Female officer barred from hosting IDF ceremony at Western Wall

A Western Wall Heritage Foundation representative asked that an education officer in the Givati Brigade not host a swearing-in ceremony on Thursday due to her gender, and she was replaced.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett participates in graduating ceremony for IDF officers. (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett participates in graduating ceremony for IDF officers.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)

An education officer in the Givati Brigade was not allowed to lead a swearing-in ceremony at the Western Wall on Thursday night due to her gender, KAN reported.

Just before the ceremony was set to begin, a representative of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation demanded from the brigade's drill sergeant that the host be a man, after which she was indeed replaced by a different officer from the Givati training base.

The IDF acknowledged the incident and deemed it a case of a mistaken judgment.

"Yesterday, before the swearing-in of the Givati Brigade's soldiers at the Kotel, the education officer who was supposed to lead the ceremony was asked not to do so, after a request by the civilian fund involved in hosting the event. 

"The request was brought forwards during rehearsals and the decision to replace the host was made by officers at the site while exhibiting mistaken judgment without conferring with senior commanders and without the latter being involved or knowing about the situation.

"The incident will be investigated. We stress that there is no directive in the IDF that prevents women from hosting ceremonies."

Members of the Women of the Wall, Conservative and Reform Movement  hold Rosh Hodesh prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City, March 4, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)Members of the Women of the Wall, Conservative and Reform Movement hold Rosh Hodesh prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City, March 4, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation told KAN in response that it would also investigate the incident, but called it a "local misunderstanding."

"The military ceremonies at the Western wall are held according to guidelines set out by the IDF. In light of the recent incident, whose source seems to be a misunderstanding, we will conduct a joint investigation with IDF representatives in order to locate the source," the foundation said in a statement. 

Women of the Wall responded by saying that "the disgrace, absurdity and distortion at the Western Wall continue.

"The disgrace, absurdity and distortion at the Western Wall continue."

Women of the Wall

"The Kotel rabbi, who has been acting to silence women at the Western Wall for decades using halakhic arguments, proved that it is not a religious matter but one of aggressively maintaining power. Such blatant silencing of women at the Western Wall needs to be a ringing slap in the face that should awaken decision-makers to act soon."

The religious-Zionist organization "Ne'emanei Torah V'avoda" said in response:

"The Western Wall is a public and national site. Instead of taking responsibility and making it accessible to the entire public, The Western Wall Heritage Foundation chooses to distance men and women with false pretenses. It is precisely the foundation's demands, that a woman not host the ceremony, that is lacking in modesty - exaggerated stringency in these fields are nothing but a surrender to the evil inclination without basis in reality."

The issue of gender equality at the Western Wall has lasted for decades, as women activists, mainly from the Reform movement, attempt to hold monthly Rosh Hodesh prayers with a Torah Scroll but are routinely verbally and sometimes physically attacked by ultra-Orthodox men and, recently, women. 

In the latest such incident on May 2, 150 members of the Women of the Wall were met with resistance from both police and a group of Orthodox women as they attempted to conduct a prayer service at the Western Wall. The Women of the Wall had intended for their prayers to mark the start of the month of Iyar and the then-upcoming Independence Day.

A compromise in 2016 that enabled mixed-gender prayer at a different spot along the Western Wall fell through due to pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told The Jerusalem Post in late January that his government will not be able to implement the compromise, deeming it a "controversial topic in this coalition."