Israel's Public Radio Service Refuses to Broadcast 'Controversial' Women of the Wall Ad

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Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman, center, leading a shofar blowing service, August 16, 2015.Credit: Daniel Shitrit

Israel’s public service radio is refusing to broadcast an advertisement by a feminist prayer group on the grounds that it is controversial.

Women of the Wall, a multi-denominational prayer group, wanted to advertise the upcoming priestly blessing service it will be holding at the Western Wall on Reshet Bet, the main Hebrew-language radio news station. This is the first time that a priestly blessing led by women will be held at the Western Wall. The event is scheduled for April 24, during the interim days of Passover. 

In an email, the legal department of the public broadcaster notified Women of the Wall that the decision was taken because it was controversial for women to conduct the priestly blessing.  “If you want it [the advertisement] to be approved, the words ‘women’s priestly blessing’ must be deleted,” it said. 

According to Israeli law, public service radio is not allowed to carry advertising that is deemed “politically or ideologically controversial.” Some advertisements that have been rejected in the past on these grounds have been challenged in the Supreme Court.

“Kol Israel is entering the territory of unreasonable censorship,” said Riki Shapira Rosenberg, an attorney and member of the board of Women of the Wall, in response. “Without providing a relevant reason to reject the advertisement, this is nothing less than an affront to free expression, under the guise of linguistics and semantics. This is a simple paid broadcasting aimed at informing the public about an open event, a prayer service at the Kotel, over Passover.”

She urged the public broadcaster reconsider the ban.

Traditionally, this special benediction is recited by men who trace their lineage to the priestly class known as “cohanim.” As part of the ritual, these cohanim bless the congregation with their hands raised and their fingers spread.

At the upcoming Women of the Wall event, the ceremony will be led by women who trace their lineage to the priestly class, and it will include only women.

The event is being held in collaboration with the estate of the late Leonard Nimoy, the Jewish actor best known for his role as Spock, the half Vulcan character in Star Trek who popularized the priestly gesture in his famous salute. Nimoy died last year.

Funding provided by the Susan Bay Nimoy and Leonard Nimoy estate was meant to help Women of the Wall advertise the event as well as bus in women from around the country so that they can attend at no cost.

Twice a year, once during Sukkot and once during Passover, on the interim days of the holiday known as Chol Hamoed, a mass priestly blessing of the public is held at the Western Wall. The event is typically attended by thousands.

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