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What a crazy world we live in.  This morning, while trying to pray, a woman was arrested in Jerusalem for — unbelievable though this may sound — holding a Torah scroll at the Western Wall.  Her crime?  Praying improperly. (scroll down for an article from Haaretz newspaper and a video of the beginning of the arrest).

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Women of the Wall (WOW) or the holiday they’re observing… every month on the Jewish calendar, there’s a holiday called Rosh Hodesh, which means the beginning of the month (literally, head of the month).  It’s been “designated” as a women’s holiday (too long a story to explain right now; maybe another day, or you can google it; also there’s an explanation on the WOW website) and since 1988, the WOW have gathered at the Western Wall to celebrate the holiday and read from a Torah scroll (aka Five Books of Moses).

I had the privilege of praying with them a few years ago on a very cold and rainy January morning.  Because the ultra-Orthodox Jews are in charge of the Western Wall, the WOW essentially have to sneak in to pray.  When I was there, the cops hovered outside the group; one approached a woman who dared to wear her tallit outside her coat and made her hide it (the rest of us already had ours tucked under our coats).  That morning, they didn’t try to read from the Torah because of the combination of cops and rain.

The Crazies (aka the ultra-Orthodox)  for some reason think it’s OK to harass the WOW… they scream and shout so the women’s prayers can’t be heard, they curse at them, throw things, spit, even call them Nazis and whores.  Things have escalated over the past year.  In November 2009 the Crazies demanded that the police stop WOW’s prayer services;  in response, the police arrested group member Nofrat Frenkel, a young Israeli medical student.  Frenkel was held for several hours, interrogated, and charged with illegally wearing a tallit at the Western Wall.  Now Anat Hoffman is arrested while carrying a Torah scroll from the Wall to the spot around the corner where they’re allowed to unroll and read from the scroll.  She wasn’t even trying to read it — which, in my opinion and most of the rest of the Jewish world, is something she’s fully entitled to do.  But not according to the Crazies.

The Yiddish word for this is shanda — a scandal, a crying shame.  Hard to believe that Jews would hassle other Jews just for praying.  Hard to believe that a Jew could be arrested by Israeli police for praying.  And as you can see near the end of the video (see below) they nearly knocked the Torah scroll on the ground while trying to wrest it from Anat Hoffman, and did knock down a woman.

This is one of those moments when it’s hard to be proud of my people.  I am, however, hopeful that the WOW will prevail.   Check them out on Facebook or their website — you’ll find links on my page of favorite websites.

Women of the Wall Leader Arrested for Carrying a Torah Scroll

By Haaretz Service

Published July 12, 2010.

Jerusalem Police on Monday arrested the leader of the Women of the Wall group for carrying a Torah scroll while praying at the Western Wall, Army Radio reported.

Anat Hoffman, the women’s prayer group leader, was arrested and taken in for questioning after she was caught holding a Torah scroll in violation of a High Court ruling prohibiting women from reading the Torah at the Western Wall.

Dozens of Women of the Wall members arrived at the holy site on Monday morning for the traditional festive prayer in honor of the first day of the month of Av.

“This is another example of the ultra-Orthodox establishment imposing its stances on the public,” a spokeswoman for the group said.

Women of the Wall has previously clashed with ultra-Orthodox worshippers over the group’s desire to pray at the Western Wall wrapped in prayer shawls or wearing phylacteries, which some rabbis have called provocations.

In November 2009, another of the group’s women was arrested for wearing a prayer shawl (tallit). At the time, Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz said the act was a provocation meant to turn the wall into a fighting ground.

“We must distance politics and disagreement from this sacred place,” Rabinowitz had said.

The Masorti Movement said in response to Hoffman’s arrest: “The arrest of the Women of the Wall chairwoman is a foolish act. The Western Wall plaza belongs to the entire nation and the Haredim have expropriated it.”

Hoffman is one of the prominent activists of the Movement for Progressive Judaism in Israel and serves as head of the Religious Action Center – the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel.