Women and the Prayer Shawl in Israel

Ten women have been arrested in Israel for wearing a Tallit, or prayer shawl which Orthodox Jews believe are only to be worn by men. These women were members of the group, “Women of the Wall” who protest against this religious rule and are advocates for gender equality. They protest once a month at the Western Wall, which is sacred for Jews as it is a perimeter wall of the Biblical Temple in Jerusalem.  

This group has been protesting for the past 24 years. On their website, they lay out their mission and their mission statement is, “Women of the Wall, or Nashot Hakotel נשות הכותל in Hebrew, is a group of Jewish women from around the world who strive to achieve the right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem, Israel. The Western Wall is Judaism’s most sacred holy site and the principal symbol of Jewish people-hood and sovereignty, and Women of the Wall works to make it a holy site where women can pray freely.”

In 1967, the Supreme Court in Israel upheld the Jewish law that only men were allowed to wear the prayer shawl. This law included, “A general status quo has been preserved over the years concerning the general rights of all religious communities in all the Holy Places in Israel. However, in the past 5 years there is a shift toward stricter and more extreme interpretations of religious limitations especially at the Western Wall. The new instructions include stricter enforcement of limitations of women to freely pray at the western wall, enforcing gender segregation and “modest dressing” rules in all areas of the western wall plaza (not only the part divided to men’s and women’s sections) and various other restrictions.”

 Of the 10 arrested, one prominent figure is the sister of US comedian, Sarah Silverman, a very active member of the Women of the Wall. She believes that every Jew should be able to wear a prayer shawl because “All Jews are in a covenant with God regardless of gender”.  The police had asked the women to remove their prayer shawls, in which they refused and were arrested. The police spokesman, Mickey Rosenfeld said the women had acted “against regulations set by the High Court”.




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