Despite Warning, Rabbi Lets Women of the Wall Read From Torah for Second Month

If no one is stopping this move at Jerusalem's Western Wall, it means it is sanctioned, the multidenominational prayer group says.

Miriam Alster

For the second month running, the Women of the Wall prayer group has read from a tiny Torah scroll at the women’s section of the Western Wall without interference.

On Sunday morning, despite threats last month after the feminist prayer group smuggled the scroll in, the Orthodox authorities that control prayer at the wall did not confiscate it or stop the women from reading from it. Last month marked the first time in 25 years that Women of the Wall read from the Torah in the women’s section.

Both months, the reading coincided with the bat mitzvah ceremony of a young participant in the service. The second girl to celebrate her bat mitzvah at the Western Wall with a Torah was Ruth Antman, a Jerusalem native. Her mother Avigail Antman, an Orthodox feminist and a poet, is a member of the Women of the Wall executive board.

According to Women of the Wall spokeswoman Shira Pruce, more than 70 women took part in Sunday’s service, which marks the beginning of the Jewish month of Kislev. Standing not far away were another 30 or so male supporters.

Existing regulations prevent worshippers from bringing their own Torah scrolls into the Western Wall prayer areas. Many scrolls are available on-site for use in the men’s section, but Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Western Wall rabbi, has refused to lend them to Women of the Wall for use in the women’s section.

Miriam Alster

In April 2013, Jerusalem District Court Judge Moshe Sobel ruled that it was not a violation of “local custom” for women to read from the Torah at the Western Wall. Rabinowitz, however, has refused to lift the ban.

The tiny Torah scroll smuggled in both months is a family heirloom lent to the multidenominational women’s prayer group for two months. The 200-year-old scroll belongs to John and Noeleen Cohen of London; it was carried by Cohen’s great-grandfather from Lithuania to South Africa.

Since the tiny Torah will no longer be available to Women of the Wall, the group plans to use a full-size scroll at its service next month, Pruce said.

“We definitely plan to read from a Torah next month, and we’re working on other options,” she said. “Clearly, if no one is stopping us, it means they also think we are right in our reading of the Sobel ruling.”

Because of the recent terror attack at a synagogue in Jerusalem, the mood at this month’s prayer service was far more sober than at last month’s, Pruce said.