Women at prayer

This last week, while marking Rosh Chodesh- the new moon, Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Centre, was arrested as she recited the Shema at the Western Wall with a women's prayer group. (You can read more here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mobileweb/anat-hoffman/arrested-for-praying-at-western-wall_b_1987099.html)
She has been arrested before, on the same charges of wearing a prayer shawl and disturbing public order, but never for as long as this time, and certainly not with the degrading and unnecessarily brutal treatment she has been on the receiving end of.
There is an interesting intellectual debate to be had (begun somewhat on twitter this week by Rabbi Aaron Goldstein) about the purpose of Reform Jews praying at the wall when we have removed Temple references from our liturgy. However when people choose to pray at holy sites, arrest does not seem an appropriate response.
I can see how some types of prayer might cause offense. Indeed I myself (perhaps surprisingly) was uncomfortable with loud Christian prayers uttered next to me last time I was at the Western wall. There are places that belongs and at that moment, that prayer invaded a space I did not personally wish it to be. I'm not particularly proud of that discomfort. But it was real. But did the woman praying deserve to be arrested? Of course not, and thank goodness no one seemed to think it necessary to do so, or to object. We have to hold things that make us uncomfortable, and then get on with worrying about our own prayer, our own souls, our own inner worlds- not those of others.
Outrage in the progressive world has been palpable, and I was pleased that at the Movement for Reform Judaism dinner Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner made that outrage and hurt clear to the guest speaker- Israel's Ambassador to the UK Daniel Taub.
One of many difficulties with life in Israel today is that I have more religious freedom and rights as a Progressive Jew and Rabbi in the Uk than I would have in the Jewish State. Organisations like IRAC which Anat Hoffman heads up are working hard to change this, but I was fascinated by the tweet of @russell_collins: "@BoardofDeputies Will you be commenting on @Womenofthewall arrests? I'm sure you would if Jews in another country were arrested for praying".
Even in the last week I have heard Orthodox Jews deny the long lived diversity of Judaism and insist that progressive Jews should call themselves something other than Jewish. Yet I know the Board defends the rights of all Jews, and I have even heard their president point out that the majority of Jews in the world are not Orthodox. When the conflict arises in Israel, however, things seem a little opaque.
But this isn't just about the ongoing battle for space within the Jewish world and claims to truth and authenticity. This is about a need to respect prayer, even when it is not the prayer we might offer, we should focus on making our prayer meaningful for ourselves, and those who share our values, and let God/ the Universe worry about people who may do things differently. We may even learn something from those who do things differently. But to respond in violence and aggression, hatred and anger does no good to the pray-er or the offended, and while I would never claim to know the will of God, I'm pretty sure it's not what is required of us.


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