Women of the Wall was founded in 1988 after a group of women who came to the women’s section of the Western Wall to pray with a Torah scroll encountered verbal and physical violence.
The goal of the organization is to allow women to pray freely at the Women’s sections according to their custom, which includes praying as a prayer group with tefillin, a prayer shawl and reading the Torah scroll.
During the years of the organization, women were not allowed to pray freely, but while the prayer shawls and tefillin were usually able to be brought, the reading of the Torah scroll had to be relocated from the women’s section, to outside the Western Wall compound.
In July 2010, Anat Hoffman, the organization’s chairwoman, was arrested for carrying a Torah scroll at the Western Wall. This was the first publicized arrest against against women who entered with prayer shawls and Torah scrolls to the Women’s section at the Western Wall.
About a month after the arrest, the Rabbi of the Western Wall came out with a new regulation stating that “a Torah scroll will not be brought into the Western Wall plaza, including the upper floor, unless a permit is given by the Western Wall Rabbi…It was found that a Torah scroll had been brought into the Western Wall plaza and the police would work to remove it from the plaza. “
Thus, although in 2013 District Court Judge Moshe Sobel ruled that the standard Women of the Wall prayer is part of the local custom at the Western Wall and that they do not violate the law. However, there is still the issue of reading the Torah; when a Torah reading is held as part of the WOW service, it is only when the women manage to literally smuggle the book inside. During the months in which the Western Wall Heritage Foundation’s organizers managed to prevent the smuggling of the book into the plaza, reading the Torah is done from a parchment.
On 29 November 2013, a petition was submitted to the High Court of Justice by two women who wanted to instruct the rabbi of the Western Wall to allow them to use the Torah scrolls that are available at the Men’s section and to cancel the procedure of “bringing Torah scrolls into the Western Wall Plaza” (Prof. Magnus et al. V. Rabbi Rabinowitz, et al.).
At the same time, the same women filed a damages claim to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court under the Prohibition of Discrimination in Products, Services and Entrance to Entertainment and Public Places Law, 5761-2000, in violation of their right to bring Torah scrolls to the women’s section (Tel Aviv 62763-11-15) Magnus et al. V. Rabbi Rabinowitz, et al.).
In 2014, Sasha Lutt was the first girl to celebrate a Bat Mitzvah at the Women’s section with a tiny, 200 year-old Torah scroll. Since then, many other girls also had the honor of celebrating their bat Mitzvah by chanting from the Torah at the Women’s section with a Torah scroll the group smuggled in.
Over the years, Women of the Wall has had many successes, but reading the Torah at the Women’s section freely is still not possible, a primary focus of the struggle today.