Holy Hooligans?

After being held in jail for seven months, this past Friday three members of the politically charged, Russian punk rock girl band Pussy Riot were convicted and sentenced to two years in prison for "hooliganism motivated by religioius hatred."

In a show of solidarity with Pussy Riot, this weekend women and men aroundt the globe donned the group's signature, colorful ski masks and waved signs and body parts with the message: "Free Pussy Riot."

Using "punk prayer" to protest Putin's iron fist and his laughable attempts at democracy, three members of Pussy Riot-- Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Marinac Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsvech, 30 -- staged a protest at the altar of Christ the Savior Orthodox Cathedral in Red Square. Their  "performance prayer" was titled "Hail Mary, Putin Run!" an attack on both Putin's repressive regime and the theoglogical powers that do his bidding. 


One of the main events that led the women to form Pussy Riot was Putin and Medvedev's announcement to the United Russian Party Congress on September 25th that they would swap posts at the elections on March 4th. This swapping is compared to chess when a rook and a king change places. "We don't like this kind of chess," said Pussy Riot.

Inspired by such American punk rock bands as Bikini Kill and its Riot Grrrl Movement, Pussy Riot declared: "What we have in common is impudence, politically loaded lyrics, the importance of feminist discourse, non-standard female image. The difference is that Bikini Kill performed at specific music venues, while we hold unsanctioned concerts."

And unsanctioned it was.

According to Reuters, Judge Marina Syrova told the court that "The girls actions were sacrilegious, blasphemous, and broke the church's rules." Putin's opponents counter that the three women are in jail "because it is Putin's personal revenge... This verdict was written by Vladimir Putin."

I wonder, would these three women, who donned colorful dresses and ski masks, who danced, prostrated themselves, and made the sign of the of the holy cross, all the while singing their provocative lyrics, have gotten off easier had they been men? Or would their punishment have been more severe?

Two of the three band members are mothers.

The Associated Press reported that "the Judge relied extensively on the testimony of church laymen, who said they were offended and shocked by the band's stunt. 'The actions of the defendants reflected their hatred of religion,' [Judge] Syrova said in the verdict. She also said that the defendant's feminist views challenged church doctrine. The Orthodox Church said in a statement after the verdict that the band's stunt was a "sacrilege" and a "reflection of rude animosity toward millions of people and their feelings.'"

I wonder though, if the altar--and the bema--are not appropriate places to bring to light ethical injustices; what better place is there to do it?

I am reminded of the 1902 kosher meat boycott when immigrant Jewish women not only took to the streets  of NYC but took to the shul to protest the rising cost of kosher meat. 

"On May 17 during Shabbat services, women interrupted prayers with a call to support the boycott. Women left their seats in the balcony to persuade men to back their cause and gain communal support."

It worked. The boycott had been a success, though its impact was not permanent; meat prices eventually began to rise again.

Might there be some High Holiday activism brewing 110 years later?

Or should G-d smite me for even suggesting such a thing?

Can our place of worship be a place of protest?

What do you think?



The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

How to cite this page

Orcha, Gabrielle. "Holy Hooligans?." 19 August 2012. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 9, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/holy-hooligans-0>.

Read the latest from JWA from your inbox.

sign up now