Women of the Wall, the organization behind the struggle to change the rules of prayer at the Western Wall, has expressed its first public reservations about the recent proposal to set up a new egalitarian prayer section at the holy site.
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“It’s a great plan but completely not relevant for us,” the organization’s director, Leslie Sachs, told Haaretz Tuesday. “We will remain what we are, which is a women’s prayer group. Last week’s court ruling already established that what we are doing is not a violation of the local custom, and therefore, police can no longer arrest us, so we will continue to fight for our right to pray at the women’s section.”
Several weeks ago, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky announced his plan for resolving the ongoing conflict over prayer at the Western Wall. The plan involves creating a natural extension of the existing prayer area to include a third section for egalitarian services at the nearby archeological excavation site known as Robinson’s Arch. Initially, Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman welcomed the idea, as have many other Jewish organizations around the world committed to pluralism.
The recent change of heart at Women of the Wall appears to be connected to opposition within its ranks from Orthodox activists and supporters, who have no desire to participate in egalitarian services and insist on being able to pray as a women’s group at the women’s section. Two of Women of the Wall’s eight board members are Orthodox women, and in recent months, support for the organization’s cause among Orthodox feminists has risen.
In last week’s landmark decision, Jerusalem District Court Judge Moshe Sobel said that it was not illegal for women to pray at the wall wearing prayer shawls and tefillin and that contrary to the prevalent interpretation of a 10-year-old Supreme Court ruling, Women of the Wall were not required to pray at Robinson’s Arch.
At a meeting Monday night, Women of the Wall board members voted to test the court ruling by bringing a Torah scroll into the women’s section at their upcoming monthly prayer service, to be held a week from Friday, defying existing regulations that bar worshippers from bringing their own Torah scrolls to the prayer areas.
“Our special guest this month will be the Torah scroll,” said Sachs. The last time Women of the Wall read from a Torah scroll in the women’s prayer section was almost 10 years ago. Since then, the organization has been conducting Torah reading at the nearby site of Robinson’s arch.
At their last prayer service earlier this month, five women were detained at the Western Wall for wearing prayers shawls and praying out loud. The Jerusalem Magistrate Court rejected a request by police to issue an injunction preventing the five women, including Sachs, from praying at the wall for three months. Sobel upheld the lower court ruling.
Sachs said that next week’s prayer service will serve as a test to police who have long maintained that they are not on one side or another but merely enforcing the law. “We expect the police to be out in full force to protect us and to detain anyone who is abusive or violent toward us,” she said.