Revolution for Women and Jewish Pluralism in Israel

Government approves Mendelblit Plan for a third, pluralist prayer section at the Western Wall

In approving this plan, the state acknowledges women’s full equality and autonomy at the Kotel and the imperative of freedom of choice in Judaism in Israel.

Women of the Wall endorse a future plan for the creation of a new section of the Western Wall.

  • The women’s prayer group is being credited as the catalyst and force behind the historical agreement backed by Prime Minister Netanyahu.
  • The approval of the Mendelblit Plan is the first step to women’s full equality and empowerment at the Western Wall, the holiest site for Jews and a public space in Israel.

For Women of the Wall, representing religious women from across the Jewish denominational spectrum, the creation of a third section of the Kotel sets a strong precedent in women’s status in Israel: women as administrators of a holy site, women as leaders, women as influential force not to be ignored or silenced.

If and when the Mendelblit plan is fully implemented and the third section has been constructed as a prayer space in accordance with this agreement, Women of the Wall will relocate monthly Rosh Hodesh prayers to the new space. If and when this transition is complete, the new section will make way for great change: women will pray at the Kotel as equals, as active participants and leaders in rituals, ceremonies and of course in reading from the Torah. When one enters the Kotel’s upper plaza, from any entrance, the southern end of the Western Wall will be visible. The new section at the southern end of the Kotel will be a large, open prayer space, similar in design aesthetic to the northern Kotel prayer spaces. The pluralist section will provide matching religious services but with ideological diversity with Torah scrolls, a myriad of choices of prayer books and a strict policy of inclusion, tolerance and acceptance of all who worship there.

Women of the Wall have struggled for 27 years for women’s equality and in this agreement have achieved much more than that. The vision of the new section of the Kotel is a physical and conceptual space open to all forms of Jewish prayer. Instead of splitting up the existing pie into ever more divided, smaller pieces, we are making the pie much larger and sharing the new space. Unlike the northern Kotel prayer sections, where ultra-Orthodox social norms and traditions are forced on all who visit there, the southern section of the Kotel welcomes all visitors to pray according to their own traditions. Negotiations yield revolutionary, historic fruit:

  • A strong coalition between Women of the Wall, the Reform Movement, the Conservative/Masorti Movement, the Jewish Federations of North America, and the Jewish Agency headed by Natan Sharansky. This coalition has given voice to those who have been silenced and ignored in Israel until now.
  • There will be one main entrance, the Shoken entrance, is going to be transformed to allow full visibility of the third section and a point of choice for all prayer sections.
  • The de-criminalization of women’s prayer at the Kotel, including the women’s section even after the finalization of the third section. Removing criminal sanctions for non-compliance with Kotel “local custom” as defined by ultra-Orthodox rabbinic authority.
  • The liberation of the Western Wall upper plaza. The plaza of the Western Wall, the shared space above the three prayer sections, will be established as a national plaza for state ceremonies, free of discrimination based on gender and denomination.
  • The allocation of holy space in Israel and state budget to women and non-Orthodox Jewish factions is groundbreaking. In this agreement the state and the office of the Administrator of the Western Wall and Holy places formally recognize and accept pluralist Jewish denominations and movements for the very first time. This achievement in and of itself will open the floodgates to Jewish pluralism in Israel.
  • Women’s prayer groups, like Women of the Women, that wish to read Torah will have full access to Torah scrolls and a space set aside from mixed prayer to do so at the Kotel.
  • The new section will be managed not by ultra-Orthodox hegemony but by a council of representatives who are committed to pluralism and inclusion in Jewish ritual life: the Jewish Agency, the Jewish Federations of North America, the Reform Movement, the Conservative/Masorti Movements and Women of the Wall. Once built, the new section will welcome school groups, birthright trips, ceremonies, mass prayers and visiting dignitaries regularly and with open arms.

The next step

Until Women of the Wall move to the new section of the Kotel, the women’s prayer group will continue to pray according to their traditions in the women’s section as part of the “local custom,” as defined in the 2013 District Court Decision by Judge Sobell.

Women of the Wall’s conditions for moving to the new section are specific to the agreement approved today and include:

  • The transformation of the entrance to the Kotel plaza, including moving the “Shoken” security gate to create a majestic, ceremonious and visible path to the third section.
  • The fully functional and operational third section including construction completed, infrastructure built and staff hired, prayer books, tallitot, Torah scrolls, etc. available in the prayer space.
  • Removal of all obstacles of visibility of the new section.
  • Certification for the legality and safety of all of the platforms of the plaza.

Until Women of the Wall’s executive board is satisfied with the full (not partial) implementation of this agreement, the group will continue to pray in the women’s section and to struggle for full rights there. Women of the Wall will not stop fighting for women’s free access to the Torah. Until a pluralist third section is available and suitable for such prayer, Women of the Wall’s place remains in the women’s section.

Women of the Wall’s vision- then and now

Women of the Wall’s goal has always been women’s freedom and empowerment in prayer at the Kotel. Now, all Kotel visitors will see a range of choices in front of them: the ultra-Orthodox prayer sections as well as a spacious, open, welcoming pluralist prayer section for families and groups of all kinds. School children who visit the Kotel on mandatory educational trips will see all of the Jewish possibilities before them and most importantly, Israeli girls will see that women need not be excluded, marginalized and silenced by Judaism. Families who wish to celebrate Jewish life cycle events no longer have to sneak in a Torah for women, stand on plastic chairs to catch a glimpse of their bar mitzvah (currently there is no current option of an official bat mitzvah ceremony at the Kotel), or face harassment.

It is our belief that once it is completed, all visitors, worshippers, soldiers, immigrants, families, groups and individuals of all kinds will all find their place in the new section. It stands to reason that a public prayer space at the Kotel created with great care to reflect the diverse identities of the Jewish people will attract just that- am yisrael.

These negotiations and this agreement which, if implemented, will change the way Jews experience the holiest place in Israel for future generations, would never have come to be were it not for the dedicated, determined struggle, feminist activism and prayer of Women of the Wall for over 27 years. The real heroes will be the women and men who came to the Kotel with Women of the Wall each month and those who stood in solidarity with us all over the world. It was their influence and their determination that forced the government of Israel to negotiate a solution that dignifies all Jews.

Summary of the Mendelblit Plan

The Western Wall, the remainder of the wall that surrounded the Second Temple, is largely regarded today as the central site for worship for the Jewish people. It is a holy site with historic, national and religious significance. According to statistics of the past few years over 10 million visitors have been noted at the Western Wall. The majority of those who pray at the Kotel do so in accordance to the local authority, which is Orthodox. There are, however, many who wish to pray in ways differing from the Orthodox tradition, according to their own identity, traditions and customs.

Over the past years, the public dispute over freedom of choice in worship at the Kotel has intensified. Women of the Wall has struggled to pray according to their traditions in the women’s section and the ultra-Orthodox have waged aggressive protest against the women’s prayers. This dispute has made it necessary to rethink the current prayer spaces at the Western Wall. To this end the Prime Minister appointed a team to consult on the issue including Government Secretary Avichai Mendelblit, Assistant Attorney General Dina Zilber, and Tzvi Hauser.

After examining all of the perspectives of this issue, and listening to the different parties involved, the team has formulated a proposed plan which, at its core, aims to expand the options of prayer at the Western Wall in a way that enables each person who wishes to worship there to do so according to her/his belief and custom. The plan attempts to balance the rights of all of the parties- to respect, equality, freedom of religion and freedom of expression- while preserving the special historic, national and religious status of the Western Wall for ALL of the Jewish people. The plan is based on the Supreme Court decision on the issue of the struggle of Women of the Wall. The plan integrates the old with the new: retaining the existing custom of those who currently worship at the Western Wall, and creating a new space, physically and conceptually, for diversity of Jewish prayers and customs. The plan intends to provide for adequate expression of Jewish pluralism, allowing for prayer and worship of the pluralist denominations on the southern end of the Western Wall, while still preserving the existing prayer option at the northern part of the Western Wall and all of this, in the name of religious freedom and equality. The plan adopts the motto of Rav Kook: “Hayashan Yithadesh vHahadash Yitkadesh, What is old will be renewed and what is new will be sanctified.”

