Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What's Good for the Goose...

The Jerusalem Post reported this morning about a woman arrested for wearing a tallit. Arrested? For wearing a tallit? Yes, because she wore her tallit at the kotel.
Police were alerted after the women requested to read from the Torah. The decision to arrest the woman was based on a High Court ruling under which public coming to the Western Wall must dress according to the customs of the site, police said.
Apparently, it really is against the law in Israel for a woman to wear a tallit while praying at the Kotel. In fact, there is a dedicated area at the kotel where women and mixed groups can pray in close proximity to the wall, under "Robinson's Arch." This is where most non-Orthdox Bar and Bat Mitzvahs take place. But this woman decided to pray with her tallit in the "main" women's section. Ironically, it's not against Jewish law for a woman to wear a tallit. Halachic authorities have frowned on the practice, especially in recent years, but it's hard to call the performance of a mitzvah "forbidden." It's only against Israeli secular law for a woman to wear a tallit at the Western Wall.
I'm quite sure that this will swell into yet another storm of outrage. The press loves this stuff: it pits poor women just looking for a place to pray against the big bad Orthodox. In fact, the immedaite reaction has been swift and predictable:
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the head of the Reform movement in Israel, said that millions of women in the Jewish world enjoy the right to pray wearing a prayer shawl. He called the arrest "an embarrassment to the police and to the state," especially as it took place in the Jewish state and in the holiest site to Jewry.
First and foremost, is this really "the holiest site to Jewry"? Actually, that would be the Temple Mount - the plateau that sits just above the Western Wall, a place that also carries strict restrictions about Jewish prayer.
In fact, reading the article about a woman praying at the Wall in a tallit immediately made me think of another article about Har Habayit (the Temple Mount). A NY Times article about a recently published book about the Mount noted that,
Some radical (editorial note: anyone who visits Har Habayit is now a "radical") Jewish groups are responding by defying a longstanding rabbinical council prohibition on entering the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site. On a recent weekday morning, a small knot of Orthodox Israelis with skullcaps, the fringes of their ritual undergarments hanging from their waists, were exploring the compound, which is open to tourists for a few hours daily. Jews and Israelis are allowed to walk around, but not to pray.
The Jewish group’s leader, who identified himself only as Yosef, fearing a police ban on future visits, said that the rabbinical prohibition was “political,” and that he went to the mount every day because he considered it “our place.” Asked if he prayed there, he would say only that he did what he thought was right, “without getting in anybody’s way.”
That's right. It's illegal for a Jew to pray on Har Habayit. Moreover, while you can think about God if you're up on the Mount, you can't even move your lips. A March 2008 article in Ha'aretz reported that,
A Jew is not allowed to pray in any overt manner whatsoever on the Temple Mount, even if he is just moving his lips in prayer, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter recently wrote MKs Uri Ariel and Aryeh Eldad (National Union-NRP).
All this leads me to wonder: if the "Women of the Wall" are truly committed to freedom of expression and the rights of all people to pray according to their religious passion, shouldn't that rule apply not only to Reform and Conservative Women, but also to Jews who want to pray on Har Habayit?
And if they can accept that a Jew should not pray on the Temple Mount because of the provocation and incitement that would surely ensue, why shouldn't the same rules (er, laws) apply to them? If Rabbi Gilad Kariv wants to know what's truly "an embarrassment to the police and to the state", it's telling Jews that they cannot pray on the real "holiest site in the world." When he gets off his own personal agenda and fights for the rights to pray wherever they please, including the Temple Mount, maybe then I'll begin to take his complaints, and the tactics of the Women in Green a little more seriously.