Israel’s Declaration of Independence provides that “The State of Israel…will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex” and “will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture.” Last week, officials of the Jerusalem police violated Anat Hoffman’s most basic civil and human rights by subjecting her to crude misogynistic and demeaning mistreatment that crossed all boundaries of decency.
Hoffman is the executive director of the Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Center. On Tuesday evening, October 16, she was arrested for leading a group of more than 200 women in the Sh’ma Israel prayer and wearing a tallit, a prayer shawl, at the Western Wall. The women, who had come to Israel to mark the 100th anniversary of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, were celebrating the beginning of the Hebrew month of Heshvan.
At the coercion of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox religious establishment, women are forbidden to read from the Torah or to wear prayer shawls or tefilin in the plaza in front of the Wall. Women who defy these prohibitions, including Hoffman, are routinely harassed. Earlier this year, during the summer, Hoffman disclosed that, “four women were detained at the Western Wall, each for wearing a tallit. The authorities say they were disturbing the public peace according to regulation 201 A4 of the Israeli legal code. The punishment for this crime is six months in prison. They also broke regulation 287A by performing a religious act that ‘offends the feelings of others.’ The punishment for this crime is up to two years in prison.”
The ugly facts do not seem to be in dispute. Indeed, the Jerusalem police has not contested or denied the accuracy of Hoffman’s account of her ordeal. She told the Forward’s Debra Nussbaum Cohen that when a policeman ordered her to stop reciting the Sh’ma, she complied, but the other women in her group continued praying. She was then arrested and taken to a police station where she claims she was shackled and physically abused.
“In the past when I was detained,” she continued, “I had to have a policewoman come with me to the bathroom, but this was something different. This time they checked me naked, completely, without my underwear. They dragged me on the floor 15 meters; my arms are bruised. They put me in a cell without a bed, with three other prisoners, including a prostitute and a car thief. They threw the food through a little window in the door. I laid on the floor covered with my tallit.”
The leaders of the Reform Movement have condemned this loathsome incident in no uncertain terms. Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, said that “it is intolerable that any woman should be arrested for praying at one of Judaism’s most cherished sites.” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism called the treatment to which Ms. Hoffman was subjected “deplorable and degrading.”
Other American Jewish leaders have also spoken out. ADL national director Abraham Foxman, said that, “If the reports are accurate…there is certainly no justification for the mistreatment of Ms. Hoffman by the police.” Rabbi Steven Wernick, the CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, denounced Ms. Hoffman’s “arrest in shackles” as “deplorable… Her shocking, brutal, undemocratic and frankly un-Jewish treatment is a stark affirmation of the existential threat Israel is facing by extremist religious forces within the Jewish State, specifically, from its Chief Rabbinate.”