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Idolatry at the Western Wall

2 203 2680

JERUSALEM — It is a strange experience to have another person spit on you. To have an ultra-Orthodox teenager look you dead in the eye and mutter “shiska” or “kalba” — the Hebrew word for bitch — and then decide you deserve a little something more than a slur because he knows you are a liberal Jew.

That this happened several times here Friday morning, on International Women’s Day at the Western Wall, tells you a lot about the state of religious liberty in a country that prides itself on being the Middle East’s only free nation — and about the resilience of activists who refuse to allow fundamentalists to control public Jewish life.

The Women of the Wall are used to getting spit on, not to mention shoved, scratched, kicked and pelted with dirty diapers. For the past 30 years, the feminist prayer group has held a monthly service in the women’s section of the Western Wall, where they wear prayer shawls and read from the Torah. Walk into any Reform or Conservative synagogue in the world and women will be doing exactly that, without fanfare, often in synagogues helmed by female rabbis. But at the Western Wall, which, like other holy sites in Israel, is controlled by the Chief Rabbinate, such egalitarian displays inspire angry protests. Ultra-Orthodox Jews see such behavior at the holy site as sacrilege, and various members of Women of the Wall have been arrested for “disturbing the public order.

The feminist group is not just protesting the state of affairs at the wall. They are protesting the rabbinate’s monopoly on Jewish life in the Jewish state. Despite the fact that the vast majority of Israeli Jews are not Orthodox, the ultra-Orthodox........

© The New York Times