April 12th, 2013
04:03 PM ET

Battle of the sexes at Western Wall

By Sara Sidner, CNN

Jerusalem (CNN) - A group of women in Israel is again expressing outrage after police detained some of its members for doing two things they say should be perfectly normal and legal: praying out loud and wearing a prayer shawl at the holiest site for prayer in Judaism.

The women who were detained on Thursday are part of a group that calls itself Women of the Wall. For more than two decades, its members have been defying traditionalists and the Israeli government.

The women say they should be able to pray as they wish at the Western Wall and be given the same rights as the men who pray there. The idea - and trying to make it true by just doing it - has outraged some of the ultra-Orthodox who pray at the wall, where a partition separates men and women.

As custom has it, only Jewish men can wear a tallit (prayer shawl) and recite the kaddish (the mourner’s prayer) at the wall. Israeli courts have essentially agreed, letting custom dictate the rules there.

One of the ultra-Orthodox men who was at the wall when the women wearing prayer shawls showed up said he thought they were being disrespectful and just trying to stir up trouble. He didn’t want to give us his name.

The women say their critics couldn’t be more wrong about their motives.

This is the second time this year members of Women of the Wall have been detained for going against custom. In February, police detained 10 women and made news around the world because two of them were close relatives of comedian Sarah Silverman. Silverman’s sister Susan, who is a reform rabbi, and Silverman's niece were hauled into police custody for wearing the shawls.

At the time, Silverman used her wry and often raunchy humor to support her sister:

"So proud of my amazing sister and niece for their balls out civil disobedience. Ur the tits!" Silverman tweeted. Then she sent a more PC statement through her publicist:

"I don't care much for people who use religion as a cloak to justify hatred, injustice and fear. And I can't imagine God, should he or she or it exist, does either. I am so proud of my sister and niece for fighting for what they believe in - by having the nerve to pray at a wall of prayer while being female."

Israeli police say they are simply following orders passed down from an Israeli court and detaining the women for "performing a religious act contrary to the local customs."

In 2003, the Israeli High Court gave the women permission to pray as they wish on the premises but not at the Western Wall itself.

The issue trended on social media sites, and there has a big reaction from Jews abroad - especially those in the United States - when the detentions first made the news in February.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly taken notice of the controversy and asked the chairman of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, to look into finding solutions to alleviate tensions building at the Western Wall over the issue.

Anat Hoffman, who heads Women of the Wall and was a longtime Jerusalem city councilwoman, hopes to see a change in policy soon. Over the past two years, she said, 45 women have been detained and one woman, Hoffman herself, has been arrested in the fight over how they want to pray at the wall.

After being detained in February, Hoffman said:

"There are lots of forbidden acts at the Western Wall: Do not spit on the wall, do not pee on the wall, no slaughtering of animals at the wall - and among those, one cannot perform a religious act contrary to local customs at the wall, which pretty much only applies to women, because there are no local customs men are forbidden from taking part in."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Jerusalem • Judaism • Prayer • Women

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soundoff (126 Responses)
  1. snomannn

    If these women are really serious and really committed to their cause and that of all women with is to be treated fairly, not as a possession or animal or lesser form of humanity...........If the women of Israel really serious, then they must

    Refuse to bear children. I don't think they can do it, but this is the only way to make their point understood and respected. And, it may take years. But, they must refuse to host a child in their womb. It is only when their is a real and significant fear that Jews may die out, altogether, that the men will relent.

    April 12, 2013 at 9:51 pm |
  2. Me

    I am an American jew, and let me tell you, Israeli citizens might be largely secular, but the state of Israel is a theocracy rife with discrimination against jews of non-European decent, paternal jews, karaites, and many non-jews.

    April 12, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
    • Thinker23

      Me: "...the state of Israel is a theocracy rife with discrimination against jews of non-European decent, paternal jews, karaites, and many non-jews."

      This is a blatant lie. Israel is a SECULAR state having a SECULAR government ruling in accordance to SECULAR laws issued by a SECULAR parliament (Kneset) members of which are democratically elected by all Israeli citizens regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity or gender.

      April 15, 2013 at 10:02 am |
  3. Sean Ross

    I wonder how many of you caught this delicious piece of irony:
    The Israeli Court forbids "performing a religious act contrary to the local customs" at the Wall. Some time ago, another Jew was arrested near the Wall for doing exactly that.

    I think he turned over the tables of the money-changers.

    April 12, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
    • Thinker23

      Sean Ross... Somehow I doubt that turning the tables of money changers is a "religious act". In any case, what would happen to YOU, in your opinion, if you just casually walked into a bank, a department store or a supermarket and started turning tables there?

      April 15, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
  4. o

    You do not have to pray at a wall, for God to hear you

    April 12, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
  5. Pol Pot

    It's a stone wall, nothing more. No matter what importance you attach to it, we're still left with just a stone wall because you can't prove it to be something different than what is observed. But, religion is pretty crazy that way, eh?

    April 12, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
    • Lycidas

      @Pol Pot- I doubt they really care what your opinion is on the subject anymore than you do about their opinion. Odd isn't it?

