Women praying with Torah at Western Wall, October 24, 2014. .
(photo credit: PR)
The Women of the Wall prayer-rights group managed to bring an extremely small Torah into the women’s section of the Western Wall plaza Friday morning, defying official regulations prohibiting the entry of private Torah scrolls to the site.
The group initially tried to bring in a regular, full-size Torah scroll but were prevented from doing so by security officials and a representative of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which administers the site.
The Torah was extremely small, just 28 cm. high including the handles, and was placed into a prayer-shawl bag and brought into the site.
WoW said the scroll they used conforms with all requirements of Jewish law to be used in formal prayer services. It was used for the bat mitzva ceremony of Sasha Lutt in what the group said was an historic first at the Western Wall.
Sasha and others read from the Torah with the use of a magnifying glass due to the small size of the text, and the women participating in the service danced and sang with the Torah after the service in celebration of the bat mitzva and their successful attempt to read from a Torah in the women’s section of the main Western Wall plaza.
A landmark ruling in April 2013 by the Jerusalem District Court removed any legal basis for preventing women from praying at the site with prayer shawls and tefillin and arresting them for such activity.
However, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the supervisor of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites of Israel and chairman of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, has refused requests by WoW to use one of the Torah scrolls made available in the men’s section.
In addition, a regulation drafted by Rabinowitz in 2010 and approved by the Ministry of Justice, prohibits anyone from bringing a private Torah scroll into the Western Wall Plaza.
The Torah used Friday morning was loaned to WoW by John and Noeleen Cohen, supporters of the group from the UK, and is more than 200 years old. According to Cohen, it was taken from Lithuania to South Africa by Cohen’s great grandfather in 1880.
“The purpose of a Torah scroll is to be read and I can think of no better place for the scroll to be on Rosh Hodesh Heshvan than at the Kotel, in the women’s section, being read by women who want and have every right, to read Torah at the Wall and, in my view, at every other place that a man can read Torah,” Cohen said.
A spokeswoman for WoW denied that the group had broken the law, arguing that the April 2013 court decision stated that the women were allowed to pray according to their traditions.
“Our tradition always included reading from the Torah and if there is a Torah in the women’s section we are within our rights to read it,” she said.
Executive Director of WoW Lesley Sachs described the even as historical and emotional.
“The Torah scroll we used was probably created for just this purpose, for Jews who were banned from publicly celebrating Jewish rituals and ceremonies in the past. We read from the Torah today, in the women’s section of the Kotel, with no disturbances. So the only question remains, why does Rabinowitz, a public servant, try to deny women this right at the Kotel, a public holy site?” Rabinowitz said, in response to WoW’s actions, that he had decided “not to intensify the event” and requested that the group’s failure to abide by the regulations at the Western Wall be ignored “out of a concern for harming the sanctity of a Sefer Torah.”
Efforts would be made in the future to prevent a Torah scroll from being brought into the site, he said.
Rabinowitz also accused WoW of seeking to prevent any compromise at the Western Wall. The group is currently in negotiations with cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit, who is holding parallel talks with Rabinowitz, in order to come to an agreement over the establishment of a new prayer area just south of the main plaza.