Thursday, December 9, 2010

Women in Prayer: Part 14, Shemoneh Esrei

Traditional prayer has been criticized by feminists as being male-centric. They’re right; prayer is dominated by mentions of the Patriarchs and mitzvot (commandments) that only apply to men. However, it can be easily be reclaimed by women and turned into a feminist connection to God.

And to Jerusalem, Your city, may You return in compassion, and may You rest within it, as You have spoken. May You rebuild it soon and in our days as an eternal structure, and may You speedily establish the throne of David within it. Blessed are You, HaShem, the Builder of Jerusalem.

וְלִירוּשָׁלַיִם עִירְךָ בְּרַחֲמִים תָּשׁוּב. וְתִשְׁכּן בְּתוכָהּ כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ. וּבְנֵה אותָהּ בְּקָרוב בְּיָמֵינוּ בִּנְיַן עולָם. וְכִסֵּא דָוִד מְהֵרָה לְתוכָהּ תָּכִיןבָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', בּונֵה יְרוּשָׁלָיִם

In this brakha (blessing), Binyan Yerushalayim, we pray to rebuild Jerusalem, because that’s where all Jews come to real fruition. We request Jerusalem’s rebuilding so we can be closer to God, since the Shekhinah (presence of God) is more tangible in Jerusalem than it is out of Israel.

In Jerusalem, the Western Wall, or Kotel HaMa’aravi, is the only remaining part of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) and is therefore one of the holiest sites in the world. Jews and non-Jews alike travel from all over the globe to pray at the Wall. Despite its religious importance, women are barred from worshipping there with free reign.

Since 1988, the Women of the Wall (WOW), or Nashot HaKotel, has fought with the Israeli government to be able to worship at the Kotel. They meet there monthly, on Rosh Hodesh, because when women abstained from participating in the sin of the Golden Calf, they were given Rosh Hodesh as a merit. Members of WOW has been harassed by the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel because they read from the Torah and wear yarmulkes, tallitot (prayer shawls), and tefillin (phylacteries), which are forbidden to women among the ultra-Orthodox.

A lot of legislation has been proposed and passed in the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) in response to WOW’s actions at the Kotel. While WOW has mostly ignored the sexist laws inhibiting their worship, legal issues have ensued. Nofrat Frenkel, an Israeli medical student, was arrested on November 18, 2009 (Rosh Hodesh Kislev) for wearing a tallit. Noa Raz, a member of WOW, was attacked in May 2010 by an ultra-Orthodox man who saw tefillin lines on her arms. In July 2010 (Rosh Hodesh Av), Anat Hoffman, the chairperson of WOW, was arrested for carrying a Torah.

When we say this brakha, we must pray for the safety of our sisters praying in Jerusalem at the Kotel HaMa’aravi. Jerusalem is the holiest of all holy places currently in the world; for women to be held back from praying there in the way the feel closest to God is an outrage. Prayer is so important because it is how we connect to God. The mouth is the Jew’s weapon, and prayer is how we fight. If women cannot pray the way they want to, they cannot fight for their rights. As we pray for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, we should keep the Women of the Wall in mind and pray that the government of Jerusalem is rebuilt to have women’s interests in mind.

No comments:

Post a Comment