Opinion

Israel’s High Court orders Western Wall rabbi to explain why women can’t pray

Anat Hoffman (second from left in foreground), chair of Women of the Wall, an activist group that is challenging the Orthodox monopoly over rites at the Western Wall, holds a Torah scroll during a monthly prayer at the site on Nov. 2, 2016. The Western Wall is Judaism's holiest prayer site. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Michal Fattal

JERUSALEM (RNS) Israel’s High Court has ordered the government and the rabbinic administration of the Western Wall to respond by Feb. 1 to a question: Why should women be denied the right to pray from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall?

Fourteen months ago, a Jewish feminist prayer group petitioned the court to invalidate a 2010 rabbinical directive that barred male and female worshippers from bringing Torah scrolls to the Western Wall.

Men have access to more than 100 state-owned Torah scrolls, but women have none.

The feminists’ legal challenge argued that the rabbi’s directive “violates Israeli law against discrimination in access to or use of public property” and that the Western Wall “is not a synagogue, but a national holy site,” and therefore a public space.

The interim ruling Wednesday (Jan. 11) also prohibited Western Wall administrators from performing body searches on women entering the wall’s plaza.

In addition, the court determined that Robinson’s Arch, a secluded section of the Western Wall often used for egalitarian non-Orthodox prayer, is not the same as the traditional Western Wall.

Members of the Original Women of the Wall say morning prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Feb. 3, 2016. Photo courtesy of Shmuel Browns

Members of the Original Women of the Wall say morning prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Feb. 3, 2016. Photo courtesy of Shmuel Browns

If the High Court ultimately rules that women can read Torah in the women’s section of the Western Wall, ultra-Orthodox lawmakers in the Israeli Parliament may try to pass legislation to criminalize the practice, not only at the traditional wall but also at Robinson’s Arch.

Anat Hoffman, who leads another feminist group that has fought for the right to pray at the wall with Torahs — though not the group related to Wednesday’s ruling — embraced the interim motion.

“Just when it seemed the rabbinate’s power was overwhelming, the court’s verdict regarding our demand to read Torah at women’s section of the Western Wall reflects both courage and wisdom,” she said.

(Michele Chabin is RNS’ Jerusalem correspondent)

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Michele Chabin

16 Comments

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  • Sigh!! … Why do any gods or man care where women can pray? Or for that matter what they wear, who they have relationships with, and of course, what they do with their bodies. Why does this god of Abraham and Judea always seem anxious about the ladies?

  • You’d be anxious too if you’d been alone for the past 4 billion years, or even the last 2500.

  • Don’t forget Islam and, to a lesser extent and in the not so distant past, Christianity. It’s because religion is man-made, literally, and women have been chattel for most of history in most cultures.

  • That is a bizarre and thoroughly outrageous Israeli ruling that women must be segregated and a woman cannot pray wherever she pleases. Women have no access to scrolls? That is very strange.

  • No, actually this God sounds like a frustrated, jealous middle age male, just like these Rabbi’s upset about where women can pray…

    …One could almost see how frustrated middle age men a few thousand years ago, if given a chance, would have written the same Torah / Old Testament as our anxious Yahweh…Hmmm, that couldn’t be true now, could it?

  • You are aware of the history and place of women in the Abrahamic religions aren’t you? Gains made by women have occurred in just the last 40 years and not everywhere. What you are reading about have been the norms forever and still exist in conservative sects.

  • Women have made gains in the past 40 years, yes. However, I think we have to ask if women held the power of life and death over men through taboos that made some work ‘women’s work’ over untold millennia. At least nominally, women were owned by men. But only women could draw water from a well? Only women could gather kindling and bake the bread? Formerly, men had to comply or else risk not getting that cup of water or bite of bread? Perhaps the invention of indoor plumbing and central heating and stoves liberated men. If only women gathered the grain, perhaps the invention of the grain combine liberated men. Before the Industrial Revolution, women were the weavers in cottage industries. Men were dependent on women for clothing. Dependent on women’s gardening for food. The ‘pill’ for women was liberating, but maybe nothing in comparison to what indoor plumbing did for men. Men were only free of their domestication when on the rampage making war against another village, or when hunting, not that there was much game available near villages. Now that the balance of power has shifted to men, aren’t those traditionalists advocating separate sacred spaces for males being just a bit selfish?

  • I agree. Women’s bodies can bleed, but not die, and women create human life. Nothing is more frightening to those wanting power so men have created whole societies based on the need to control women’s procreation and shame her for her body.

    In this instance, those rabbis apparently thought that body searches would be a handy tool to control women’s spiritual life as well.
    In the USA we have a multi-billion dollar industry to control women’s bodies. Dobson, Perkins, and many, many other men and some women (Schafly) have gotten very wealthy through exploiting that.

  • That’s all you’ve got Sven? Just a peevish complaint? Okay, I guess that means you have nothing to offer.

  • I belong to a synagogue where women can carry a Torah, wear a Yarmulke and a tallit. A gay couple just celebrated their son’s bar mitzvah. No one even batted an eye. The rabbis who have power in Israel are ossified in the past. Most Israelis are either completely secular or Orthodox. There isn’t much in the middle.

  • “Old Testament” is a Christian term and it isn’t the same as the Hebrew Bible. Torah is just the 5 Books of Moses. There are centuries of Torah commentaries, Midrash, and Talmud that reinterpret the Bible. If you only read the Bible literally, you are reading it wrong. Christians have had what someone whose name escapes me called “a theology of contempt” toward Judaism. No one who is born Christian escapes it, even people who are now atheists. It is called anti-Judaism.

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