The Women of the Wall group was established as a result of a formative event:
On December 1988, a first international congress of Jewish feminists was held in Jerusalem. On the last day of the conference, about 70 of the group’s women, led by Rivka Haut, asked to hold a “thanksgiving prayer to the Welfare of the state of Israel” at the Western Wall, a prayer that includes reading the Torah. For Haut it was important that the prayer be conducted according to Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law (halakha). The prayer went smoothly until the moment of Torah reading, when ultra-Orthodox men and women tried to disrupt the reading of the Torah by cursing, screaming and acts of physical violence.
The prayer service and reading of the Torah was not interrupted by the late Rabbi Yehuda Getz, who was then the rabbi of the Western Wall.
In fact, one of the women who happened to stand next to the rabbi heard him say to an Ultra-Orthodox woman who complained: “Let them continue, their service is according to halakha.”
Refusing to accept that women can’t pray freely at the Western Wall, a group of Jerusalemite women were inspired to commit to the custom of praying publicly as a women’s tefillah (prayer) group at the Western Wall every Rosh Chodesh. Shortly after, on Rosh Chodesh Tevet, December 9, 1988, the group brought a Torah scroll with them to the Western Wall. A violent riot began, men outraged at the sight of women holding a Torah scroll, lashed out by spitting, cursing and grabbing the Torah from the women’s hands. This event cemented the formation of the Women of the Wall group and the parallel development of an American organization called the International Committee for Women of the Wall (ICWOW). Determined to pray freely, WOW and the supporters from ICWOW work together in sacred action.
Following the events of Rosh Chodesh Tevet and towards Rosh Chodesh Adar, Women of the Wall approached the police and announced their intention to pray, but this time too they were cursed and condemned by the Ultra-Orthodox worshipers at the Western Wall. In preparation for Ta’anit Esther (the Fast of Esther, before Purim) prayer services, former Director of the Western Wall, Rabbi Yehuda Getz, representatives of the police and Anat Hoffman, representative of the Women of the Wall, met in hopes of cooperation. The compromise reached was that WOW will pray in the women’s section without prayer shawls and Torah scrolls, so as not to give the Orthodox public a “reason” for violence against them. Rabbi Getz pledged “to take care of their welfare and for the women to fulfill their prayer” but to no avail.
WOW’s presence in the women’s section aroused anger among the ultra-Orthodox, who began cursing, throwing chairs, bottles, and diapers. The police had to stop the riots with tear gas. As a result, Rabbi Getz decided to banish Women of the Wall from the Western Wall by claiming that they “violated the public order.”
In May 1989, after the group’s petition to the Supreme Court, an official order was published forbidding women to wrap themselves in a prayer shawl and read the Torah scroll at the Western Wall.
In order to issue the Women of the Wall prayer outside the law, the Minister of Religious Affairs published an amendment to the Regulations for the Protection of Jewish Holy Places. In the amendment to Regulation 2 (a) (a1), according to which, within the boundaries of the holy places: “One may not hold a religious ceremony that goes against the custom of the place and hurts the feelings of the worshipers towards the place.” The penalty for violating the regulation is 6 months imprisonment and / or a fine. This regulation is still in force.
As of today (2018), women of the Wall hold a prayer service every Rosh Chodesh, except for Shabbat and Rosh Hashana at the Women’s Section of the Western Wall. This prayer is a demand for equality at the Western Wall. WOW’s mission is for women’s right to pray freely at the Western Wall, including singing, putting on tefillin (phylacteries) and tallit (prayer shawl) and reading out loud from the Torah Scroll.