The main points of the proposed plan:

The plan distinguishes three different parts of the Western Wall: The upper plaza, the northern part of the Western Wall and the southern part of the Western Wall. The Western Wall is to be a site that welcomes all Jews to worship and visit and to this end, a new prayer section will be erected next to the women’s and men’s section in the northern part of the Wall, on the southern end. The two sections will be run parallel and simultaneously, under separate management.

The northern section, where the men’s section and women’s section are located, will remain under the management of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. It will be governed in accordance with the Head Rabbinate by strictly Orthodox norms, including gender segregation. Alongside this, the Mendelblit plan decriminalizes women’s prayer at the Kotel, including the women’s section even after the finalization of the third section. Previously, the sentence for non-compliance with Kotel “local custom” as defined by ultra-Orthodox rabbinic authority was 6 months in prison or a fine of 500 NIS. Until the complete implementation of the plan, Women of the Wall will continue to pray according to their traditions in the women’s section, in accordance with the 2013 Jerusalem District Court decision by Judge Sobell.

The new prayer section at the southern Western Wall will be fully committed to pluralism and governed by a committee to be chaired by the Chair of the Jewish Agency and including representatives from Women of the Wall, the Reform Movement, the Conservative/Masorti Movement, the Jewish Federations of North America and the Israeli government. The administrator of the space will be a government employee appointed by the Prime Minister and overseen by the pluralist committee of representatives. The prayer in this section will be largely mixed-gender but will include space for women’s only prayer for Women of the Wall and similar groups.  The new section will be erected and designed as a fully functional prayer space, accessible and visible to all Kotel visitors and unquestionably respectful of pluralistic tradition. The establishment of the council governing the new section will include a budget for the creation of the site and an annual financial allocation for the operation of the site.

The upper plaza, located west of the northern Wall section will not be used as a prayer space, but as a space for national and military ceremonies. With the exception of several times a year when the size of the prayers in the men’s and women’s sections exceeds their space and may filter into the upper plaza, the upper plaza will be free from the ultra-Orthodox coercion it has previously faced under the management Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. Previously, the upper plaza has been the site of discrimination against women- in national ceremonies on Independence day or in IDF swearing-in ceremonies for example, where women have been prohibited from speaking or singing. Though the Upper Plaza remains under the jurisdiction of Rabbi Rabinowitz, its designation as a plaza strictly for national/commemorative ceremonies has been clearly established.

In light of the fact that the southern and northern plaza will be managed separately, the report mandates a commitment to convening a roundtable between the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and the Southern Wall Plaza Council at least five times a year. In this way, issues that arise can be addressed and resolved.

Both the north and south sections will be open and accessible for all who wish to enter, visit, pray and gather. The difference will be in the customs expected and accepted in the different prayer sections.

Women of the Wall’s conditions for moving to the new section:

  • The transformation of the entrance to the Kotel plaza, including moving the “Shoken” security gate to create a majestic, ceremonious and visible path to the third section.
  • The fully functional and operational third section including construction completed, infrastructure built and staff hired, prayer books, tallitot, Torah scrolls, etc. available in the prayer space.
  • Removal of all obstacles of visibility of the new section.
  • Certification for the legality and safety of all of the platforms of the plaza.

The proposed changes will be protected by amendments to the Preservation of Jewish Holy Spaces Law of 1981.

Until the implementation of this plan is completed and a proper prayer space has been erected at the southern end of the Wall, Women of the Wall will continue to pray in the women’s section at the northern end of the Wall according to their tradition and custom at the time of the publication of the agreement.

This plan is proposed with great respect to all parties of this issue. In this plan we find tradition and renewal, balance and the acknowledgement of the complexities of these issues. In this plan lies the hope that the Western Wall will cease to be a source of conflict and resume its rightful place as a national and religious site for prayer and reflection, a special source of cohesion and decorum for the Jewish people. This plan expresses the aspiration that the Kotel may also be a place to bring us closer to peace amongst ourselves.

Despite PM’s Double Speak, Women of the Wall Will Read Torah at the Kotel

Women of the Wall in response to the report that Prime Minister Netanyahu promised ultra-Orthodox parties that there will be no change of the status quo at the Western Wall:
 
PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s stance on women’s rights at the Kotel has gotten lost on translation. In English, in front of cheering crowds at the General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America last month he said that he will “ensure that all Jews can feel at home in Israel… all Jews” and “ensure that the Kotel is a source of unity for our people, not a point of division.” In Hebrew this week according to Israeli Radio Galei Tzahal, PM Netanyahu has promised the ultra-Orthodox party heads that there will be no change of the status quo at the Kotel and that women will not read Torah at the Kotel.
 
Apparently when Netanyahu spoke of “all” Jews in November 2015, he forgot that women make up half of all Jews. No Israeli Prime Minister has the right to take away Torah from half of all Jews. It is our hope that Netanyahu will not ban women from reading Torah, however if he does bend to the pressure of the Haredi parties, Women of the Wall will continue to read Torah in the women’s section of the Kotel. Even if we must hide our Torah scroll and smuggle it past the guards, we will do so just as Jews have been forced to do so many times before us in exile.
 

Attorney General to Rabbi Rabinowitz: No Discrimination of Women on Hanukkah

Israeli Attorney General to Rabinowitz: This Hanukkah, No Discrimination of Women at the Kotel

Women of the Wall have led a multi-pronged struggle against the exclusion of women from the national Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall. Each year Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Administrator of the Western Wall and Holy Places, organizes the official Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall, inviting ONLY male honorees- politicians and dignitaries- to light and bless the candles on the large menorah erected in the men’s section.

On November 30, 2015 the Attorney General’s office wrote a letter to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, administrator of the Western Wall and Holy Places, in response to Women of the Wall’s campaign. The bottom line: the Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony he has conducted until now constitutes discrimination and a violation of the commitments of the government’s report on the exclusion of women in the public sphere. In the closing of her unprecedented letter, Assistant Attorney General Dana Zilber writes, “Preventing women from participating in national ceremonies is wrongful discrimination and we request that [Rabinowitz] ensure this fact is not taken for granted and that steps are being taken to include women in the national candle-lighting ceremony on this coming Hanukkah at the Western Wall. “ Zilber requested that Rabinowitz send her a list of all those expected to participate in the ceremony this year, to assist with the enforcement of the decision on the matter.

Anat Hoffman, Women of the Wall Chair: “It is almost graphic how Women of the Wall were the match that ignited the flame on the first candle to ever be lit by a woman at the national Hanukkah ceremony at the Kotel. Whatever woman is chosen for this great honor, she is standing on the shoulders of Women of the Wall who struggled for 27 years to achieve freedom for women at the Western Wall. It is clear to me that one candle dispel a whole lot of darkness but no amount of darkness can extinguish that candle.”

Zilber’s important statement accepts and confirms all of the arguments offered in Shapira’s November 22nd letter on behalf of Women of the Wall. On November 22, 2015 Women of the Wall board member Adv. Riki Shapira wrote to the Attorney General of Israel Adv. Yehuda Weinstein. Shapira states clearly that the state-sponsored exclusion of women from the national Hanukkah ceremony at the Kotel is “discrimination, creates an atmosphere of subordination of women in Israel.” She writes that this causes “erosion to our basic principles as a society“, quoting the findings of a government report on the exclusion of women in the public sphere. The report established a prohibition on national ceremonies in which women are discriminated against and excluded women. Likewise, there is no Jewish legal (halakhic) or socially normative basis for separation based on gender (as is common in most other Orthodox religions ceremonies) on Hanukkah.

