Jewish Journal

Fighting for religious pluralism in Israel

by Julie Gruenbaum Fax

Posted on Nov. 15, 2012 at 10:46 am

Israeli police arresting Anat Hoffman after she said the Shema Israel prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Oct. 16, 2012. (Women of the Wall)

Israeli police arresting Anat Hoffman after she said the Shema Israel prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Oct. 16, 2012. (Women of the Wall)

[UPDATED on Nov. 15, 2012 at 11:50 a.m.]

The arrest of Israeli feminist Anat Hoffman at the Western Wall last month sent ripples of alarm across the Jewish world, and leaders in Los Angeles will address their concerns about religious pluralism in Israel to Los Angeles’ Israeli Consul General in a public forum Nov. 26 at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills.

Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center and founder of the monthly prayer group Women of the Wall, was arrested Oct. 16 while leading 250 women in prayer at Jerusalem’s iconic holy site. Israeli law forbids women from wearing prayer shawls or reading aloud from the Torah at the Wall; Hoffman was arrested for allegedly disturbing the peace.

Hoffman alleges that she was handcuffed, strip-searched and dragged across the floor before spending the night in a tiny cell. Israeli police say her account is not accurate.

She was released on condition that she not pray at the wall for 30 days.

[Related: Six women detained for wearing prayer shawls at Western Wall]

“I think as a matter of state policy one of our most important tasks is to make sure that people are inspired by Israel and remain connected to Israel,” Consul General David Siegel said. “If people are alienated because of these kinds of stories, what they tend to do is pull away rather than become more engaged.”

Siegel said he hopes to present an Israeli reality that is more complex and hopeful than this incident indicates.

Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel mobilized approximately 20 synagogues and institutions to sponsor the town hall-style meeting not to dissect the incident, but to talk about the larger issue of pluralism in Israel.

“People who love Israel need to talk about this and try to come up with a solution that is respectful and that makes it possible for what we believe to be true here in America — that there are lots of different ways to be a Jews — to also be true in Israel,” Geller said.

The panel includes Siegel, Federation President Jay Sanderson, Board of Rabbis President Rabbi Judith HaLevy, Sinai Temple Israel Center Director Rabbi Nicole Guzik, and activist and attorney Shep Rosenman, who is Orthodox.

Geller and Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman will moderate.

Siegel said he is eager speak of the dozens of organizations and initiatives that are furthering the cause of Jewish pluralism in Israel.

These changes, coupled with legal and political efforts to support Jewish religious diversity, are laying the groundwork for long-term change.

“These issues are front and center in Israel and should be a source of inspiration for communities overseas, and not of desperation,” Siegel said. 

The meeting is also sponsored by The Federation and the Board of Rabbis, which is a Federation agency. Sources say there was some hesitation within the Board of Rabbis about whether to sponsor the event, for fear that it might anger and alienate Orthodox members. 

“The idea was to engage in something positive and constructive that would be an opportunity for the Orthodox community as well as the other denominations to have their voices heard,” Sanderson said.

Organizers solicited Orthodox participation, but some rabbis had scheduling conflicts and others did not want to get involved. As of press time no Orthodox rabbis had been named as panelists, and no Orthodox synagogues were sponsoring.

HaLevy said she understands Orthodox reluctance, but she is still holding out for full representation from the community.

“I am sorry there is not full Orthodox participation, because I would have hoped this could be a forum in which we could have a civil discourse around this story,” HaLevy said.



Monday, November 26
7:00–9:00 pm
Corwin Family Sanctuary
300 N. Clark Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90211



On Thursday morning, Nov. 15, Temple Emanuel issued a press release announcing that Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, an Orthodox rabbi who is the rabbi of B'nai David-Judea, will be a member of the panel discussion on pluralism in Israel.  The Consul General will also present an update on the Gaza situation, which developed after the Town Hall was planned.

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