Women of the Wall Leadership Arrested For Daring to Say the Shema



Three women of the wall were arrested at the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Rosh Hodesh Mar Heshvan.

Women of the Wall Chairwoman Anat Hoffman was taken in handcuffs, strip-searched, dragged on the ground, imprisoned overnight and issued a thirty day restraining order from appearing at the Kotel because she led a group of 250 Hadassah women in singing the Shema.

WOW Director Lesley Sachs and Board member Rachel Cohen-Yeshurun were arrested, detained by police for three hours and required to promise to return to the police or to court if summoned because they wore their tallit in the normal way and not wrapped around their necks like a winter muffler.

Anat, Lesley and Rachel were cited under Israeli law for “the performance of an act at the Kotel that is not according to the custom of the place, and performing an act that can lead to obstruction of the public order.”

We call upon Jewish Renewal leaders and all Jews everywhere to make a financial contribution to the Women of the Wall Legal and Education Fund at http://womenofthewall.org.il/take-a-stand/individuals-take-a-stand/legal-and-education/.


Shma Yisrael! – Listen Israel! – On Tuesday night October 16, 2012 Women of the Wall Chairwoman Anat Hoffman led 250 women from Hadassah at the Kotel, the Western Wall, one of the Jewish people’s most sacred places on earth, and she had the audacity, while wearing a tallit, to sing out the words, “Shma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad” – “Listen Israel, there is a G-d, and that G-d is the Eternal connecting force and power in the Universe.”

These words, the proudest, most powerful affirmation a Jew can make — the words that we traditionally utter before our deaths to affirm the essential goodness of life – caused her to be arrested and very harshly treated by Israeli police in Jerusalem.

On Wednesday morning, October 17, when Women of the Wall held its monthly Rosh Hodesh service at the Kotel, WOW Director Lesley Sachs and Board member Rachel Cohen-Yeshurun were arrested for wearing their tallit in the normal way and not wrapped around their necks like a winter muffler.

Shma Yisrael! — Listen Israel!  We love you and we are deeply worried about issues that affect your existence: Iran with nuclear capabilities and the destabilization of the Middle East because of Syria’s insanity, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza.  It is out of this love that we declare this Shma to you.  We cannot abide this treatment of women.  We cannot stand idly by when our beloved humiliates mothers and grandmothers.  You must end this now!

We understand the pressure you are under from our brothers and sisters who are on the most extreme edge of our tradition who are offended by women’s voices — even when raised in prayer, even when declaring Shma Yisrael at the Kotel.  We, who inhabit the center of our faith, who represent the majority of Jews in the United States and in the world – cry out from the place of brokenheartedness, the place of the lover who sees her beloved acting badly – Shma Yisrael – Listen Israel!

We believe that if Henrietta Szold — may her memory be a blessing, a revered mother of Israel who founded Hadassah in 1912 — were alive today she would be standing with the Women of the Wall, wearing a tallit and singing out — Shma Yisrael! – Listen Israel!

On an upcoming Shabbat, we ask all of our people who go to the synagogue to daven to please do the following:  When it comes time to sing out Shma Yisrael – we ask that our clergy and lay leaders, including both women and men, invite everyone who is wearing a tallit to wrap their tallit around their neck, as you compel women to do so that their sacred garments do not look like tallitot. We will ask all of our clergy and lay leaders, both women and men, to offer these words:

Shma Yisrael! – Listen Israel! Listen carefully! We say this out of Ahavat Yisrael – a deep love of Israel – we stand in solidarity with the Women of the Wall! We demand that the harassment of women in prayer at the Kotel come to an end!  Our hearts break to hear that they cannot sing the words of the Shma aloud at our most sacred site and be protected by the authorities.  We ask that every congregation purchase a tallit from Women of the Wall and hang it at the congregation with a note that we pray that the Government of Israel correct its course immediately and protect the right of women to pray respectfully, wholeheartedly, with or without tallitot, worn in the traditional way and be permitted to sing aloud our most sacred words of connection to one another, to the stranger in our midst, to our living mother earth, to the Source of all Blessing: Shma Yisrael! Listen Israel!


Rabbi Jeremy Parnes, ALEPH Chair of the Board

Joe Laur, ALEPH Executive Director

Rabbi Dan Goldblatt, OHALAH President

Rabbi Ed Stafman, OHALAH Tikkun Olam Chair

Rabbi Pam Frydman, OHALAH Outreach Coordinator


Please add your comments and ideas for creative protest and support in the discussion section below.