June 7, 2016
Lesley Sachs, Executive Director of Women of the Wall has been detained by police while exiting the Western Wall, with a Torah scroll. Sachs was detained for “disturbing the public order” despite a relatively quiet and uneventful prayer service with 80 Women of the Wall. The reason given for the police action was: smuggling a Torah scroll into the women’s section.
Today Women of the Wall welcomed the Hebrew month of Sivan at the Western Wall in Jerusalem with a Torah scroll from Sacramento, California. Rosh Hodesh Sivan falls in between Jerusalem Day, an Israeli national holiday commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City in June 1967, at the end of the Six-Day War and Shavuot, the holiday that celebrates the Jewish people receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.
Though we believe that the Torah was handed down to women and men equally at Mt. Sinai, and though women and men both sacrificed their lives and loved ones for the reunification of Jerusalem, in 2016 Women of the Wall struggle for access to Torah scrolls at the Kotel.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Administrator of the Western Wall and Holy Places, has created a catch 22 for women at the Western Wall: he prohibits entrances with private Torah scrolls and refuses women access to the 100 scrolls he holds at the Kotel for public use in the men’s section. Rabbi Rabinowitz believes that women who wish to read from the Torah and hear the Torah reading are a “provocation.”
From Mount Sinai to California and now on to the Western Wall: The journey of women and Torah
Congregation B’nai Israel, Sacramento, California, has lent a small Torah scroll to Women of the Wall, to be read in the women’s section of the Western Wall. The scroll was given to B’nai Israel by Peter and Lawrence Michaels upon the passing of their parents, Ann and Rudy Michaels, of blessed memory. Anat Hoffman, Women of the Wall executive board chair, flew from Sacramento to Israel with the Torah scroll in her arms. On her journey, she encountered many Women of the Wall supporters, including her flight’s all-female team of pilots, Captain Wendi Shaffner and First Officer was Katrina Mittelstadt, who were moved to meet Hoffman and the small Torah.
Women of the Wall want to see Jewish girls have the same rights and privileges as the thousands of boys who have bar mitzvah ceremonies at the Kotel each year and this requires access to Torah scrolls for women. It is up to Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government to require Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Administrator of the Western Wall and Holy Places, to open the Kotel to all Jews.
Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Shlomo Amar came out against Women of the Wall and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism on Jerusalem day calling them “wicked” and saying that non-Haredi prayer at the Kotel “weakens Jerusalem.” Anat Hoffman responds, “The Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem brings home a government salary- 1.5 Million shekel a year and claims that the government decision to recognize the rights of women is dead. He declares that it is not the government that runs this country and Jerusalem, but the Chief Rabbinate. His words are an offense to democracy, and they are inciting hate and division between Jews. If he does not have respect for government decisions, then he is not fit for a government post.”
For 27 years Women of the Wall have led the struggle for women’s right to pray at the Western Wall with tallit, tefillin and the Torah at the Western Wall. After the arrests and detentions of 50 women at the Kotel, and thanks to the work of activists all over the world, in 2013 a Jerusalem District Court judge ruled that Women of the Wall may pray at the holy site, each woman according to her tradition. Unfortunately, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Administrator of the Western Wall and Holy Places implemented regulations preventing women from accessing Torah scrolls at the Western Wall. In 2016, spurred on by the insistence of Women of the Wall, partners and activists worldwide, the Israeli government approved a plan to build a third, pluralist section at the Western Wall. The execution of this plan may take some time and until its completion, Women of the Wall continue to pray in the women’s section of the Western Wall, remaining steadfast in the fight for women’s rights to read from the Torah at the Kotel.