Western Wall Gender Barriers Locked to Stop Women Reading From Torah

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Lock and police barricade separating the women's and men's section of the Western Wall, May 19, 2015.Credit: Courtesy of Women of the Wall
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

To prevent women from reading from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall, police took the unprecedented step this morning of locking the partitions that separate the women’s and men’s sections and stationing barriers all along it.

A male worshipper trying to pass a Torah scroll from the men’s section to the women’s section, over the partition, was detained by police. The barriers were set up at the instructions of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the director of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, an Orthodox-run organization the controls prayer regulations at the site, in order to prevent a replay of last month’s events.

At their monthly Rosh Chodesh service in April, Women of the Wall, a group fighting for freedom of worship at the Western Wall, fulfilled a longstanding goal of reading from a full-size Torah scroll at the Western Wall. It was the first time since the group was founded 25 years ago that it had read from one of the full-size public Torah scrolls available at the Kotel. 

The Torah scroll had been passed to the women by male supporters who simply moved the partitions separating the two sides.

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation keeps dozens of Torah scrolls in the men’s section but allows them to be used only there.

As an act of protest, members of the multi-denominational women’s prayer group on Tuesday morning stood on plastic chairs next to the partition during the prayer service and held out their arms to symbolize their desire to obtain a Torah.

The man who was detained was released soon thereafter. He was identified as Nitai Giron, a Women of the Wall supporter and graduate of the Conservative/Masorti youth movement in Israel.

Six young girls celebrated their bat mitzvahs at Tuesday’s Rosh Chodesh service organized by Women of the Wall.

Upon entering the holy site and noticing the locks on the partitions, Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall, said: “Rabbi Rabinowitz treats the Kotel as it if belongs to him and enforces ultra-Orthodox customs. It is insulting not only for Women of the Wall but to every woman wherever she is that all women are treated like second-rate citizens at the holiest place to the Jewish people.”

At last month’s Women of the Wall service, two male supporters who helped pass the Torah scrolls over to the women’s sections were injured when assaulted by ushers at the site. One of the men was taken in for questioning for police and told that charges were pending against him.

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