Anat Hoffman visits Hadassah-Brandeis Institute

From left: Ellen Golub, HBI research associate; Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, HBI associate director; Anat Hoffman; Shulamit Reinharz, HBI founding director; Amy Powell, HBI communications director

Anat Hoffman, chair of the board of Women of the Wall and executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the civil and human rights organization addressing issues of religion and state, visited the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute last week. She shared her views on how the organization, slowly and steadily over 27 years, has scored important victories for women’s religious rights at the Western Wall. Their goal is to achieve the right to wear prayer shawls, pray and read Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.

At the same time, Hoffman acknowledged how much work lies in front of them. For example, on the day of her visit, Lesley Sachs, executive director of Women of the Wall, was arrested in Jerusalem for bringing a 1838 Torah scroll, donated from a Sacramento Calif., to the Kotel to celebrate Rosh Chodesh Sivan (new month). Women in the past have been detained or arrested, but these actions slowed in January when the Israeli government approved the creation of an upgraded egalitarian prayer space for non-Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall. Now, they seem to be on the upswing as Orthodox leaders temporarily staged a takeover on the area of the Western Wall designated for egalitarian prayer and rivals began to stage provocations on both sides of the issue.

Hoffman, in taking a long view, noted that setbacks are part of the process. Each time a woman is arrested for peacefully reading from the Torah “the whole system is rocked,” Hoffman said. Overall, incidents of gender segregation in the public sphere are down in Israel and she sees that as important progress. Each year IRAC publishes a pamphlet titled, “Excluded, For God’s Sake: Gender Segregation and the Exclusion of Women in the Public Sphere in Israel,” but this year incidents were down so much they decided to publish every other year. For example, IRAC’S law suit against a radio station which refused to broadcast women’s voices has led to women’s inclusion in their programming. In addition, forced segregated seating on public buses has ended due to a series of successful lawsuits against bus drivers reminding them of their duty not to be complicit in discrimination.

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences, International Affairs

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