- Leaders of Reform Judaism in North America and Israel are speaking out against an incident at the Western Wall (aka, Kotel) Wednesday, August 23, when two female rabbinic students were reportedly degraded during a search by guards ostensibly looking for religious objects.
The haredi authorities that administer the Kotel restrict the religious objects, such as Torah scrolls and talit and tefillin, that women may be bring into the Kotel plaza.
Acording to a statement by officials from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion — the Reform movement’s rabbinical seminary, two female HUC-JIR students were taken aside and asked to “lift their skirts and shirts in front of the guards before they could enter the Kotel plaza.”
“A third student was only spared this embarrassment due to the immediate intervention of two of our alumni,” according to the statement, which was signed by Rabbi Aaron Panken, president of HUC-JIR, and Rabbi Naamah Kelman, dean of HUC-JIR/Jerusalem.
The rabbis called the incident “a dramatic and disgraceful new tactic in the effort to demean Reform and Conservative Jews, limit the right of Women of the Wall to pray at the Kotel, and intimidate those who stand for religious pluralism.” The statement concluded, “Throughout this encounter, our students honored all of us by their composure. They tell us that they emerged from this experience more energized than ever to fulfill their sacred mission as future leaders of the Reform Movement and the Jewish People.”
In response to the incident, Panken, along with Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Steven A. Fox, chief executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expresssing their “outrage” over the stduents’ treatment and called upon him to issue a swift denunciation.
“This was an unacceptable and shameful attempt to hurt and humiliate our leaders, and we are deeply outraged,” the rabbis wrote.
In January, Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that women are not to be subjected to intense body searches when entering the Western Wall.