Women of the Wall will lose its right to pray at the Western Wall if the feminist prayer group refuses to worship in a small barricaded area within the women’s section of the Kotel, the organization was warned on Wednesday.
The warning came in a letter drafted by the legal department of the Religious Services Ministry. If Women of the Wall disobeys the rules, the letter said, “the Custodian of Holy Places will be forced to exercise his authority to remove it from the area.”
For more than a year now, the Women of the Wall group has been asked to hold its monthly prayer service behind metal barricades in a far corner of the women’s prayer section, in order to avoid the almost-inevitable clashes with ultra-Orthodox protesters.
Many women who pray with the group wear prayer shawls and phylacteries, practices that traditional Orthodox Judaism reserves for men.
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At last month’s prayer service, Women of the Wall members decided to pray outside the barricades. Responding to warnings from security guards that they might be risking their safety by doing so, leaders of the group said it was the job of the police to protect them.
During the service, representatives of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation – the Orthodox organization that runs the holy site – approached nine prominent members of the group and notified them they could be banned from praying there the following month.
Among the women were the group’s chairwoman, Anat Hoffman, and its executive director, Lesley Sachs.
In its response to the letter from the ministry, Women of the Wall insisted it has the right to pray wherever it desires in the women’s section and that there are no grounds for removing members from the Kotel if they worship outside the barricaded area.
“We are astounded by the nerve of the Western Wall rabbi – with backing from the Religious Services Ministry – who instead on removing those who have been disrupting the prayers of Women of the Wall [members] and using violence against them for the past two years – is trying to threaten Women of the Wall members, who are asking to fulfill their right to pray as they see fit,” the organization said.
Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz also serves as head of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.