Religious freedom: Women of the Wall defy government deal in Jerusalem

Published March 11th, 2016 - 02:47 GMT
Jewish women had been banned from reading the Torah at the famous site of worship. (Women of the Wall)
Jewish women had been banned from reading the Torah at the famous site of worship. (Women of the Wall)

The Women of the Wall organization brought a Torah scroll into the Western Wall women's prayer section for its prayer service for the new month on Friday, leading to accusations by the administrator of the site Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz that the group violated the recent agreement for creating a new pluralist prayer space.

A deal reached between WOW and the non-Orthodox denominations with the government last week will create a large prayer space designated for non-Orthodox or pluralist service at the Robinson's Arch area at the southern end of the Western Wall.

The agreement states that WOW can continue to use the current women's section of the main plaza for their services until the new prayer area is complete, but states explicitly that "the expectation [is] that the worship not include reading from the Torah."

Regulations drafted by Rabinowitz in 2010 and approved by the Ministry of Justice, prohibit anyone from bringing a private Torah scroll into the Western Wall Plaza, while the rabbi has refused requests by WoW to use one of the Torah scrolls made available in the men's section.

"This act proves again that their goal is only provocation and defiance, quarrelling and dispute and a desecration of God's name, and no agreement or compromise offered to them will help in the face of this goal," said Rabinowitz.

The rabbi called on Religous Services Minister David Azoulai to approve the new regulations stipulated in the agreement that the main Western Wall prayer area be defined as a place for Orthodox prayer alone "without connection to the implementation of the agreement, in light of the actions of this provocative group."

Shira Pruce, a spokeswoman for WOW said that the group had always said it "would not give up the right to read Torah," and noted that the agreement said that it was "an expectation" that WOW not read from the Torah in the women's section "and not an iron-clad undertaking."

"It is our intention to read Torah in women's section until the establishment of the new pluralist section," Pruce told The Jerusalem Post.

"There are no circumstances in which WOW will give up right to read Torah. We understand that this is an expectation, but it is one point that WOW could not accept."

Pruce noted that Religious Services Minister David Azoulai is yet to sign the new regulations governing the main Western Wall prayer area and the new pluralist prayer space as was supposed to happened 30 days of the signing of the agreement, according to WOW and the non-Orthodox movements.

She also criticised Rabinowiz and Azoulai for statements made since the agreement was signed which she said have incited other worshippers at the Western Wall against WOW.

The WOW prayer group was subjected to continuous yelling and screaming during its Friday service Pruce said, saying that the police had been negligent in not removing women shouting at the group for disturbing the peace.

"Today was a tough day to be a woman at the Western Wall," she said.

By Jeremy Sharon

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