On behalf of Women of the Wall Shapira asks that the Attorney General immediately inform Rabbi Rabinowitz of his responsibility to respect and oblige the established basic principles of equality of women in the public sphere, which also forbid him from discriminating against women. The organization requests that he be instructed to include women in the national Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony in one of the following two ways: 1. to hold another ceremony for Hanukkah candle lighting in the women’s section and 2. to hold the national ceremony in the upper plaza of the Western Wall and to invite men and women to participate, equally.

For 27 years Women of the Wall has continued to fight for religious freedom and women’s rights at the Western Wall. As Women of the Wall, our central mission is to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall. 

Shira Pruce

Director of Public Relations

+972 (0)546898351

Women of the Wall

 

It’s My Right to Light

Women of the Wall Call on Israeli Leaders to Reject the Official Hanukkah Candle-lighting at the Kotel

Each year Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Administrator of the Western Wall and Holy Places, organizes the official Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall. Rabinowitz invites ONLY men to have the honor of lighting and blessing the candles on the large menorah erected in the men’s section. Women are completely excluded from this state-sponsored event.

Women of the Wall sent letters on Monday November 9, 2015 to Israeli leaders asking them to refuse to participate in the official candle-lighting on Hanukkah at the Western Wall, in which women are excluded. Letters were sent to all female members of Knesset as well as all those who are usually invited: the executive director of the Chief Rabbinate, Police Commissioner, Minister of Police, Police Chief in charge of the Western Wall area, Chair of Knesset, chair of opposition, chair of coalition, President of the Supreme Court, Government Secretary, Mayor of Jerusalem and President of Israel.

The letter reads, “According to Jewish law (Halacha) women are required, as are men, to light Hanukkah candles. The “mitzvah” is greater, the more people light the candles. We would appreciate it if you would see fit to turn to Rabinowitz, demanding he change this offensive policy. You could reject his invitation to attend the event stating that you will not attend a ceremony which discriminates against half the population. You could disseminate this message, call on your fellow party members to boycott this ceremony and speak out publicly against the discrimination and the exclusion of women.  Any of these actions you might decide to take, as a public figure, will have great effect on the road to equality.”

Will the government ‘pass the buck’ on women’s rights, again?

In 2014, Women of the Wall wrote to Prime Minister Netanyahu to request that a Hanukkah menorah equal in size to that in the men’s section be erected in the women’s section. Netanyahu did not respond, and instead his office passed the letter on to the Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs Rabbi Elie Ben Dahan. Dahan then passed the letter to Rabbi Rabinowitz , who on December 1, 2014 wrote back to Ben Dahan and Netanyahu, claiming that “The large and fancy Hanukkiah is put in a place that can be seen from a far, from the men’s section and the women’s section.”

However, on December 18, 2014, as on Hanukkah every year at the Kotel, women could not see the Hanukkiah and were forced to stand on chairs and peer over the partition in attempt to see the candles. On that night, one of the men who lit the candles at the official ceremony was the State Comptroller, Yossi Shapira. Anat Hoffman, Women of the Wall chair, wrote to Shapira, and in his response he stated, “Equality and tolerance are value close to my heart and I would be happy if these values could be in agreement and good spirit at the Kotel as well. You did well in writing both to the Prime Minister and to the Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs. I hope that next year, maybe with the establishment of a new government, a suitable appropriate solution will be found… I am going to follow this issue closely.

It’s My Right to Light

Rabbi Jackie Ellenson and Rabbi Sydney Mintz are spearheading a campaign calling on supporters of pluralism and equal rights in Israel to join Women of the Wall in telling Rabinowitz: It’s my right to light on Hanukkah. The campaign can be found at http://my.israelgives.org/en/myrighttolight.

Women of the Wall will gather for Rosh Hodesh Kislev prayers on Friday, November 13th at 7AM in the women’s section of the Western Wall.

 

Members of Knesset Sign On

On November 10, 2015 MKsTamar Zandberg (Meretz), Michal Rozin (Meretz), and Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) wrote to Rabbi Rabinowitz with a request that he allow women to take part in the official Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at the Kotel. On November 18, 2015 Rabinowitz sends a response, which while flagrant and offensive, does not refer or respond at all to the claims in the letter from the female MKs. MK Svetlova: “It is regrettable that this is the response to a legitimate and understandable request. No connection exists, she said, between negotiations over the mixed-prayer space and the demand to have a special candle-lighting ceremony for women at the Western Wall.”

Tammy Gottlieb, vice-chair of Women of the Wall: Rabbi Rabinowitz’s reference to the negotiations that have been going on for two years (and can go on much longer) as grounds for discrimination and exclusion of women is unacceptable to us. He had a full year to consider solutions, following our request last year, but he insists on ignoring the religious needs of women and other groups that are not ultra-Orthodox.”

The Next Legal Steps

On November 22, 2015 Women of the Wall board member Adv. Riki Shapira wrote to the Attorney General of Israel Adv. Yehuda Weinstein. Shapira states clearly that the state-sponsored exclusion of women from the national Hanukkah ceremony at the Kotel is “discrimination, creates an atmosphere of subordination of women in Israel.” She writes that this causes “erosion to our basic principles as a society“, quoting the findings of a government report on the exclusion of women in the public sphere. The report established a prohibition on national ceremonies in which women are discriminated against and excluded women. Likewise, there is no Jewish legal (halakhic) or socially normative basis for separation based on gender (as is common in most other Orthodox religions ceremonies) on Hanukkah.

On behalf of Women of the Wall Shapira asks that the Attorney General immediately inform Rabbi Rabinowitz of his responsibility to respect and oblige the established basic principles of equality of women in the public sphere, which also forbid him from discriminating against women. The organization requests that he be instructed to include women in the national Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony in one of the following two ways:

  1. To hold another ceremony for Hannukkah candle lighting in the women’s section
  2. To hold the national ceremony in the upper plaza of the Western Wall and to invite men and women to participate, equally.

For 27 years Women of the Wall has continued to fight for religious freedom and women’s rights at the Western Wall. As Women of the Wall, our central mission is to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.

Shira Pruce

Director of Public Relations

+972 (0)546898351

Women of the Wall

New Supreme Court Petition

BREAKING: Just as Women of the Wall marks 27 years of struggle for women’s rights at the Kotel, a new step: A Supreme Court petition by Susan Weiss (Center for Women’s Justice) against the ban on Torah for women at the Kotel. Anat Hoffman, Women of the Wall Chair: “This petition is further proof that women in Israel want to read Torah at the Kotel. Israeli society is primed for this historic intersection. This petition is a direct result of Judge Moshe Sobel’s 2013 District Court decision, in which the rights of Women of the Wall to read Torah at the Kotel were confirmed.” Despite Rabinowitz’s continuing efforts to deny women access to Torah scrolls at the public site, Women of the Wall have managed to read Torah at the Kotel 6 times this year.
Hoffman continued, “On Hanukah, Rabbi Rabinowitz has the opportunity to prove to the Jewish world that he is committed to resolving this conflict, by inviting women to participate in a national candle-lighting ceremony at the Kotel.”
The article (in Hebrew) on Ynet: http://bit.ly/1lUMVaF

Hearts and Souls

The following was written by Jane Kusel about her experience with Women of the Wall on Rosh Hodesh Kislev, November 13, 2015:

Too excited to sleep much last PM, I finally succumbed and beat my IPad and King David wake-ups a bit

before 5AM.  Patsy and I were out the door, take-away coffee in hand by 6:05, and at Liberty Bell Park before the 6:20 designated arrival.  We were met with warm welcomes and many introductions before boarding our minibus to the Kotel.  At this point we probably numbered 30 something with us being the eldest.

