Orthodox Rabbi to Michael Oren: Arrest of Woman in Tallit 'Offensive and Dangerous'

Following the recent arrest at the Western Wall of a woman wearing a Jewish prayer shawl, or tallit, a prominent American Modern Orthodox rabbi has requested that Israel’s U.S. Ambassador Michael Oren meet with “a rabbinic delegation of American Orthodox rabbis who strongly support the right of women to wear a tallit and tzitzit.”

In a letter to Oren, penned this morning, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, the spiritual leader of Ohev Sholom National Synagogue in Washington, D.C., called the arrest Monday of Nofrat Frenkel “offensive and dangerous,” adding: “You are ceding the Temple Mount and its holiness to a group of fundamentalist and exclusionary Jews who increasingly do not share that prophetic vision.”

An adapted version of the letter — it can be read in full, below — was published on former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum’s Web site FrumForum.

“If a Jew had been arrested for wearing a prayer shawl in any other country in the world, there would be outrage,” Herzfeld told The Sisterhood. “Just because it’s the state of Israel doing it doesn’t make it acceptable. It’s not coming from antisemitism, but it’s still religious persecution.”

Herzfeld’s letter, in its entirety:

Dear Ambassador: I very much enjoyed praying next to you on Rosh Hashanah. I hope you and your family are well. I write to you with both hesitation and firm conviction. Hesitation because I fear criticizing Israel publicly, since to do so might strengthen those critics of Israel who would rather Israel did not exist. God forbid that our world should ever see that! Firm conviction because I want to express publicly and forcefully how deeply disturbed I am about a recent arrest in Israel. News outlets have reported that a woman was arrested for wearing a prayer shawl (a tallit) at the Western Wall. This strikes me as deeply offensive and dangerous. First, Jewish law expressly permits women to wear a tallit. The great Maimonides explicitly states: Women are permitted to wear tzitzit (Laws of Tzitzit 3:9). Thus, the actions of the Israeli government in arresting this woman are in effect denying her the right to expressly follow the teachings of the Torah. Second, the prophets describe the Temple Mount as a place where the voice of God will go out to all the nations of the world. In arresting a woman while she attempts to pray in accordance with the laws of Maimonides, you are committing a desecration of God’s name and polluting the holiness of the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount which is supposed to be a source of the light of Judaism to the nations of the world, has become a source of ridicule and contempt. You are ceding the Temple Mount and its holiness to a group of fundamentalist and exclusionary Jews who increasingly do not share that prophetic vision. You are also ceding the moral high ground of the entire country by practicing religious discrimination. I urge you to do everything in your power to reverse this policy and to issue a formal state apology to those holy woman who desire to wear a tallit at the Western Wall. I would like to organize a visit to you from a rabbinic delegation of American Orthodox rabbis who strongly support the right of women to wear a tallit and tzitzit. Please let me know when you can meet with us. Sincerely
Shmuel Herzfeld
Rabbi
Ohev Sholom-The National Synagogue
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