Sarah Silverman's Sister Among Women Detained in Israel for Prayer Shawls

Monday, 11 Feb 2013 01:42 PM

By Michael Mullins

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Comedian Sarah Silverman's sister Susan was one of 10 women arrested Monday at Israel's Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City for wearing prayer shawls, attire restricted to men under strict Orthodox ritual law.

The incident highlights the division between the religion's traditional Orthodox wing, which wields a great deal of power in Israel, and it's younger, more liberal reform wing that often challenges traditions they deem sexist and discriminatory.

Under current Israeli law, women are prohibited from wearing prayer shawls or publicly reading from the holy scriptures while at The Western Wall.

Susan Silverman, a reform rabbi who immigrated to Israel from Boston, told Reuters that police initially asked the women to remove the shawls, taking them to the police station only after they refused to so and finished praying.

Among the 10 women arrested were two other American citizens and Susan Silverman's 17-year-old daughter.

The 10 women are part of a Jewish reform organization called "Women of the Wall," which via its website, says its central mission is to "achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall."

The group is known for convening with its members on a monthly basis and holding prayers at the Western Wall. According to Reuters, similar arrests have occurred in the past when members of the all-female reform organization have attempted to read holy scriptures while wearing prayer shawls at the Western Wall. In past instances, all women detained for the protest prayer have been subsequently released without being charged.

According to Susan Silverman, in addition to the 10 women detained by police, more than 100 other woman took part in the hour-long prayer session.

Israeli National Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told Reuters that the women had acted "against regulations set by the High Court", which a decade ago upheld Orthodox rules at the site in an attempt to avoid friction between worshippers.

Silverman said the Orthodox tradition that excludes women from wearing prayer shawls amounted to "spitting on Sinai," adding "all Jews are in a covenant with God," regardless of their gender.

Arguably one of the most sacred religious sites in Judaism, the Western Wall is a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Jewish Temple's courtyard and is the site where the Bible says God handed the ancient Israelite leader Moses the 10 Commandments.

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