Thirty men and women at Temple Sholom in Fanwood donned tallitot Dec. 18 in solidarity with an Israeli woman who was detained by police last month for wearing the ritual prayer shawl at the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Although wearing a tallit is optional at the Reform synagogue, congregation members said they did so in particular at last Friday evening’s Shabbat services to show support for women’s equality in Israel and to express solidarity with Women of the Wall, a Jerusalem group trying to win the right to conduct organized prayer at Judaism’s holiest site.
The move came in response to the Nov. 18 detention of a member of the group, medical student Nofrat Frenkel. She was detained by police at the Kotel for wearing a prayer shawl in violation of rules established by Israeli-sanctioned Orthodox religious authorities. She was taking part in the prayer service held at the Kotel by the Women of the Wall every Rosh Hodesh, the first day of each Hebrew month.
“In February, I stood with the Women of the Wall at the Kotel as they prayed to welcome the Jewish month of Adar,” said Rabbi Joel Abraham. “What these women are putting their bodies on the line to accomplish is important not only for them, but for all of us who value pluralist Judaism in Israel. At Temple Sholom, we stand proudly with them — even from half a world away.”
In Orthodox synagogues, prayer shawls are generally worn by men only; in a growing number of Reform and Conservative congregations, women have begun to wear them as well. Some Orthodox women have done so too, in Israel and in the United States.
Earlier this month, two Jewish feminist groups, the Women’s Rabbinic Network and the Women’s Tefilla Network, declared Dec. 17 — the first day of the new Hebrew month of Tevet — a day of solidarity with Frenkel and the Women of the Wall. They urged each “community, organization, and institution” to develop its own program of prayer or study.