Attorney General to Decide on Women’s Passover Ceremony at Western Wall

A female version of the holiday’s priestly blessing isn’t even standard practice in the Reform and Conservative movements.

Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman.
Michal Fattal

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit will soon decide whether to let Women of the Wall hold a female version of the priestly blessing ceremony at the Western Wall during Passover, which starts Friday evening.

Mendelblit will hold a meeting on the subject Thursday with police officers, prosecutors, the legal adviser of the Religious Services Ministry and the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz. The latter two oppose permitting the ceremony.

On Wednesday, the High Court of Justice summarily rejected a petition against the ceremony by B’Tzedek, saying the organization filed it belatedly and without appealing to the police first. B’Tzedek responded by urging the public to protest if Women of the Wall holds the ceremony this Sunday.

Mati Dan, who heads the Ateret Cohanim organization in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, told Haaretz that his group might also organize protests if the ceremony goes ahead. “This is the nation’s central synagogue, and people must act with respect for religious values there,” he said. “This ceremony is meant to degrade and provoke.”

Though Women of the Wall has been meeting once a month to read the Torah at the Wall for years, this is the first time it has sought to conduct a priestly blessing ceremony. Orthodox religious law holds that this ceremony, which is held every Passover and Sukkot, can be conducted only by men.

The legal issue Mendelblit must decide on is whether a female version of the ceremony – which isn’t standard practice even in the Reform and Conservative movements – constitutes accepted practice at the Wall. If not, he can legally forbid it. He must also weigh the police’s assessment of whether the ceremony could spark riots, which would also be grounds for barring it.