Fundamentalist religion and women

It is not uncommon for some religious people to want to restrict the rights of people of other religions. But it always surprises me the extent to which some religious people will go to restrict the rights of other people of their own religion, usually women.

Take the case of Anat Hoffman, a Jewish woman who was arrested at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, a site considered holy for Jews, as she was leading 250 other women in prayers. Hoffman writes:

I was handcuffed, strip searched, laid on the bare floor. I was not allowed to call my lawyer. I was dragged on the floor with my hands cuffed and worse of all, locked in a tiny cell with a crying young Russian woman accused of prostitution, who was the target of every filthy comment male inmates could utter. Her tears and their words are the hardest memory for me to move on from.

I thought it was a cruel and unusual punishment, but as I found out it was cruel but not unusual. This is how arrests are done in my town, in Jerusalem.

Why this harsh treatment? As far as I can tell she was arrested because the women’s group violated some vaguely worded laws that prohibit certain practices in holy sites, such as “conducting a religious ceremony contrary to accepted practice; wearing unfit attire; peddling; conducting religious services”. Apparently leading prayers was interpreted as ‘conducting a religious ceremony’ and wearing black and white and colored prayer shawls is considered ‘unfit attire’. Interestingly, she was not charged with any offense.

Her treatment has provoked a furious response from other Jews around the world.

I suspect that the real reason for her treatment is the usual dreary one of all these fundamentalist religions, the need to put ‘uppity women’ in their place.


  1. smrnda says

    First, the whole nature of the crime is ridiculous, but even given that cuffing and strip-searching is considerably out of line. She wasn’t posing any threat of violence nor was there any evidence that there was any justification for any sort of search (for weapons or drugs or such.)

    Plus, who decides what’s proper attire or practice? Last I checked there was no firm consensus on this among Jews, the same way there’s no real consensus on these issues in other religions. Seems like a law just designed to be enforced arbitrarily and capriciously.

  2. raven says

    Last I checked there was no firm consensus on this among Jews,

    The Jews are as badly split as any religion between the secular, Reformed, Orthodox, and Ultra-Orthodox.

    IIRC, the Orthodox and Ultras own Jerusalem and are gradually driving the other groups out.

    The conservative groups have attitudes towards women that are a lot like that of the fundie Moslems or fundie xians.

    What is the difference between fundie Moslems, fundie xians, and fundie Jews. Not much if anything.

  3. Forbidden Snowflake says

    There is no consensus among Jews, but we’re talking about Israel, in which orthodox is the only accepted brand of Judaism.
    It’s fucked up, but between enforced religious holidays, weird marriage rules and other orthodox fuckery, Jews enjoy less religious freedom in Israel than they do in your average European democracy or the USA.

  4. smrnda says

    Surprising and unfortunate, since most of the Israeli Jews that I know are fairly secular people. At the same time, whether they are a majority or minority, religious extremists always take it as their god-given right to impose their will on others.

  5. Nepenthe says

    What is the difference between fundie Moslems, fundie xians, and fundie Jews.

    Hat* styles?

    *Broadly construed to include any head covering.

  6. Kevin K says

    Misogyny and patriarchy are diagnostic of fundamentalist religions. All of them.

    It’s a feature, not a bug.

  7. says

    We have talked about blasphemy laws on FtB. Well, under effective Israeli law, merely being a woman is blasphemous.

    In theory, Israel is a secular nation. In practice, there are many laws which touch on religion, and every last one of them has been shaped, if not actually written, by ultra-Othodox rabbanim. It is national law that all government services and regular businesses shut down completely between sunset Friday and sunset Saturday, And many Jewish neighborhoods have their own version of the Taliban that enforce this law — occasionally with violence — on businesses and services that are not legally obligated to comply. The same law, and fantatical vigilanteism, applies to the first and last day of several Jewish festivals such as Passover and Succot.

    Orthodoxy hates women, to the point where there is a traditional prayer said my men, thanking God most ferverently that they were not made a woman. Women are expected to be “modest,” and “modesty” is interpreted among Orthodox Jews almost as strictly as it is among Muslims. Any woman who shows too much ankle, or elbow, or neck, or GOD FORBID! her hair is subject to taunts and frequently violence. We have seen this in the United States, where suburbs of New York City heavily dominated by Orthodox Jews have been making — and all too often, getting — anti-woman demands on public transit that goes through their neighborhood. And don’t you dare be a woman who stands up for her rights against an Orthodox male.

    That, really, is what happened: a woman dared to assert herself in a sphere of Israeli public life that is effectively controlled by ultra-Orthodox Jews. She dared to assert control and, in doing so, posed a serious challenge to the menfolk’s control of their women. She dared to show that men were not necessary for women to have a spiritual life and in doing so, threatened a great many patriarchal priviledges.

  8. raven says

    It’s just Orthodox Jews against secular and Reform Jews.

    The (Ultra) Orthodox have Moslem like rules about women and how they should dress and behave. Which is to stay in the kitchen and produce a lot of babies. Some groups don’t even bother to educate their girls much, although they don’t bother with the boys either except for the Torah and Talmud.

    The secular and Reform are very different. The Reform allow women Rabbi’s and the head of the US Reform group is…a woman.

    Marriages and conversions by Reform Jews aren’t legally recognized in Israel.

    It’s all very routine. Catholics versus Protestants, Sunnis against Shiites, Orthodox versus Reform and seculars.

  9. Jared A says


    Have you ever read “The Song of the Kings” by Barry Unsworth? It is a historical fiction style novelization of the sacrifice of Iphigenia from greek mythology. Its relevant to your post because there is an important subplot dealing with women and religion, and specifically how matriarchal cults (in the formal sense) are susceptible to being subsumed and dismantled by “sky-daddy” ones.

    I recommend the book. It has a lot to say about ancient religions that you may find interesting–And it’s a great read!

  10. mildlymagnificent says

    Mildly funny for me.

    We had a friend’s daughter staying with us and we’d been invited along to a quiz night at our local Catholic church. So we said she’d be coming with us, should be fun, we said. “They’re not skirt-wearers, are they?” she tentatively asked.

    I’d forgotten, one of her aunts was a fundie. Poor kid had been subjected to several “social” events where the main concern was that
    a) all girls and women had to wear skirts (pants forbidden)
    b) all such skirts had to be long enough to meet/cover ankles.

    I’ve always maintained that the cover the head, cover the arms, cover the ankles rules of all fundamentalist abrahamic dress and behaviour rules for women are different only in the details. They’re virtually indistinguishable otherwise.

  11. says

    There may be countless religions, but behave as a human being, as an intelligent person, has nothing to do with religions, it is important to respect each person’s religion, but I think any good religion has “laws” and much less to maltreat people, let alone women…

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