In Israel, Streisand criticizes treatment of women
Entertainment star Barbra Streisand speaks during a ceremony at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem after she received an honorary doctorate in Jerusalem, Monday, June 17, 2013. Streisand waded into one of Israel’s touchiest issues Monday on the first major stop of her tour of the country Jewish religious practices that separate men and women. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
JERUSALEM (AP) — Entertainer Barbra Streisand waded into one of Israel's touchiest issues Monday on the first major stop of her tour of the country — Jewish religious practices that separate men and women.
Speaking at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Monday, where she received an honorary doctorate, she took aim at cases of ultra-Orthodox Jews targeting women, even as she warmly praised the country.
"I realize it's not easy to fully grasp the dynamics of what happens in a foreign land," she said.
But "it's distressing to read about women in Israel being forced to sit in the back of the bus or when we hear about 'Women of the Wall' having metal chairs thrown at them when they attempt to peacefully and legally pray."
She was referring to isolated incidents in which ultra-Orthodox men tried to force women to sit separately at the rear of buses that go through their neighborhoods, as well as more serious clashes in which ultra-Orthodox Jews tried to prevent women donning prayer shawls and carrying Torah scrolls from praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest site where Jews can worship.
According to traditional Orthodox Jewish practice, only men wear prayer shawls and handle Torah scrolls, though that is slowly changing in some places. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, who cut themselves off from the rest of society but wield disproportionate power in government and religious affairs, fear that allowing women to make such inroads will erode their authority.
Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni has introduced legislation making forced separation of men and women in public places like buses illegal. On the issue of women praying at the Western Wall, a court has upheld the right of women to wear prayer shawls, and a proposal has also been made to set aside a section of the Western Wall for mixed-gender prayers.
Entertainment star Barbra Streisand recives an honorary doctorate during a ceremony at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Monday, June 17, 2013. Streisand waded into one of Israel’s touchiest issues Monday on the first major stop of her tour of the country Jewish religious practices that separate men and women. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
Streisand said she was pleased to hear that there were hopeful developments. "Repairs are being made, and that's very good," she said.
Earlier in the day, the entertainer met 20 children with life-threatening illnesses from the "Make-A-Wish" Foundation. Streisand beamed as a teenage girl sang her song, "People."
"I shall treasure this," she said. "It's so powerful to be in a room with you all, and especially the children, who touched my heart."