Western Wall Rabbi: Women's Prayer Service Will Drag Jerusalem Into War Among Jews

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch says Women of the Wall subjects Jerusalem to 'difficult scenes, not seen at the Western Wall since it was liberated'; Women of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman: In every generation a person must re-liberate the Western Wall.

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The rabbi of the Western Wall on Tuesday accused the Women of the Wall group of threatening to "drag Jerusalem back to the era war between brothers" by holding a monthly prayer service where women often don prayer shawls and have sought to read from the Torah in their bid for equality at Judaism's most holy site.

Three female Knesset members participated in the prayer service held by the Women of the Wall in the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem on Tuesday morning.  According to the legislators, their participation in the prayer service prevented the arrest of other women who came to worship. This marks the first time in many months in which no arrests were made at a Women of the Wall event.

Despite the lack of police intervention, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch deemed Tuesday's events an affront to other worshipers, and a contravention of High Court rulings:

"Today, the first day of Nissan, we were subjected to difficult scenes, not seen at the Western Wall since it was liberated. A group of woman who wish to express their world view chose to transform the Western Wall to an arena for a demonstration, and cause unneeded conflicts between brothers," he said. "Their action was carried out in contrast to the law, the High Court of Justice rulings, and the directives and clarifications by the Attorney General, after they were permitted to carry out their rituals at the Robinson arch. But they chose to do so at the ladies section, and hurt other's feelings."

Their action, which crosses all lines, will drag Jerusalem back to the era war between brothers, that has brought it to ruin in the past," added Rabbi Rabinovitch.

MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) also protested the participation of the MKs at the event. "I was amazed, this morning to discover my colleagues in prayer shawls, especially since I respect their deeds. As MKs we must offer a personal example as to abiding by the law their action is a message to the public that police decisions and High Court of Justice rulings are no more than a recommendation."

MK Uri Ariel(Habayit Hayehudi) demanded that the police act forcefully to preserve
the status quo, according to a High Court of Justice ruling.

Anat Hoffman, Chairwoman of the Woman of the Wall rejected the criticism, saying her movement was intent on giving women the equality to pray at the wall.

"In every generation a person must re-liberate the Western Wall. We still hope that the Western Wall will serve as a bridge connecting all factions of Judaism. We reject the limiting interpretation of the law, that determines that the Western Wall Rabbi and the ultra-Orthodox extremists are those who define what constitutes hurting public feelings."

The three female legislators who participated in the service - MK Stav Shafir (Labor), MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), and MK Michal Rozin (Meretz), confronted policemen who tried to prevent their entry into the area with prayer shawls – an accouterment traditionally used by men only – in their possession.

“At first they tried to stop us from entering the Wall Plaza on the grounds that we constitute a disturbance of public order but there is nothing that 100 women armed with prayer shawls can’t do," Shaffir said. "Surrounded by police, both male and female, and to the shouts of the ultra-Orthodox men and blasts of the ram’s horn from the other side of the fence – we stood facing the Wall and we prayed."

According to Zandberg, they fought with the police at the site and refused their demand to leave the prayer shawls outside the compound.

“I demand to enter. The extremist stream’s interpretation of the Holy Places Law is unacceptable to me, and I refuse to leave the prayer shawl outside,” said Zandberg. “I am a secular woman but I identify with these women’s struggle for freedom of expression and religion.”

Shaffir echoed Zandberg's comments. “I don’t usually put on a prayer shawl but I do feel it’s an obligation and a great privilege to stand here and see to it that all the Jews in the world can pray however they desire," she said. "It is untenable for one faction in Judaism to take ownership of the place that is sacred to all the Jews in the world. At a time when there are real disputes among the various streams of Judaism about the right way to worship God, we must remember that more connects us than divides us, and the little we have in our power to do is to enable all men and women to pray to the Creator to the best of their understanding.”

MK Miri Regev (Likud) condemned Shaffir and Zandberg, saying the two have hurt the feelings of the Jewish people.

“Damaging symbols of government and anarchistic actions have for a long time been a national sport among the extreme left in Israel. It is necessary to condemn this despicable behavior that tries to harm the Holy of Holies and hurt the feelings of the Jewish people and the public in Israel.”

Shmuel Rabinovitch, Rabbi of the Western WallCredit: Tomer Appelbaum
Women worshipers were detained following a service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, February 11, 2013. Credit: Michal Fattal

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