By Eliana Rudee/JNS.org
Anat Hoffman is a founding member of Women of the Wall, a religiously diverse group of women from around the world who seek equal rights for people of all genders and religious expression at the Western Wall. The group is best known for working to gain the right to read Torah at the Western Wall wearing a prayer shawl (tallit)—a Jewish commandment that is not traditional for women, but also not outlawed in scripture.
I sat down with Hoffman in her Jerusalem home after more than 600 articles had been written about Women of the Wall in the previous two days, following a press release regarding the new egalitarian prayer section of the Western Wall. But I was able to offer her a more personal interview which gave her the chance to relate her hobby, Women of the Wall, to her true passion, botany. After all, Anat says, "I’m not in the right business. I’m a botanist, entomologist, and zoologist by nature. I am so distracted by nature that I don’t know what I’m doing in Women of the Wall." Here’s the rest of our interview:
Eliana Rudee: Personally speaking, what are your thoughts on the new egalitarian section of the wall?
Anat Hoffman: “It’s opportunity. You know, when I bought this orchid (points at a blooming orchid in her home), not one of these flowers was open. So I bought an opportunity to see it today with all the blossoms open. So if you look at this orchid (points at another orchid plant which is not yet blooming) you can see the opportunity. This (the non-blooming orchid) is eventually going to be this (the blooming one). It’s going to take very careful planning, observing. It’s an opportunity—a blooming in the making.”
You’re talking about making a new reality, a blooming orchid. What would your blooming orchid look like?
“First, it will present Jews all over the world, and Israelis in particular, with a choice. And right now in religious services in Israel, there is no choice. There is just one product on the shelf. Many Israelis reject it; many Israelis accept it. But it is government funded and there is just one choice. There should be a diversity of expression in Israel because we are the ‘Club Med’ of the Jewish soul, the Disneyland of the Jews. It should be here, more than anywhere else. So I would want Israelis and tourists to be faced with a choice. They’ll come through one entrance, and at that entrance they’ll see two plazas. And they’ll make a choice. If you don’t want to see any other practice because you’re ultra-Orthodox, please go to the left—the Northern Plaza is for you. I’m not ultra-Orthodox. I want to wear a tallit. I don’t want anyone to harass me on modesty issues. There will be visibility from one entrance to both plazas. We will give you a siddur of your choice, you were be offered a tallit if you want and certainly you will not be harassed if you own one. You’ll be able to light a menorah, blow shofar, read Megillah, you’ll be able to express yourself Jewishly.”
What does Judaism mean to you?
“The rabbis say, ‘They (Women of the Wall) are just doing things for provocation.’ I would ask the rabbis to look up our scriptures to see that our leaders provoked all the time. Judaism is one big invitation for provocation! A day without a provocation is a waste of a day. We have to challenge our society, our family, and most of all, ourselves. The Jewish fist is on the Jewish heart not just on Yom Kippur. We need to wake ourselves up to the most important Jewish values of tolerance, equality, pluralism, and acceptance.”
Some women are angry about your decision to agree to this arrangement. What would you say to them?
“In 27 years we’ve tried many ways to grow. Fourteen years in the Supreme Court. Two years in the public commission, which took two years each, going to the Knesset until we needed new shoes. We have tried other ways. And in our collective wisdom, we have come to the conclusion that we will embark on a negotiation that took two and a half years. We spent hundreds of hours working on every detail of this agreement. And this is how this plant is going to grow in this soil, under this sun, with these winds, and this amount of rain. This is how it’s going to happen. Creation happens every day. Like it says in the morning prayers, ‘Blessed is He who renews every day the act of creation.’”
What’s your next move until you are able to implement the egalitarian section?
“Now it’s going to be at least two years of unsexy, no headlines, implementing this. So the pressure has to be on, and since we are not moving anywhere, we are going to continue with our activities. Rosh Chodesh (first of the Hebrew month), Women of the Wall. Let us show that we mean not only to declare, but also to implement. That’s the job that’s left.”
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.
Download this story in Microsoft Word format here.