Women of the Wall
Table of Contents
After court rulings on April 24 2013, “Judge Sobel declared, as the group has maintained for the past ten years, that women’s prayer, with Torah, tefillin and tallit, is not a disturbance of the peace or a crime, but a valid, civil right which women should be afforded.” http://www.jewishpress.com/news/break…/| Yanover, Yori. The Jewish Press. April 30, 2013. Retrieved 10 May 2013 See article: Historic victory in court for Women of the Wall, 25 April 2013 According to an article in the Jerusalem Post, the Women of Wall were allowed to conduct, “…their first monthly service without restrictions after a court ruling two weeks ago reinterpreted existing laws and allowed them to be able to perform their own customs, such as wearing prayer shawls and tefillin, without fear of being arrested.” Haredim heckle and harass Women of the Wall during prayer Sharon, Jeremy. Jerusalem Post, 10 May 2013. Retrieved 10 May 2013 “Women of the Wall Spokesperson, Oshrat Ben Shimshon told Israel Radio, “Orthodox rabbis have determined that there is no halachik barrier to women praying with prayer shawls and tefillin and reading from the Torah.” Haredim heckle and harass Women of the Wall during prayer Sharon, Jeremy. Jerusalem Post, 10 May 2013. Retrieved 10 May 2013 The Women of the Wall responded to this proclamation by holding their monthly prayer services on May 10, 2013 at the Western Wall. (See video below) The Women of the Wall called this moment a victory for women as well as religious plurality and respect at a public space. The service was met by a large protest of Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox). According to the Jerusalem Post, “Several thousand yeshiva students and haredi school girls convened at the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem to protest the monthly prayer service of the Women of the Wall.” Haredim heckle and harass Women of the Wall during prayer Sharon, Jeremy. Jerusalem Post, 10 May 2013. Retrieved 10 May 2013 The protesters arrived at the Western Wall and are reported to have thrown water bottles, trash, and coffee at the women while they were praying. Police had to form a human barrier between the protesters and the praying women.
SummaryWomen Women of the Wall is a Jewish feminist group fighting for the rights of women to pray and practice at the Western Wall (HaKotel), one of the holiest sites for Judaism in Israel . They struggle for religious plurality and legal equality for women in Judaism.Women of the Wall website The group convenes monthly at the Wall where they wear prayer shawls, sing prayers aloud and chant from the Torah. These three acts (wearing the shawls, singing out loud and reading from the Torah) are acts relegated to men and forbidden to women in the Orthodox stream of Judaism. The monthly congregations of the Women of the Wall at the Kotel have sparked ferocious responses from the Orthodox community who claim that the group are breaking religious law and offending religious sensibilities. The prayer services have led to arrests, larger protests and cases that have reached the Supreme Court in Israel.
The Women of the Wall (WOW) was founded in 1988 during the first International Jewish Feminist Conference in Jerusalem. At the meeting, a group of over 100 observant Jewish women went to pray at the Wall and were met by verbal and physical abuse by Orthodox men and women at the Wall. The Wall is overseen by Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Rabbi of the Western and Wall and Holy sites “Rabi Shmuel Rabinovitch,” http://www.aleh.org/eng/board.asp?SID=6, retrieved April 19, 2013. While the Wall is a public area, it is governed by Orthodox decencies and restricts men and women from praying together. A dividing panel, thus giving each sex their space for prayers, achieves this separation of the sexes. These laws of separation relegate women to a “lesser” standing and forbids them to sing aloud in the presence of men, to read aloud from the Torah or to wear religious garments such as a tallit or tefilin. Women are not allowed to congregate in a group and pray aloud, while men often conduct full prayer services on the other side of the panel. Since their first meeting in 1988, the group has returned to the site almost monthly for Rosh Hodesh services in order to continue to question the Orthodox monopoly and inequality they face. Women of the Wall Szymkowicz, Sarah, Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved April 19, 2013 The Rosh Hodesh services have an important connotation to women in Judaism as it is the monthly service that celebrates the cycle of the New Moon and is traditionally a celebration for women. These services have not passed peaceably however. The group has seen many arrests as they continue to enter the women’s prayer section with prayer shawls or a Torah. The group has become very well known in the Gender Equality in the United States of America of America and in Israel .
- March 1989: WoW arrive at the Wall to pray and police fired tear gas at them. Four women submit a petition to the Supreme Court of Israel.
- May 1989: the Supreme Court of Israel hears the case for the first time. They ban women from praying with a Torah or a prayer shawl at the Wall.
- December 31, 1989: The Ministry of Religion and the Ministry of Justice incite a new regulation to “prohibit any religious ceremony at a holy place that is not in accordance with the custom of the holy site and which offends the sensitivities of the worshipers at the place.” The penalty for violating this regulation is 6 months in jail and/or a fine. This regulation is still in effect. “The Israeli Supreme Court Denies Women The Right to Pray at the Western Wall”, Findlaw. April 23, 2003
- 1990: The International Committee for Women Of the Wall (ICWOW) (founded in 1989) takes a case to the Supreme Court arguing for the rights of women everywhere.
- 1991: The Court hears oral arguments for the case.
- 1994: The Court rules that the case is better left to a committee to discuss than a court to rule upon.
- 1996: The Commission responds to the case with three possible solutions:
- allow the Women of the Wall to pray at another section of the Wall in the Muslim quarter (this idea was rejected by the police)
- allow the Women of the Wall to pray at an ancient wall outside of the Old City (this idea was rejected by WOW)
- allow the Women of the Wall to pray at an archaeological site which accesses another part of the Wall.
