Kotel Rabbi: Ban on WoW prayer won't be enforced

Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz says police will not arrest Women of the Wall saying Kaddish.

Women of the Wall 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Women of the Wall 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
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.
The 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.
A spokesman 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.
Rabinowitz 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.
The 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 Orthodox practice.
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.”
“I salute 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 until now.
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 applicable.
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.
The organization 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 Western Wall.”
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 January.
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 prayers.
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.”