The Rise of Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox (Ctd.)

The Daily Telegraph reports on another dismal chapter in the rise of Israel’s ultra orthodox:

An Israeli activist who defied orthodox Jewish custom by leading a group of women in open prayer at Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall has been told to expect years in prison for breaching the peace. Anat Hoffman has been awaiting her fate since being arrested in August amid a worsening debate about her campaign to allow women to pray at Judaism’s holiest site in the same way as men. The police have now chosen to ask prosecutors to charge her with “disrupting a policeman performing his duties under dire circumstances”, a crime that carries a mandatory prison sentence of up to three years. Many in the country’s rapidly growing ultra-orthodox community believe that a woman’s role at the wall should be limited to silent worship. Women should not be allowed, they believe, to read aloud, sing or read from the Torah…

…There are now over 100 state bus routes, many of them in Jerusalem, that offer segregated services requiring women to sit in the back. Israel’s High Court yesterday ruled that the practice could continue. Many offices in the city also keep the sexes apart while a growing number of clinics require men and women to book appointments on different days.

“The religious world in Israel has become more and more extreme,” Mrs Hoffman said. “Much like in Islam, religiosity is now measured by the distances at which women are kept from society.”

Despite the threat of jail, Mrs Hoffman and her supporters are continuing their monthly services at the Wailing Wall. Mrs Hoffman and her fellow members of the Women of the Wall group test the boundaries of religious strictures by singing and praying out loud but they refrain from reading the Torah. As they broke into song at a recent gathering, the men’s section grew more restive as resentment started to stir. A bearded man, his black cloak marking him as ultra-orthodox, shook a fist at the women and yelled: “Burn in hell, you dogs.”


This unpleasant story is yet another reminder of the growing threat to the liberties of secular Israelis from the religious zealotry spreading within their midst, a zealotry that they have subsidized for far too long. That fact is bad enough, but it’s hard not to think that this development also represents a threat to Israel’s external security. Much of America’s willingness to support Israel stems from the fact that the country is at least an approximation of a western-style democracy in a region dominated by authoritarian rule. The more theocratic the country becomes, the less true that will be…

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