The Women of the Wall announced on Thursday that the Jerusalem District Police
had informed the activist group earlier this month that women would no longer be
allowed to recite the kaddish mourner’s prayer at the Western Wall.
announcement led to significant political opposition to the move, however, and
following consultations among Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie, Jewish Agency chairman
Natan Sharansky, Western Wall and Holy Sites Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the
Jerusalem Police and the Women of the Wall on Thursday, it was agreed that the
prohibition on women reciting kaddish would not be enforced.
for the Jerusalem Police could not confirm the agreement, telling The Jerusalem
Post that the matter was in the hands of Rabinowitz and that if he had agreed to
a compromise deal with the concerned parties, the agreement would be conveyed to
the Justice Ministry and subsequently back to the police.
confirmed to the Post
that there was indeed an agreement, under which women
would not be arrested for saying kaddish at the Western Wall plaza.
law forbids performing religious ceremonies “not according to local custom” or
which “may hurt the feelings of the worshipers” at holy sites, including the
Western Wall, which the police interpret as meaning anything deviating from
Until now, restrictions on specific prayers were not
enforced, although they were specified in a directive that the Justice Ministry
issued in 2005, expounding on a 2003 Supreme Court ruling.
Asked why the
decision was made at this time to implement the regulations of the kaddish and
kedusha prayers, Rabinowitz said the police directive had been intended to set
out clearly what was and was not permitted, so that anyone arrested would not be
able to claim they were unaware of the law. But since the police could not know
what prayers were being said, he continued, the regulation was not realistically
enforceable and had therefore been ignored until now.
As rabbi of the
Western Wall and the country’s holy sites, an appointment made by the Prime
Minister’s Office, Rabinowitz is authorized to determine what the customs of the
holy sites entail.
The police originally transmitted the updated
restrictions in a letter to Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman, dated
March 14, to inform the group of the new measures ahead of its monthly prayer
service, which will take place this month on April 11.
Kaddish is an
important part of Jewish prayer services.
Those who have lost close
family members recite it in the year following that person’s death and on the
annual anniversary of that date, in the presence of a minyan – 10 Jewish men
over the age of 13, according to Orthodox practice. Non-Orthodox streams include
women in a minyan.
After the ban was rescinded late on Thursday, Hoffman
paid tribute to the forces “that led Rabinowitz to back down.”
the public pressure, and I invite the Israeli public to sing ‘Hatikva’ at the
Western Wall with Women of the Wall at this month’s prayer service,” she said.
“From here on, we will sing ‘Hatikva’ at the end of every prayer service because
it is time to liberate the Kotel.”
The restrictions on the kaddish and
kedusha prayers were originally detailed in a letter that the Justice Ministry
sent to the Jerusalem Police in September 2005, stating that customs of the
group – including wearing tallitot (prayer shawls) and saying the kaddish and
kedusha prayers in a quorum of 10 women – were prohibited in accordance with the
Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling on the matter.
Although the restrictions on
wearing prayer shawls have been enforced, especially in recent months, Hoffman
said that the ban on reciting kaddish and kedusha had never been implemented
The police directive that the Women of the Wall received last
month followed a letter that the Attorney-General’s Office sent to the police on
March 11, noting that the restrictions from 2005 were still
The activist group’s monthly prayer service at the Western
Wall has become a flashpoint over the past 18 months, with women regularly
detained at the site for wearing “male-style” tallitot.
has been conducting an intensive campaign of late to bring attention to what it
describes as “an unjust law.”
Sharansky, whom Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu has designated to work out a compromise on the matter, issued a
statement to the press on Thursday “expressing his shock” at the recent police
directive banning women from reciting kaddish.
According to the
statement, Sharansky met Thursday with Rabinowitz, who assured him that
“contrary to the letter, no woman would be arrested for reciting kaddish at the
Lavie, who was was also involved in reaching the agreement
with Rabinowitz, said that “this is a specific solution for a complex problem
which needs to be resolved as soon as possible.”
She added that she had
been working on the issue since being elected to the Knesset in
The Yesh Atid MK emphasized that a solution could only be
reached with “mutual understanding and dialogue” and that the Western Wall must
not turn into a permanent source of conflict. Hoffman blamed Rabinowitz
for the kaddish prohibition, saying it was “brought on solely by the hegemony
and short-sightedness” of the Western Wall rabbi.
The Justice Ministry
mentioned Rabinowitz in its original 2005 letter to Jerusalem Police as having
spoken directly with the ministry on the issue of the kaddish and kedusha
MK Meir Porush of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) United Torah
Judaism Party was also mentioned as having spoken with the ministry on the
matter at the time.
Rabinowitz called on all parties not to radicalize
the Western Wall, saying that the site was holy and that all forms of protest
should be conducted away from the site.
“The destruction of the Second
Temple was caused by baseless hatred. We must not let similar destruction happen
again,” the rabbi said. “We have to guard the Western Wall from becoming
a place of argument between extremist factions.”