Sharing the Kotel (Western Wall)

Lesley Sachs Photo

Lesley Sachs, Director of “Women of the Wall” arguing with a police officer back in October because she’s wearing a tallit while praying at the Kotel (which is currently against Israeli law).

Below, you’ll find the text of a letter that I just sent to Chairman Natan Sharansky of the Jewish Agency.  As you may have read in the news recently (click here for an example), in response to international outcry over the treatment of women praying at the wall, Prime Minister Netanyahu has asked Chairman Sharansky to suggest ways to better accommodate the diversity of Jewish religious practice at the Kotel (Western Wall).

I hope you’ll join me in reaching out to Chairman Sharansky and urging him to take significant steps towards guaranteeing Jewish religious freedom and equality at the Kotel.  You can do so via the IRAC (Israel Religious Action Center) site by clicking here.  While it’s always difficult to be certain, this turn of events may be a watershed moment for advancing the issue of religious freedom in Israel and the unity of the Jewish people.

{My letter follows}

Dear Chairman Sharansky,

I am thrilled that you will be studying the issue of Jewish religious freedom at the Kotel.  I believe it ought to be possible for every Jew who holds the Kotel a powerful symbol to pray there fully and freely.  It has long seemed at best ironic and, at worst, shameful that all Jews are not able to pray free of harassment or fear at the holiest Jewish site in the world.  Despite our rich variety, in the heart of Jerusalem and at the heart of the Jewish people, we should aspire to live as one people with one heart.

I recognize that in order for such an ideal to become reality, all sides will need to make compromises. As we teach our children, such compromise is the inevitable prerequisite for sharing something that we treasure.  We have to be willing to allow others to use it and sometimes, to do so in a way that is different from our own custom or preference.  But surely for a people who has survived so much and reinvented itself so many times, this goal is attainable.

The Kotel does not belong to Orthodox Jews or Reform, Conservative or Reconstructionist Jews.  It is the legacy of all Jews–of “Am Yisrael.”  And therefore, the issue you will be considering is a test of our aspiration to live as “Am Echad.”  It is a measure of Israel’s continuing capacity to unite the Jews of the world in common identity and vision.  Can we find the creativity, the generosity of spirit and the flexibility to share a site that ultimately must belong to all of us?  I hope so.

 I pray for your every success in responding to this urgent and complex challenge and thank you for your service to our people. 

Rabbi Jonathan Kraus



Please Sign The Petition!

Anat Hoffman at the Kotel

Last night, Anat Hoffman, the courageous leader of the Women of the Wall (and a leader of our movement in Israel) was arrested by Israeli police for singing the Shema at the kotel (Western Wall in Jerusalem).  You can read a brief account of the arrest here (from “The Jewish Daily Forward”).  And you can learn more about the Women of the Wall here.

Noa Sattath, Director of the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center wrote the following in an email to supporters of religious freedom in Israel:

“Last night Anat Hoffman was arrested at the Western Wall. This occurred during a prayer service in the woman’s section with 250 other participants, including members of Women of the Wall and Hadassah.

Anat was detained and held overnight in police custody for disturbing the peace. She was arrested for saying the Shema, Judaism’s central declaration of faith, out loud at the Western Wall.   Anat was put through a terrible ordeal.

The experience was both frightening and humiliating, simply for wanting to pray as a Jew at the Kotel. We are all so relieved that Anat is now back home.  She also wants to express her profound gratitude to all of you for your support and good wishes.

Anat will be writing about this experience herself in the coming days. As we move forward we are more determined than ever to achieve equality for women, everywhere in Israel, including the Kotel. Please sign (and share) our petition, which calls on the Israeli government to end the ultra-Orthodox monopoly over the Western Wall.”

I have signed this petition myself and, if you are so inclined, I urge you to do the same.  You’ll find the petition here.  As I discussed during a recent High Holy Day sermon, we owe it to ourselves as liberal Jews but even more so to the future of Israel to stay informed, involved and to help Israel find her way back to her best self.  We also owe it to courageous leaders like Anat Hoffman and Uri Regev, to support and stand with them in their ongoing work of justice and tikkun.