An indefatigable feminist group in Israel, which fights for women to have equal access to Judaism’s sacred spaces, had another confrontation with the country’s ultra-Orthodox community on Monday, when Women of the Wall’s bus ads were defaced. (And boy, are those buses dirty!)
The advertisements attacked by Haredim on Monday night featured women in religious garb and holding the Torah. One of the advertisements features a young girl and her mother, locking eyes while cradling the Torah between them. They are both wearing feminine tallit, a garment draped over a person’s shoulders that ultra-Orthodox Jews believe is only meant for men.
In another advertisement, four young women appear with a Torah scroll. Again, one of the girls is wearing the tallit. The group was aiming to promote radical acts: Bat Mitzvah ceremonies for girls at the Western Wall.
Dozens of men attacked the buses, slashed tires, and graffitied anti-feminist messages. According to video footage obtained by the Israeli news site Ynet, the graffiti called on someone to “end the obscene pictures.” They hit about half the advertisements purchased by the group.
“This is only about gender roles and discrimination against women and the image of women,” Women of the Wall spokesperson Shira Pruce told the AP. “If those were boys in the ads, this would not be a news story.” According to the group’s Facebook page, none of the vandals have been arrested.
This is just the latest installment of a decades-long struggle over who decides what falls within the Jewish mainstream. Historically, Israel’s government has deferred to the Haredim, and the sexes are separated at the Western Wall. (The women’s section is a fraction of the size of the one men are permitted to pray in, and women don’t have access to the underground areas.)
Women of the Wall has had repeated confrontations with ultra-Orthodox Jews because the restrictions extend to how women can pray at the Wall’s main site: Those wearing tallit, leading services, and sounding the shofar have been subjected to physical violence. Negotiations for a mixed-gender prayer space have thus far been unsuccessful.