December 23, 2014
Sadly, on this occasion the women’s prayer group was without a Torah scroll
Today Women of the Wall met for their monthly Rosh Hodesh prayer and as the month of Tevet begins, Women of the Wall’s 26th year in existence comes to an end. In 26 years the organization has accomplished much, including the achievement and confirmation of women’s right to wear tallitot, tefillin and pray together, out loud at the Western Wall. However, today’s prayer service in the women’s section of the Western Wall was a difficult reminder of the last hurdle left for the group to cross: Women are still banned from accessing a Torah scroll at the holy site.
For the past 2 months WOW has smuggled a miniature, Kosher Torah scroll into the Western Wall and read from it, successfully completing two bat mitzvah ceremonies in the women’s section. Earlier this month, however, the Torah was returned to its owners, who bravely and generously lent it to WOW. Without this small Torah which can be smuggled in under the radar of security, women are reminded of their day to day reality at the public, holy site: ultra-Orthodox Rabbi and Kotel Administrator Shmuel Rabinowitz allows men the free and unmitigated use of hundreds of Torah scrolls at the Western Wall and women are left without even one. Women are also refused entrance with their own Torah scroll and in this catch 22, Rabinowitz uses his public office to discriminate, refusing women religious freedom and expression.
Anat Hoffman, Chair of Women of the Wall, said, “History will judge Rabbi Rabinowitz for barring women from reading Torah. Under the guise of upholding Jewish values, he has stopped half of the Jewish people from coming close to Torah. This is no achievement. In the future, there will be women reading Torah and there will be bat mitzvah ceremonies at the Wall. His decree is obsolete and he doesn’t yet know it. As for Women of the Wall, history has already written us as Jewish heroes, women who took their fate into their own hands and demanded equality and a voice in the public sphere in Israel”.
Today’s prayer service of 70+ women reading the Torah portion from a book and praying without a Torah scroll is reminiscent of the darkest days in Jewish history, including those days in 167 BCE when Antiochus took away the religious freedoms of Jews. The miracle of Chanukah is that after the victory of the Maccabean revolt against Antiochus, only a single flask of oil was found for the rededication of the Temple and that oil, which was only meant to last for one night, lasted for 8 nights. At the intersection of the organization’s 26th anniversary and Rosh Hodesh Tevet, which falls on the 7th day of Chanukah, the truth is that Women of the Wall is an organization that was not meant to last 26 years. Women’s equal rights and religious freedom at the Western Wall should have been ensured and defended then in 1988 and preserved until today, in a Democratic Jewish state. It is not a miracle that Women of the Wall is still here fighting in 2014- it is a shame.
The organization remains dedicated to the struggle for equality of Women at the Western Wall, praying that by the end of their 27th year the struggle will be over. In 2015 Women of the Wall wish to see the repeal of Rabinowitz’s decree and other legal, political action which will allow women full access to Torah scrolls at the Kotel and bat mitzvah ceremonies in the women’s section.
For 26 years Women of the Wall has continued to fight for religious freedom and women’s rights at the Western Wall. As Women of the Wall, our central mission is to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.
Press contact: Shira Pruce +972-54-6898351 firstname.lastname@example.org
Interviews, photos and video footage available upon request.