Friday, November 20, 2009

Heading off to points north for a bit, folks. Gonna see friends and family, check how my parents' Frankendog is doing after his operation, try to transport a huge bunch of bananas to my family to show 'em our backyard banana trees can beat the heck outta their puny indoor stalk any day, get tainted by the Bauhaus through some new reading material, and just generally get some R 'n' R on.
Anyhow, a couple of days ago, this was brought to my attention:
Police on Wednesday arrested a woman who was praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem due to the fact that she was wrapped in a prayer shawl (tallit).

The woman was visiting the site with the religious women's group "Women Of The Wall" to take part in the monthly Rosh Hodesh prayer.

Police were called to the area after the group asked to read aloud from a Torah scroll.

Police said they arrested the women in the wake of a High Court ruling, which states that the public visiting the Western Wall is obligated to dress in accordance with the site's dress code.

That highlighted part is the mechitzah separating the men on the left from the women on the right. The reasons for the smaller area for women are based on orthodox halachah (Jewish law) and how differently it obligates women to perform the ritual of prayer.

Tellingly, the women were busted only when they wanted to read aloud from the Torah - orthodox interpretations of halachah forbid the sound of a woman's voice being heard in a ritual setting, forget about women actually reading from the Torah. But keeping women gagged has not been advocated by the High Court, so the police had to make do with hauling one away for wearing a spiritual garment that, once again, under orthodox interpretations of halachah, is forbidden to sit around a woman's shoulders.

Yes, the Wall is a holy site for Jewish people world wide and one must be respectful of the other denominations of Jewry that worship there. But this is indicative of a serious problem that, if peace with Israel's Middle Eastern neighbors ever comes to pass, the Jewish state may well rip itself apart over.

And, if that does happen, I know who will be ready with the first excuse:

More than most other ultra-orthodox Jews, such as Agudath Israel, Neturei Karta objected to Zionist aims of founding a state before the coming of the Messiah. To bolster their opposition, they cite tractate Ketuboth, verse 111 of the Talmud, which is interpreted as forbidding strife with gentiles in order to form a Jewish state, on the grounds that the destruction of the temple is a punishment from God, which would be rescinded by God. They further rely on an apocryphal legend, according to which God, the Jewish People, and the gentile nations made a pact when the Jews were sent into exile. under the pact, the Jews would not rebel against the non-Jewish world that gave them sanctuary and Jews would not immigrate as a group to the land of Israel. in return, the gentile nations promised not to persecute the Jews too harshly. Neglecting the history of persecution of the Jews, which many say voided this pact, Neturei Karta argue that by rebelling against the pact, Jews were rebelling against God.

It's so nice to have the extremism within one's own religion and culture laid out for all to see. It lets you know where the slightly less extreme elements of it all will go to as a last resort in the face of, say, women who only want to pray at Jerusalem's present-day holiest site for Jews and who get arrested and called "stupid" by rabbis in governmental positions...and even by other women.

...beginning early in 1989, WOW was met with serious and continuous violence. Ultra-orthodox (haredi) men threw heavy metal chairs at them over the high barrier that separated men from women. One young girl was hit and had to be hospitalized. Canisters of tear gas were thrown into the womens' section.

Ultra-orthodox women, often following male orders, sometimes on their own, uttered terrible curses, and tried to silence the quietly praying women in every way possible. They shrieked, circled, raged, and made awful faces. They pushed and shoved a pregnant Bonna Haberman who was holding onto the Torah with all her might. At one point, the government of Israel actually hired women to physically remove the women-- not for disturbing the peace but for praying....

...How ironic! All over the world, including in Israel, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Jewish women are rabbis and lead their congregations, both male and female, in prayer. Orthodox women in Israel, the United States, Europe, and Australia, pray together in women's prayer groups in which they chant from the Torah. More recently, orthodox women began to pray together with orthodox men in partnership minyanim (prayer quorums). This has included both women and men chanting from the Torah and receiving previously male-only honors.

Only in Israel, and at the site most holy to Jews, at a site where soldiers are sworn in, and national celebrations are held--at that place, Jewish women were, (and still are), prohibited from praying aloud in a group with a Torah.

Although I care deeply about Jewish womens' religious rights in Israel and of course, about all womens' right to both practice their religion--and to not be coerced into doing so--the struggle in Jerusalem is an intra-tribal matter and important in its own right.

However, as the Intifada of 2000 continued to rage against Israel, as did the United Nations, Muslim terrorists, and Western academics everywhere, I did not have the heart to join the jackal chorus against the Jewish state. Rivka and I decided to dedicate our book to the state of Israel and to refrain from writing articles or giving interviews to the non-Jewish media on this subject.

But such silence is not possible forever. Is Israel head and shoulders above Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia in terms of womens' rights? Absolutely. But our struggle also proves that justice for Jewish women is quite imperfect in the only Western-style democracy in the Middle East.

