A Visitation

By Shimon Stern

News item from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism: [Women of the Wall activist Anat] Hoffman points to a photograph on the wall of her office of Rosa Parks being fingerprinted, and likens her experience this week to that struggle for civil rights.

Anat had just dozed off at her desk under the photograph of Rosa Parks — the one she always liked to point out to guests — when suddenly she felt the presence of someone else in the room with her.

Slowly moving her hand to a letter opener, she grabbed it and swiftly turned around. Relief washed over her and she smiled. It wasn’t a haredi, only an elderly black woman.

“Who are you?” she asked.

Without a word, the visitor pointed to the photograph on the wall, of when she was younger, and alive. It showed her being fingerprinted by a Montgomery, Alabama police detective.

Anat was incredulous. “It’s you?” she gasped.

The apparition spoke. “Yes,” she said, nodding her head. “I understand that you have been invoking my memory.”

“Yes, yes!” Anat enthused. “I am like you. Look, see!” And with a flourish, she held out her finger, still unwashed from her own experience with the police — these, in Israel — several days earlier, the ink no longer fresh but still there.

“I am a civil rights pioneer,” she continued proudly. “Just like you! You stood up to racism. I stand up to haredi-ism.”

“What is a haredi?”

Anat made a dismissive noise. “Jews,” she answered, “who insist that religion doesn’t change, and that their old beliefs and practices are still relevant in our wonderful modern world.”

“Like Southern Baptists?” Rosa said wistfully.

Anat had never heard of Southern Baptists, so she ignored the question.

“Listen,” she explained. “I gather a group of women and we bring a Torah scroll to the Western Wall here in Jerusalem. And we get arrested!”

“Why do you do that?” Rosa asked with puzzlement.

“Because holding a feminist prayer service at the Wall’s main plaza is against the law! Those haredim have been running the site like it’s some sort of Orthodox synagogue. They insist that public services at Judaism’s holiest site be conducted according to Jewish ‘tradition’ — which I reject! They say they are forbidden to hear women’s voices chanting and singing!”

“What civil rights are being violated?” Rosa asked, puzzled.

“What is your problem?” Anat asked loudly. “A women’s prayer group has a right to read the Torah aloud at the Western Wall, doesn’t it?”

“Well, perhaps,” said Rosa. “If it doesn’t bother anyone.”

“And if it does?” fumed Anat. “Why should that matter? Didn’t it bother the bus driver that you wouldn’t move your seat?”

Rosa’s eyebrows furrowed. “I refused to move,” she said quietly but sternly, “because of the society I lived in, where one group of people treated another one as less than fully human. Do these haredim consider you inferior or sub-human?”

“They probably do,” sniffed Anat, “the beasts. But whatever, they don’t allow us to have our services!”

“Anywhere?”

“No, at the Wall,” Anat responded. Then, thinking a moment more, she felt compelled to add: “At least at the main plaza.”

Rosa frowned. “Is there not an adjacent area just as close to the Wall, set aside for you, where you can pray as loudly as you like?”

“Oh, please!” said Anat. “We don’t want that place. There are no haredim there to — I mean, there isn’t any reason we shouldn’t be able to do whatever we want wherever we want!”

“Do these haredim bother you if you just come and pray quietly there?”

“No, but we have a human right to pray as loud as we want! Anywhere we want!”

“Well, dear,” said Rosa, somewhat exasperatedly, “I don’t know that you have such a right if it bothers others unnecessarily and violates their religious feelings. You know, I lived a religious life myself. And what I fought for was respect for all people and an end to hatred. It is wrong, you know, to hate people for the color of their skin — or for the color of their clothes. And these haredim? What do the women among them think? Do they feel their rights are being violated?”

Anat grew angry. Why, she asked herself, couldn’t the old lady understand? Maybe, she thought further, “Rosa” … was really… a haredi! But she really didn’t look like one.

Suddenly, all was dark. There was knocking at the door and Anat lifted her head, which was buried in her arms before her on the desk. Looking up, she groggily said “Come in” — as she realized that her conversation with Rosa had all been just a dream. But, she thought to herself, it has been so vivid… so real!

One of her fellow activists, Joan, opened the door and entered the room. “Good morning!” she said cheerily. “Did you call the photographer and videographer about today’s service? We can’t have them coming late again. They almost missed your arrest last time!”

Anat confirmed that all the arrangements had been made, and Joan offered that she had obtained the refreshments for the post-arrest celebration. Then the guest’s eyes settled on the frame hanging above Anat’s desk. She gasped.

“Anat!” she exclaimed. “What is that photograph doing there?”

Anat look up at the Rosa Parks photo, but it wasn’t there. In its place was one of a strange-looking man with big hair, striking a noble, yet somehow comical, pose.

“I – I don’t know!” she responded. “I don’t even know who he is! Do you?”

Joan, who hailed from New York, recognized the face immediately. “It’s someone pretty well known where I come from.”

