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February 20, 2013 1:33 am

Examining a Rumor About Israel Started by ‘Women of the Wall’ and Repeated by the Guardian

avatar by Adam Levick

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Western Wall. Photo: Wayne McLean.

Harriet Sherwood’s Feb. 17 report in the Guardian, ‘Sarah Silverman tweet puts women’s Western Wall protest in global spotlight‘, focused on a protest by an organization called ‘Women of the Wall’ against restrictions imposed on women who pray at the Kotel in Jerusalem – an act of civil disobedience last Monday undertaken by a group which included Rabbi Susan Silverman (comedian Sarah Silverman’s sister).

While such protests aren’t uncommon, interest in the story (as the Guardian title suggested) intensified after Sarah Silverman tweeted support for her sister, who was one of ten women briefly detained by police for violating prayer customs.

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While issues regarding such gender-based restrictions naturally resonate with many Israelis who seek to loosen Haredi (Orthodox) control over religious matters in the state, the following quote by Hoffman, in Sherwood’s story, purporting to highlight the religious-secular divide in one Israeli community, strained credulity.

Despite some notable legal victories, “this is still a huge issue”, said [Anat] Hoffman, who is also director of the Israel Religious Action Centre, which campaigns against segregation and the exclusion of women. “Every day we get calls reporting things to us. Just yesterday, we heard that the water-drinking fountains at Petah Tikva cemetery have been segregated.”

Since Hoffman evidently didn’t reveal the identity of her source to Sherwood, we decided to contact our friend Anne (A resident of Petah Tikvah who blogs at Anne’s Opinions) for comment.

Here’s  her reply:

I decided to go to the cemetery to see for myself.  Whilst I first checked with my husband and sister to see if they remembered any such water fountains (and they both said it’s rubbish), I wanted to confirm for myself that nothing had changed recently, as suggested in the article.

As it happened I got there during a funeral (so I visited my grandmother’s grave while I was there) and then wandered around and took photos of the taps. First of all, there are no “drinking fountains” at the cemetery. I don’t think any cemetery has these. What they do have are taps to ritually wash your hands when leaving the cemetery (Netilat Yadayim). As you can see (in the photos below), there were men and women washing hands together. The second set of taps are located outside the men’s toilets but are certainly used by both men and women. As you can see, there is no sign at all about separation, and I have washed my hands there many times. The “wall” dividing the two sides is simply to allow more taps in one small area.

I’ve been (sadly) to many funerals, most of them for religious people, and I’ve never washed hands separately or felt the need to do so voluntarily.

Here are the photos Anne took at the Petah Tikvah cemetery only yesterday.

pt
photo 4
photo 5

Those of us who blog for Israel know all too well that such seemingly little smears (no matter how flimsy the evidence) can often take on a life of their own.

Thanks to Anne, we now know that Hoffman’s rumor, carelessly repeated by the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent, appears to be completely without merit.

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