Chief rabbis threatened: Let WoW pray or else

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Metzger and Sephardic Chief Rabbi Amar receive threatening letter with picture of gun.

June 3, 2013 21:28
3 minute read.
Chief Rabbis Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar visit Joseph's Tomb.

311_Amar and Metzger at Joseph's Tomb. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Chief rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger received letters on Monday threatening violence if the Women of the Wall activist group is not allowed to pray according to its practices at the Western Wall in its upcoming prayer service.

“This is your last warning,” the title of the letter declared.

“If the Women of the Wall are not allowed to pray according to our own way and our customs, we will fight you with all means and you will return home with 100 haredi corpses,” the note continued.

“Your end is close. Religious people stink, are disgusting and are parasites. We won’t hold back any longer, we are liberating the Western Wall again,” it concluded.

The letter, mailed from Tel Aviv on May 28, bore a picture of a pistol. The office of the Chief Rabbinate alerted the security services to the letter, saying that this was the first time that chief rabbis in Israel had ever had their lives threatened in such a way.

“Unfortunately, in Israel we have already learned that words can kill,” the Chief Rabbinate said in a statement to the press. “This incident deals not only with a threat to the rabbis but against an entire community,” the statement added.

In a press release, Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz said that in the past week he, too, had received a threatening letter on the issue of the Women of the Wall, demanding that he allow the group to pray as it wishes.

Last month, thousands of haredi men and school girls went to the Western Wall to protest the Women of the Wall’s prayer service, a demonstration that turned violent when some of the protesters threw various objects at the female worshipers.

WoW’s campaign for equal prayer rights at the Western Wall has now been taken up by Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who is currently drawing up plans to create an egalitarian prayer section at the site to resolve the problem.

Former Shas chairman Eli Yishai blamed the threat to the chief rabbis on recent statements criticizing haredim by politicians. Referring indirectly to Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Yishai warned him to change his tone.

“The extreme incitement against the haredi public has passed all limits, and it looks like it is only a matter of time until we see the results,” Yishai said. “Such a letter would not have been sent were it not for the fertile ground encouraging incitement against haredim recently. Public officials should reconsider their words and deeds before it will be too late for them to apologize.”

The Women of the Wall organization criticized the letter and wished the chief rabbis “strength and courage during this trying time,” saying that it was saddened by the violent threats.

“All those involved and educated on the subject know that there is no connection between the content and style of these letters and the spirit of nonviolence, tolerance and acceptance which drives Women of the Wall,” the organization said in a statement to the press.

“Women of the Wall has instilled trust in the police and believes that they will find the perpetrators of this crime and other violent threats of their kind of the last few weeks,” it said. “We remain steadfast partners in condemning these and all violent threats and acts.”

Ronit Peskin, founder of the Women for the Wall group defending traditional practices at the Kotel, called on the Women of the Wall’s leadership and the liberal Jewish organizations backing them to repudiate what she called a dangerous escalation of conflict over the Western Wall.

“We are extremely pained by the atmosphere of divisiveness and hate that has developed as a result of Women of the Wall’s insistence to introduce unilateral changes to the prayer tradition practiced at the Western Wall,” Peskin said.

“We call on Women of the Wall to join us in dialogue that can hopefully defuse the situation and lead to sufficient trust for reaching a mutually acceptable solution.”

Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett also called for improving relations with the haredim. He said that would be a priority for his party, as a bill requiring expanded haredi army service advances.

“Changing the atmosphere with the haredim via dialogue and cooperation is a top priority for us,” Bennett said. “We know it won’t work with force. That’s not the way. There is a pattern of more haredim serving and working. It’s happening naturally and could be stopped if [the haredim] feel they are under attack.”

The Women of the Wall will hold their next monthly prayer service on June 9, which is Rosh Hodesh Tamuz.

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