Where ‘Rock Star’ Anat Hoffman Turns Raging Feminist

This article was first published in The Times of Israel.

Anat Hoffman reads from the Torah at Robinson's Arch near the Western Wall (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Anat Hoffman reads from the Torah at Robinson’s Arch near the Western Wall (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

‘Every second Jewish American who talks to me about Israel talks about Women of the Wall,” says Chen Bram, an anthropologist and organizational psychologist who is currently a Schusterman Visiting Israeli Professor at the University of Florida. “They all know this story.”

For many American Jews, Women of the Wall, the tallitot- and tefillin-wearing women who read the Torah at the Kotel, have long been heroes of Jewish religious pluralism. Most Israelis, however, are only recently aware of the group — though they may be more knowledgeable about other religious pluralism issues in Israel.

Bram is surprised by how much Americans know about Women of the Wall. He says chairwoman Anat Hoffman is accorded rock star status by liberal American Jews. Conversely, Rabbi David Golinkin, President of the Conservative Movement’s Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, says Hoffman and her colleagues are considered irrelevant by most Israelis.

“I think the most recent Women of the Wall episode was the first to have even been covered by the Israeli press,” Golinkin says, referring to the Jerusalem Magistrate Court’sdismissal of legal complaints against five women arrested by Kotel police for wearing tallit and tefillin and audibly praying at the Western Wall earlier this month.

It is not merely a matter of media coverage, but a reflection of a major disconnect between the two largest Jewish communities in the world. This divide is slowly being bridged, however, as the notion of a “global Jewish Peoplehood” is entering the public discourse, and religious pluralism and civil rights are rising higher on the Israeli political agenda.

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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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