Last Tuesday I was arrested when I took a group of over two hundred women to the Western Wall to pray together in the women’s section. I was arrested for disturbing the peace and endangering the public good by wearing my tallit and saying the Shema out loud.
It was a traumatic experience. I was pulled along the ground by my wrists, strip-searched, shackled by the hands and feet and left to sleep on the floor of a jail cell with nothing to keep me warm but my tallit.
The treatment I received was designed to make women scared of entering the Western Wall complex with a tallit. Women wearing prayer shawls are common all over the world. Only in Israel does this simple act meet with such intense pressure. You have to remember that when I enter a room of Israelis with my tallit, most of them have never seen a woman wear one before.
So why do I do it? The reason is simple: if women do not stand up for their rights the religious authorities in Israel will continue to push women further and further out of sight. Hopefully the more regular Israelis see me and other women wearing tallitot, the better they will come to understand that it is not religious subversion on our part.
I respect Jews who pray differently than me, and I understand that many women do not wish to wear a tallit. But there are millions of Jewish women who do wish to pray at the Western Wall with a tallit. Enabling them to do so in peace and safety was never meant to infringe on the rights of others. It simply means that there is more than one way to be a Jew.
In the past week, I have received more love and support than I knew was possible. Many of you have written me to express your care and concern and this has meant so much to me in these difficult days. I also thank the organizations who issued statements to condemn my arrest. It is clear that this issue resonates with Jews from all denominations. Unfortunately, the Israeli government and the Orthodox rabbis that they have charged with administering the Wall still fail to understand that the Western Wall is holy for all Jews. Together we can stand up against this insanity and show that the Kotel belongs to us all.
Add your name to a petition urging the Israeli government to ensure that oversight of the Kotel includes a range of Jewish views and voices and protects gender equality.