December 1, 2015
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.
Director of Public Relations
Women of the Wall