A Bitter-Sweet Historic Moment at the Kotel for Women of the Wall: The First Women’s Chanukah Candle Lighting at the Western Wall

December 18, 2014

Women of the Wall were joined by over 100 women for Chanukah candle lighting at the Kotel, despite the opposition of Rabbi Rabinowitz, Western Wall Administrator. The 120 women lit 28 Chanukah menorahs and were joined by Members of Knesset Tamar Zandberg and Michal Rozin from the Meretz party and Rabbi Susan Silverman with her sisters actress Laura Silverman and comedian Sarah Silverman.

Together the women said the blessings and sang, praying that the light of the Chanukah candles would expel the darkness brought upon the holy place by Rabinowitz. The first-ever women’s candle lighting was held as the “official” candle lighting ceremony of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation ended in the men’s section. In the state-sponsored ceremony only men were honored and only men spoke and sang- excluding women completely. Women who wished to see the candle lighting were forced to stand on plastic chairs and peer over the partition.

On November 17, 2014, Women of the Wall sent a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu to request that an equivalent menorah to that which stands in the men’s section be erected in the women’s section to provide women with the same opportunity to hold candle lighting. The Prime Minister transferred the letter to Vice Minister of Religious Affairs, Eli Ben Dahan, for reply, who passed the letter on to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz. Rabinowitz decided that women will not be allowed to light the Chanukah menorah at the Kotel, nor will they be able to participate or witness the ceremonies, as they are held in the men’s section.

Security at the entrance to the Kotel confiscated Chanukah menorahs from several women as they entered, claiming that they had orders from Rabinowitz. Despite Rabinowitz’ opposition, Women of the Wall succeeded in entering with 28 menorahs, lit them and celebrated, singing and dancing festively.

Members of Knesset Zandberg and Rozin joined Women of the Wall, and not for the first time. The two feminist Members of Knesset have been with Women of the Wall throughout the struggle, always willing to join the women at the Kotel to see that their rights are upheld and to bear witness Rabinowitz’s discriminatory regulations.

MK Rozin said, “It is my pleasure to return to the Kotel once again, and to light candles on the third night of Chanukah in honor of the miracles, which we will not passively wait for but struggle and work towards; and for the wonders like Women of the Wall who continue to inspire me with their determination and their just work. The struggle for gender equality and pluralism is one we all must fight.”

MK Zandberg: “I was touched to light candles with these inspirational women. It is unfortunate that something like lighting Chanukah candles has to be a controversial struggle, but I am proud to be a partner in this fight.”

Anat Hoffman, Women of the Wall Chair said, “Rabbi Rabinowitz’s decrees are as predictable as the decrees of Antiochus. When it comes to women’s rights his answer is always the same, ‘No, No, No.’ The time has come to take the keys to the Kotel back from Rabinowitz. The Kotel belongs to us all and each of us, men and women, have the right to light Chanukah candles in this public, holy place.”

Women of the Wall activist Rabbi Susan Silverman was joined in the women’s section by her family, including Sarah Silverman, acclaimed American Jewish comedian and actress. The Silverman sisters certainly found the humor in the situation at the Kotel, from the ridiculous ban on Chanukah menorahs at the entrance, to the police officer who monitors and films Women of the Wall’s every move, like criminals. Perhaps the biggest joke of them all is that in 2014 in democratic Israel Rabbi Rabinowitz, as a public servant, acts to exclude women from all activities, ceremonies and prayers at the Western Wall.

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. 

Press contact: Shira Pruce +972-54-6898351 media@womenofthewall.org.il

Interviews, photos and video footage available upon request.




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