Monday, March 10, 2014

The next Kotel battle: Reading from the Torah


I am a progressive religious liberal Jewish woman and as I go into the army 10 hours from now, these are some of my hopes.

It’s Rosh Chodesh Adar bet and I’m at the Kotel.

Kotel BattleI’m joined by family and friends, including one friend who, in her uniform with a gun strapped over her shoulder, and a tallit wrapped around her, danced to the psalms of Hallel.

Thirteen months ago my mother, myself and eight other women were detained by the Jerusalem police for wearing prayer shawls at a similar Rosh Chodesh service. The men and women in their blue uniforms were under orders to strip us of our prayer shawls.

The injustice was so blatant, especially to world Jewry, that after over 24 years of banning women from this practice, the public outcry and the courts finally allowed this most basic of religious practices. This is a huge victory for pluralism and tolerance.

However, on this day, my IDF friend stood by my side and I was honored with a non-aliya to the Torah in honor of my upcoming induction.

Instead of the regular prayer, I sang a makeshift blessing over the siddur from which we read the story of Pinhas.

Pinhas was extreme, he murdered couples to keep the daughters of Israel from intermarrying.

His extremism blinds him to anything outside his passion and point of view. Radicalism is also the story of Purim. Achashverosh decrees the murder of all the Jews in Persia and then, hafuch! – decrees the death of the would-be murderers Haman and his sons. All balance is missing.

Extremism is the reason I didn’t celebrate my army induction with an aliya to an actual Torah at the Kotel. The sliver of Jews who control that place with an iron fist do not allow me, or any woman, to read from a Torah at our holy site.

And it’s extremism that scares me. The religious extremism of Pinhas and the political extremism of Achashverosh.

I am a progressive religious liberal Jewish woman and as I go into the army 10 hours from now, what I hope for is the Sinaitic model of mamlechet Cohanim where we are all called to engage in Torah and the Jewish relationship with God, just as we are all called to protect our nation with the guns we carry in the IDF.

It is not lost on me that my induction to serve the Jewish state coincided with the mass haredi (ultra-Orthodox) demonstration against enlistment.

Half a million men, dressed in their blackand- white uniforms, not only object to donning the green uniform of our country, but also object to my free expression of how I want to serve God and celebrate the New Moon. I hope to be back at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh as often as the IDF will allow me, but my real hope is that the right of women to read from the Torah will be achieved.

The author is a Honorary International Vice Co-Chair of Rabbi's for Women of the Wall, and she recently drafted to the IDF. She can be followed on twitter at @purplelettuce95.

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