Women praying with Torah at Western Wall, October 24, 2014. .
(photo credit: PR)
The Women of the Wall prayer rights group’s request to conduct a public hanukkia lighting ceremony in the women’s section of the Western Wall plaza during Hanukka was denied in what is the latest round of the organization’s struggle against the administration of the holy site.
Women of the Wall sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in November, pointing out that a large, grand and public hanukkia is placed in the men’s section every year for the holiday and lit by men.
“Hanukka is a festive opportunity for the public to gather, like a family, to share in celebrating the miracle and wonders of the survival of the Jewish people and the light in our lives,” said Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman.
“To enable this, a beautiful hanukkia would need to be placed in the women’s section, so that we could conduct a festive ceremony in accordance with Jewish law for women,” she continued.
“In years past, women have been forced to stand on plastic chairs to attempt to peer over the partition in order to see the ceremony and the candle lighting in the men’s section. This does not honor or respect women or the holiness of the Western Wall. We believe that you understand the importance of this place and of providing equal opportunities to women,” she said.
The prime minister passed the letter to Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, who subsequently passed it on to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall and the holy sites.
Rabinowitz rejected the request, saying that the established ceremony in the men’s section brings people closer to Judaism and unites the Jewish people in Israel.
“I was greatly saddened to read the request of this group... which does not stop for a moment to arouse disputes at the Western Wall,” the rabbi said.
He also accused Women of the Wall of seeking to prevent a compromise solution for a pluralist prayer section at the Western Wall, which has been under discussion and negotiation for over a year.
“It’s hard not to suspect that the goal of Women of the Wall is not prayer at all, but rather their urgent will to change the customs of the Western Wall at any price, while harming the masses of those who pray at the Western Wall and traditions that developed there over hundreds of years of prayer,” Rabinowitz said.
“Rabbi Rabinowitz speaks of bringing together and uniting the nation, and yet his actions exclude and discriminate against women, as if women are not a part of this same nation. Since he was chosen for this public position, Rabinowitz has never invited Women of the Wall or any other women to participate in the ceremonies or to be honored with the lighting of a candle at the Kotel [Western Wall] on Hanukka, despite the fact that women are obligated equally to men in this mitzva,” Hoffman said.
Rabinowitz did not understand “the genuine intention and right that Jewish women have to heartfelt prayer at the Kotel,” Hoffman said.
“We cannot accept the fact that all over Israel and the world Jewish women will be lighting candles and saying the traditional blessings, and only at the Western Wall, which has been turned into the private backyard of Sheriff Rabinowitz, this is forbidden,” she concluded.
Women of the Wall says that the group intends to take hanukkiot to the Western Wall on Thursday, the third night of Hanukka, and conduct a candle lighting ceremony despite Rabinowitz’s decision.
Yesh Atid MK Ruth Calderon said she was astounded by Rabinowitz’s approach to the situation.
“As is well known, women are permitted to light the hanukkia and make the blessings. [Rabinowitz’s] ban contradicts the halachic approach and represents a reformist interpretation of Jewish law by Rabbi Rabinowitz,” she said.