Women of the Wall founder Hoffman to discuss religion, politics in Israel

The Western Wall in Jerusalem is the holiest site in Judaism, but Jewish women are not allowed to freely pray there.

Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall, an organization dedicated to winning women the ability to pray however they wish at the Western Wall, hopes to change that. She will give a lecture titled “The Ethics of Gender Equality in the Liveable Community” at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy.

Hoffman’s lecture will explore the tensions between religion and government in Israel, and she hopes to provide the audience with a more nuanced view of the country.

“I think the nation of Israel is probably one of the most important developments of our lifetime, one of the greatest developments of history,” she said. “And no other country has done as much wonderful things as Israel over the 67 years of its history. We’ve had difficulties, that’s true, but there is much to admire, truly. Much to admire, and there is much to be fixed.”

Women of the Wall was founded in 1988 in a bid to gain the freedom of prayer for women at the Wall regardless of denominational affiliation. As of now, women are not permitted to carry a Torah into the women’s section of the Western Wall plaza. Women praying, singing aloud and wearing of religious garb such as kippahs or tallit have also sparked protests and violence from other Jewish groups.

“[Women of the Wall wants] the Wall to be welcoming to all Jews — specifically to the 50 percent of the Jewish people who are women, and we would like the Wall to be a place to celebrate [Jewish] diversity,” Hoffman said. “Right now, this has not yet been played out.”

Hoffman is also executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, which is “Israel’s pre-eminent civil and human rights organization addressing issues of religion and state,” according to its website. The organization seeks to end gender segregation in public life, establish equal rights for non-Orthodox rabbis, secure marriage and divorce rights for all Israelis, and protect converts’ rights, Hoffman said.

Most central to her current work, however, is the opposition of racism and ethnocentrism, Hoffman said.

“I would say the major thing I’m working on now is fighting racism,” she said. “Israel is moving toward race and ethnocentrism. This is something that has followed us for 500 years. Judaism lends itself to zealotry, and we’ve had our zealots, but every time we’ve had zealots they’ve actually brought our demise and our misfortune.”

Although the United States has also struggled with racism, Hoffman hopes to learn how to produce leaders that can stand against racism from American history. For the time being, she believes acknowledging zealots and racists is the first step in ending their hatred.

“They are my brothers,” she said. “I’d like to disown them, but they are my brothers, and I need to do something about it.”