A-G bans Women of the Wall from holding Passover priestly blessing ceremony

WoW announced earlier this week that it intended to stage the first ever Birkat Cohanot, or women’s priestly blessing, this coming Sunday.

Priestly blessing prayer service at Western Wall, september 30, 2015 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Priestly blessing prayer service at Western Wall, september 30, 2015
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit prohibited on Thursday the Women of the Wall from staging a female priestly blessing ceremony at the Western Wall during Passover.
WoW strongly protested the decision, but the group’s executive director, Lesley Sachs, said WoW “would not do that which the attorney-general has forbidden,” although adding that they would nevertheless go ahead with their festive prayer service “with all its components” on Sunday morning.
The proposed “birkat kohanot” ceremony had incensed even further the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world, already smarting from several recent legal defeats regarding religious life in the country, as well as the government agreement to establish a state-recognized egalitarian prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall.
At the request of Religious Services Minister David Azoulay of Shas, Mandelblit held a hearing on the WoW ceremony Thursday morning with representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Religious Services Ministry, Administrator of the Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz and officials from the Justice Ministry.
Rabinowitz and the Religious Services Ministry representative argued that a female priestly blessing contravened local custom at the Western Wall, noting that it had never been performed at the site.
WoW itself described the event as “the first ever women’s priestly blessing at the Kotel...by women for women,” and invited women from around the country to participate.
A mass Birkat Kohanim ceremony has taken place twice a year at the Western Wall since 1970 during the intermediate days of Passover and Succot, in which men of the priestly caste raise their hands and bless the tens of thousands of Jews who gather for the event.
The attorney-general said he was banning WoW’s female ceremony on legal grounds since he said it contravenes sections 2(a)(1a) of the Regulations for Protecting Jewish Holy Places, 1981, which prohibits “conducting a religious ceremony that is not in accordance with the customs of the site.”
Women of the Wall had argued that such claims were addressed by Justice Moshe Sobel of the Jerusalem District Court in 2013 who ruled that since there is no appropriate alternative prayer space for the organization’s prayer services, “the customs of the site” had to include those of the organization as well.
Azoulay welcomed the attorney- general’s decision, saying that “with God’s help, we canceled this disgrace.”
He added that “police forces at the site will help prevent the ceremony.”
Sachs told The Jerusalem Post that WoW would be sending a letter to Mandelblit to explain why the group believes his decision is unconstitutional and said that WoW was extremely disappointed that the decision was taken without inviting a representative of the organization to Thursday’s hearing.
“This is an unhappy decision that submits to political pressure of an extremist minority group whose sole aim is to sabotage gender equality at the Western Wall and prevent women from having the right of prayer and worship.”