However after our arrival at the wall and security checks behind us, our numbers doubled, minimally, and ages spanned the years.  Rosh Chodesh prayer books were distributed and a make-shift Bema erected…we gathered about halfway between the women’s side entrance and the Wall.  There were Rabbis and Rabinnical students among us, US groups, Hebrew U coeds et al…some without kippot, others with kippot, some with Tallit, and fewer still with Tefillin.

But the spirituality, the knowledge of the Siddur, the joy, the pride, the determination and the sense of communal worship was palpable and the welcoming spirit of the WOW contingency was sincere and loving.  As we prepared to begin Worship, I took a moment to pray as I put on my Tallit.  I noticed a group of our women laying Tefillin, so with my own yet unwrapped in hand, I asked if someone would teach me… Dina Greenberg, as beautiful inside as she was outside, rose to the challenge, helped me lay and pray… as we placed the phylacteries before my eyes I became overwhelmed with emotion and could barely contain myself… Dina held me and hugged me and I her..I could sense Patsy’s embrace although it was in thought only. The shouts of Mazel Tov and support and pleasure by those around me is something I’ll cherish forever. I glanced over to the Men’s Section and recalled about 28 years ago when I watched Don, with bittersweet envy, being escorted into the catacombs to lay Tefillin…there was a single dove atop the Wall directly in front of me… I glowed within and without.

_DAN2711

 The service was perfect. Patsy and I joined the other first-timers as we were honored with an Aliyah.  We were both so full afterwards, I marvel that we were able to eat… but, hey… it’s the breakfast buffet at KD… a feast for our bodies after our hearts and souls were so completely sated.

_DAN2709

 

 

WOW to Israeli Leaders: Boycott Discriminatory Kotel Hanukkah Candle-lighting

Women of the Wall Call on Israeli Leaders to Reject the Official Hanukkah Candle-lighting at the Kotel

Each year Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Administrator of the Western Wall and Holy Places, organizes the official Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall. Rabinowitz invites ONLY men to have the honor of lighting and blessing the candles on the large menorah erected in the men’s section. Women are completely excluded from this state-sponsored event.

Women of the Wall sent letters on Monday November 9, 2015 to Israeli leaders asking them to refuse to participate in the official candle-lighting on Hanukkah at the Western Wall, in which women are excluded. Letters were sent to all female members of Knesset as well as all those who are usually invited: the executive director of the Chief Rabbinate, Police Commissioner, Minister of Police, Police Chief in charge of the Western Wall area, Chair of Knesset, chair of opposition, chair of coalition, President of the Supreme Court, Government Secretary, Mayor of Jerusalem and President of Israel.

The letter reads, “According to Jewish law (Halacha) women are required, as are men, to light Hanukkah candles. The “mitzvah” is greater, the more people light the candles. We would appreciate it if you would see fit to turn to Rabinowitz, demanding he change this offensive policy. You could reject his invitation to attend the event stating that you will not attend a ceremony which discriminates against half the population. You could disseminate this message, call on your fellow party members to boycott this ceremony and speak out publicly against the discrimination and the exclusion of women.  Any of these actions you might decide to take, as a public figure, will have great effect on the road to equality.”

Will the government ‘pass the buck’ on women’s rights, again?

In 2014, Women of the Wall wrote to Prime Minister Netanyahu to request that a Hanukkah menorah equal in size to that in the men’s section be erected in the women’s section. Netanyahu did not respond, and instead his office passed the letter on to the Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs Rabbi Elie Ben Dahan. Dahan then passed the letter to Rabbi Rabinowitz , who on December 1, 2014 wrote back to Ben Dahan and Netanyahu, claiming that “The large and fancy Hanukkiah is put in a place that can be seen from a far, from the men’s section and the women’s section.”

However, on December 18, 2014, as on Hanukkah every year at the Kotel, women could not see the Hanukkiah and were forced to stand on chairs and peer over the partition in attempt to see the candles. On that night, one of the men who lit the candles at the official ceremony was the State Comptroller, Yossi Shapira. Anat Hoffman, Women of the Wall chair, wrote to Shapira, and in his response he stated, “Equality and tolerance are value close to my heart and I would be happy if these values could be in agreement and good spirit at the Kotel as well. You did well in writing both to the Prime Minister and to the Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs. I hope that next year, maybe with the establishment of a new government, a suitable appropriate solution will be found… I am going to follow this issue closely.”

It’s My Right to Light

Rabbi Jackie Ellenson and Rabbi Sydney Mintz are spearheading a campaign calling on supporters of pluralism and equal rights in Israel to join Women of the Wall in telling Rabinowitz: It’s my right to light on Hanukkah. The campaign can be found at http://my.israelgives.org/en/myrighttolight.

Women of the Wall will gather for Rosh Hodesh Kislev prayers on Friday, November 13th at 7AM in the women’s section of the Western Wall.

My Amazing Bat Mitzvah Experience

by Aliya Mayana Glatt 

Aliya had her bat mitzvah at the Kotel with Women of the Wall on October 14, 2015

The Kotel stands in its ancient glory as I step onto the tiny women’s side.  After greetings, we begin the Rosh SP 3 gens Heshvan Oct 2015Chodesh service. The men on the other, roomier side of the Mechitza have already started their loud praying.  I look back and see my loving brother and grandfather on the Kotel Plaza, wave to them, and turn back to my Siddur. I smile as I realize the beauty of being surrounded by women who are willing to fight for their right to read from Torah at this Holy place.

I was blessed to have this trip of a lifetime to the Holy Land of Israel, and to be able to visit David’s City of Jerusalem. We built our trip around Women of the Wall’s monthly Rosh Chodesh service, which offered me the opportunity for a Bat Mitzvah at the Kotel. 

The absence of a Torah was extremely significant. It was amazing to read a Torah portion at the Western Wall, but it would have been more amazing to read it from a real Torah.  Actually, Women of the Wall could have tried to smuggle in a small Torah, like they have attempted many times before. However, Palestinian violence was sweeping the country that day, and the organization decided that the police had more important things to do.

A girl from Brazil became a Bat Mitzvah with me on that remarkable Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, proving that the Kotel’s holiness is still vibrant, even on the other side of the world. The service was wonderful, because I loved reading a Torah portion, learning new melodies, and just being at the holy Kotel. I was proud to be a part of three generations of strong women — my grandmother, my mother, and I. Along with immediate family, it was lovely to have a good family friend with us, accompanied by her mother and adorable baby. She even received a special blessing for herself and her newborn. My great-aunt was kindly present as well, and even had a spontaneous Aliyah, bringing a sense of family and love.

Reading a Torah portion at the Western Wall was only part of the experience. Practicing my three Aliyot, starting in early June, definitely emphasized my exposure and connection to Women of the Wall and this ancient site. Interestingly, by ridiculous standards, women aren’t actually forbidden from reading Torah at the Kotel, but they are unable to have access to Torahs, not being able to go onto the men’s side to get one of the two polished, well-loved Torah arks. This makes me very angry! Not only do women have a much smaller section of the Mechitza, we also are not allowed even one of the many, many Torahs that the men have on their large 2/3!

During the splendid service, a man on the other side started to shout at us for silence, and when we ignored him and kept on singing, a young Yeshiva boy told him, “Not today. Today is a day for peace and unity among all Jews.” Then he gathered his fellows together and started singing Am Yisrael Chai, and we, the women, joined in. It was a beautiful moment of peace.

