Pray Like I Do

Jewish Religious PersecutionA few days ago, a group of Jewish women gathered to pray at the most sacred place in Jerusalem. The Wailing Wall surrounds the ancient Temple Mount, where Jewish tradition says God gathered the dust to make Adam, where Abraham bound his son Isaac, where two Jewish temples stood for hundreds of years, where the Divine Presence rests. The women were surrounded by other Jews, who tried to prevent them from reaching the Wall, who cursed them, and threw water and chairs and stones at them. Three of these ultra-Orthodox Jewish protesters were arrested.

Last month the praying women themselves had been arrested. Their offense? They had not been praying the right way. The Women of the Wall are non-Orthodox Jews who wear prayer shawls that Orthodox Jews believe should only be worn by men. Until last month, Israeli police prevented women in these garments from praying at the Wailing Wall, because Israel enshrines Orthodox religious practices into state laws. Over the past few years, Jewish women have been arrested and put in jail for wearing a tallit, the prayer shawl, under their clothes, for holding a Torah scroll, and for praying out loud, all activities which the Orthodox believe should be reserved for men.

On April 11, the Jerusalem District Court ruled that the violent Orthodox protesters, not the praying women, were the ones causing a disturbance, and that the women should be allowed to pray as they wish.

The discrimination against women in Israel goes much deeper than disputes at the Wailing Wall. On bus lines serving areas where Orthodox live, women are forced to sit at the back. Recently some women have protested this discrimination, bringing references to the actions of Rosa Parks over 50 years ago. Israeli authorities have reacted in ways reminiscent of the reluctance of American leaders to challenge segregation: in 2011, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that segregated buses were illegal, but allowed them to continue to operate.

old believersThese arguments among Jews about how to be Jewish are common to other religions. Sunni and Shia Muslims have disagreed about the nature of Islam since the prophet Muhammed died in 632 and a dispute developed over his successor. Sunni and Shia continue today to kill each other in the Middle East. The split among Christians during the Reformation in 1500s led to a century of violent conflict across central Europe, during which Christians killed other Christians over religious differences. When the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church instituted reforms in ritual practices in the 17th century, many Russians refused to allow any changes. The so-called Old Believers were then persecuted by the dominant Orthodox clergy and by the Russian state. Old Believers use two fingers to make the sign of the cross, while the official Russian Orthodox Church uses three fingers.

Violence and persecution within religious faiths occurs when state power takes one side. The French Catholic monarchy organized the massacre of French Protestants, called Huguenots, in 1572, killing at least 10,000, and probably many more. Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq was Sunni, and although a minority among the population, persecuted and murdered members of the Shia majority.

The religious disagreements in Israel are not violent. The Israeli government has allowed the Orthodox minority, estimated to be only about 10% of the population, to control significant elements of national life, notably marriage and divorce. There is considerable controversy in Israel about the outsized power of this fundamentalist religious minority, who avoid military service and receive state support for men to study religion all their lives.

Americans typically know little about the nature of the Israeli state that we support so generously. Would Americans so willingly support a state that discriminates against women? Or that makes rules about how one must pray?

In fact, American support for Israel is most powerful among the most fundamentalist Christians. A 2004 poll asked Americans “Should the U.S. support Israel over the Palestinians?” Although more Americans disagreed with that question than agreed, among evangelical Protestants the split in favor of supporting Israel was over two to one.

steve hochstadtAll too frequently, religious fundamentalists of various faiths demand that everyone must follow their rules. The controversy across our states about marriage equality is a home-grown example. Citing their interpretation of the Bible, American fundamentalists want our government to enshrine their views of homosexuality into secular law.

Everyone should have the right to determine their own religious preference and beliefs. Nobody should have the right to demand, “Pray like I do.”

Steve Hochstadt
Taking Back Our Lives

Monday, 13 May 2013

About Steve Hochstadt

Steve Hochstadt is professor of history at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, and author of Sources of the Holocaust (2004) and Exodus to Shanghai: Stories of Escape from the Third Reich (2012), both from Palgrave Macmillan. He writes a weekly column for the Jacksonville (IL) Journal-Courier and blogs for the History News Network. "His latest work is presented at www.stevehochstadt.com."