- 1997: WOW concede and accept the conditions to pray at the other site, dubbed “Robinson’s Arch.” However, the space is not handicap equipped and the group remains discontent as they felt they had been relegated to an inferior section.
- 1997-2000: work continues on Robinson’s Arch to transform it into an adequate location for prayer.
- 2003: after the introduction of several laws in the Knesset (legislature) banning the women from praying at the Wall, the Orthodox political party Shas puts enough pressure on the court to overturn its earlier position. The court bans the wearing of prayer shawls and reading from the Torah.
- 2004: Robinson’s Arch is inaugurated as another site of prayer.
- 2009: while praying with WOW, Nofrat Frenkel, a young Israeli medical student, was arrested. Frenkel was held for several hours, interrogated, and charged with illegally wearing a tallit at the Western Wall.http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3807090,00.html| Police arrest woman praying| Weiss, Efrat. YnetNews. Nov. 18, 2009
- October 2012: Three women are arrested, one including Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of WOW.women arrested while praying at Western Wall in 24 hours 972 Mag. 17 October 2012. Retrieved 25 May 2013 Hoffman was detained for the night and claims to have been “checked… naked, completely, without my underwear. They dragged me on the floor 15 meters; my arms are bruised. They put me in a cell without a bed, with three other prisoners, including a prostitute and a car thief.” Hoffman Arrested for Singing at Western Wall 17 October 2012. Retrieved 25 May 2013. She was banned from returning to the Wall for 30 days.
- December 2012: Prime Minister Netanyahu delegates Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, to outline a proposal to resolve the dispute Sharansky: Kotel arrests flag need to resolve issue Jerusalem Post, 11 April 2013. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
- Februray 2013: 10 women, including two American Rabbis were arrested.Arrests of 10 Women Praying at Western Wall Add to Tensions Over a Holy Site NYTimes. Februrary 12, 2013. The group gains international recognition after the arrests.
- April 9, 2013: Sharansky reveals his proposal that would expand the prayer area of Robinson’s Arch to allow groups and individuals that do not associate with the Orthodox vein to pray in their own space. Plan to Resolve Western Wall Prayer Controversy NYTimes. April 9, 2013
- April 11, 2013: the Supreme Court rules in favor of Women of the Wall. After the arrest of five women in April, the court ruled that the women were not disrupting public order. The women were at the Western Wall wearing “tallit” and singing aloud. Israeli Court Rules for Women in Western Wall Dispute NYTimes April 11, 2013
While many members of the group identify as being observant and even Orthodox, the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox groups find their protest threatens the very nature of orthodoxy and violate Jewish Law (“Halakha”). At a Sacred Site, a Fight Over Women and Prayer, NYTimes Dec. 22, 2012 The role of women has been interpreted differently by different strains of Judaism. According to traditional Jewish interpretations of the Torah, the role of women is to raise a family and support her husband. Praying, scholarly learning and reading from the Torah fall into the man’s domain. Women of the Wall challenges this claim by asking for national and international acceptance of the right of a woman to engage in religion publicly in her own way. Furthermore, Modern Orthodox and Conservative congregations have evolved in the United States to question this role and be more open to an egalitarian religious community. Reform and Reconstructionist Jews go the farthest in their interpretation of equality in religion and have female Rabbis. Women of the Wall has much of its support in the United States among these groups. The controversy at the Wall has evolved into a larger conversation about the different interpretations of Judaism, the role of Israel as a Jewish State, and the role which international Jewry plays.
Position of Women of the Wall
The members who make up Women of the Wall are modern orthodox, reform, conservative, and secular Jews from around the world. According to their mission statement, “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.” Women of the Wall Website The struggle to claim equality at the Wall is not just a declaration of freedom of religious plurality and practice in the Jewish state. It is also a call for general equality and internal reevaluation within the Jewish community to accord rights and status to women. It also highlights the Orthodox monopoly and the growing tensions between Orthodox and secular groups in Israel.
Position of Orthodox
The position of the Orthodox can be divided into 3 main claims:
- A woman’s voice is a sexual incitement (and thus women cannot pray or sing out-loud in the presence of men that are not their husbands)
- Women are not allowed to wear tallit or tefilin as these religious garments are meant only for men to use as a reminder of their agreement and binding to God
- Women cannot read aloud from the Torah as it is distracting.
As the Women of the Wall fights for their right to these three things, the Orthodox interpretation is strong and steadfast against the modern-Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist readings. Opponents to the group argue that the members are interested in a full revolution of the definition of Judaism rather than promoting equality. Trojan Horse at the Western Wall by Rabbi Avi Shafran, April 28, 2006 As Rabbi Avi Shafran writes, the group are more concerned with publicity than religion, practice and spirituality. –[User:Sschor|Sschor]
- Women's Parliament (Israel)
- Israel Defense Forces
- The Role of Women in the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process
- Isha L'Isha
- Women in religion
- Women's access to public space
- Women of the Wall Website
- “The Woes of WOW: The Women of the Wall As a Religious Social Movement and as Metaphor”, Boston University School of Law Working Paper No. 13-2 (January 23, 2013) by Pnina Lahav
- Anat Hoffman Dares to Take on Israel’s Orthodox Establishment. Can She Win? Feb. 28, 2013
- The Schechter Institute: Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies and Gender Issues