Unfortunately, rare conditions such as these do not last forever, though that wish burns in one’s heart with a wistful throb. The Women of the Wall are trying bravely to change this unequal situation in a peaceful way, their attitude inspiring me, along with generations, and making the world a better place.

SP Heshvan Oct 15 all1

 

Women of the Wall respond to MK Eichler’s attack on women’s prayer at the Kotel

With these words MK Eichler represents a very extreme Jewish minority who see the Kotel as their own private synagogue. Women of the Wall’s struggle threatens this “Haredi Kotel” vision, and in his perspective, anyone who does not agree with him is the enemy. If it were up to Eichler, women would be all together excluded from the Kotel or forced to dress up like the Taliban in order to enter.  Anat Hoffman, Chair of Women of the Wall praised Prime Minister Netanyahu and MKs Galon and Yechimovich for immediately denouncing these comments. “The next step is to focus efforts on providing bat mitzvah ceremonies, with aliyah to the Torah, for girls at the Western Wall,” Hoffman said.

For 26 years Women of the Wall has led the struggle for religious freedom and women’s rights at the Western Wall. Women of the Wall’s central mission is to achieve the social and legal recognition of women’s right to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.

 

Joyous Bat Mitzvah Ceremonies at the Kotel, Despite a Bitter Start to the Month of Heshvan

Today Women of the Wall gathered at the Western Wall for Rosh Hodesh, the new Jewish month of Heshvan, often called MarHeshvan. Mar in Hebrew means bitter and the term definitely applies as we start this month with Israel in the grips of a major wave of violence. Despite the high threat levels in Jerusalem, 48 people gathered for prayers this morning, to pray for peace and to celebrate two bat mitzvahs of two girls who travelled over 6,000 miles each for the unique experience. Aliya Mayana Glatt came from America with her mother, grandmother and family to celebrate her bat mitzvah at the Kotel. Leora Cytrynbaum travelled from Brazil with her mother for the occasion.

The bitterness of this marHeshvan is compounded by the fact that these two girls, who have studied and trained for months prior to this day, did not have a Torah scroll to read from. Even though there are hundreds of Torah scrolls less than 15 feet from our prayers service, these bat mitzvah girls, their mothers and grandmothers were refused the use of even one Torah. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, administrator of the Western Wall, has decided that only boys are allowed to read from Torah scrolls at the Kotel. He uses his authority and the resources at his disposal to enforce this discriminatory regulation.

This week, Anat Hoffman sent a letter to Rabinowitz to let him know that the leadership of Women of the Wall has decided, out of a deep sense of responsibility, not to attempt to smuggle a Torah scroll in to the Kotel this month, so as not to challenge the security forces during this time of high threat levels. Hoffman repeated a request she has made many times before: allow women to use one of the hundreds of Torah scrolls at his disposal, for Rosh Hodesh and these important bat mitzvah ceremonies. Rabinowitz runs a lucrative bar mitzvah trade on the men’s side of the Western Wall while denying women this right, despite the guarantee of equal rights to worship made by the Sobel Decision in April 2013. Hoffman writes, “I hope that you will receive this request in the spirit of understanding and reconciliation.” No response to the letter was received.

In addition to the touching and joyous bat mitzvah ceremonies, Women of the Wall delivered 133 notes to the Kotel this morning, which were sent from WOW supporters from Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, France, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Kenya, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States. The women and girls at the Kotel were honored to hand-deliver these prayers and place them in the Kotel. The notes contained personal prayers as well as a unified wish for the future, “I love Israel and equality is a central value in my life. Please soften the heart of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, that he will embrace equality and provide Torah for women at Israel’s holiest site. Strengthen the voices of Women of the Wall in this holy struggle. I have hope that in 5776 we can and must achieve equal rights for women at the Kotel.”

For 26 years Women of the Wall has continued to fight for religious freedom and women’s rights at the Western Wall. As Women of the Wall, our central mission is to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.

Despite security concerns, Women of the Wall determined to pray and read Torah at the Kotel.

2 Bat Mitzvah ceremonies scheduled for Wednesday October 14, 2015 in the women’s section.

As a wave of violence washes over Israel, many Israelis are fearful and unwilling to go to Jerusalem’s Old City and the Western Wall. Women of the Wall will be taking extra precautions, but remain determined as ever to pray and read Torah in the women’s section of the Kotel, as the group has done each month for the last 26 years. Despite serious security concerns, the women will gather for Rosh Hodesh Heshvan prayers on October 14, 2015 at 7AM, and will celebrate two bat mitzvah ceremonies. Two young women, one from Brazil and one from the United States, have arrived in Israel after months of planning and training, to celebrate their bat mitzvah with the hopes of reading Torah and blessing a Torah at the Kotel.

The illusive Torah scroll, which the Women of the Wall have been forced to smuggle into the Kotel past security each month, as Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, appointed administrator of the Western Wall, prohibits women from accessing the Torah scrolls at the Kotel.

Yesterday, Anat Hoffman sent a letter to Rabinowitz to let him know that the leadership of Women of the Wall has decided, out of a deep sense of responsibility, not to attempt to smuggle a Torah scroll in to the Kotel this month, so as not to challenge the security forces during this time of high threat levels. Hoffman repeated a request she has made many times before: allow women to use one of the hundreds of Torah scrolls at his disposal, for Rosh Hodesh and these important bat mitzvah ceremonies. Rabinowitz runs a lucrative bar mitzvah trade on the men’s side of the Western Wall while denying women this right, despite the guarantee of equal rights to worship made by the Sobel Decision in April 2013. Hoffman writes, “I hope that you will receive this request in the spirit of understanding and reconciliation.”

In the months leading up to Rosh Hodesh Heshvan the Women of the Wall Torah, which Rabinowitz has repeatedly banned from entering the Kotel, has been given a new home. Bob and Sheila Friedland, Women of the Wall supporters from New York, dreamed up and created an Aron Kodesh, a holy ark, which has now arrived in Israel. Bob Friedland is an amateur carpenter and the WOW Aron Kodesh is his sixth creation of this kind, his third sent to be used in Israel. The WOW Torah has never had a permanent place to be held and, prohibited from entering the Kotel, it was in storage in the Davidson Center at Robinson’s Arch, where a leak from the rain caused water damage to the Torah. The now repaired Women of the Wall Torah is in its new home, the ark which was hand crafted and sent across the ocean to Israel, by Friedland. Of the ark he said, “It was a labor of love. I feel that I am contributing in one small part to Women of the Wall, a movement of great importance and meaning. Nothing could mean more to me than that.” It is the sincere hope of Sheila and Bob Friendland and Women of the Wall that this special handmade Aron Kodesh and the Torah will one day be given a permanent home in the women’s section of the Kotel, for women to use freely and joyously.

For 26 years Women of the Wall has continued to fight for religious freedom and women’s rights at the Western Wall. As Women of the Wall, our central mission is to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.

