Knesset c'tee discusses Women of the Wall demands

UTJ MK: Are there not enough arguments, do you want to send everything up in flames?

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)
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 site.
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 matter.
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 practice.
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.