Each year on Chanukah, a large, majestic Chanukah menorah is erected in the men’s section of the Western Wall. Each night, a candle lighting ceremony is held and different Israeli men- politicians and religious leaders- are honored.
This year, on November 17, 2014, Women of the Wall sent a letter Prime Minister Netanyahu to request that an equivalent menorah be erected in the women’s section to provide women with the same opportunity to hold candle lighting and ceremonies to honor female leaders.
In their letter to the Prime Minister, Women of the Wall declared, “Chanukah is a festive opportunity for the public to gather, like a family, to share in celebrating the miracle and wonders of the survival of the Jewish people and the light in our lives. In years past, women have been forced to stand on plastic chairs, to attempt to peer over the partition in order to see the ceremony and the candle lighting in the men’s section. This does not honor or respect women or the holiness of the Kotel. We believe that you understand the importance of this place and of providing equal opportunities to women.”
The Prime Minister transferred the letter to the auspices of Vice Minister of Religious Affairs, Eli Ben Dahan, for reply, who passed the letter on to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Authority of the Western Wall and Holy Places.
Rabinowitz’s response was a negative one claiming that, “the large and fancy Menorah is erected in a place [in the men’s section] that can be seen from a far”. Rabinowitz decided that women will not be allowed to light the Chanukah menorah at the Kotel, nor will they be able to participate or witness the ceremonies, as they are held in the men’s section. (The letter is available in Hebrew upon request)
The Prime Minister, who has made many public statements to the Jewish world declaring that the Western Wall belongs to all Jews (during his address to the 2013 JFNA General Assembly, for example), declined many requests to respond or comment.
Anat Hoffman, Women of the Wall Chair, stated, “In his letter, Rabbi Rabinowitz speaks of bringing together and uniting the nation, and yet his actions exclude and discriminate against women, as if women are not a part of this same nation. Since he was chosen for this public position, Rabinowitz has never invited Women of the Wall or any other woman to participate in the ceremonies or to be honored with the lighting of a candle at the Kotel on Chanukah, despite the fact that women are obligated equally to men in this mitzvah (religious act).”
Hoffman continued, “Unfortunately, Rabinowitz does not recognize the genuine intention and right that Jewish women have to heartfelt prayer at the Kotel. He has chosen to respond negatively to such a basic request, for Women of the Wall and many other women to hold a Jewish ritual at the Kotel, which is permissible and required of us according to Jewish law. We cannot accept the fact that all over Israel and the world Jewish women will be lighting candles and saying the traditional blessings, and only at the Western Wall, which has been turned into the private backyard of Sherriff Rabinowitz, this is forbidden.”
Rabinowitz’s actions, decisions and regulations remind us of times in Jewish history when the men and women of the Jewish nation were forced to hide and smuggle Jewish ritual items, like Chanukah menorahs and hold the ritual ceremonies in secret. It is unacceptable that in the free and democratic State of Israel, a rabbi would prevent women from holding a Jewish ritual, not because it is prohibited by Jewish law, but because he has been given unlimited, unmitigated authority to rule over the public, holy site.
Women of the Wall will be holding a candle-lighting ceremony for women at the Western Wall, despite Rabinowitz’s opposition. Join Women of the Wall, and bring a Chanukah menorah with candles to light in the women’s section of the Western Wall on December 18, 2014 at 17:00.
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 [email protected]
Interviews, photos and video footage available upon request.