Amidst harassment from both police and ultra-Orthodox, women read Torah, blow Shofar

Amidst harassment from both police and ultra-Orthodox, Women of the Wall read from the Torah and blew a Shofar this morning at the Rosh Hodesh Elul prayer, August 16th 2015 at the Western Wall. 
Women of the Wall sat all night holding on to a Torah scroll so that the group will be able to have one during this mornings’ prayer. Although the 2013 Sobel Court Ruling states that reading from the Torah at the Kotel is a part of Women of the Wall’s rights, the local regulations enforced my the Rabbi of the Wall forbid women from bringing in a Torah Scroll and deny women access to the scrolls for public use located at the site. In order to read Torah at seven in the morning, Women of the Wall came with a Torah scroll at seven pm the previous evening, while there are over a hundred Torah Scrolls for “public” use meters away, all in the men’s section. At 03:54 am, policemen at the site approached the women and searched through their items, asked them to open their bag, and when they saw the Torah scroll asked them to take the Torah and escort them to the police station. The women refused and called the Chief of Police, who was on vacation with his family. They woke him up, and he acted upon the assurances he gave last month, that if Women of the Wall get the Torah in he will not confiscate it. He ordered the policemen to leave the women alone, and thus it was possible to conduct a full prayer with a Torah.
The next challenge came at 06:30, as a huge altercation at the security gate over the issue of bringing in Shofarot. An important tradition of Rosh Chodesh Elul, the last month of the Jewish calendar and one that opens the Jewish tradition of “Slichot” – praryers for forgiveness, is to blow a Shofar horn. As the sounds of many Shofarot brought in by men were sounded from the men’s section at the plaza, the Women of the Wall were stopped from bringing in 12 Shofarot to be used by women. Again, the Chief of Police was disturbed on his vacation, and the problem was sorted. A short while later, the security decided to ban the women from bringing in their prayer books. Another phone call to the Chief of Police, who by then was pulling all his hair out, was required.
Thus, despite the struggle against the police, Women of the Wall succeeded this month in fulfilling their rights and carrying out a complete prayer with a Torah Scroll and Shofarot for Rosh Chodesh Elul. The prayer was dedicated to tolerance and pluralism in Jerusalem in the wake of the murder of 16-year-old Shira Banki. However, in the midst of the meaningful prayer, Women of the Wall experienced an escalation in the level of verbal and physical violence against them throughout the prayers. Ultra-Orthodox women and men harassed the praying women. Some yelled threats at the women, such as “(what you are doing is) punishable by death”, “Sacrilege”. In a particularly chilling moment, Dana Sharon, Chairperson of the Jerusalem Open House which organized the Jerusalem Pride March, prayed in mourning for sixteen-year-old Shira Banki z”l who was murdered two weeks ago at the march by an ultra-orthodox man who stabbed her for “sacrilege”. Just at that moment a woman came with a deafening whistle and screeched “your judgement day is nearing”. After repeated attempts to get the police to intervene, a policewoman showed up, asked the woman to stop whistling but did not confiscate the woman’s strong whistle, did not take any personal information and did not warn her of the seriousness of her verbal threats. Anat Hoffman, Chairperson of Women of the Wall, reported the Chief of Police of Jerusalem MG Moshe (Chiko) Edri, about the dramatic increase in verbal threats to Women of the Wall and demanded immediate and serious action before these threats are acted upon.
Anat Hoffman: “This Rosh Chodesh in my mind will be remembered as our most powerful celebration of the year. The devotion of the women who sat all night so that we can pray with a Torah scroll, made it possible for us to make history today. Every woman who prayed with us today got a chance to blow Shofar. That never happened before. And above all, we gave a safe and loving space to our sister Dana Sharon who is overcoming the tragedy of Shira Banki’s murder. The song for peace in Hebrew says, ‘don’t say a day will come, bring that day’. This Rosh Chodesh, we have brought the day for equality and pluralism just a little bit closer.

 

Women of the Wall Leader Arrested with a Torah in the Women’s Section

Women of the Wall board member Rachel Cohen Yeshurun was arrested in the women’s section of the Kotel on July 17, 2051 Rosh Hodesh Av. Yeshurun entered the Westen Wall plaza and the women’s section with the Torah and was then interrogated by a representative of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. The police were then called and Yeshurun was handcuffed and the officers seized the Torah and removed them both from the Kotel.

Some 300 WOW supporters gathered to pray for the start of the Jewish month of Av and were met by about 100 ultra-Orthodox protesters. Men yelled and cursed at WOW women and male supporters, while a few ultra-Orthodox women blew whistles and held signs in opposition to the group’s prayers.

Women of the Wall also reported being delayed and harassed at the security entrance by Western Wall Heritage Foundation staff.

Rachel Cohen Yeshurun said of the ordeal, “I’m disappointed that the government of Israel lacks the courage to stand up to Haredi political pressure. Only in Israel can Jews be handcuffed and dragged away for wanting to read Torah.”

Anat Hoffman, Women of the Wall chair, said, “This is exactly what Rabbi Rabinowitz wants- for the Israeli public to equate a woman with a Torah scroll to a terrorist with a gun.”

According to the 2013 District Court decision, women are permitted to read Torah at the Kotel. Regulations passed by Rabinowitz currently attempt to prevent women from accessing Torah scrolls at the public holy site.

WOMAN BANNED FROM ENTERING THE KOTEL – BECAUSE SHE WAS WEARING A KIPPAH

WOMAN BANNED FROM ENTERING THE KOTEL – BECAUSE SHE WAS WEARING A KIPPAH

Linda Siegel-Richman was bullied at the Western Wall yesterday for wearing a kippah. A security guard and Western Wall Heritage Foundation staff interrogated her and attempted to detain her for wearing a Kippah, in direct violation of the 2013 District Court “Sobel” Decision. Siegel-Richman, a visiting student at the Conservative Yeshiva and a member of Women of the Wall, was subsequently removed from the Kotel. Tonight at 18:00 Women of the Wall Director Lesley Sachs will attend a women’s prayer, wearing her kippah, in solidarity with Linda, in the women’s section of the Kotel.

Women of the Wall are OUTRAGED by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation’s treatment of anyone who is not ultra-Orthodox as a suspect and a criminal. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, chair of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, and his staff can not refuse women the right to enter the Kotel to pray with a Kippah, Tallit, Tefillin or Torah, as these rights are guaranteed to us by the Israeli courts. Along with Rabinowitz, several Haredi members of Knesset including Minister of Religious Affairs David Azulay (Shas) have begun to exclude, discriminate and incite against Jews who are not ultra-Orthodox, specifically Women of the Wall, whose membership includes women from all Jewish denominations including Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews.

In defense of this latest offense, Rabinowitz expressed regret over the situation but blames Women of the Wall for the shameful behavior of his Western Wall Heritage staff at the Kotel. However, it is clear to all who visit the Kotel that this instance does not represent an exception but the rule under Rabinowitz. This phenomenon of exclusion and discrimination again women at the Kotel, in which female worshippers are harassed, offended and shamed, is the typical brand of Rabinowitz and his dedication to extremist-religious coercion. It is not surprising that Rabinowitz would blame the offensive and illegal behaviors of his staff on Women of the Wall and it would not surprise us if he blamed us for the government’s inability to pass a budget or for the chullent burning on Shabbat.

Women of the Wall invite all supporters to join the campaign to tell Rabinowitz, Azulay and the like: “My tallit, my kippah, my Judaism is not provocative – it’s my PREROGATIVE” Stand with Linda and Women of the Wall. Take a photo or a selfie of yourself with your Kippa/Tallit and tagging Women of the Wall and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Look at our Facebook page for examples and send them in. Organize your friends, family and community to do the same.  Together we will tell Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli Government that they must stand up again discrimination, bullying and the exclusion of women and that all Jews must be welcome at the Kotel.

Press Contact:  Shira Pruce +972 (0)546898351 media@women.org.il

The Wall – by Shoshana Silberman

The Wall by Shoshana Silberman
as published in New Mitzvah Stories for the Whole Family,
Goldie Milgram and Ellen Frankel co-editors, © 2014 Reclaiming Judaism Press
Available through all booksellers
 

“Attention everyone!” shouted Rabbi Berenstein into the microphone. “It’s time for the raffle! I’d like to call on Cantor Roth to come up and select the winning number.”

Cantor Roth bounded up to the front of the room and put her hand into a large bucket full of folded sheets of paper. She pulled one out, opened it up and read the number in her lovely alto voice. “Number 118! Who has number 118? You’ve just won a trip to Israel for two!

