Jerusalem, Israel, February 10, 2016 – Earlier today, religious zealot Itamar Gadassi burned a sacred siddur (prayer book) at the Kotel (the Western Wall) in Jerusalem, proclaiming women’s prayer to be ‘heretical.’ Although police intervened, according to Orthodox news sources, Gadassi and his accomplices were allowed to remain at the site. The prayer book that was burned was one used by Women of the Wall for its Rosh Hodesh (new month) worship. Women of Reform Judaism was the underwriter of the prayer books.
In response to this shameful act, Rabbi Marla J. Feldman, Executive Director of Women of Reform Judaism, said, “Over the years the Israeli government has turned a blind eye as women have been harassed at the Kotel and in other public places in Israel. This negligence has led to a climate of intolerance that makes such horrific acts not only possible but passively encouraged. I pray that this disgraceful act today will spur Israeli officials to prohibit the burning of any siddur and also to work with Women of the Wall, the Reform Movement, and others of good will to promote tolerance and harmony.”
Anat Hoffman, Chairwoman of Women of the Wall, stressed the Israeli government’s complicity through inflammatory public statements by government officials who are opposed to women’s prayer: “Itamar Gedassi set our prayer book on fire at the Kotel but the match he used was lit in the Knesset by Minister Yariv Levin, Deputy Minister Meir Porush, Rabbi David Lau, MK Yoav Ben-Tzur, MK Bezalel Smotrich, and Deputy Minister Menachem Eliezer Moses. Each of them incited against us and provided the moral license for this outrage.”
Rosh Hodesh is a monthly holiday observed by Jewish women of all streams. The siddur that was burned was adapted for use by Women of the Wall during its monthly prayer gatherings at the Kotel. This prayer book is used around the world by Jewish women celebrating this traditional women’s holiday.
Women of the Wall, along with leaders of the Reform and Conservative Movements, recently reached an historic agreement with the Government of Israel to formalize an egalitarian prayer space at the southern end of the Western Wall, known as Robinson’s Arch. Until the space is properly established, Women of the Wall will continue to hold its monthly Rosh Hodesh prayer service in the traditional women’s section.
Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ), founded in 1913, is the women’s affiliate of the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America. WRJ represents tens of thousands of women in hundreds of women’s groups, strengthening the voice of women worldwide and empowering them to create caring communities, nurture congregations, cultivate personal and spiritual growth, and advocate for and promote progressive Jewish values.