Tensions Seen Mounting On Prayer At Wall

With women’s group and ultra-Orthodox at odds, new religious affairs minister has his back to the Wall.

05/14/13
Israel Correspondent
Photo Galleria: 

Tel Aviv — Last week’s milestone prayer service at the Western Wall with women wrapped in prayer shawls and tefillin was likened by Women of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman to the “liberation” of the ancient holy site in the 1967 Six-Day War.

But for the religious activist group, the battle is far from over. After rocks and bottles were hurled at the Women of the Wall last week from within an angry crowd of several thousand ultra-Orthodox demonstrators, police said they feared an even larger crowd of protestors on June 9, to mark the start of the Jewish month of Tammuz.

Hoffman, who spoke to The Jewish Week minutes before flying to the United States for meetings, said that she fears that the Israeli government might try to push legislation making egalitarian prayer illegal, bypassing a groundbreaking district court ruling saying such conduct is permissible.

Though the Women of the Wall chair held a first-ever meeting with an Israeli religious affairs minister — Naftali Bennett of the Orthodox “Jewish Home” party — to come up with a compromise, Hoffman is preparing for the worst: She said she has paid visits to women’s prison blocs to get a sense of conditions because her group is gearing up for new acts of civil disobedience.

“The minister has told us that he is going to legislate. ... If they want to legislate that it’s illegal to read the Torah at the Wall, I think we’re all going to want to go to jail,” she said. “There’s not enough cells for the tallis-wearers and Torah readers.”

Attention now is shifting to how Bennett will react. That’s because Jerusalem District Court Judge Moshe Sobol ruled late last month that egalitarian prayer does not break the Israeli law prohibiting acts at holy sites that violate the abstract notion of “minhag hamakom” or “local custom.” And for the first time last week police were protecting the Women of the Wall instead of arresting them for disturbing the peace.

In the wake of the game-changing legal ruling, Bennett, a political neophyte, now has the authority to spell out in law just what local custom means. But coming up with an answer to such a question could be the subject of a dissertation, and the clock is ticking before another showdown.

“He’s got to do a lot of studying up to delve into this — it’s going to be a big test for him,” said Yair Ettinger, who covers the ultra-Orthodox community for the Israeli daily Haaretz. “We don’t know Bennett well enough to know what his views are on state and religion issue.”

The assumption of Hoffman and some analysts is that if Bennett attempts such legislation, it will restate established Orthodox ritual norms that reflect his religious constituency. But he’ll also have to get the approval of Justice Minister Tzippi Livni, who represents secular dovish Israelis more sympathetic to the Women of the Wall. And it is unclear if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will support legislation that is sure to kick up the ire of diaspora Jews.

“Anyone who is listening to the Jewish world today, both here and abroad, knows this isn’t possible,” Hoffman said. “I think it would injure the major strategic goals of Israel in the diaspora. I think that young Jews who love Israel will find it very hard to digest. Does Naftali Bennett want to add his name to that of Antiochus?,” a reference to the Greek tyrant of the Chanukah story.

A spokeswoman for Bennett said that he is seeking a compromise with the Women of the Wall rather than producing new legislation, and that further meetings are expected. 

The images at the Western Wall last Friday evoked scenes of civil rights struggles in the American South from the 1960s. Some 500 Israeli police officers formed a human barrier between the women worshipers and the surging crush of demonstrators, who taunted the women and blew whistles to drown out their worship. Because of the Jerusalem court decision, the police for the first time were charged with protecting the women rather than arresting them for disturbing the peace. 

Mickey Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, said that the presence of Israeli security forces prevented the outbreak of a violent riot, and that if a compromise isn’t reached by June 9, police might need four times as many officers to handle potential disturbances.

The dispute over the wall could widen an already existing gap over Israeli policies toward the Palestinians between the more liberal Jewish community in North America and Israeli Jewry, said Yossi Klein Halevi, a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.     

“That is what makes this such a dangerous moment,” he said. “This is turning into an increasingly ugly confrontation between streams of Judaism. The Western Wall, which is supposed to unite Jews, is increasingly dividing us.’’

The demonstrations on Friday thrust the Women of the Wall into the mainstream spotlight as Israeli politicians increasingly confront the place of the insular — and burgeoning — ultra-Orthodox community within the larger society. A recent survey by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 62 percent of Israelis support the cause of Women of the Wall. 