“That’s me! That’s me! I can’t believe this!” exclaimed a very startled Jessica Brenner. Then she ran up to receive the gift certificate, as her equally surprised family looked on and cheered. As the Brenners were leaving the Purim Carnival, their friends rushed over to congratulate them. These friends seemed genuinely happy for them, even though they themselves had obviously lost the raffle.

When they got into the car, Josh, who had recently turned thirteen, interrupted the laughter with a question. “If there’s only two tickets, who will get to go on the trip? One ticket should be for me,” he stated in an authoritative voice, “since now I can have an aliyah at the Kotel (the Western Wall).

“That would not be fair,” pleaded Leah, age ten. “You just had a bar mitzvah with all the fuss and attention on you. It should be my turn to do something special.”

Their Mom calmed everyone down and said, “We’ll discuss this tomorrow night, after Dad and I have had a chance to think about it.”

The following evening after dinner, Mom made an incredible announcement.

“We’ve decided that with two trips being sponsored by the raffle, we will have

sufficient funds for both of you to come with us, provided we all watch our spending, over the next few months.”

Smiles broke out on both children’s faces.

The trip was arranged to begin two days after school ended. Until then, the entire family was busy, planning, packing, listening to conversational Hebrew CD’s, and dreaming about the adventure ahead. All had agreed that as soon as they were settled in their Jerusalem hotel, their first outing would be a trip to The Wall.

The Brenners felt that this holy place would connect them to their ancestors and to their history. Since the 1967 war, The Wall had become a symbol of national unity, a place of pride. Praying there would be a way of showing their gratitude, that finally the Jewish people had a country of their own.

They also liked the custom of writing a prayer on a piece of paper to be put into a crevice in The Wall, and decided to write their own prayers in advance. Dad had joked that since the last time someone in their family put a folded piece of paper and placed it into something, they were very lucky. Perhaps they’ll be just as fortunate this time, as well.

 

And so it was that on the day after they arrived in Jerusalem, the Brenner family took a cab to the Old City and made their way to the Kotel. As they approached the ancient site below, the family became very silent, each engrossed with his or her own thoughts. It was hard to believe that they had finally come here. Leah broke the silence by wondering out loud, if it was real or a movie set. Josh pointed out that it was a busy place with such a diverse crowd of people, everyone pouring out their hearts. Mom and Dad, with tears in their eyes, just held hands. Finally, Mom suggested that they recite the Shehechiyanu prayer for reaching this special time together.

Dad then requested that they sit down, so he and Mom could explain how they would proceed. Mom said that Dad and Josh would be going to the men’s side to pray, and Mom and Leah would be going to the women’s side.

“There’s just one other thing, Leah,” Mom noted. “Women are not allowed to sing their prayers out loud.”

Leah was stunned, but it was Josh who spoke up first. “But that doesn’t make any sense! Women always sing the prayers at our synagogue.”

“Yes,” acknowledged Dad, “but there are rules here that are very different from home.”

Leah then posed a question. “What if I decided to sing Adon Olam? I really like that prayer.”

“Well, some people may get very angry and even try to hurt you.”

“What!” shouted Leah. “Why would anyone want to hurt someone who is praying?”

“I don’t know,” said Mom, “ but we need to follow the rules. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“I’m not sure I really want to go now, said Leah, “unless we could go to The Wall together as a family.”

“I understand how you feel,” said Dad. “I wish it were different, too. You should be aware, though, that there are many people around the world working to make changes so that men and women can pray together, with all of their voices heard. I hope that when we return as a family – and I hope it will be soon, there will be changes.”

“Leah, I won’t make you go to The Wall,” said Mom, “but I want to put a special prayer in a crevice. It’s a healing prayer for my friend Hannah, who is sick. You know,” she said, like she was thinking out loud, “I have some paper and pencil in my pocketbook. Maybe we all could add prayers to the ones we already wrote, asking for a way for women to pray as they wish at this holy place.”

“I like that idea,” said Leah, and the rest of the family nodded in agreement. “I’d like to do that, so I’ll join you, Mom.”

Yet as they walked towards The Wall, Leah was still sad that her Adon Olam could not be sung. Her Dad and brother parted with them and went to the men’s section, where the sound of the davvening (praying) could be heard. Mom and Leah entered the quiet women’s section, where tears seemed to substitute for song.

The ancient stones kept beckoning to Leah to come closer. Her hand trembled as she placed both of her prayers in a crevice. As she stepped back, she noticed that there were many tiny birds that had come to the women’s side. They flew about between the cracks, as if gathering up blessings and bird voices. Leah knew at once that they were singing her song—her Adon Olam!

She burst into tears as she cried out, “Thank you, birds. Thank you so much! When I come here next time, I pray I will be able to join you in prayer.”

 

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Tammuz: Incitement from Religious Affairs Minister, Women Read from Torah

For Immediate Release: After Incitement from Minister of Religious Affairs David Azulai, Women of the Wall Read from Torah on Rosh Hodesh Tammuz

Over 250 women and men came this morning (June 18th) to the Kotel to celebrate Rosh Hodesh Tammuz with Women of the Wall. In honor of the new month, Women of the Wall prayed with a Torah scroll that was brought in covertly through security. Amidst the sounds of whistles and harassment from detractors, five Bat Mitzvah ceremonies were celebrated. Three girls and two women were able to make Aliyah and read from the Torah scroll.

Yesterday, Minister of Religious Affairs David Azulai spoke against women’s rights at the Kotel. “To come with a tallit, tefillin and a Torah scroll isn’t to come to pray, it’s to come to cause a provocation” said Azulai in an interview to Israel Hayom.

In response, Women of the Wall have launched a campaign asking women to take pictures of themselves wrapped in their Tallit with a sign “My Tallit is not provocative – it’s my prerogative” under the hashtag #letmyTorahgo and tag Prime Minister Netanyahu. Women of the Wall call on Prime Minister Netanyahu to condemn such expressions of discrimination from his ministers.

Anat Hoffman, Chairwoman of Women of the Wall: “Minister Azulai should be reminded that he was inaugurated as the Minister of Religious Affairs of Israel, and not the minister for the affairs of ultra-orthodox men.”

Women of the Wall will celebrate Rosh Hodesh Av on July 17th.

For 26 years Women of the Wall has continued to fight for religious freedom and women’s rights at the Western Wall. As Women of the Wall, our central mission is to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.

Barricades and Locks prevent women and Bnot Mitzvah girls from reading Torah at the Western Wall on Rosh Chodesh Sivan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: BARRICADES AND LOCKS PREVENT WOMEN AND BNOT MITZVAH GIRLS FROM READING TORAH AT WESTERN WALL

A day after the celebrations of Jerusalem’s reunification, Women of the Wall were refused access to pray with a Torah Scroll at the Western Wall in their monthly prayer. Under directions from Rabbi Rabinowitz, police set up barricades and locked the partition to prevent women from reading Torah. One man was detained while attempting to hand over Torah to women.

Six girls who had come after intensive preparations to celebrate their Bat Mitzvah were not able to read from the Torah.

Anat Hoffman: “Rabbi of the Wall may congratulate himself on a victory today. He has successfully prevented hundreds of Jewish women from reading Torah. On one of the hottest days of the year, he was also able to rain on the bat mitzvah celebration of six twelve year old girls who were prepared to read from the Torah today. The Rabbi may call the office of the Prime Minister of Israel, who is the main source of funding for the Rabbi’s western wall heritage foundation, and declare victory. Women did not read Torah today at the holiest site of the Jewish people.”

After an historical prayer last month on Rosh Chodesh Iyar when women set a precedent by reading from a public Torah scroll, Women of the Wall’s Rosh Chodesh Sivan prayer this morning (May 19th, 2015) was dampened by locks and barricades preventing women the right to read from a Torah scroll.

