The Israeli police’s recent interrogation of Women of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman and member Nofrat Frenkel “opens a new and ominous chapter in intra-Jewish relations,” The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism declared in a sharply worded statement released January 11.
USCJ, which represents 670 synagogues in North America, is urging its members to write letters of protest to Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.
Hoffman, who directs the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, also urged Diaspora Jews “of all denominations” to send letters “in support of pluralism” to their Israeli ambassador.
Frenkel was detained by police and threatened with arrest for wearing a tallit at the Kotel, Judaism’s holiest site, in November. Hoffman, who chairs Women of the Wall was detained and fingerprinted by police on January 5, and warned that she was “being investigated for a felony” offense, also for wearing a tallit and reading the Torah at the Kotel.
Women of the Wall is a women’s prayer group which has met for some 21 years to pray at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, or Kotel, as it is known in Hebrew, which marks the place where the Second Temple stood until its destruction by the Romans in 70 C.E. The Orthodox rabbinic authorities that control the site have divided it into sex-segregated sections, as per Orthodox worship custom, and prohibit women from praying there in a formal group or in other ways that differ from common Orthodox practice.
Women of the Wall, which prays there at the start of every new Jewish month, challenges these strictures.
Rabbi Steven Wernick, USCJ’s executive vice president, told The Forward, “The harassment of those who are progressive such as we saw with Nofrat Frenkel and now with Anat Hoffman is unconscionable.”
These moves by the Jerusalem police drive “a wedge between our communities at a time when working for unity within Israel and enhancing the connection between Diaspora Jewish communities and Israel should be a primary concern,” says United Synagogue’s statement.
Wernick said that he hopes other branches of the Conservative movement will have signed on to the statement within the next day or so, and once it is finalized, he said, he will send it to Oren and “request a meeting and a conversation.”
Calls to Oren were not immediately returned.
Debra Nussbaum Cohen is an award-winning journalist who covers philanthropy, religion, gender and other contemporary issues. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and New York magazine, among many other publications. She authored the book “Celebrating Your New Jewish Daughter: Creating Jewish Ways to Welcome Baby Girls into the Covenant.”