Monday, July 12, 2010

Why Can't We All Just Get Along

Women of the Wall head arrested at Kotel
July 12, 2010

JERUSALEM (JTA) -- The chairman of the Women of the Wall was banned from the Western Wall for 30 days after being arrested for holding a Torah scroll at the site.

Jerusalem police arrested Anat Hoffman on Monday morning following the monthly women's Rosh Chodesh prayer service. She was taken in for questioning and held for five hours before she was released, the organization said.

Women of the Wall said Hoffman was ordered to stay away from the Kotel for the next 30 days.

A Supreme Court ruling prohibits women from reading the Torah at the wall; the group said in a statement issued Monday that she was just holding the scroll.

According to the organization's account, Hoffman, holding the Torah scroll, was leading about 150 women from the women's section of the Western Wall in a procession toward Robinson's Arch, where they are permitted to use the Torah scroll. Police tried to remove the Torah scroll from Hoffman's arms and arrested her for not praying according to the traditional customs of the Western Wall.

"The arrest of a woman on the first day of the month of Av is a harsh reminder of the price that Israeli society may pay for its religious intolerance and fanaticism," Hoffman's group said in a statement.

Police have not commented on the case.

More Conversion News
(coppied from the Kansas Star)
Jewish groups were angered Monday after a parliamentary committee in Israel approved a bill that would give Orthodox rabbis more control over the sensitive issue of conversions to Judaism.

The Reform and Conservative movements, which are the largest Jewish denominations outside Israel but wield little clout inside the Jewish state, fear the new bill could increase the influence of Orthodox rabbis at their expense and undermine their own legitimacy and connection to Israel.

Nathan Sharansky, the former Russian political prisoner who now heads the Jewish Agency organization responsible for Israel's relations with Jews abroad, said he had received angry calls from Jewish leaders.

"The meaning of this is a split between the state of Israel and large portions of the Jewish people," he told Israel Radio.

Of the world's roughly 13 million Jews, half live in Israel, with most of the rest concentrated in North America. Each Jewish denomination has its own requirements for people who want to convert, typically a prolonged process that involves studying Jewish tradition and accepting Jewish observance.

Under the current practice, Israel recognizes only conversions performed by Orthodox rabbis inside Israel, but people converted by non-Orthodox rabbis outside the country are automatically eligible for Israeli citizenship like other Jews.

The liberal Jewish denominations are concerned that the new bill, which would make minor changes in the conversion system in Israel while enshrining the control of Israel's Orthodox religious establishment, could mean that immigrants who converted to Judaism with non-Orthodox groups abroad would now be denied Israeli citizenship.

Uri Regev, a rabbi who heads the religious equality group Hiddush, said the bill threatened to sideline the liberal Jewish denominations.

"This bill hurts Judaism outside Israel because it embraces the Orthodox monopoly here," Regev said. He called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has yet to publicly express his position on the bill, to oppose it.

The bill's sponsor, David Rotem, an Orthodox lawmaker from the largely secular Yisrael Beitenu party, rebuffed the criticism, saying his goal was to make conversion easier for immigrants from the former Soviet Union who make up the majority of his party's voters.

"This will not affect non-Orthodox conversions performed abroad. The non-Orthodox denominations have no reason for concern," he said.

Monday's approval by the committee clears the way for voting in parliament. The bill has to pass three rounds of voting before becoming law, a process that will likely take months.

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