“Religious factions will go on imposing their will on others unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy. They must learn to make their views known without trying to make their views the only alternatives.”
– Senator Barry Goldwater

Jeff Blaine quoting Barry Goldwater? Strange. On this issue, I agree with Goldwater’s position entirely. Religious belief, and its expression, is a matter best left to the individual. Government has no place in regulating religious affairs. This is a problem in the United States and it is a problem in Israel.

A few days before Rabbi Miri Gold came to Oak Park Temple to speak to us about the struggle for religious pluralism in Israel, her colleague, Anat Hoffman, was arrested at the Western Wall and, Hoffman claims, was subsequently strip searched, dragged across the floor, thrown in a cell and later transferred to different police stations throughout the night. She was subsequently taken to court in leg shackles, where she was forced to agree to not visit the Western Wall for 30 days.

Her crime? Reciting the Shema aloud in a prayer shawl at the Western Wall. 

The laws governing Israel’s holy site, bar women from praying while wearing a tallit prayer shawl or tefillin, or from reading aloud from the Torah. Hoffman is the leader of Women of the Wall, a group that has been organizing monthly prayer services at the Kotel for the past 24 years to fight this prohibition. The religious authority that monitors the holy site is the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. Hoffman said, “We want to dismantle this body. If the Wall belongs to the Jewish people, where are the Reform, Conservative, secular?” 
 
Chanukah begins this year on December 9th. It is, of course, our festival that celebrates the successful military campaign of the Maccabees to throw off religious oppression of the Jews by the Syrian-Greeks.  In 168 B.C.E. the Jewish Temple, the site of the Western Wall, was seized by Syrian-Greek soldiers and dedicated to the worship of the god Zeus. In the following year, the observance of Judaism was made an offense punishable by death. Almost 2,200 years later, we’re still fighting about the use of this space. Sigh…

The struggle for religious freedom continues today. The matters in Israel are complex and deserve careful study and investigation. Stay informed. Let your voice be heard on this and on other issues of conscience and justice. 

Join us when Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), comes to Oak Park Temple on February 3, 2013. His is an outstanding “voice” of Reform Jewish conscience in matters of social justice.

As Rabbi Tarfon said: “It is not your obligation to complete the work [of perfecting the world], but neither are you free to desist [from doing all you can do]… 
 

L’shalom,

Jeff Blaine

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