Women of the Wall 521.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
A joint hearing of the Knesset Committee for the Interior and the Committee on
the Status of Women held discussions on Tuesday regarding the demands of the
Women of the Wall activist group to equal prayer rights for women at the
The group has conducted a vociferous campaign in recent months for
the right to pray according to their custom, including in particular the right
to wear prayer shawls, read from the Torah and perform other Jewish practices
usually conducted by men in Orthodox tradition.
In what turned into a
tempestuous hearing, chairwoman of the Women of the Wall Anat Hoffman stood up
and put on a prayer shawl, tallit in Hebrew, and declared that it was worth
celebrating that “finally a public debate is being held” on the
Hoffman was asked by MK Miri Regev (Likud), chairwoman of the
Interior Committee, to remove the tallit.
Haredi MK Moshe Gafni who was
present at the hearing protested Hoffman’s actions and also termed the Women of
the Wall’s campaign “populist” and a “provocation.”
“Are there not enough
arguments, do you want to send everything up in flames,” the fiery United Torah
Judaism lawmaker exclaimed.
“Without the haredi community there wouldn’t
be a Western Wall, there were people who said that these were just regular
stones,” he continued.
“For thousands of years people came to the Western
Wall, for whom the majority saw synagogue as prayer three times a day... When I
see a woman putting on tefillin it hurts my heart [and] there are hundreds of
thousands of people who see this as a desecration of Gods name. I plead that you
come to pray not to create a provocation.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the Women
of the Wall announced that they would be donning tallitot and tefillin on May 10
at the Western Wall, following the landmark ruling last week of the Jerusalem
District Court that there are no grounds for the police to arrest women
performing such customs.
Chairwoman of the Committee on the Status of
Women MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) has requested that the Attorney General’s
Office clarify acceptable practice at the site.
Until now, the police
have enforced a 2003 ruling of the Supreme Court and directives from the Justice
Ministry that upheld the Regulations for the Protection of Holy Places to the
Jews, dating from 1981, that forbids performing religious ceremonies that are
“not according to local custom” or that “may hurt the feelings of the
worshipers” at the site, where local custom is interpreted to mean Orthodox
This interpretation was nullified by last week’s ruling in the
Jerusalem District Court.
Natan Sharansky, Jewish Agency chairman, is
currently drawing up plans to create an egalitarian prayer section at the
Western Wall in order to solve the ongoing dispute.
Western Wall Rabbi
Shmuel Rabinowitz, who has strongly advocated for the preservation of Orthodox
custom at the site, said at the hearing that he has received death-threats from
“extremists” over the issue.
He also said that he was trying to enlarge
the current women’s section of the Western Wall plaza.