Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky met Thursday with Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, chairman of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, to express his shock at a letter sent by police warning that women would be arrested for reciting the Kaddish mourner’s prayer at the Western Wall.
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"The Kotel must continue to be a symbol of unity for all Jews in the world and not a symbol of strife and discord,” Sharansky told Rabinowitz.
The letter in question, warning women that they were prohibited from reciting the Kaddish was sent by Jerusalem Police Chief Yossi Pariente to Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of Women of the Wall, the organization that holds a monthly prayer service at the Kotel.
Rabinowitz, whose organization oversees the Western Wall, assured Sharansky in their conversation that no women would be arrested for reciting Kaddish at the Western Wall.
The rabbi said that his decision bypasses the strict interpretation of the law and is contrary to directives given by the attorney general. He made the remarks following a conversation with Knesset Member Aliza Lavi (Yesh Atid) who had noted that many women recite the orphan’s Kaddish, even in Orthodox synagogues.
In an official response to Rabinowitz's statement, the Women of the Wall said that the rabbi's "pledge that women reciting Kaddish at the Wall will not be arrested, contrary to orders given by Jerusalem District police commissioner, proves what we’ve been saying all along – the rabbi calls the shots."
Sharansky is in the final stages of drafting recommendations for a compromise to resolve growing tensions over prayer at the wall. The recommendations, his office said, are meant to ensure “that every Jew in the world can pray in the manner that they are accustomed to at Judaism’s most important national and religious site.”
In recent days, Sharansky has held meetings with relevant ministers in the government along with discussions with religious leaders and the public in Israel and the Jewish world.
Meanwhile, in yet another sign of escalating tensions over prayer at the wall, Women of the Wall has voted to up the ante in its battle against the Orthodox establishment by boycotting the site designated by the government as an alternate venue for its prayer services.
Members of its board of directors voted unanimously in recent days to stop moving their monthly Torah reading service to the adjacent area known as Robinson’s Arch, Haaretz has learned.
Instead, starting at their upcoming gathering next Thursday, the Torah reading will be held at the Western Wall, with the relevant passages recited from a Chumash rather than a scroll.
“For me, breaking up the prayer in the middle to leave the Kotel felt unnatural, as if we were accepting banishment to Robinson’s Arch,” said Rachel Cohen Yeshurun, a member of the board. “Remaining at the Kotel and completing our service is consistent with our aim to achieve full rights for women’s prayer at the Kotel."
Following the 2003 Supreme Court decision that upheld the government prohibition on women reading from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall, participants in
Women of the Wall's monthly services have made a practice of moving the service over to Robinson’s Arch after the completion of the Shaharit morning service and the Hallel prayer. In recent months, police have cracked down on the organization, arresting women during and after the services for wearing prayer shawls and praying aloud. As a result, the Torah reading services moved from their traditional venue at Robinson’s arch to an area outside the Old City police station, where members were interrogated after they were detained.
Women of the Wall and other non-Orthodox Jewish organization have responded harshly to the police letter prohibiting women from reciting the Kaddish at the wall.
Hoffman charged that Rabinowitz had pressured police to issue the warning, saying he had “crossed a clear red line, as women’s right to say Kaddish is respected and accepted by the entire Jewish world, including Orthodox factions.”
Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Masorti Movement in Israel, said that “Rabinowitz, who instructs police to eavesdrop on women lest they be reciting theKaddish treats the Western Wall as his own personal synagogue."