      April 12, 2013 at 9:24 pm |
  6. Keksi

    Religion is under attack by Satanic forces.
    This is just another example,they are FORCING gay marriage onto people,women to join military,forcing women to pray where they should not.

    April 12, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
    • o

      Where was Moses when he talked with God?

      April 12, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
    • ..

      Bull. Shit.
      It's not the 50's, Keksi. And the 50's weren't all that and a slice of bread. Dial down your hysteria, mmmmkay?

      April 12, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
  7. grist

    So there is this reporter writing a story on prayer, visiting Israel. He notes that an old man comes to pray at the wall every day. After seeing him there every day for a few weeks, he asks the man what he is praying for. The old man says, every day he comes to pray for peace. The reporter points out that we seem to be having a lot of war and asks how that makes him feel.

    The old man says "its like praying to a wall!"

    April 12, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
  8. grist

    So there is this reporter writing a story on pray, visiting Israel. He notes that an old man comes to pray at the wall every day. After seeing him there every day for a few weeks, he asks the man what he is praying for. The old man says, every day he comes to pray for peace. The reporter points out that we seem to be having a lot of war and asks how that makes him feel.

    The old man says "its like praying to a wall!"

    April 12, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
  9. OldSchool

    LOL oh where to begin with this train wreck of an example of how absurd religion is...

    The part that stuck out as the most ridiculous/hilarious? The little boxes strapped to their heads... 😀

    April 12, 2013 at 7:30 pm |
    • Lycidas

      I am under the impression you know every little about the Jewish faith and culture.

      April 12, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
    • I know yeah, no.

      Lycidas, I agree. If OldSchool new more, he would be laughing too hard to type.

      April 12, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
    • Lycidas

      "If OldSchool new more.."

      You mean like how to spell the word "knew"?

      You idiot.

      April 12, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
    • I know yeah, no.

      I no how to spell know and knew and you no it.

      April 12, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
  10. Joe Smith

    I went to the wall and I support them Jews and their worship. Thats the only way Jesus comes back so remember to help Jews out.

    April 12, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
  11. Stephen

    This is a matter for the people of Israel to work out, people from other countries should stay out of it. What really matters most is ones relationship with God. The God of Israel is God. He revealed Himself through the prophets of Israel and the Messiah of Israel-Yeshua. We must come to God through Yeshua/Jesus. Jesus said: "salvation is of the Jews"....John 4 This is the way that God has set things up. There is only one way to God the Father, and that is through Jesus the Son. May you find peace, and forgiveness of sins with The Father, through Yeshua The Son. Shalom

    April 12, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Stephen, you are mistaken if you believe that you worship the same God as the one known to Jews since long before anyone ever heard of yours. A human sacrifice, celebrated by ritual cannibalism (some say it's symbolic, others insist on the real presence or even on the real substance of Christ) has moved you far away from worship of what Jews would call God. Shalom.

      April 12, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
  12. spudnik56

    Ultra Orthodox anything is a sure sign of stupidity...

    April 12, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
  13. David

    This story is not up to date and isn't entirely accurate to portraying the fact that the opponents are traditional Jews (both men and women) who do not want there to be egalitarian space for the women to pray as they wish. As of yesterday, a court shot down any rationale of the women being detained or arrested and asked the police to think twice before doing this. This was a wonderful win in the battle for equality at the wall. The judge stated that women praying at the wall, with whatever ritual garments, a Torah, etc. is not in an attempt to cause a riot. They simply want to pray. Let's hope they can peacefully soon!

    April 12, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
  14. JibJab

    Holy, moley isn't it 2013?!?!

    April 12, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • CosmicC

      Not for the people involved. The orthodox are stuck in the 19th century believing that they are following the religion of 3000 years earlier, when, in fact, most of their traditions are based on experiences in the diaspora of the last 1900 years, but mostly limited to the past 200. Even for those who believe, they should acknowledge that time moves on and cultures change.

      April 18, 2013 at 10:38 am |
  15. Tychi

    Every religion disrespects women and believe they are less then men. Men are supreme in their own minds only.

    April 12, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
  16. ..

    Oh, there goes those uppity women again. Why aren't they barefoot and wailing in a kitchen?

    April 12, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • Shootmyownfood

      I sincerely hope that was a sarcastic comment.

      April 12, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • ..

      It was.

      April 12, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
  17. Roth

    I think it is wonderful that a woman would pray to God. I don't expect that God resides in a wall though. I think he is everywhere and dwells within us, so praying to God can be anywhere. Studying God's word should possibly be done when comfortable and with less distractions rather than more. IMO.

    I am struck by the number of atheists replies to a purely religious article. It is like driving down a highway and seeing cars trying to drive backwards, crash into others, or drive off the road into the ditch. I know crazy people exist, but to see so many at the start of article's comments, is absurd.

    April 12, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • I know yeah, no.

      Roth, are you taller than a tree?

      April 12, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • Chuckles

      Wait, so atheists can't comment on religious articles now? How does that even make sense? You don't need faith to read an article and have an opinion on it.

