Women of the Wall threaten appeal to High Court if no progress at Western Wall

Several requests to allow a ceremonial-sized hannukia into the women’s section made to Western Wall administrator Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz were refused.

December 8, 2015 15:30
3 minute read.
Women of the Wall

A member of the Women of the Wall group wears a prayer shawl and tefillin, during a monthly prayer session at the Western Wall on May 1, 2014.. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)


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Chairwoman of the Women of the Wall prayer rights group Anat Hoffman has warned that if negotiations over the creation of a pluralist section at the southern end of the Western Wall become permanently stuck, the group will petition the High Court of Justice to allow such a section to be created at the current prayer area of Western Wall plaza.

Hoffman made her comments a day after MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) used her parliamentary immunity to bring in a large hanukkia to the women’s section of the Western Wall, which was used to light the first candle of the holiday on Sunday.

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Several requests to allow a ceremonial-sized hannukia into the women’s section made to Western Wall administrator Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz were refused.

“I don't have the feeling that negotiations are progressing in a serious way,” Hoffman told The Jerusalem Post, and said she was very disappointed that even confidence building measures like allowing the use of a large hanukkia in the women’s section, or the use of a Torah scroll have not been granted.

The government, led by cabinet secretary Avihai Mandelblit, has been holding negotiations between WOW, along with the non-Orthodox Jewish denominations, and Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Administrator of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites, for the last two years about the creation of a pluralist prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall.

Progress has stalled however and the entry of the haredi political parties into the new government along with political sensitivities surrounding the Western Wall area and the Temple Mount above it have increased concerns that a solution will not be found in the near future.

Asked what will happen in such a case, Hoffman said that legal proceedings will be taken and addressed to the High Court of Justice. 

“We will go to court, maybe not WOW, but maybe the non-Orthodox movements, and we’ll say if there is nothing else available then we want to divide up the current space at the Western Wall equally between men, women, and the non-Orthodox. If there is such abuse for so long then there’s a price to pay,” she said.

Hoffman added that any petition to the High Court would also demand that seats on the 15-member board of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation which administers the site be opened up to WOW and members of the non-Orthodox Jewish denominations.

Her comments come after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech at the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America that he was “hopeful we will soon conclude a long overdue understanding” regarding the demands of WOW along with the Reform and Masorti (Conservative) denominations.

Hoffman herself pointed out that the authority and funding of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and Rabinowitz, its chairman, come from the Prime Minister’ Office.

In reference to Netanyahu’s comments, Hoffman said that when he made them “I was wondering to what extent our prime minister was relating to the reality in our world or relating to what he wishes would be,” adding however that she believed Netanyahu does sincerely wish to reach an agreement on the issue with WOW and the non-Orthodox movements.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said there was no current timetable for completing the negotiations.

Director of the Masorti Movement in Israel Yizhar Hess who has been directly involved in the negotiations said he had not given up on the negotiations but was also “not optimistic” that an agreement would be reached in the near future saying the chances were not high. 

“If it fails because of the way Rabinovitz acted in the negotiations and his attempts to push us aside, make us not visible, and have a third section not equal to the main area then we will go to the High Court and demand to divide up the main plaza to create space for the non-Orthodox movements,” Hess told the Post.

In addressing the issue of having a ceremonial-size hannukia in the women’s section, Rabinowitz has said several times in the last month that negotiations regarding a solution were ongoing and had taken place “in recent weeks.” He said that delays in reaching a solution were however due to “far-reaching demands for development and massive building” for the sake of the proposed pluralist section.

Hoffman in turn said that it was “Rabinowitz’s extremist demands and his “Pharaoh like approach to the Western Wall” which were the obstacle to an agreement.

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