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For Once, I am Glad I Read the Guardian
Last uploaded : Tuesday 6th Jan 2004 at 23:50
Contributed by : The Editor



This has been a week of unusual news stories. In the space of a few hours, a woman was reported to have been detained at an undisclosed airport with explosives secreted in her ?body cavity,? and pop star Britney Spears got married and unmarried. Aside from the fact that the Britney stunt could make one, at a stretch, understand why illiterate young men mesmerised by their Imams hate America, the episode reminded me of the torment Ingrid Bergman suffered when she ran away to Stromboli with Roberto Rossellini. (Under 50? Ingrid who? you ask? What is Stromboli?) A few nights ago the daughters of the great Bergman -- whose portrayal of Golda Meir whilst the actress was dying of cancer was a tour de force -- appeared on ?Larry King Live.? These beautiful women, one a successful actress (Isabella Rossellini) and the other a celebrated television anchorwoman (Pia Lindstrom) loved their mother and their pride in her achievements was moving to behold.

It is astonishing to think that in my lifetime a woman was subjected to international condemnation for immoral behaviour because she chose to live with her lover in a majestic island setting and have his children. I remember my mother recounting the rage and fury that had ensued in the United States when Bergman, the star of ?Casablanca,? had borne what in those days were referred to as ?illegitimate children? to the Italian film director.

Now in 2004 it is acceptable for a pop icon and role model for young women to ?get married for, like, a joke? and then have the union -- supposedly sacred in the eyes of God -- annulled to complete the joke. There is something distasteful about the twenty-four hour ?marriage? but Britney will go on to further success and fortune. It took years for Ingrid Bergman to recoup her reputation for something that has become routine for public figures in the twenty-first century.

I had only just recovered from the shock of the Britney Spears folly when I opened the first ?Guardian? I had purchased in 2004 to find an article about the Women of the Wall.

Well, for once I was glad to have read the Guardian, a paper that leaves me seething most days of the year because of its relentless and lengthy diatribes on Israel, the most notable of which having been Faisal Bodi?s ?Israel Simply Has No Right to Exist? in January 2001. This New Year, however, I was grateful to the Guardian for explaining the consequences of violating Israeli religious regulations at the Western Wall.

Like other women raised in the American Reform tradition I am used to davening aloud and wearing a tallit. After reading the Guardian article, I now understand why people stepped away from me in abject horror at a funeral in Bushey, London: I was loudly reciting Kaddish, which I know pretty much by heart.
I had not done this to provoke; it was second nature to me. Women of the American twentieth century raised Jews like Aaron Copland; Leonard Bernstein; Arthur Miller; Gloria Steinem and Lillian Hellman. Having now lived in Britain for many years I realise how strongly the Orthodox tradition influences Jewish life here. (Conversely, how wonderful that our first woman rabbi in Britain, Julia Neuberger, was made a Dame in the New Year?s Honours List this week.) To me, davening and wearing a tallit is an integral part of Jewish life for men and women.

The Guardian has, therefore, saved me from a prison term. I had no idea that existing Israeli law gives a prison sentence to a woman wearing a tallit or reading aloud from the Torah at the Western Wall. So, had I decided to take a break from the dismal London winter and take my money and tourist dollars to Israel, instead of being greeted with joy and rapture I would have been slapped in prison at considerable expense to the already strapped Israeli taxpayer. Having been away from Israel for some years now, the first place I would have headed would have been the Western Wall.

Inasmuch as it is incomprehensible to me that a Jewish woman wanting to pray in Eretz Israel is sent to prison by her own fellow Jews just fifty-eight years since the liberation of Auschwitz and Belsen, I am relieved to have read the Guardian piece, entitled ?Jewish Women Fight Holy War.? Notwithstanding the lucid and fair explanation in the article that clarifies Halachic rules on such behaviour, I find it deeply disturbing that something as noble as prayer can be ?punished? by imprisonment. I know how enraged my friends become when they see the Israeli army demolishing houses, and am experiencing the full force of the latest wave of Israel-hatred due to the construction of the separation wall. How can one defend Israel when it has on its statute books a law that puts pious women -- those least likely to behave like the -- dare I say -- immoral Britney Spears -- into prison for wishing to practice their faith?

In the article a comparison is made by Jonathan Rosenblum of Am Echad with an individual insisting on wearing shoes in a mosque or Billy Graham holding a Protestant revival meeting at the Vatican. I find these analogies far-fetched. Wearing shoes in a mosque, or deliberately offending Catholics is not the equivalent of praying with fellow Jews at our holiest site.

If Howard Dean is elected President this year and his wife wishes to pray at the Wall wearing a tallit, is Israel going to throw her into jail? The State of Israel expects young women to do Army but will have them punished for praying at the Wall.

Even if I were a man I would be repelled by this law. It is time it is revoked and Jewish women, the mainstay of our anguished five-thousand, seven-hundred year journey, be respected.

I receive countless letters from impassioned critics of Islamic attitudes to women. We need to look to ourselves and repair our own world, and we can start with fair treatment of decent Jewish women at the sacred Wall.

To read the 'Guardian' article please go to:

To read about Britney Spears go to:



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