      Considering atheists are being effected by religion a lot more than the average person (whether self inflicted or not) it makes sense you'd find atheists commenters on religious artcles.

      Then agian, you're just like the rest of the believers here who would sound just as shocked by a protester at an abortion clinic thinking "anti-abortionist at an abortion clinic! That's crazy talk, they don't like abortions so why are they there?!"

      April 12, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • sam

      FAKE OUTRAGE!!!!! OMG!!!!!

      April 12, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
    • ..

      Roth, your analogy sux. Chuckles, OTOH, is spot on.

      Agree with sam: FAKE OUTRAGE!!!! OMG!!!!

      April 12, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
    • Roth

      ... because women praying in prayer shawls is of upmost concern to atheists the world over. Maybe they can write a book about it disputing that it ever happened, as it happens.

      It is interesting that the definition of "shawl" is:

      A piece of fabric worn by women over the shoulders or head or wrapped around a baby.

      So... who is right, and who is wrong? I will continue to pray in my closet. Maybe look at shoes.

      April 12, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • Chuckles


      so pretty much you're admitting you made a stupid comment and then trying to dig your way out by making the comments that atheist make are specifically about this story and not just another indication of why religion does more harm than good?

      Well good for you, it takes a big man to admit he was wrong.

      April 12, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
    • Roth

      The absurd comments would be where atheists are upset over prayer shawls. It defies understanding.

      April 12, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
    • ..

      Did you even read the article, Roth? No. The men in Israel are ticked because the women are wearing the prayer shawls, traditional something MEN only get to wear...and the women are getting more upset at having to pray in a different area...my gosh, how very NICE of you to approve of women praying at ALL.

      April 12, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
    • o

      When Jacob struggled with the angel, was he wearing a prayer shawl?

      April 12, 2013 at 9:27 pm |
    • Kilto

      lol Roth. I too find it a little irritating yet expected from Atheists. It is a bit strange and absurd at the same time.

      April 12, 2013 at 9:46 pm |
    • CosmicC

      Atheism is a religion. We are arrogant and intolerant of other beliefs, we are absolutely certain we are correct, and we can't agree internally about certain basic precepts.

      April 18, 2013 at 11:21 am |
  18. Reality

    For posting on the Wall of Myths:

    (Only for the new members of this blog)

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. (prob•a•bly
    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell).

    The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

    The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."

    April 12, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
    • Avi Steinberg

      You know nothing of my culture.

      April 12, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
    • Reality


      Please note that the review article was a summary of the New Torah for Modern Minds written and published by 1.5 million Conservative Jews and their rabbis so your culture and its myths are well known.

      April 12, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Yeah, Avi, please do that. Because if you don't, the azzwipe Reality will copy and paste yet another meaningless bit of swill.

      April 12, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
    • Thinker23

      Reality... You're confusing someone's (in this case, " the New Torah for Modern Minds written and published by 1.5 million Conservative Jews and their rabbis") OPINION with a FACT. By the way, this "New Torah for Modern Minds" could not possibly be written and published by "1.5 million Conservative Jews" but only by one or several of "their rabbis".

      To make the distinction between OPINION and FACT easier for you to understand I'll use the following example: If the Pope declared that the Earth was flat would you agree? Mind you that the number of Pope's followers is several thousands times greater than the number of Conservative Jews.

      April 15, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • Reality

      From amazon.com

      "Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary (Hardcover) $58.00 (NYT labeled it "The New Torah for Modern Minds")

      ~ David L. Lieber (Editor), Jules Harlow (Editor), United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (Corporate Author), The Rabbinical Assembly (Corporate Author)

      4.7 out of 5 stars (15 customer reviews)

      "The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) is the primary organization of synagogues practicing Conservative Judaism in North America. It closely works with the Rabbinical Assembly, the international body of Conservative rabbis, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.[1]"

      April 15, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
  19. I know yeah, no.

    Air, soil and rock samples taken recently at the Western Wall show that it is among the most unsanitary and unhealthy places on the planet. Officials advise wearing a face mask when visiting and limiting your time there. Other locations making this list include the bathroom at the 76 station off the 76A exit outside of Albuquerque N.M. and Salton Sea beach, both in the United States.

    April 12, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • meifumado

      Post source please.

      April 12, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • I know yeah, no.

      meifumado, here is the source:

      April 12, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • I know yeah, no.

      Sorry meifumado, I tried to post the source but it won't parse.

      April 12, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
  20. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    Now loading up the topics for a weekend worth of bickering on the Belief Blog.

    I believe I'll watch the Masters on TV.

    April 12, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Four topics in four hours.

      Too bad none of them mention marriage equality, evolution or the American pantheon of God, guns, greenbacks and divine exceptionalism.

      But I'm sure it won't be too long before someone brings it up.

      April 12, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
    • R.M Goodswell

      The Morals thread...all those you mentioned will happen there. Is always a running fight between Atheists and theists:))

      It ll end the way it always does:)

      April 12, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      I'm sure it will.

      April 12, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.