by Rabbi Daniel R. Allen
Can it be that the only men were at Sinai? When we read the Asseret HaDibrot this Shavuot do they apply only to men? Is there some proof that the brain power or the moral worth of a woman is less than a man? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding no.
As Jews we are always worried about being demeaned, marginalized, or discriminated against. We work hard and spend millions to raise funds to support equality within our American society and to protect the civil rights of all citizens. We likewise do the same for the sake of Israel. This past week a delegation of the Conference of Presidents met with U.S. senior government officials including Vice President Biden to once again learn what the U.S. government is doing to support Israel as we remain vigilant in our support. The delegation, of course, included both men and women.
Most Jews believe that women are equally created in the image of God, that both women and men received the divine revelation at Sinai, and that women are of equal moral worth to men. If that is the case then why do we “allow” the discrimination of women to occur in the public spaces of our beloved Israel?
This week once again a group of women were harassed by the police for being proud, observant Jews. This week once again Israel was seen in the press as a place where religious freedom is not available to all Jews. This week once again our holy place, the western wall, was shamed by the actions of the state enforcing only one brand of Judaism.
On paper Israel is one of the most progressive societies when it comes to issues related to women. This is true for women’s health, access to education and the work place, and the same guarantees of rights as those of men. But when it comes to expressing themselves as Jews women are in the unenviable position of being lower class citizens. It is time to say that no one has a monopoly on Truth in Judaism. No one should have a monopoly on the public space in Israel.
In the photos of the Western Wall before the State of Israel men and women davened at the wall intermingled. There was no mechitza, no boundaries by gender. The Kotel is public Jewish space. It should be available to any and all Jews however they choose to express themselves Jewishly in that spot. If we, as American Jews, have a lesson to share with Israeli Jews, it is that separate is never equal.
The Decalogue is phrased, unlike so many laws in the Torah, in absolute terms. “You shall not” are the words that teach us that certain actions are not only illegal but they are wrong. This year we should be saying out loud, “You shall not discriminate against women or men who wish to express their own Jewishness in the Israeli public square in a variety of ways”.
Rabbi Daniel R. Allen is Executive Director of ARZA, The Reform Israel Fund.