Women of the Wall Ad Censored from Radio Broadcast

April 13, 2016

Kol Israel radio rejected an advertisement created by Women of the Wall to promote a women’s prayer scheduled at the Kotel on Sunday April 24, 2016 (Hol Hamoed passover) at 8:45AM.

The department monitoring paid advertisements at Kol Israel responded to Women of the Wall’s promotional jingle citing a disagreement over whether women can in recite the Priestly Blessing.

The advertisement was set to broadcast the week before Passover and includes a woman’s voice singing the blessing and inviting women from all over Israel to “bless and be blessed” at the first-ever women’s Priestly Blessing at the Western Wall. The prayer will take place in the women’s section of the holy site.

In an email to Women of the Wall public relations staff, Kol Israel representatives wrote, “The controversy here is in the fact that women will say the Priestly Blessing… In order to receive approval, “women’s Priestly Blessing” and “to bless” must be removed [from the ad].”

Adv. Riki Shapira Rosenberg, Women of the Wall Board member responds, “Without providing a relevant reason to reject the ad, this is nothing less than an affront to free expression, under the guise of linguistics and semantics. This is a simple broadcast, aiming to inform the public of an religious ceremony, a prayer service, at the Kotel over Passover.”

Anat Hoffman, Women of the Wall Chair, “It is plain to see that the problem here is not the language of the ad, but the fact that we are women. This is not a valid copy edit, it is discrimination.”

Women of the Wall to hold first-ever women’s only Priestly Blessing in the women’s section of the Western Wall

Many Jewish men and women remember when they were children, standing in the synagogue under their fathers’ and grandfathers’ tallitot in the holiness of the moment of Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing.

The Kohanim, the Hebrew Priests, singing the words, slowly, one by one, to bless the community. The community, eyes turned away from the Kohanim in humility and awe of the power of the blessing, listened.

This seminal moment in the lives of Jews belongs to all of us, men and women alike. The legacy of the blessing is a strong reminder of our Jewish history and faith, for those who come from the Priestly tradition as well as for the rest of the community who receive the blessing.  Women are half the Jewish people- we are half of those being blessed and we should be amongst those providing the blessings.

In many synagogues, this practice has been removed or modified to reflect the priorities of that community. Women of the Wall believes that this tradition can be preserved by opening the opportunity to women. Jewish law does not forbid women from partaking in this ritual, but it is a mitzvah that women are not *required* to do, like other meaningful rituals in Jewish Law which WOW embraces. Those women who have experienced blessing or been blessed in a women’s Priestly blessing can attest to its beauty and its emotional and spiritual depth.

Most women who can trace their lineage to the Priestly class (Kohanot) have long given up this right of passage: they got married, changed their names (last names often portraying those Priestly roots), and took on their husband’s traditions. But Kohanot who had the experience do not forget their fathers and grandfathers blessing the community, just as the rest of have not forgotten the feeling of receiving this blessing of safety, security, light, grace and peace.

Today women are equal members in the Jewish community, and Women of the Wall is dedicated to reclaiming the Priestly blessing for women. In congregations all over the world and in Jerusalem there are only a few women who take on this spiritual responsibility. To Women of the Wall it seems that the world could use more blessings, and for that, we need to encourage women to stand up and take their place as leaders in Jewish ritual.

Rather than seeing the “Priestly Class” and other classifications as promoting inequality amongst Jews, Women of the Wall sees the honor of those who provide the blessing as equal to the honor of those who receive the blessing.

Now is the time to embrace the most basic values and principles in Judaism, which we can take directly from the Priestly blessing:  security, light and peace.

This first-ever Birkat Kohanot in the women’s section of the Western Wall is supported by the Susan Bay Nimoy and Leonard Nimoy Estate. Leonard Nimoy, z”l, grew up in South Boston where he attended synagogue with his grandfather and experienced the priestly blessing on Shabbat morning. He is best known for his role as Spock (half-human, half-Vulcan) in Star Trek. Leonard Nimoy employed the ancient symbol of the Priestly Blessing as the Vulcan sign, making it an integral part of his character as Mr. Spock. He took something precious from antiquity and brought it to the “future.” His benediction, “Live Long and Prosper,” takes one of the best messages from the Jewish faith and transforms it into a universal message of peace, purpose and prosperity.

Update regarding the plan for a third, pluralist section at the Western Wall

After 27 years, over 50 arrests, multiple government committees and Supreme Court petitions, three years and hundreds of hours spent in negotiations with the Israeli government, Women of the Wall continues to pray in the women’s section of the Western Wall.  Women of the Wall remains steadfast in the struggle for access to Torah scrolls at the Kotel.

So much has changed and yet, on the ground, very little change can actually be felt. Though women are not currently being arrested for praying with prayer shawls, women’s prayers groups are still harassed by onlookers and security, and worst of all, women are still denied access to Torah scrolls. The promise of equality seems close but when a bat mitzvah girl is cursed at while she reads from the Torah, the reality of it feels very far away. When members of Knesset slander Jewish women and non-Orthodox Jews in the media and incite hatred and violence against them, without any real penalty, it puts a spoke in the wheels of the progress.

Each day it seems as if there are changes unfolding to the blueprint of the plan for a third, pluralistic prayer section at the Kotel. The government approved the implementation of the plan on January 31, 2016 but the first deadlines towards implementation have already come and gone.

In recent weeks have heard Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterate his commitment to the agreement passed by the government. Yet he has also appointed a representative to head a new committee “to present – within 60 days – a recommendation on the steps necessary to resolve the difficulties, according to the solution that has been proposed.” We support the Prime Minister’s efforts to push the agreement into implementation in the face of much opposition. However, altering this agreement – in any way – will not be acceptable to Women of the Wall. This agreement resulted from great effort and sacrifice and represents hope for women’s equality and empowerment in Israel. Downgrading these minimal requirements for equality at the Western Wall sends the wrong message to women and girls.

In November 2013 when Women of the Wall announced the decision to join negotiations with the government for a dignified and fair solution for free prayer at the Western Wall, WOW said, “Pending the completion of the establishment of the new section, Women of the Wall will hold the Rosh Hodesh service in the women’s section.” On that day and all the way through today, Women of the Wall have continued to pray in the women’s section with the top priority- gaining access to Torah scrolls for women there. Over the past year we have smuggled Torah scrolls into the Western Wall seven times and we will continue to do so, demanding women’s full access to religious expression at the holiest site for Jews.

On Hol Hamoed Passover, Sunday, April 24, 2016 at 8:45 AM, Women of the Wall will gather for a special prayer service, including the first-ever women’s Priestly Blessing (Birkat Kohanot). We will dedicate this prayer on Passover – in Hebrew known also as the Festival of Freedom – to security, grace and peace- the very message and essence of the blessing. Women of the Wall will invite women who trace their lineage to the Priestly Class- and all women all over Israel- to bless and be blessed at the Western Wall, reclaiming the Priestly Blessing and the Western Wall as a spiritual and holy space for all Jewish women.

For 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.

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