For 26 years, Women of the Wall are fighting for freedom of religion at the Western Wall. This includes the right to read from a Torah at the Western Wall and to celebrate Bat Mitzvahs. The April 2013 Sobel court ruling formally acknowledged women’s right to pray according to their belief at the Western Wall, claiming that this does not violate “local custom”.

Despite the ruling, regulations set by Rabbi Rabinowitz deny women the right to bring a Torah scroll to read from at the Western Wall. These regulations, were brought up first as having the innocent goal of preventing theft of Torah scrolls from the wall (no such has ever occurred there but all the same, theft prevention was the handy excuse). The real reason for the regulation is “to stop people from reading Torah in a way that is not according to local custom” hence – Women of the Wall. And indeed, while there are over 100 Torah scrolls for public use at the Western Wall, they are all at the men’s section of the prayer plaza and women are denied access to them all.

Despite the regulations, Women of the Wall insist to fulfill their right to read from a Torah at the Kotel. This October, a historical moment was achieved as the first Bat Mitzvah was completed with a Torah reading, from a miniature Torah scroll brought in through security. Last month, Women of the Wall again read from the Torah, by accessing one of the Torah scrolls from the men’s section with the carefully planned help of male supporters.

This morning, however, Rabbi Rabinowitz had his victory over the 12-year-old girls who were denied their right to read from a Torah at the Kotel on occasion of their Bat Mitzvah. Just a day after the city celebrated the historical liberation of the Western Wall, Jewish people in Israel and around the world were once more reminded that the holy site is still not a place they can freely pray according to their tradition. The Western Wall has been hijacked from being a national site welcoming Jews of all denominations to becoming run by an ultra-orthodox minority, with regulations discriminating against women at the site.

The August 2010 regulation is a stain on Israeli law and entire legal system. Women of the Wall, with support of Jewish communities worldwide, act to abolish the regulation and allow women to pray with a Torah scroll at the Western Wall.

Women of the Wall will celebrate Rosh Hodesh Tamuz on June 18h.

For 25 years Women of the Wall has continued to fight for religious freedom and women’s rights at the Western Wall. As Women of the Wall, our central mission is to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.

Drama at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh Iyar – Women read from Torah

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: DRAMA AT THE KOTEL

Women of the Wall at last read from a Torah Scroll offered for Public Use at the Week of Israel’s Independence Day, despite physical violence from ultra-Orthodox bullies and incitement from state-paid Rabbi of the Western Wall

WOW celebrate freedom and independence this week – despite government regulations they were able to read from one of the Torah scrolls that are offered for public use. This is the first time WoW were able to stand up and be counted as equal members of the public entitled to read from the Torah.

For 26 years, Women of the Wall are fighting for freedom of religion at the Western Wall. This includes the right to read from a Torah at the Western Wall and to celebrate Bat Mitzvahs. The April 2013 Sobel court ruling formally acknowledged women’s right to pray according to their belief at the Western Wall, claiming that this does not violate “local custom”.

Despite the ruling, regulations set by Rabbi Rabinowitz deny women the right to bring a Torah scroll to read from at the Western Wall. These regulations, were brought up first as having the innocent goal of preventing theft of Torah scrolls from the wall (no such has ever occurred there but all the same, theft prevention was the handy excuse). The real reason for the regulation is “to stop people from reading Torah in a way that is not according to local custom” hence – Women of the Wall And indeed, while there are over 100 Torah scrolls for public use at the Western Wall, they are all at the men’s section of the prayer plaza and women are denied access to them all.

Despite the regulations, Women of the Wall insist to fulfill their right to read from a Torah at the Kotel. This October, a historical moment was achieved as the first Bat Mitzvah was completed with a Torah reading, from a miniature Torah scroll brought in through security. Today, Women of the Wall again read from the Torah, by accessing one of the Torah scrolls from the men’s section with the carefully planned help of male supporters. Despite violence from ultra-orthodox men who physically attacked the men, broke through the mechitzah and went into the women’s section in attempt to take the Torah away from the praying women, women of the wall carried out a full and deeply moving service.

Anat Hoffman, Women of the Wall chair, stated that she will not compromise on what is custom for women around the world – the basic right of reading from the Torah as a part of the prayer: “This is the first time that Women of the Wall can stand up and be counted as a part of the public. Nothing you could say could tear me away from my Torah, nothing you could do, ‘cause I’m stuck like glue to My Torah.”

The August 2010 regulation is a stain on Israeli law and entire legal system. Women of the Wall, with support of Jewish communities worldwide, act to abolish the regulation and allow women to pray with a Torah scroll at the Western Wall.

Please find attached pictures from this morning’s prayer photographed by Miriam Alster along with more details about the 2013 Sobel Court Ruling and our new campaign. Women of the Wall will celebrate Rosh Hodesh Sivan on May 19th.

For 26 years Women of the Wall has continued to fight for religious freedom and women’s rights at the Western Wall. As Women of the Wall, our central mission is to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall. 

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Starting my Bat Mitzvah Journey Celebrating with Women of the Wall

Tali Medwed

by Tali Medwed

Starting my bat mitzvah journey with Women of the Wall is very special to me in so many

different ways.

I have always been interested in people having the right and the freedom to do what they

want when it comes to practicing their religion. I have been very involved in doing things to get

equal rights for everyone in my community and am an ally for the LGBTQ community. In

addition to this, another area of interest for me is the rights of Jewish women. As an active

member of my synagogue community, I believe that women should be able to do and participate

in anything men can. This includes Jewish freedoms around the world and more specifically, in

Israel.

I have had the privilege of visiting Israel many times. In my previous visits, we did not

usually go to the kotel. On our last visit, we did go to the kotel. On this first visit, my Ima told

me that we would have to go to the smaller side, and that the Torah I saw, was not going to be

available for us. I was very upset and looked at my Ima and said, “But that is not what God

would want.”

My Ima explained to me about Women of the Wall (WOW) but at that time, I didn’t

really understand what she was talking about. But over these last few years as I have grown and

matured, I have heard about women being arrested for wearing a tallit or for reading Torah. I was

very disappointed to learn of this. How could a Jewish woman not be free to pray to God or read

Torah at the kotel in Israel? The Israel I know and love should be a country where all Jews, men

and women, boys and girls, are free to practice religion in meaningful ways to them.

I think that it is so awesome that women are brave enough to go to the kotel to have a real

service with a Torah, tallit and tefillin after people have been arrested for doing this. As I look

forward to taking an aliyah with WOW in June, I know that am entering adulthood with brave

Jewish women surrounding me. This is very special to me.

When I recently heard that WOW got to read from a full sized Torah for Rosh Hodesh

Iyyar, I was shocked and happy. I was happy women who have come to the kotel to pray many

times never got to use a Torah and this time they did. How cool that someone from the men’s

side was giving the Torah to the women, and that shows to me that even though they don’t

always say it aloud, men want women to be able to pray just like the men are able to pray on the

men’s side with a Torah.

I was talking to my younger brother about the women getting the Torah and he asked me

“don’t they always have Torah?” He didn’t fully understand why it was so important that the

women had the opportunity to read from a full-size Torah. I explained to him that the women

were not allowed to read from the Torah and that when they have tried to read, but something

happens like women getting arrested or the Torah being taken away from them. He too was sad

that the women don’t get to read from a Torah every month even though men do.

I am so excited as I begin my bat mitzvah journey and I am glad I get to begin it with

WOW and to be around women who take pride in their tefillah, and who are working for

religious freedom in Israel. This is a journey which has great meaning for me and I am lucky to

be able to have this experience as part of my bat mitzvah journey.

 

Tali &  siblings