Netanyahu and Women of the Wall.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apparently “forgot that women make up half of all Jews,” the Woman of the Wall organization responded Tuesday to reports that he agreed with the coalition’s haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties that women should not be allowed to read from the Torah in the women’s section of the Western Wall.
The prime minister met with the heads of the haredi political parties last week and decided that WoW’s demand to be able to read from the Torah at the site would not be met, Army Radio reported on Tuesday morning.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office told The Jerusalem Post that “the prime minister supports preserving the status quo at the Western Wall. The prime minister is also committed to the process led by the cabinet secretary to formulate an agreed-upon plan for prayer at the Western Wall, for all the streams of Judaism.”
“Apparently when Netanyahu spoke of ‘all’ Jews in November 2015, he forgot that women make up half of all Jews,” WoW said.
It was referring to a statement Netanyahu made at the General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America
in November, in which he said that an agreement on the creation of a pluralist third section at the Western Wall would be made soon.
Sources in United Torah Judaism confirmed that the party demanded that the prime minister uphold the status quo at the Western Wall and not allow WoW to read from the Torah at the holy site.
WoW won the right to pray at the Western Wall in accordance with their own practices, such as wearing prayer shawls and tefillin, which in Orthodox Judaism is done only by men, in 2013.
They are prevented, however, from reading from the Torah – a central component of services for the new month when Women of the Wall conduct their monthly prayer service at the site – due to a regulation drafted by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the administrator of the Western Wall and the Holy Places, in 2010 and approved by the Justice Ministry, banning anyone from bringing a private Torah scroll to the Western Wall plaza.
Rabinowitz also refuses to allow WoW to use one of the dozens of Torah scrolls which are available for use in the men’s section of the Wall.
WoW seeks to read from the Torah for their monthly prayer services, as well as to allow girls to have their bat mitzva ceremonies at the Western Wall and for them to read from the Torah in the women’s section.
“No Israeli prime minister has the right to take away Torah from half of all Jews. It is our hope that Netanyahu will not ban women from reading Torah. However, if he does bend to the pressure of the haredi parties, Women of the Wall will continue to read Torah in the women’s section of the Kotel. Even if we must hide our Torah scroll and smuggle it past the guards, we will do so just as Jews have been forced to do so many times before us in exile,” the organization stated.
In October 2014, WoW succeeded in smuggling a miniature but kosher Torah scroll into the women’s section of the Western Wall plaza and read from it.
The Torah, just 28 cm. high, was temporarily loaned to the organization by supporters of the group from abroad.
Earlier this month, the Center for Women’s Justice filed a petition with the High Court of Justice on behalf of four members of the Original Women of the Wall organization, requesting that the court declare void Rabinowitz’s directive prohibiting bringing private Torah scrolls into the Western Wall plaza.
CWJ also asked the court to order Rabinowitz and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation to award damages to the women in the amount of NIS 150,000 for denying them access to the Torah scrolls that are set aside for the use of men alone.
Original Women of the Wall, which includes founding members of WoW, broke away from WoW over a dispute as to how to continue the campaign for women’s prayer rights at the Wall.
“The constitutional principle underlying our suits is that rabbinical or other authorities, may not improperly, arbitrarily, expand their reach through such rulings – an increasingly common phenomenon that threatens Israeli civil society as a whole,” the organization said on Tuesday.
“Mr. Netanyahu can make whatever claims to his coalition partners he feels expedient. They will have no bearing whatever on the prosecution of our cases and the rights of Jewish women being pressed by Original Women of the Wall.”