Women of the Wall pray without priestly blessings

Worshipers required to stand in specially cordoned-off area of women’s section, under heavy police guard.

By JPOST.COM STAFF, GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN, JTA
April 24, 2016 09:09
3 minute read.
A Jewish female activist (C) from the Women of the Wall prayer rights group

A Jewish female activist (C) from the Women of the Wall prayer rights group wears a prayer shawl and tefillin during a monthly prayer session near the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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The Women of the Wall group held Passover holiday prayers at the Western Wall Sunday, but did not hold a priestly blessing ceremony, after being banned by Director Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit.

Some 200 women arrived at the Western Wall on buses from throughout the country to hold the Shaharit and Musaf prayers. During the services held in the women’s section, the women read the priestly blessing, but did not raise their hands and make the traditional symbol nor cover their heads with their talitot.

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They were protected by police from a small group of ultra-Orthodox protesters.

Mandelblit ruled Thursday that holding a female version of the priestly blessing ceremony violated a law enforcing “local customs” at religious sites in the country.

His decision followed a meeting with police, prosecutors, the legal adviser of the Religious Services Ministry and Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinowitz.

In announcing the ceremony, WoW had declared it “the first of its kind.” Tens of thousands of Jews flock to the Wailing Wall to receive the blessing from kohanim, the priestly caste, during the intermediate days of Passover and Succot.

WoW participants received a priestly blessing pin commemorating the prayer.



The pin was derived from the hand symbol employed in Star Trek by Mr. Spock, a role played by Jewish actor Leonard Nimoy.

Nimoy made the blessing, “Live long and prosper,” using the hand gesture of the kohanim, an international symbol.

The women who participated in the service Sunday morning were required to stand in a specially cordoned-off area of the women’s section, under heavy police guard. They were not allowed to read from a Torah scroll during the service. The group also charged in a statement that a police officer videotaped the service to make sure no women raised their hands in the air to perform the priestly blessing.

“These absurd demands originated from the Religious Services Minister David Azoulay (Shas) and Rabbi of the Wall Shmuel Rabinowitz,” the statement said. “Tomorrow the two of them will participate in the Priestly Blessing for men. There will be no bans of any kind there.”

The statement boasted that despite the conditions, the hundreds of women and men who came from all over the country to participate felt that it was a worthwhile experience to wake up at 4 a.m to attend.

“Women of the Wall believe that even though the priestly blessing is an unusual custom at the Wall, in due time, it will become local custom. We believe that the nature of local custom changes as time passes – in the past, wearing a tallit, bowing a shofar, and lighting a Hanukkah candle were all considered contrary to local custom, and it is through our persistence that these are now local custom,” the organization said.

Rabinowitz said in response that, “A small group of women attempted a provocation at the Western Wall by holding a women’s priestly blessing ceremony that has never been done by any community in the world. Their actions are further proof that they only intend to provoke and cause discord and harm the emotions of people.”

He thanked Mandelblit for preventing the ceremony.

“It is painful and unfortunate to see how a small group that attempts new ways to harm the unity and tradition symbolized by Passover and the Western Wall,” he said.

The pluralist organization Hiddush wrote Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mandelblit asking to fire Azoulay for not implementing a cabinet decision to form an egalitarian prayer area at the Wall.

“His failure to carry out the government’s decisions and the prime minister’s silence are dangerous for the future of the rule of law,”

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