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Women of the Wall urge PM to 'have the courage' to enforce Western Wall decision

Liberals Jews gathered at the Western Wall on November 2, 2016, to protest restrictions on non-Orthodox worship
Courtesy the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism
Hundreds of men and women march to protest delay in creation of pluralistic prayer area at Western Wall

Liberal Jews marched in Jerusalem Wednesday morning in a historic protest to restrictions on prayer by non-Orthodox Jews at the Judaism's holiest site, the Western Wall.

Starting at Jerusalem's Dung gate, a number of groups including the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism and the Women of the Wall, activists marched to the Western Wall to hold prayers marking the start of a new month on the Hebrew calendar.

The activists are also protesting the delay in implementing a cabinet decision to create an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall.

The government approved in January the expansion of a mixed-gender, non-Orthodox prayer section at Jerusalem's Western Wall, but have yet to take any action to implement it, with many Orthodox factions opposing the move.

The new prayer section would not be under the control of the ultra-Orthodox establishment. Orthodox groups believe that creating such a space defies ancient Jewish law and tradition.

At the time of the decision, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, from the right-wing Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party, said that he intended to oppose the plan, saying it was "unnecessary and hurts the Jewish tradition, which is important to all of us. The reform Jews from Israel, and mostly from abroad, are intentionally harming the values we hold dear, and allowing them into the Western Wall (on its southern side) will offend traditional Israeli citizens."

In a press release, the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism said that "This morning, for the first time in the history of the Western Wall, dozens of Torah scrolls were carried into the Western Wall plaza by many rabbis, and members of the Reform and Conservative movements."

The statement said that police did not attempt to detain any of the "hundreds of members of the movement" as they entered the plaza.

However, videos circulating on social media showed Orthodox Jews clashing with the activists, trying to prevent them from entering the plaza, pushing shoving, and attempting to pull the Torah scrolls from their arms. Security tried to separate those involved in scuffles but otherwise police did not interfere, and did not prevent the Orthodox opposed to the gathering from accosting the activists.

Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall told i24news that they are fighting to be a "catalyst for a revolution in the Jewish world."

Women of the Wall, who fight for women's rights to pray and read from the Torah at the Western Wall, have run afoul of the Orthodox establishment in recent years by wearing prayer shawls and donning other ritual garb at the Wall. Some have been arrested under charges of disturbing the public order.

Since their founding in 1988, the Women of the Wall has grown from a few hundred supporters to over three million, and Hoffman says that the rabbis and organizations who joined Wednesday's march and prayer service represent millions more around the world.

"We are a hair's breadth away from a solution that was reached through compromise- not through the supreme court or through police- but through cooperation and talking to each other," Hoffman explains. "The solution is important in itself, and in how it was reached. This type of compromise can be applied to other things-- marriage laws, kosher laws, and other important issues in Jewish society."

She also called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to "have the courage," to implement the decision of the government to create the egalitarian prayer section.

"The Prime Minister encouraged us in pursuit of this compromise and now that it has passed he has not had the courage to implement it," she says. "Have the courage to implement your decisions and you will leave your mark on Jewish history."

"If you push, something will be born," Hoffman adds.

After the 400 marchers arrived in the Western Wall plaza, the 14 Torah scrolls were carried down into the Women's section, the first time that such a number had been gathered for prayer outside the men's section. There are scores of Torahs available in the men's section, but women are not allowed to use them.

Head of the reform movement, Rabbi Gilad Kariv said that “The Western Wall won’t be the same Wall after today.”

“For the first time, women and men, Reform and Conservative Jews, secular and Orthodox, demand their right to enter the Western Wall. Today we liberated the Western Wall from the control of ultra-Orthodox. The ultra-Orthodox parties won’t decide for the rest of the Jewish people how to pray… We won’t acquiesce any longer to discrimination, to incitement, or to the the Israeli government’s shameful surrender to a small and aggressive minority,” he continued, adding “If the Israeli government doesn’t implement the compromise framework, we, together with the world’s Jews, will return the Western Wall to the hands of the entire Jewish people."

The Prime Minister's office issued a statement in which it said that "the unfortunate incident this morning at the Western Wall does not help advance a solution for prayer arrangements there. The Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Knesset said yesterday to the leaders of the non-Orthodox movements that now is the time for dialogue and not for unnecessary friction."

"The unilateral violation of the status quo at the Western Wall this morning undermines our ongoing efforts to reach a compromise," it added.

Jessi Satin is an i24news reporter and photographer



Seriously, Bibi, as much as you need the coalition of the right wing ... stop letting them control everything. They really need to be knocked down a peg or three.

every jew, no matter who or what,male or female should be able to pray at this place.

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