After the surprise second-place finish of the Yesh Atid party in a January election, Israel’s government is currently mulling new legislation to end draft exemptions for haredim and cut entitlements, in order to encourage yeshiva students to get full-time jobs. It is also trying to figure out how to ensure that students in the autonomous but state-funded ultra-Orthodox schools learn secular core curricula.

The protests on Friday brought out only a small fraction of the ultra-Orthodox constituency, reflecting a desire by haredi rabbis to probe the response of Israeli authorities. A decision to call haredi school girls to flood the women’s section and block the Women of the Wall from reaching the massive Herodian stones was a “nuanced” way of non-violently blocking the Wall, said Joel Katz, who writes a blog on religion and state in Israel.

“[The haredim] are testing the waters. Their back is against the wall,” Katz said. “They are not in the coalition, and Lapid is going after them. So they are lashing out.”

Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall, expressed regret over the Friday’s events in a video interview with the Jerusalem Post.

“This isn’t the Western Wall we prayed for,” he said. “There is a place at the Western Wall for every Jew. I’m not sure there is a place for every opinion. That is simply a recipe for an explosion. There is no such option.”

Rising attention surrounding the Women of the Wall demonstrations among diaspora Jews prompted Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharanksy to suggest that the southwestern section of the wall be set aside for multidenominational prayer. But the plan is likely to take years to pass through the various planning hurdles, as well as reach a compromise among Jewish and archeological authorities. 

Haaretz reported that the Sharansky plan envisions a wooden deck over the archeological artifacts under the Robinson’s Arch portion of the Wall. The plan is already being opposed by Israel’s archeological community and the Antiquities Authority. Such a status quo altering renovation would almost surely kick up concern among the Muslim Waqf and Jordan as well, said Daniel Seidman, a lawyer who monitors Israeli building in east Jerusalem.

Analysts say that Reform and Conservative Jewish authorities agree to the idea of a separate prayer area for. Women of the Wall’s Hoffman said she reserving judgement until a plan is finalized. “I don’t support something that I don’t see.” 

editor@jewishweek.org

Last Update:

05/24/2013 - 06:32

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Answers to the mislead friends of wow, the women of the wall:

1) If you are genuinely grappling with this issue that you cannot yourself see the obvious that the wow, women of the wall are breaking Jewish Law, halacha, then see what “minyan” means to Jews and what “minyan” means to wow and to the reform/progressive(regressive)/conservative “sects”. And this is only just ONE of the abberations they practice- it is All forbidden . The Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Hertzog of blessed memory, cautioned all Jewish people to know that these “sects' ” teachings and approach are NOT JUDAISM! He wanted to save those Jewish people “trapped” in these sects .

2) Every Jew has a direct line to G-d. The Holy One listens to all people then judges as He pleases. Why are you surprized? Yes, He chooses to whom He gives a hearing. “ Yihyu l’ratzon imrey pi …”. If you follow Hashem’s Torah you too will know what tefillah is acceptable and the converse.

3) They (wow) are not dressed modestly, because a picture “gallery ”put up by the wow, the women of the wall, SHOWED some of them immodestly dressed.

4) In addition, as skull-caps and talleisim on these women are an arrogant public display of their rejction of the moral codes of the Holy Torah, I also consider it as an act of defiance against the Torah and the authority of the Torah and a gross display of immodesty. At the same time I realize that many of their adherents have been mislead by a few “ringleaders”. I really hope and pray that those “mislead ones” quickly distance themselves from the ”ringleaders”. They should have the strength and wisdom to do so. Also, it is an unwise person who wold mock a Posek as one of you has done.

5) Further, one who changes One word of Torah, it is regarded as if that person rejcted the WHOLE Torah, has v sholom.
What is kavanah worth when it calls out “rejection” ? Nil.

6) Living in a democracy does not preclude or exclude Jews from fulfilling all the precects of the Torah, the mitzvot. We follow the Torah, democ or no democ.

7) On of you said something contradictory and simply untrue when you wrote that you are “a shomer mitzvot Jew, living in Jerusalem”. At least we know for sure that you cannot be shomer mitzvoz if you think that wow is something to which to turn to instead of Torah. Whether you are a Jew or even actually live in Jerusalem – who knows. Everything you write is suspect.

8) The strength of the Israeli army rests on the study of Torah. This is repeatedly stated in the Torah.

Do not rely on wow, women of the wall to save you.

Want to decide who prays at the wall? Then join the army and fight to defend the country. But it is inconsistent to force interpretation on others who are willing to sacrifice more than yourself. Surely, the bravery to die defending it wins my vote for anyone to pray there.

