Last Friday morning, Israeli police detained four women as they prayed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The group of 138 men and women was organized by Women of the Wall, an organization that fights for women’s right to pray freely, while donning prayer shawls and other religious articles, at the Western Wall. Among those detained was Reform Rabbi Elyse Frishman, senior rabbi of Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, NJ, the oldest synagogue in New Jersey and editor of the Reform Movement’s siddur (prayer book), CCAR’s Mishkan T’filah, used in over 700 North American congregations. (Rabbi Frishman is also married to Rabbi Dan Freelander, senior vice president of the URJ.)
In a statement last week in response to these detentions, URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs said, “The Reform Movement is shocked and disappointed by the continuous discrimination against non-Orthodox worshipers at the Western Wall, the holiest site for Jews. The Kotel should be open to the entire Jewish people and must not be used as a tool of division. We urge the Israeli government to repeal these discriminatory policies and be true to the democratic ideals on which the state was founded. This incident is a visible reminder of what non-Orthodox Jews face every day in Israel. Because of our deep love for Israel we are committed to ensuring that Jews are free to practice Judaism in whichever way they choose.”
Rabbi Marla J. Feldman, executive director of Women of Reform Judaism, said, “The Western Wall should be a place that unites the Jewish people, where all responsible, courteous worshipers are welcomed and respected. Women of Reform Judaism will visit the Kotel with Women of the Wall in March as part of our organization’s centennial celebration. We hope to be able to pray freely there with our Israeli sisters.”
Central Conference of American Rabbis‘s Chief Executive Rabbi Steve Fox and Chairman of ARZA Rabbi Bennett Miller also affirmed their support for Rabbi Frishman, one of the leading rabbis of the Reform Movement, and affirm the Reform rabbinate’s historic commitment to religious pluralism in Israel and the continuing need to advance the rights of women throughout the world.
Early on Friday morning, a new decree was issued forbidding women to enter the Kotel with religious articles, including prayer shawls and phylacteries; women bearing these articles were searched and stripped of them at a security checkpoint.
In October, police intervened as women, including Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center and chairwoman of Women of the Wall, prayed at the Western Wall. Hoffman was arrested and charged with the “offense” of wearing a prayer shawl and disturbing public order.