Women have not forgotten thee, O Jerusalem, but a decades-long tribal and denominational conflict will threaten them and, in the process, threaten world Jewry. These problems must be addressed. It is the reason why I still have this link on my blogroll, as this sort of discrimination extends beyond prayer and into the fabric of every woman's life in Israel, no matter what denomination she is. It is the "problem that has no name" that Judaism in general has never handled well, because the orthodox interpretations of halachah are still seen as the standard for observance, even by secular Jews.

Orthodox interpretations, however, are interpretations that are not done in a vacuum - those Talmudic tracts show evidence over and over again of the ways in which rabbis have been influenced by the customs of the rest of the world. Now that many of them are in Israel, they want to behave as though they are in a vacuum, but there really isn't a leg for them to stand on. The day will come when they will be taken to task, and all that will be left is for them to wail that the Messiah didn't start the current state of Israel, so all of you are just stupid stupid stupid!

There's some Talmudic logic for you right there.

Sadly, this state of affairs has never been surprising to me, not since I was in grade school. The house of Israel is a case study in warfare from outside forces staving off an inevitable clash in a house that has been divided for centuries - heck, from Biblical times, even. These recent arrests at the Wall are one of many ways in which the cracks are showing.

Just something to think about.

Happy turkey, all...and don't rearrange things too much in New Orleans while I'm gone. 'Til then, wrap your heads around G-Bitch's posts on school choice in light of the recent series by Sarah Carr in the T-P on parents trying to negotiate the charter system.:

I’m not seeing a great deal of difference or more-than-superficial change yet.
Part of why not is that, as Henry Levin, director of the National Center for
the Study of Privatization in Education said,

“…(Choice) doesn’t solve the problem of families who are just behind the eight ball.

“You are dealing with people who are worried about putting food on the table and whether they are going to have to move in the middle of the night. … They are not sitting down at the breakfast table every morning and saying, ‘Oh, let me read through the parent handbook and figure out where to send my child to school.’ “

Which brings us back to the sad formula, and not new, that if
your parents aren’t up to a particular standard, you are screwed. And that’s
antithetical to the idea of public education.

More on this from a mom in a major city:

Update, 12-7-09: Check this out:
When I learned that some public buses in Jerusalem force women to enter through the back door, sit in the back, and "dress modestly" in order to board I immediately wanted to go there, get on a bus in my sluttiest outfit (which is actually pretty modest to everyone but religious fanatics), and protest. Of course, I'd then be subjected to verbal and physical abuse by evil men who like to think that they are God, when really they are just oppressors who misinterpret their religious texts to benefit themselves.

...Sarah Berger at In the Moment reports the court system ruled that segregated buses could be OK if "voluntary," but that the men who punch, kick, slap, and verbally harass women who don't voluntary disappear essentially make this a moot point. As Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz debates whether or not to uphold his own commission's recommendation to ban the buses, Berger says that women’s and human rights groups worry that he will bend to the religious parties who make up the current government coalition. She concludes, "it is unfortunate that women will once again become victims of a religious and political power play."

Oh, isn't that the case everywhere, though? (See "Stupak is as Stupak Does" for one timely American example....) Still, anyone as infuriated as I am can do something more useful than flying to Israel and risking her safety to protest this outrage. Katz will render his decision by Dec. 27 (my birthday!). Help me have a good birthday by telling Katz that public buses serve the entire public, which includes women.

We will not be forced to the back of the bus by a misguided segment of zealots. I can only shudder with horror to think of how much we let Claudette Colvin (a teenager who was arrested nine months before Rosa Parks was for refusing to move to the back of the bus) down (again) by not speaking up for basic human rights.

Egged buses are the targets of many a suicide bomber in Israel. Wonder what the safety issues are like if one is at the back of the bus versus the front if explosives are detonated? It may not make a difference - someone with bombs strapped to their body can sit anyplace or even stand near a bus and set themselves off - but things have become so bad with regards to how much people are catering to the extreme right in Israel, this may be one of the only ways left to appeal to any sense of decency left in those who would have women in the back of the bus. Sad. Very sad.


Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

The existence of an external adversary is the only thing keeping internal peace - or what passes for internal peace - on both sides.

saintseester said...

That last quote from Gbitch makes a fantastic point. Couldn't have said it any more eloquently.

Tim said...

I have nothing against Judaism in particular since I am Atheist and toss all religions in the same box of mythology. But I share your disappointment with Israel and the official religious oppression it practices. I think if you want to follow a religion on your own time and in your own terms that's just basic liberty, but when you start telling other people what they can or cannot do that's the opposite of liberty and that's BAD. I am constantly disappointed at the US's choices in which nations we support and provide aid to. To me, rule one should be liberty: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press. If you don't have these, what the heck is the US doing sending money, food, guns and goodwill for?

Hopefully more progressive Jews will one day prevail in Israel and overturn nonsensical sexist laws. It's a well known fact that Jews in America have been at the forefront in defending freedom here. It can be done.