Today, as they often do, many of our first-year rabbinical, cantorial, and education students, our Israeli rabbinical students, our faculty member Cantor Tamar Havilio, and over 200 others joined Women of the Wall for their Rosh Hodesh service. Our students were there to support Women of the Wall’s right to pray, blow shofar for the month of Elul, and read from the Torah in a sacred space for all Jews. We are proud of our students’ activism on behalf of women’s rights at the Kotel and their commitment to the right of Reform and Conservative Jews to worship there.
When entering into the Kotel plaza security area, our students wore kippot and brought tallitot as proud Reform Jews. This prompted Kotel security guards to search two of our female students in an inappropriate manner, ostensibly “looking for Torah scrolls” and “other ritual objects” which have been restricted from the women’s section of the Kotel by order of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Orthodox authority in control of the Kotel by order of the state-sponsored chief rabbinate. Because they were identified as Reform Jews, they were taken aside and asked to lift their skirts and shirts in front of the guards before they could enter the Kotel plaza. A third student was only spared this embarrassment due to the immediate intervention of two of our alumni, Rabbis Noa Sattath and Gilad Kariv, on legal grounds.
This search was a dramatic and disgraceful new tactic in the effort to demean Reform and Conservative Jews, limit the right of Women of the Wall to pray at the Kotel, and intimidate those who stand for religious pluralism. To subject committed women studying to be Jewish leaders–lovers of Israel and supporters of Jewish life—to an illegal and inappropriate search is deeply disturbing and divides us as a people. Throughout this encounter, our students honored all of us by their composure. They tell us that they emerged from this experience more energized than ever to fulfill their sacred mission as future leaders of the Reform Movement and the Jewish People. We count on them to build a vibrant Jewish future in Israel, North America, and around the globe with respect and understanding for a broad variety of approaches to Judaism. Our students will continue to lead and join in the fight for religious pluralism in Jerusalem and the State of Israel, and we will always support them in all they do.
No Jew should ever prevent others from exercising their rights to pray peacefully in the manner they choose.
Rabbi Aaron Panken, Ph.D., President, HUC-JIR
Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Dean, HUC-JIR/Jerusalem