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Sarah Silverman’s Sister Arrested For Praying

Susan Silverman and Hallel Abromowitz between two Israeli police women.

Susan Silverman and Hallel Abromowitz between two Israeli police women.

Those who take the time to compare the laws of fundamentalist Islamic Sharia with fundamentalist Judaic Talmudic law are frequently amused by the vast number of similarities between the two faiths. For instance, in very conservative mosques and synagogues, women are physically separated from men, placed behind screens so their presence does not distract the men from their prayers. On Monday, the Israeli police showed that the supposedly secular government of Israel is as much controlled by the conservative clergy as the supposedly secular government of Saudi Arabia.

On Monday, Susan Silverman, an American-born Reform rabbi who lives and works in Jerusalem, was detained along with her teen-aged daughter Hallel Abromowitz and eight other women, for praying and singing out loud at the Wailing Wall while wearing prayer shawls and yarmulkes, activities and garb which Orthodox Judaism says should only be used by men. Silverman is the sister of comedienne Sarah Silverman, who Facebooked an obscenity-laced post in which the only words reprintable in the mainstream media (aside from articles and conjunctions) were the words “SO proud” and “civil disobedience.”

The Wailing Wall is a portion of the old Western wall of the courtyard that surrounded the ancient Hebrew temple in Jerusalem. Parts of the wall were constructed in 19 BCE by Herod the Great, but other parts date from the 7th century CE. Most of the wall is under and within other structures, most notably the Al Aqsa Mosque compound which is one of the most sacred sites in Islam. The Wailing Wall is recognized as one of the most sacred sites in Judaism. Since the 18th century, it has been customary for people to insert small written prayers into crevices in the wall. Nearly a million are inserted every year. There are now services available in Israel for people to e-mail their prayers and the service will write them out and insert them. Every day, dozens of people gather at the wall to prayer, individually or in groups. It is also at the center of a very rancorous dispute between the Israelis and the entire Muslim world, who refuse to accede rights of any portion of the Al Aqsa compound to Jews.

The Women of the Wall is a liberal group chaired by Anat Hoffman, who was among those detained. The group has been holding weekly prayer session at the Wall for a quarter century, but only within the past few years have they chosen to wear prayer shawls and sing at the site. According to police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, there are court-ordered regulations barring the women from these enhancements of their prayer activities, issued to keep the women from offending Orthodox Jewish worshippers.

Yup, make all the women don burqas so as not to offend the orthodox.

Though many women have been detained in the past, none have been formally charged with any crime. There were around 300 people at the prayer gathering, including 100 men, many of whom are veterans of the 1967 paratrooper battalion that captured the site. The gathering was a protest of the increasing influence of the Orthodox minority of Israelis over the secular government and policies of the nation. In December, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had promised to bring about some kind of compromise that will allow non-Orthodox women to freely pray at the Wall. Like most of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s promises to rein in the Orthodox elements in Israel to accommodate the secular, Conservative and Reform majority, this one hasn’t gone anywhere fast.

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