The rabbi of the Western Wall has rejected a request to allow women to hold their own public Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony this week at the Jewish holy site. The request was submitted by Women of the Wall, the multi-denominational prayer group that holds a monthly Rosh Chodesh prayer service at the Western Wall.
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In his written response, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz accused the women’s group of ulterior motives. “It is difficult not to suspect that Women of the Wall’s real intention is not prayer but rather their steadfast determination to change the customs at the Western Wall at any cost, while offending many worshippers at the Kotel and the traditions created there during hundreds of years of prayer,” he wrote in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The prime minister had forwarded the request from Women of the Wall to Rabinowitz, who is in charge of protocol at the holy site.
In response, Women of the Wall said its members plan nonetheless to bring their own Hanukkah menorahs (candelabra) to the Kotel on Thursday evening and light them together in the women’s section in a joint ceremony.
The women’s prayer group had submitted a request to the prime minister in mid-November that a large Hanukkah menorah be erected in the women’s section this year, as it is every year in the men’s section. “In years past, women have been forced to stand on plastic chairs to attempt to peer over the partition in order to see the ceremony and the candle lighting in the men’s section,” they wrote in the letter to Netanyahu. “This does not honor or respect women or the holiness of the Kotel. We believe that you understand the importance of this place and of providing equal opportunities to women.”
Netanyahu did not reply, but rather, forwarded their request to Rabinowitz and to Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Eli Ben Dahan.
In his response, Rabinowitz noted that the large Hanukkah menorah is erected in a spot where it can be seen from both the men’s and women’s sections of the Western Wall. Despite efforts of recent years to reach a compromise on prayer protocol at the holy site, Rabinowitz said that “Women of the Wall continue to fight for their right to provoke and create unrest at the Kotel and to bring about a situation in which the other side will oppose any compromise solution.”
Women of the Wall has never held a Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony at the Kotel before. In recent years, though, its members have begun gathering together on other Jewish holidays, like Purim, to celebrate together.
Responding to Rabinowitz’s decision, Women of the Wall Chairwoman Anat Hoffman said: “In his letter, Rabbi Rabinowitz speaks of bringing together and uniting the nation, and yet his actions exclude and discriminate against women as if women are not part of the same nation. Since he was chosen for this public position, Rabinowitz has never invited Women of the Wall or any other women to participate in the ceremonies or to be honored with the lighting of a candle at the Kotel on Hanukkah, despite the fact that women are obligated equally to men in this religious act.”