Defying Regulations, Women of the Wall Sneak Tiny Torah Scroll Into the Kotel

The feminist prayer group holds first 'full' Bat Mitzvah service at the Jewish Holy site, says this is first time in 25 years they have managed to read from the Torah at the Kotel.

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Bat mitzvah girl Sasha Lutt reads from the tiny Torah scroll smuggled into the Western Wall, Fri. Oct. 24, 2014Credit: Miriam Alster

Defying regulations by Western Wall rabbinic authorities, members of Women of the Wall smuggled a tiny Torah scroll into the women's section of the Kotel and held a Bat Mitvah ceremony on Friday morning, in what the feminist prayer group said was the first time women have read from the Torah at the holy site since the group was founded some 25 years ago.

The tiny scroll, measuring just 28 centimeters in length, was smuggled inside in a talit bag an hour before the group, which numbered around 100 worshippers, began their monthly prayer service on the first day of the Jewish month.

During the service, Sasha Lutt, a 12-year-old girl from Be'er Sheva, read from the Torah with a piece of magnifying plastic as part of her bat mitzvah, marking the first time a 'full' bat mitzvah ceremony has ever been held at the Kotel, Women of the Wall said. "I feel happy that I had a real Bat Mitzvah, and not just a party," Lutt said to Haaretz after the service. 

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation does not allow worshippers to bring their own Torah scrolls to the premises. About 300 Torah scrolls are stored in the men’s section at the wall for use during male-led services, but Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who heads the foundation, has not allowed Women of the Wall to make use of one of the scrolls at their own services in the women's section. The group has tried to sneak in Torah scrolls in the past, with little success.

Earlier on Friday morning, the group tried to walk through the Mughrabi Gate entrance to the Kotel while one of their members was holding a Torah scroll, but were stopped by security guards and police, who told them it was against the rules to bring in scrolls from outside. After a back-and-forth amid a heavy media presence, the activists demanded to see Rabinowitz and ask him to use one of the Kotel's scrolls. They were told that the rabbi was not there. In the end, they backed down and entered without the scroll.

In the middle of the services in the women's section, however, the activists held up a tzitit and laid out the tiny Torah scroll they had smuggled in earlier on a table underneath it. A couple of policemen looked on from the side throughout, but did not interrupt the services.

Lesley Sachs, the executive director of Women of the Wall, described the occasion as historic, saying it was the first time that women have read from the Torah at the holy site since the group was founded a quarter of a century ago. "I'm just so excited, this is just something so obvious and natural, and it is unbelievable that we had to sneak it in."

The group was loaned the Torah by its owners in England especially for the occasion, and the scroll arrived in Israel a few days before Friday's service. Sachs said the Torah itself was smuggled in 1880 from Lithuania to South Africa, before finding its way to the U.K., and that she believes it was made so small so that persecuted Jews in the past could pray safely. "This unique Torah scroll was made for the same reason we had to use it here today," Sachs said.

The first Torah reading and bat mitzvah in the womens section of the Western Wall http://t.co/ztrcZsJEND

Mazal Tov Sasha! You made history today and we are so proud of you http://t.co/X9H5exGGDM

Women of the Wall are usually joined by one or two young girls marking their bat mitzvah ceremonies. Because the foundation prohibits people bringing in their own Torah scrolls to the site, the Torah is not read during these ceremonies, as it traditionally is during bar- and bat-mitzvahs that take place in synagogues.

The group launched an ad campaign Sunday that encourages girls to hold bat mitzvah services at the holy site, which Rabinowitz denounced as a provocation. Lutt, the bat miztvah girl who read her portion at the Kotel on Friday morning, is one of the young girls featured in the campaign. 

Having managed to sneak in the scroll, will Women of the Wall smuggle it in every Rosh Chodesh? "Hopefully, we have to see. We have to be so creative every month, it's just unacceptable," said Lesley Sachs. 

Rabbi Rabinowitz, in a statement, condemned the group for carrying out what he called "a deception," according to the Ynet news website. "A small group of Women of the Wall carried out a deception this morning; after they were prevented from entering with a large Torah scroll – they cunningly took a small Torah into the women's section [of the Western Wall]," Ynet cited him as saying.

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