Antiochus lV tried to root out the individualism of the Jews by suppressing all the Jewish Laws at the time of the miracles from G-D to us Jewish people at the time of Channuka. Our Jewish individualism is the separateness and disparity from other peoples to serve the Al-mighty in a way that He commanded us the Jewish people to do. Hoffman is doing the same as Antiochus with her throwing out the good Jewish Laws and bringing with her and her uneducated “band” un-Jewish practices that mislead and bring pain and conflict. She should not succeed with her evil plan, whatever her motives.

There should be NO place for interdenominational prayer at the Kosel. Institutionalizing such a folly would not be wise -give an inch” in the wrong direction - expect to “give a mile later” -in the wrong direction, has v sholom.
The pain felt by Jews and Jewish women all around the world and the pain felt in Shomayim, in Heaven for the public ignorance these women ( Women of the Wall) represent, counts for nothing in the eyes of these and other “egalitarianists”.

These “egalitarianists” ignore halacha at one of the most Holy places for *ALL* Jewish people, the Wall (the Kosel). That is what “egalitarian” means to them - equality for all people to do as they please EXCEPT for the Jewish people, who it appears, must be prevented at all costs from following Judaism in the way as it pleases Jewish people to do, but also as it pleases G-d for His Jewish people to do according to Jewish Law, halacha.

These women have no derech eretz. It is truly time they moved out of their childlike mind-set for the good of all Israel everywhere.

The Women at the Wall should not even pray at Robinson's Arch. They are not tzniusdik (they are not modestly dressed) and have a belligerent view of Torah amongst other things. WHY should other Jewish women be subjected to the sight and sounds of such a group as they ? Why should we women be relegated to have to endure this sight or the knowledge that is happening at the Kosel? No one should be rewarded for misleading the public.

1) "Hoffman is doing the same as Antiochus with her throwing out the good Jewish Laws and bringing with her and her uneducated “band” un-Jewish practices that mislead and bring pain and conflict."

Please name one Jewish Law which Hoffman is "throwing out." What is "un-Jewish" about her practices? (Please remember that your personal Jewish practice does not define Judaism.) I challenge you to bring one Halachic objection to the activities of Women of the Wall.

2) "... and the pain felt in Shomayim..." "... but also as it pleases G-d for His Jewish people to do."

Wow, you must have a direct line to God! You do not know that your tefilah pleases God more than their tefilah. To suggest as much is arrogant, foments sinat chinam and makes you sound like a religious fundamentalist who spews forth absolute drivel! Why can't you just live and let live?

3) Please bring one Halachic objection to their activity! (Saying that they're doing it for feminist reasons and not because they want to cleave to God (and are therefore in breach of Rav Feinstein's pesak on this issue) doesn't count - you have no right or ability to judge their motivations and kavanah!)

4) Please bring evidence that they are not dressed modestly.

5) "WHY should other Jewish women be subjected to the sight and sounds of such a group as they ? Why should we women be relegated to have to endure this sight or the knowledge that is happening at the Kosel?"

Hmmm, perhaps because we live in a democracy.

Oh, and by the way, I am a shomer mitzvot Jew, living in Jerusalem.

I have answered you and my comment is just above yours on this page. See, just above.

I was very concerned to see the blatant lack of reporting on the 15 000 women who came to pray and at the same time to peacefully protest 'Women of the Wall' of all demonstrations; secular, traditional, religious and Haredi. The dozen or so riff-raff were unfortunate and the provocation of members of the WoW made the situation difficult. The numbers speak for themselves, the majority doesn't want a change. Note the Israel Democracy institute numbers were 48% for and 38% against (not 62% as your report) and that leaves another 14% undecided. The only question asked was about women wearing male paraphernalia at The Wall. It did not include a question about WoW's true goal which is to tear down the existing Israeli religious infrastructure.

It would be nice for the reporter to tell the truth.
1 Ten thousand orthodox women and girls came to the wall prayed in silence. They organized a week before and Hoffman after 20 years can't muster more than 150 women.
2. There were no rocks, a group of some 50 Yeshiva students disrupted the Anat Hoffman.
3. They were condemned by the group that brought the crowd of 10,000. www.womenforthewall.com
4. The demonstration of 10,000 women represents a major shift in the attitudes of the Orthodox community. First both Haridie and national religious rabbis supported the effort. Second it was organized by women.

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