On October 17, 2012, Rosh Chodesh Heshvan, I was arrested at the Western Wall for the crime of wearing a tallit and singing. Although it was only two months ago, so much has happened since. The level of intimidation by the authorities at the Kotel is getting worse. Additional women have been detained for a similar crime, including a prominent Reform rabbi. In light of the Jewish Agency recently taking up this issue I wanted to update you on my personal situation and IRAC’s continuing work to make the Western Wall a home for all Jews.
The arrest and the treatment I endured during my night in prison was a difficult experience, but what has been even harder for me is seeing how successful the Rabbi of the Kotel, Shmuel Rabinowitz, has been at making women from all denominations afraid to visit Judaism’s holiest site.
After my arrest for “performing a religious act contrary to local custom” (saying the Shema), I filed a complaint with the Jerusalem police department’s equivalent of Internal Affairs. When I told them how I had been treated by their officers they seemed genuinely shocked. We had high hopes for the results of their investigation, but my case sat dormant for over a month.
Finally we were told that they see nothing wrong with the action of the police and the treatment I received. They said that pulling me across the floor by my wrists, two strip searches, and making me sleep on the floor were all within their regulations. My case was moved from the police internal investigations department to the civilian complaint department.
Last week IRAC went to the High Court to try to change the composition of the governing body that decides what religious acts are acceptable at the Western Wall. Currently, that body is the Western Wall Heritage Council, which is made up of 15 ultra-Orthodox men. In their minds, the way millions of Jews in Israel and around the world pray is not legitimate and has no place at Judaism’s holy sites. We strongly disagree.
The physical scars from my ordeal two months ago have healed, but my desire to see an end to the ultra-Orthodox domination of religious and civil life in Israel is stronger than ever. Everywhere I go in Israel and abroad people give me words of support, and I cannot tell you how much that means to me. I have no doubt that by working together we can make religious life in Israel inclusive and pluralistic.