May 9, 2016
Over 100 Women of the Wall prayed in the Western Wall’s women’s section to welcome the new Jewish month of Iyar. The women succeeded in entering the Kotel with a Torah scroll, despite the local regulation prohibiting this act. The scroll, over 250 years old and originally from Germany, was brought from Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, Canada for the express purpose of a women’s Torah reading at the holy site. Before the women were able to read from the Torah, police officers who had been ‘monitoring’ the prayer service all morning rushed prayer leader and Women of the Wall board member Tammy Gottlieb, attempting to take the scroll from her hands. The other women surrounded Gottlieb closely, to keep the Torah safe. The officers were then told to retreat. It is legal for women to read Torah in the women’s section, despite the attempts to prevent women from accessing scrolls there.
The prayer service continued and included a Torah reading and the Priestly Blessing. Adv. Riki Shapira-Rosenberg, Women of the Wall board member said, “The Priestly Blessing is an integral part of the Rosh Hodesh prayer service. This prayer service is unequivocally included in the local custom (as defined by the Jerusalem District Court in 2013) and the Priestly Blessing is included in that.”
The service was held just a few days before the Day of Remembrance for Fallen Soldiers and Israel’s Independence Day and was dedicated to Israel’s Declaration of Independence, and its promise of freedom, justice and equality, “THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions…”
Anat Hoffman, Chair of Women of the Wall, said, “The time has come to realize that we will “be a free people in our land” as we sing in the national anthem, Hatikvah (literally translated, The Hope). This includes praying freely in public, holy spaces in Israel. Rabbi Rabinowitz and the ultra-Orthodox parties must stop delaying the agreement passed by the government in January 2016, which they themselves approved for the creation of a third, pluralist prayer section at the Kotel.”
On Women of the Wall:
For more than 27 years Women of the Wall have led the struggle for women’s right to pray at the Western Wall with tallit, tefillin and the Torah at the Western Wall. After the arrests and detentions of 50 women at the Kotel, and thanks to the work of activists all over the world, in 2013 a Jerusalem District Court judge ruled that Women of the Wall may pray at the holy site, each woman according to her tradition. Unfortunately, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Administrator of the Western Wall and Holy Places implemented regulations preventing women from accessing Torah scrolls at the Western Wall. In 2016, spurred on by the insistence of Women of the Wall, partners and activists worldwide, the Israeli government approved a plan to build a third, pluralist section at the Western Wall. The execution of this plan may take some time and until its completion, Women of the Wall continue to pray in the women’s section of the Western Wall, remaining steadfast in the fight for women’s rights to read from the Torah at the Kotel.