“Who is he?” Anat asked, staring at the photograph with amazement.

“His name,” Joan replied, “is Al Sharpton.”

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17 comments to A Visitation

  • Charlie Hall

    The real Rosa Parks belonged to the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which has had female clergy for generations and now has a female bishop. She probably would not blink at a woman carrying a sefer Torah. Al Sharpton is a Baptist; he was ordained by a minister in a Baptist group that also has female clergy.

  • Jacob T

    Anat Hoffman was not arrested for reading from a sefer torah at the wall. She was arrested merely for holing a sefer Torah–an act permitted by man Orthodox poskim (and entirely legal under Israeli law). It is an embarrassment that in Israel–a sanctuary for those whose ancestors were burned alongside sifrei torah–a Jew would be arrested for holding a sefer Torah.

  • Michael

    Everything Charlie said is probably true, and misses the point “by a country mile.”

  • L. Oberstein

    Cute bit of satire. It is so much more pleasant to debunk your opponent with sarcasm than with invective. My experience is that many people, especially those from a German -Yekke background find it hard to grasp subtle satire and think you are being serious. Not that I would profile any ethnic group, chas veshalom.
    I grew up in Montgomery, Alabama at the time of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and remember it vividly. It was non violent and that was why it succeeded.
    The women at the wall have Israelis to deal with and the Isaelis are so clueless when it comes to Hasbara that they often play into the hands of those who want to show them up.i bet laughing would be a lot better than arresting.

  • Yaakov Menken

    Even according to their PR Jacob is mistaken — Hoffman was arrested for wearing a Tallis, is what they say. Hoffman was arrested for violating the rules of conduct at the main plaza, as she attempted to change the main Western Wall Plaza from a traditional sanctuary into something else. As is well-known, she could have held services at the alternate site set aside for mixed services, had her intent been to pray rather than to offend.

    It is an embarrassment that people continue to support efforts to deliberately offend those praying at Judaism’s holiest site.

  • Jacob T

    This article from Ynet confirms that she was detained for holding a sefer torah (which, according to their PR, she was carrying from the kotel over to Robinson’s arch–there was no intention of reading torah at the kotel plaza):http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3918484,00.html (also note that the picture on the article, which shows a woman wearing a tallit, is clearly old–no one would be bundled up in coats for rosh chodesh av in Jerusalem).

    This video (on a site that contains other videos, women’s voices, etc.) shows exactly what happened. Note that Anat is wearing her tallis tied around her neck as a scarf, in accordance with the high court ruling: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAENxv3odjo

    Finally, I would argue that the men who throw chairs at members of N’shot HaKotel are also deliberately trying to offend those praying at Judaism’s holiest site (who just so happen to be women).

  • Bob Miller

    While the Beis HaMikdosh was in full operation, who would have allowed feminists’ self-assertive antics on or around that holy site?

  • cvmay

    Great dialogue between Anat and Rosa Parks.

    We are living in a generation of ‘slippery slopes’ & ‘outside the Pale of Judaism”. Problem: this slope is slippery l’chumra just as it is l’kula….

  • Eytan Kobre

    Dr. Hall: You’re such a bright guy; it’s surprising you so completely miss the point of this brilliant piece.

    Mr. T (I assume that’s your name; why else wouldn’t you write it?): You’d be wise not to invoke the memories of our “ancestors who were burned alongside sifrei Torah” — emotionally effective as it is — unless you’re darned sure they’d approve of your doing so in defense of something that would have outraged them. I know this is difficult to face up to, but it’s the plain truth: For Anat Hoffman,assuming she subscribes to mainstream Reform theology, what she holds in her arms is not a sefer Torah; it is the Scroll of the Lies That Our Simpleminded Ancestors Believed — yes, including those “ancestors who were burned alongside sifrei Torah.” Sorry to be so blunt, but the truth can hurt.

  • Kalman Gold

    How ironic for the current proponents of gender segregation on buses to ‘recruit’ Rosa Parks to their side…

  • Jose

    Jacob T said:

    “It is an embarrassment that in Israel–a sanctuary for those whose ancestors were burned alongside sifrei torah–a Jew would be arrested for holding a sefer Torah.”

    This statement I’d very indicative of the position of the WoW. Eretz Yisroel is not special because of its kedusha. It is only special because they consider it sanctuary for Jews after the holocaust. Not because it was promised to our forefathers. These people do not believe in such a concept of kedusha or of the promise Hashem made to our forefathers thus what is special is that Israel is a sanctuary and why can they not also hold services.
    The orthodox know that what is special about the kosel is that it is the remaining remnant of the Beis Hamikdash, the epitome of kedusha. It is for this reason that it is so disturbing, these acts that are about denying that there is any kedusha associated with Eretz Yisroel or the Beis Hamikdash.the WoW are a denial of Hashem at the place that is closest to what the holiest place on Earth. Is that not sacrilegious? Is it not the height of chutzpah? They are the ones attempting to belittle the beliefs of all those who believe in Hashem and the Torah. And to hold a Sefer Torah while doing that, does that not make you cry?

