July 13, 2024
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The Kotel War Continues

Below are two statements regarding last week’s Rosh Chodesh davening by women at the Kotel. Although not stated below, the Women of the Wall have more than a few Anglo-Israeli Modern Orthodox and Open Orthodox women in their ranks, some of them from Bergen County and Riverdale. Also, in a poll done by the Israeli Democracy Institute in Tel Aviv, 48% of Israel’s Jewish population, including 64% of its secular citizens, support the Women of the Wall. Thirty-eight percent of all respondents said they were opposed to the idea, while 51.8% of men and 46% of women supported the notion.

When the same respondents were told that the actions of WOW were not illegal and approved by the Supreme Court in Israel (according to the April 2013 Sobel District Court decision, WOW have the legal right to pray with the Torah scroll), overall support jumped to 56%. About 27% of traditional and self-described “religious” Jews supported the movement, while no haredim supported it. There are approximately 800,000 haredim living in Israel in a population of 6,000,000 Jews. The statements below were released on the same day by both organizations and are edited for tense.

Women For the Wall:  Smuggling Torah in a Duffel Bag is Desecration

The Reform-led Women of the Wall expressed disdain for sacred Jewish objects by attempting to sneak a Torah scroll past police in a duffel bag. Jewish tradition demands that a Torah scroll be treated with utmost respect, and police were shocked to discover the scroll during a routine check of WOW members as they entered the Kotel Plaza.

“We are extremely disappointed that WOW would misuse a holy Torah Scroll in this way,” commented Ronit Peskin, Director of Women For the Wall. “This is a desecration of something sacred to the entire Jewish nation.”

Leah Aharoni, co-founder of Women For the Wall, explained, “WOW’s Chairperson, Anat Hoffman, has said that even the Wall itself has no special sanctity to her, but is simply a place of opportunity. Today they have taken it a step further, expressing disdain for sacred Jewish objects, the police, and Israeli civil law in one fell swoop.”

Bringing a private Sefer Torah into the Kotel Plaza is against police regulations, in order to prevent theft of the Torah scrolls provided to the public at the site. Another group hoping to bring a family Torah scroll to a Bar Mitzvah was also denied entry that morning; they, however, did not attempt to circumvent regulation or provoke arrest by bringing the Torah in a bag without proper respect.

Observers noted that Women of the Wall may be striving for renewed attention, as Women For the Wall have both shown that the majority of Israeli women stand against WOW, and have halted raucous counter-demonstrations by young men. On Rosh Chodesh a single disturbed man blowing bubbles was the worst counter-reaction to the WOW presence.

Women For the Wall called upon WOW to respect those who value Jewish tradition as it has been done since the time of King Solomon. Peskin added, “WOW has refused to immediately avail themselves at the new Ezrat Yisrael plaza commissioned by Minister of Religious Services Naftali Bennett, or the many Torah scrolls available at that site. Instead it insists upon disturbing traditional practices at the site commissioned for traditional Jewish prayer, and all of us who wish to pray quietly in that fashion. Today besides their loud singing and general disturbance, they tried to provoke arrest while treating a Torah scroll like hand luggage. How can they claim to be fighting for the rights of women, when they trample the rights of so many more women to pray undisturbed?”

Women Of the Wall: Torah Banned from Entering the Western Wall

Two-hundred Women of the Wall prayed at the Kotel this past Rosh Chodesh, though they got off to a late start. The delay at the security entrance to the holy site occurred when the multi-denominational women’s prayer group requested to enter with their Torah scroll. The Torah is central in the prayer on Rosh Chodesh and it is also the focus of the Catch 22 entrapping women’s equal rights to free prayer at the Kotel. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation enforce a policy forbidding entrance to the Kotel with a Torah scroll, claiming that the Western Wall has 300 scrolls for “public use.” Women of the Wall have been repeatedly denied use of these public Torah scrolls, and therefor requested entrance with their own scrolls, only to be denied that as well. The result of these policies is a systematic discrimination of women, prohibiting equal rights to religious practice and free expression in the Western Wall as a public holy space.

When refused entrance and with no safe space to store the Torah, leaders of Women of the Wall stood vigil outside the Western Wall with the Torah while the group prayed in the women’s section.

Women of the Wall are currently involved in negotiations with the government, through Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit, over the creation of a third, fully integrated, equal prayer section at the Kotel, which will accommodate women’s prayers. Until the plans for this section have been fully implemented at the Western Wall, the group remains dedicated to their right to pray freely, including reading from the Torah scroll, in the women’s section.

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