The Western Wall does not belong to Haredi men

Opinion: Mobs riled up by ultra-Orthodox politicians are often bused to the holiest place where Jews can pray to attack women at worship, purely because they refuse to accept any form of Judaism other than their own; but our religion has a place for every stream and denomination

Tammy Gottlieb|
Last Friday, I went to pray at the Western Wall as I do at the start of every month of the Jewish calendar.
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  • I worship with my Orthodox, Conservative and Reform friends as members of the Women of the Wall movement, reciting the shacharit morning prayer in a women's minyan - the required quorum of ten Jewish adults - as we have done for years.
    5 View gallery
    תמי גוטליב אוספת את דפי הסידורים הקרועים
    תמי גוטליב אוספת את דפי הסידורים הקרועים
    Tammy Gottlieb collects the pages torn out of prayer books by Haredi men following a confrontation last Friday at the Western Wall
    (Photo: Irina Lutt)
    But last Friday, the start of the current month of Tamuz, we were accosted as we arrived at the plaza leading to the holy site.
    The case containing our prayer books was ripped from our hands by a riled up mob of young Haredi men, who began tearing pages out of them in front of our eyes despite our pleas for them to stop.
    "You are tearing up the name of the Lord," I told them, but they just laughed.
    "These books must be burned," some declared as they tore out page after page and trampled over the prayer books that had tumbled to the ground.
    I have been praying with the Women of the Wall for 13 years. I joined after a member of the group was arrested because she dared to don a tallit (prayer shawl), and I have been with them ever since.
    Haredi men accost Women of the Wall and destroy their prayer books
    There is something sacred about a group of women from different streams of Judaism praying together in religious and spiritual harmony. It is like nothing I have ever seen.
    And the pursuit of this experience has led to me being cursed, shoved, spat at, arrested and subjected to invasive searches.
    I wish I could say that nothing could have prepared us for what transpired last Friday, but that would be a lie; it was absolutely expected.
    And if no dramatic steps are taken to change the situation, we can certainly predict what will come next.
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    מחאה סוערת נגד נשות הכותל: נערים חרדים קרעו סידורי תפילה
    מחאה סוערת נגד נשות הכותל: נערים חרדים קרעו סידורי תפילה
    Haredi men trampling on pages torn out of prayer books owned by the Women of the Wall in Jerusalem last Friday
    (Photo: Women of the Wall)
    The Women of the Wall movement was founded in 1988, and since then its members been attacked every time they pray together at the Western Wall to mark the new month.
    Some attacks are worst than others. Sometimes people are bused in by organizations affiliated with the ultra-Orthodox political parties, just to attack us.
    Those politicians rile up their public and send them out to resist our presence, calling us evil and worse, giving no thought to the possible consequences of their actions.
    Last Friday's events were a direct result of this incitement. Anyone who does not adhere to the Hassidic or national-religious version of Judaism is fair game to them.
    What we were subjected to on that day was also a result of the complete lack of control over these people by the authorities.
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    נשות הכותל תוקעות בשופר
    נשות הכותל תוקעות בשופר
    Members of Women of the Wall blowing the shofar at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, June 2020
    (Photo: Hadas Parush, Flash 90)
    For decades they have been allowed to behave towards us as they wish at the Western Wall, and last week were certain that the desecration of our prayer books would also pass without sanction or legal response.
    They have verbally abused us and even thrown boiling hot coffee at us and have never faced any consequences, never been fined or arrested or driven from the site. But we are forcibly removed when we choose to cover ourselves with a prayer shawl or dare to place a kippa on our heads.
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    נשות הכותל יזהר הס ההסתדרות הציונית העולמית
    נשות הכותל יזהר הס ההסתדרות הציונית העולמית
    Men joining members of the Women of the Wall in prayer at the Western Wall, June 2021
    (Photo: The Conservative Movement)
    A young Haredi man even kicked us as my friends and I rushed to salvage what we could of our prayer books, picking them off the ground where they had been trampled and torn.
    We found an ally in a man wearing a large yarmulke, who handed me a stack of pages he had already collected himself.
    "I don't understand why they are doing this," he told me. "It is hilul hashem (desecration of the name of G-d)."
    With scenes like this, it is not hard to see how Israeli society has been so fractured. While tens of thousands cried out in sympathy on social media, there has been nothing but silence from those in power.
    I would like to say to the politicians, rabbis and leaders of the Haredi and religious Zionist communities that their silence has been noted.
    I would like to tell them to stop this madness. They can surely see the desecration.
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      A Haredi man attacking members of the Women of the Wall, August 2020
      A Haredi man attacking members of the Women of the Wall, August 2020
    A Haredi man attacking members of the Women of the Wall, August 2020
    They must not stand aside and allow this kind of violence, even out of fear of the mob. Their duty is to right the wrong and help restore this country to sanity.
    For as German poet Heinrich Heine warned exactly 200 years ago: "Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too."

    Tammy Gottlieb is Vice Chair of Women of the Wall
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