Comments

  1. Steve Hochstadt says:

    Say something even mildly critical of anything that happens in Israel, and normally logical and reasonable people flip out. My only mention of Muslims was about them killing each other, but Mr. Winslow can only talk about how much better Israel is than the Arab nations which surround it. He wonders if I am “being influenced by Arab-funded propaganda”, which indicates that he is probably not normally logical and reasonable.

    Joe Weinstein thinks Winslow’s ranting is understated, and continues the “Israeli good, Arab bad” mantra as a way to dealing with anything that might be unpalatable about Israeli society or government. He doesn’t like the fact that Americans who are not evangelicals don’t believe that our government should support Israel over the Palestinians, so he offers specious excuses for their uninformed choices. Then he excuses the demand that people pray in a certain way. I have been to many “sectarian” Jewish services, but never been told that I had to pray or dress a certain way. Finally he just tells a lie, that “the state of Israel has NOT made rules about how one must pray”, which is exactly what the police and government and courts have enforced until last month at the Wailing Wall. Weinstein cannot resist a bit of pedantry – Jews use Western Wall and Wailing Wall.

    Excuses, irrelevancies, changes of subject. Let’s get back to the point: nobody should support using state power to prevent people from praying at a public place.

    Steve Hochstadt

  2. JoeWeinstein says:

    (1) Prior commenter Winslow understates. In fact, the Israelis are not even asking the Arabs to ‘clear out’ but just to ‘leave them alone’. And most of the ‘Iron Wall’ is in fact no wall at all but just double cyclone fencing. (2) Contra Hochstadt’s implication, state-tolerated discrimination against women in Israel does NOT go ‘much deeper’ than the situations (buses through fundamentalist areas, events at the Western Wall) that he directly notes. UNLIKE all her neighbors – including most notoriously but not only Gaza – gender discrimination is NOT in the ‘nature of the Israeli state’: Israel has laws against gender discrimination in public places, and the problem is full enforcement of the laws within a few ultra-orthodox areas – which is what Israel’s AG has recently committed to do. (3) Contra Hochstadt’s usage, although fundamentalist Christians of earlier generations liked the idea of Jews ‘wailing’, for Jews the so-called ‘Wailing Wall’ is simply the ‘Western Wall’ (and prime remnant) of the Temple complex of 2000 years ago. (4) Not surprisingly folks declined to ‘support Israel over the Palestinians’ – because in these biased words a cold abstract state is being compared with an inherently more appealing concept, a group of people, and moreover use of the word ‘over’ – rather than ‘more than’ – suggests that support means agreeing to domination by the state. Would YOU agree to ‘support California over the Mexicans?’ (5) ‘Pray like I do’ is quite appropriate guidance at a sectarian service. (6) But for private homes or public places the state of Israel has NOT made rules about ‘how one must pray’. Zealots are trying to get the state’s police power to enforce their rules at certain public events – and are being rebuffed.

  3. This article is moose hockey. Poor outnumbered surrounded Israel lies in a gigantic sea of madass Arab Muslims who declared jihad against it on day 1, and will never give up, begrudging them even one square inch of territory when they have millions of square miles under their control already. In comparison Israel’s problems with ultra-orthodox Jewish citizens are trivial, so why does Hochstadt try to use it as a reason to give up support for Israel completely? Is he being influenced by Arab-funded agitprop, which floods the Internet? After what the Jews went through to get their state proclaimed in 1948, they’ve earned the right to it a thousand times over. It’s always been up to the Arab Muslims to just clear out of the area and leave them alone, and until they do Israelis have to rely on an Iron Wall and live under daily tension. They don’t ask the U.S. to do their fighting for them, just help them with military aid, and I’m 100% for it.

    Take my free online course on the history of Jerusalem and Israel and see all the facts laid out in chronological order, with hyperlinks to check and go deeper,

    on my Historyscoper site.

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