An attempted Torah reading by six girls collectively celebrating their bat mitzvas at the Western Wall came to an abrupt end Tuesday morning, when ushers and police detained a man who tried to pass a Torah to them over the partition separating men and women.
According to Women of the Wall (WoW) head Anat Hoffman – who hosted the planned Torah readings and coordinated the exchange with Nitai Giron, 23 – the attempt was thwarted by heavy-handed tactics orchestrated by the Western Wall’s Chief Rabbi, Shmuel Rabinovitch.
At approximately 8 a.m., when Giron attempted to pass the Torah over the partition, she said he was instantly surrounded by nearly a dozen ushers and several police officers.
“The ushers grabbed him and took the scroll from him, and two police officers took him away for questioning before finally releasing him from custody,” she said.
“Today was a resounding victory for the Kotel rabbi,” Hoffman added sarcastically. “He was able to prevent 150 women from joining the bat-mitzva celebration of six girls who studied all year to read the Torah.”
Hoffman said that Rabinovitch markedly increased security by adding 10 ushers, over a dozen police officers and adding two locks to the gates in the partition separating men from women, as well as an extra metal barrier.
“I counted at least 10 state-employed ushers who were there to stop a Torah from moving from the men’s section to the women’s section,” she said. “The NIS 50 million budget for the Western Wall Heritage Foundation to pay these men comes from the Prime Minister’s Office. I pay these ushers and they were bullies today.”
Saying that there are 100 Torahs for public use in the men’s section and none in the women’s section, Hoffman described the intervention as a civil rights violation.
“In effect, what happened today was that the Kotel rabbi, with the prime minister’s support, denied women to be a part of the public,” she said.
“If these Torahs are for public use and we were denied reading from one of them, then we are not part of the public.”
“We are people, and these Torah scrolls are meant for people,” she continued. “Today we saw the state use all its force to deny us being treated like people. I had six girls who studied all year to read a Torah there today, and I am appalled that a rabbi declared victory over taking a Torah away from them.”
Asked why the women did not use the Egalitarian Plaza created last year at the southern portion of the Wall following protracted negotiations with Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky, WoW and the Prime Minister’s Office, Hoffman said the site did not meet the standards she demanded.
“If you called Natan Sharansky and asked him if Women of the Wall negotiated with the government in good faith to find a compromise, the answer would be yes,” she said.
However, Hoffman said that when the government collapsed last year, so did the new plaza’s negotiations, resulting in an incomplete resolution in terms of developing the section into a suitably respectable alternative for women to pray.
“Right now, the egalitarian section is the back of the bus,” she said. “It looks like an archeological site, and feels like one.
Does it have the potential to become a monumental plaza? Yes. And we were on board for that, but it fell apart.”
While Hoffman conceded that many of WoW’s concerns and demands were met during 15 months of negotiations, she said the government collapse precluded final negotiations for developing the plaza.
“For 15 months we paid a high price to compromise with the Prime Minister’s Office with a powerful coalition of supporters, and we lost members because of this,” she said.
“We wanted a monumental and dignified plaza – that, even though we knew was different, would be just as respectable as the northern plaza. Sadly, the negotiations ended while things were going well when the government failed.”
Nonetheless, Hoffman said she will not accept a substandard alternative, and will continue to demand equal prayer rights for women at the northern section of the Wall.
“My interest is to have my rights at the northern Wall,” she said. “I am willing to compromise to find a different place, but I demand to be counted as a human being in the State of Israel.”
She continued, “That means being allowed to wear tefillin, praying out loud and reading the Torah in the women’s section.”
Tuesday’s incident is the second time in one month that a man was detained or arrested for attempting to pass a Torah to WoW members at the site.
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