Women of the Wall Pulls Off Candle-lighting Ceremony at Kotel, but Loses Bigger Battle

Only after Knesset member took charge of the situation were the feminist group allowed in with the menorah.

Women of the Wall chair Anat Hoffman, holding onto MK Ksenia Svetlova (center), who is helping carry a Hanukkah menorah to the women's section at the Kotel.
Danielle Shitrit

To mark the first night of Hanukkah, Women of the Wall, the feminist prayer group, held their own candle-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall – but just barely.

While attempting to bring a large Hanukkah menorah into the Jewish holy site on Sunday evening, several dozen organization activists were stopped at the security checkpoint at the entrance and told that they could not enter with it. Only after a female Knesset member took charge of the situation were they allowed in with the menorah.

MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) pushed past the guards with the menorah in her hands, notifying them that there were no prohibitions against bringing such religious artifacts onto the premises, and certainly none that would apply to a Knesset member.

Some 100 women participated in the ceremony, which was described as a victory of sorts – although not as big a victory as Women of the Wall had hoped for. 

The organization had been waging a campaign over the past month to have women included in the official Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall.

Last week, Deputy Attorney General Dina Silber notified the administrator of the Western Wall that women could not be excluded from the ceremony because that would be a violation of rules against discrimination in the public sphere.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the administrator of the Kotel, said he believed he was in compliance with the directive because he did, indeed, invite female dignitaries to the official candle-lighting ceremony, which is held on a veranda above the prayer plaza. Women of the Wall argued, to the contrary, that he was not in compliance because the female invitees were not included among the candlelighters.

Rabinowitz invited female dignitaries to the ceremony last year as well, but they were not among the candlelighters then, either. Last year he invited two women, and this year six.

Responding to Rabinowitz’s interpretation of her directive, Silber wrote, in a letter obtained by Haaretz, that she was happy he had increased the number of women invitees, “even if there is a long way to go for true equality.”

She concluded by citing Canada’s new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, who, when asked why there were so many women in his cabinet, responded: “Because it’s 2015.”

Lu Yehi,” wrote Silber before signing off, using the well-known Hebrew expression for “if only it could be.”