  • Yaakov Menken

    Kalman comments that it is “ironic” to ‘recruit’ Rosa Parks.

    Au contraire. First, it was Anat Hoffman who invoked the memory of Rosa Parks, as per Rabbi Stern’s quote.

    Second, as it so happens, a woman who refused to ride on the women’s side of the “Monsey Bus” also termed herself a “modern-day Rosa Parks.” Ms. Parks’ lawyer got wind of it and refuted the woman’s remarks, saying that not only were no human rights violated, but that Rosa Parks wouldn’t have acted in a manner that obstructed the prayers of others.

  • Jacob T

    Rabbi Kobre–I appreciate your apology, but take comfort that I have suffered no injury at all. Your pithy paraphrase of “Reform Theology” seems more characteristic of off-the-derech bochurim than Reform Jewish institutions like that with which Anat Hoffman affiliates. From the Reform Movement’s PIttsburgh Statement of 1999:

    We affirm that Torah is the foundation of Jewish life.
    We cherish the truths revealed in Torah, God’s ongoing revelation to our people and the record of our people’s ongoing relationship with God.
    We affirm that Torah is a manifestation of (ahavat olam), God’s eternal love for the Jewish people and for all humanity.

    Lest you claim that this is but a modern innovation, and that Reform Judaism is founded on a rejection of the kedusah of the Torah, I submit to you the 1937 Columbus Platform:

    The Torah, both written and oral, enshrines Israel’s ever-growing consciousness of God and of the moral law. It preserves the historical precedents, sanctions and norms of Jewish life, and seeks to mould it in the patterns of goodness and of holiness.

    With that settled, I offer a challenge of your underlying assumption that only those Jews who subscribe to a certain view as to the perfection and divinity of the Torah are deserving of the protection of the Israeli state–it seems to me that under your regime, Rabbi Yishmael (and his heretical notion that not every particle and preposition of the Torah is there to teach us some lesson or principle) would be banished from the kotel plaza. Regardless of Anat’s theology, the act for which she was arrested–holding a Sefer Torah while female–is both legal and halakhically defensible. And I would guess that many of our shtetl-dwelling ancestors, who lived in a time before Orthodoxy under an oppressive and hostile regime, would in fact object strongly to the persecution of a Jew for her act of worship.

  • Benjamin E.

    I feel like when Rosa asked: “Is there not an adjacent area just as close to the Wall, set aside for you, where you can pray as loudly as you like?”

    Anat’s would actually retort: “Were there not other seats on the bus, set aside for you, where you could sit perfectly fine and still enjoy the services of the bus?”

    Rosa’s answer to that question is the relevant one.

  • Shmuel

    Benjamin:

    Far be it from me to channel Rosa but I think she would say something like: “Yes there were other seats, but my remaining in my seat only offended those who felt blacks were less human than whites — in other words, racists. You, Anat, are choosing to offend people who are simply religious Jews adhering to the Jewish tradition.

    “And if you consider that tradition somehow the equivalent of racism, then why are you so set on colonizing its holiest place, near the Temple site where sacrifices (anathema to your religion) were offered? Just establish a holy place of your own, perhaps in Tel Aviv, or Brussels, and read the Torah and pray and sing as you wish there!”

  • Bob Miller

    Based on the above comment by Jacob T of August 8th, 2010 at 11:54 pm,
    we can assert that the Reform movement lied in public about its core beliefs in 1937 and 1999. Like any radical political or religious movement, it seeks to ingratiate itself with others by misappropriating and redefining historically accepted terms and concepts.

  • Benjamin E.

    Shmuel:

    I would suggest that Anat would probably respond:

    “Rosa, perhaps they were not racists – they were simply people who believed that a physical characteristic, such as skin color, determines one’s proper place in society and right to take a seat. If this is problematic, why is it moreso than people who believe that a physical characteristic – a Y chromosome – determines my place in society or right to pray in a particular way? Perhaps *you* were choosing to offend people who were simply poor Americans adhering to widely understood traditions about race!

    “And Rosa, I am not set on ‘colonizing’ such a place, nor am I against the Jewish tradition. I simply believe that my understanding of the Jewish tradition as applied today is correct as compared with theirs. But I do not colonize – in fact, I wish for us to pray side by side in our own understandings of Jewish tradition. Women who do not wish to read from the Torah need not! The Temple site has incredible historical and religious meaning to me as a Jew, and I wish to access that spiritual experience in my prayer. It is they who wish to deny Jews the ability to access the spirituality of the holiest site in Judaism!

    “Oh, as for sacrifices? They were appropriate for their time and place. Then, they were the most sincere form of worship. Simply because we have progressed now does not mean that we don’t respect the location where an authentic expression of our tradition was once practiced.”