No news is good news

DSC_0343Jerusalem, Rosh Chodesh Sivan 5770 (May 14, 2010): This morning a group of women prayed together at Judaism's holiest site, the Kotel (Western Wall).

Other than one guy who yelled for a while about how terrible it was that women were doing this at a holy place, and I understand from the women's side, some elderly women who complained that women would actually pray there, there were no DSC_0341 problems.  At one point, a group of Haredim, led by a guy with a cell phone but no prayerbook, organized a large group near the mechitza (divider) and started praying a little loudly, but that was all they did, and they broke up without doing anything untoward.  

In other words, not much of anything happened, other than some women prayed.

Which is good news!  In months past, I have witnessed cursing, spitting, and flying chairs when the Women of the Wall pray at the Kotel.  The Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) seem to be getting more and more violent and hard to control.  Some of them have engaged in vandalism and attacked police over things ranging from parking lots that are open on the Sabbath to the fact that Intel has to operate their semiconductor fab in Jerusalem on the Sabbath.  The most recent outrage was this week, when a woman was attacked at a bus station for for having tell-tale lines on her arm indicating she had put tefilin (phylacteries) on that day, an act which Haredi believe is reserved for men.  The woman, Noa Rez, wrote a report which you can read on Rabbi Menachem Creditor's blog here

DSC_0340 The police had a significant presence, and did a GREAT job of keeping things quiet.  They didn't allow anyone to harass the women, they stopped the nut case who was yelling.  After the prayers were over I made a point of walking over to the police…I told them (in Hebrew of course) "it's a pity you have to be here just because some women want to pray, but thanks for doing a good job."

I had decided I would go ahead and pray on the men's side while the women were praying on their side.  It was time for prayers anyway, and I figured I could be there if anything happened, to see it, record it, and/or try to defuse it.  Rather than join one of the minyanim, I just prayed on my own at the back, as close as the police would let me be to the mechitza.  It was beautiful morning, temperature was very pleasant, birds were flying, (rain and chairs were not).  The women had started before me, but I caught up with them so I was able to say my Hallel as they were reciting theirs, and I enjoyed hearing their beautiful harmonious voices and quietly singing along.  And then the Haredi group came along with their loud and cacophonous prayers and totally interrupted my kavvanah (focus).  I have to say, the women sounded a lot better!  In accord with the agreement reached with the authorities, after Hallel, the women relocated to Robinson's Arch (aka "the Masorti (Conservative) Kotel").  In the past, women have been subject to cursing and spitting when they do a procession moving the 100 meters, but today was quiet.

In the past, women have been harassed — briefly detained even — by the authorities for wearing a tallit (prayer shawl).  Today women walked with tzitzit (fringes) flying, and no one seemed to care or notice.

I hope it's progress.  I hope the police have finally realized why they are there and who it is they have to protect.  I hope the Haredi have decided it's not worth harassing the women because all it does is create ill will and give them bad press.

This week's Torah reading is Bamidbar, the opening chapters of the book of Numbers.  The reading starts out with a census, which brings up a question: Why do we have all this counting of the Jews, why the repetition of the exact same phrases for each tribe? 

Rabbi Yitzhak Arama (15th century, Spain), said the reason for all the counting was to teach us that “they were not just like animals or material objects [to be counted one, two, etc.], but each one had an importance of his own like a king or priest and that indeed God had shown special love toward them, and this is the significance of mentioning each one of them by name and status; for they were all equal and individual in status.”

Could it be that we are making progress in getting Israeli society to recognize that we are, indeed, all "equal and individual in status?"  Even women?

A friend of mine, a little more cynical than me perhaps (of course he's lived here a lot longer than I have) said he would not count on it being progress…the Haredi just like to pray earlier during the summer months.

I hope he's wrong!

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Barry

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Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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