appropriately dressed.

Traditional Orthodox women pray individually, and quietly, by the Kotel’s massive beige stones, a remnant of the retaining wall of the mount revered by Jews as the site where their ancient temples once stood. Al Aksa mosque now sits on the top of the mount.

Critics of the Women of the Wall say that their practices — like holding organized prayers, singing out loud, carrying a Torah scroll and wearing prayer shawls — offend the more traditional worshipers at the site.

Twenty years ago, having suffered verbal and physical abuse as they prayed, the Women of the Wall petitioned the Supreme Court to have their right to religious freedom recognized, on grounds that the Kotel does not belong to the Orthodox establishment alone.

After a lengthy legal battle, the court ultimately ruled against the women in the interest of public order. Consequently, it is illegal for them to read aloud from the Torah or to wear prayer shawls openly by the wall. Instead, the authorities have allocated them a special area where they can conduct services in their own fashion, in an archaeological garden tucked around a corner, out of sight.

“These women come here like a persecuted group,” said David Barhoum, a criminal lawyer there on behalf of the Women of the Wall. If anything, he said on Friday, the criminal behavior seemed to be coming from the other side.

Across a partition, in the men’s section of the Kotel, a group of ultra-Orthodox men gathered to harass the women as they sang and prayed. The men shouted “Gevalt!” — expressing their revulsion in Yiddish — and called the women’s prayer an abomination. One or two threw objects and spat at them. In the women’s section, some Orthodox female worshipers joined in the insults.

Jewish religious law is open to interpretation. The Women of the Wall argue that even according to some Orthodox opinions, they are doing nothing wrong.

“Women are exempt from carrying out certain commandments, but not forbidden,” said Ms. Frenkel, who kept her prayer shawl hidden beneath her jacket by the Kotel this time around.

But the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, said “there is no value to prayer that creates controversy and offends other female worshipers” at the site.

The dispute is not about interpretations of religious law, he added, but about the sanctity and the accepted custom of the place. “On Friday the heavens wept,” he said.

Others saw the rain as a blessing in this parched land. The downpour was “so fitting,” said Simonne Horwitz, an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan in western Canada, who said she had flown in especially for the event.

By and large, the inclement weather was on the side of the police who were sent to uphold the law and keep the peace.

There had been a plan for the women concealing their prayer shawls to open their coats, but Ms. Hoffman said most did not want to because of the storm.

Plans to take out a Torah scroll at the Kotel, and perhaps to read from it, were also aborted for fear the parchment would be damaged by the rain. Even so, one of the scrolls ended up with water stains.

Whether or not it was an act of divine intervention, the deluge allowed everyone to claim victory — the drenched women, their detractors and the police. The women were obviously wearing prayer shawls at the wall, but no arrests were made.

A version of this article appeared in print on December 22, 2009, on page A8 of the New York edition.


Thursday, December 10, 2009


A film I produced that my mother directed is finally getting some buzz.
Unfortunately it's because a woman was arrested next to the wailing wall for wearing a prayer shawl and opening up a Torah.
Sorry guys, I don't get it. This is the twenty first century, right?
A woman being arrested for offending a wall because of a prayer shawl?
Was the wall offended cause the woman wore a prayer shawl or because she wanted to read from the holiest of books?
A woman was arrested for being too religious and wanting to pray in the confined woman's section where no man is allowed into?
That is a crime in twenty first century Israel?

Below is a mention of the film and the case in Lilith Blog.
It's sad. Very sad that things like that can happen in the twenty first century.
But it also proved how important my mother's film is in spreading the word about the importance to fight for female equality also in the religious world.

Happy Hannukah everyone and hopefully the children of light will win over the warriors of darkness.



From Lilith:

Responding to Absurdity
In the aftermath of Nofrat Frenkel’s arrest at the Western Wall (her crime? wearing a tallit), Lilith has heard from a lot from all of you, asking what you can do. So when this letter from Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson (of the Women’s Rabbinic Network) arrived, it was clear it needed to be passed on. This is a great way to take a stand.

Dear Friends,
The arrest of Nofrat Frenkel for wearing a tallit at the kotel on Rosh Hodesh Kislev compels us to raise our voices and engage our communities in joint action. We invite you to join in a community-wide Day of Solidarity and Support for Women of the Wall (WOW), to take place on Rosh Hodesh Tevet, Thursday December 17th, the sixth day of Chanukah. With this national grassroots initiative, we will express our support for the rights of the Women of the Wall to assemble at the Kotel and to pray there with dignity, in safety and in shared community.

As with many other women’s grass roots efforts, each community, organization and institution shall develop its own program of prayer or study and shall reach out as widely as possible to its constituencies. For some groups, this day of solidarity and support will be in the manner of WOW, including tefillah and the reading of the Torah. For others, the program may be a “lunch and learn” text study session; or a women’s Chanukah observance. For yet others, it might be a gathering of three or more friends in a living room or office who will dedicate their joint prayer and/or study to the Women of the Wall. Some communities may want to add to their programs a screening of Yael Katzir’s film, Praying in Her Own Voice. We ask that you convene a program that shows your support for this initiative.

Please share your plans and document your activities by sending an email to jackie.ellenson@gmail.com. We also ask that you send a photo of your gathering to Judith Sherman Asher, judithrafaela@mac.com, who is a member of Women of the Wall in Israel. Please caption the photo with the names of the participants, the date, location of, and information about your program. Feel free to add a short message of support for Women of the Wall. This will greatly strengthen the morale of our sisters in Israel.

We hope you will join in a groundswell of support of American women for the Women of the Wall. We encourage you to send this letter to any other women’s groups who might want to participate. As Rosh Hodesh Tevet takes place during the week of Chanukah, the holiday of religious freedom, what better time to affirm the right of women to raise their voices in prayer at the Wall!

Sincerely yours,

Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson
Director, Women’s Rabbinic Network
Rivka Haut
Women’s Tefillah Network

Taken from :