November 30, 2015
Women of the Wall Call on Israeli Leaders to Reject the Official Hanukkah Candle-lighting at the Kotel
Each year Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Administrator of the Western Wall and Holy Places, organizes the official Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall. Rabinowitz invites ONLY men to have the honor of lighting and blessing the candles on the large menorah erected in the men’s section. Women are completely excluded from this state-sponsored event.
Women of the Wall sent letters on Monday November 9, 2015 to Israeli leaders asking them to refuse to participate in the official candle-lighting on Hanukkah at the Western Wall, in which women are excluded. Letters were sent to all female members of Knesset as well as all those who are usually invited: the executive director of the Chief Rabbinate, Police Commissioner, Minister of Police, Police Chief in charge of the Western Wall area, Chair of Knesset, chair of opposition, chair of coalition, President of the Supreme Court, Government Secretary, Mayor of Jerusalem and President of Israel.
The letter reads, “According to Jewish law (Halacha) women are required, as are men, to light Hanukkah candles. The “mitzvah” is greater, the more people light the candles. We would appreciate it if you would see fit to turn to Rabinowitz, demanding he change this offensive policy. You could reject his invitation to attend the event stating that you will not attend a ceremony which discriminates against half the population. You could disseminate this message, call on your fellow party members to boycott this ceremony and speak out publicly against the discrimination and the exclusion of women. Any of these actions you might decide to take, as a public figure, will have great effect on the road to equality.”
Will the government ‘pass the buck’ on women’s rights, again?
In 2014, Women of the Wall wrote to Prime Minister Netanyahu to request that a Hanukkah menorah equal in size to that in the men’s section be erected in the women’s section. Netanyahu did not respond, and instead his office passed the letter on to the Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs Rabbi Elie Ben Dahan. Dahan then passed the letter to Rabbi Rabinowitz , who on December 1, 2014 wrote back to Ben Dahan and Netanyahu, claiming that “The large and fancy Hanukkiah is put in a place that can be seen from a far, from the men’s section and the women’s section.”
However, on December 18, 2014, as on Hanukkah every year at the Kotel, women could not see the Hanukkiah and were forced to stand on chairs and peer over the partition in attempt to see the candles. On that night, one of the men who lit the candles at the official ceremony was the State Comptroller, Yossi Shapira. Anat Hoffman, Women of the Wall chair, wrote to Shapira, and in his response he stated, “Equality and tolerance are value close to my heart and I would be happy if these values could be in agreement and good spirit at the Kotel as well. You did well in writing both to the Prime Minister and to the Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs. I hope that next year, maybe with the establishment of a new government, a suitable appropriate solution will be found… I am going to follow this issue closely.
It’s My Right to Light
Rabbi Jackie Ellenson and Rabbi Sydney Mintz are spearheading a campaign calling on supporters of pluralism and equal rights in Israel to join Women of the Wall in telling Rabinowitz: It’s my right to light on Hanukkah. The campaign can be found at http://my.israelgives.org/en/myrighttolight.
Women of the Wall will gather for Rosh Hodesh Kislev prayers on Friday, November 13th at 7AM in the women’s section of the Western Wall.
Members of Knesset Sign On
On November 10, 2015 MKsTamar Zandberg (Meretz), Michal Rozin (Meretz), and Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) wrote to Rabbi Rabinowitz with a request that he allow women to take part in the official Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at the Kotel. On November 18, 2015 Rabinowitz sends a response, which while flagrant and offensive, does not refer or respond at all to the claims in the letter from the female MKs. MK Svetlova: “It is regrettable that this is the response to a legitimate and understandable request. No connection exists, she said, between negotiations over the mixed-prayer space and the demand to have a special candle-lighting ceremony for women at the Western Wall.”
Tammy Gottlieb, vice-chair of Women of the Wall: Rabbi Rabinowitz’s reference to the negotiations that have been going on for two years (and can go on much longer) as grounds for discrimination and exclusion of women is unacceptable to us. He had a full year to consider solutions, following our request last year, but he insists on ignoring the religious needs of women and other groups that are not ultra-Orthodox.”
The Next Legal Steps
On November 22, 2015 Women of the Wall board member Adv. Riki Shapira wrote to the Attorney General of Israel Adv. Yehuda Weinstein. Shapira states clearly that the state-sponsored exclusion of women from the national Hanukkah ceremony at the Kotel is “discrimination, creates an atmosphere of subordination of women in Israel.” She writes that this causes “erosion to our basic principles as a society“, quoting the findings of a government report on the exclusion of women in the public sphere. The report established a prohibition on national ceremonies in which women are discriminated against and excluded women. Likewise, there is no Jewish legal (halakhic) or socially normative basis for separation based on gender (as is common in most other Orthodox religions ceremonies) on Hanukkah.
On behalf of Women of the Wall Shapira asks that the Attorney General immediately inform Rabbi Rabinowitz of his responsibility to respect and oblige the established basic principles of equality of women in the public sphere, which also forbid him from discriminating against women. The organization requests that he be instructed to include women in the national Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony in one of the following two ways:
- To hold another ceremony for Hannukkah candle lighting in the women’s section
- To hold the national ceremony in the upper plaza of the Western Wall and to invite men and women to participate, equally.
For 27 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.
Director of Public Relations
Women of the Wall