Women of the Wall hits back at critics over Kotel deal

Women of the Wall hits back at critics over Kotel deal

Current leadership denies allegations by dissenting founding members that it is negotiating away women's rights, breaking law

Police escort Anat Hoffman holding a Torah scroll from the Western Wall, on July 12, 2010. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Police escort Anat Hoffman holding a Torah scroll from the Western Wall, on July 12, 2010. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Women of the Wall on Sunday firmly rejected accusations by some of its founding members that it is unlawfully negotiating away women’s rights to pray as they see fit in the women’s section of the Western Wall.

The Women of the Wall was responding to a letter distributed last Wednesday by several of the original founders of the organization, which alleged that WoW’s Anat Hoffman is acting unlawfully in intending to sign an agreement — the Mandelblit Plan — which “surrenders women’s rights to pray together aloud, don tallit, lay tefillin and read from the Torah scroll in the women’s section at the Kotel.”

In a response to the accusations sent to The Times of Israel, WoW noted that several months ago it “made a difficult decision to seize the opportunity to envision and design a new future for the Western Wall. In this vision, a third section would be created, equal and fully integrated with the Kotel.” It said that two Israeli women had chosen “to leave the fold of Women of the Wall and pursue their right to pray in the ultra-Orthodox ruled women’s section.”

While WoW said it respects their voices and their desire to continue to pray in the women’s section under the management of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, it rejects “the implication that Women of the Wall, the organization, the board and its supporters have acted in ways that are dishonest or dishonorable. Women of the Wall as an NGO is an open book,” it said, and acts with integrity “and adherence to the law… There is no legitimacy to claims that the Women of the Wall board have acted unlawfully.”

It also said that the “dissenters” were actively involved, less than a year ago, when Hoffman was “arrested, brutalized and kept over night in jail for this cause.”

Regarding negotiations with Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit, Wow said it was demanding “the complete decriminalization of women’s prayer in the women’s section… If the negotiations succeed and a third section is created in agreement with Women of the Wall, the Reform Movement and the Masorti Movement, the result will be a space at the Kotel that reflects the true makeup of the majority of Israelis and Jewish people. This vision, if it becomes a reality, includes and goes far beyond that which the founding mothers of Women of the Wall set for themselves in the early days.”

While the negotiations continue, it said, Women of the Wall “continues to pray each month in the women’ section of the Kotel. We will continue to do so until such a time that plans for the third prayer section are implemented in full and in accordance with conditions agreed upon with the government. While we continue to pray in the women’s section we remain dedicated to the struggle for women’s right to read Torah at the Kotel from a Torah scroll.”

The Mandelblit Plan would secure funding for egalitarian prayer facilities to be built over the Robinson’s Arch area of the Western Wall plaza, which has been used for non-Orthodox prayer for 10 years, but would formally recognize the main prayer plaza as “solely for Orthodox services,” according to an August statement from the Jerusalem and Diaspora Ministry. The new plaza does not offer direct physical access to the stones of the Western Wall, generally a key part of the prayer experience at the site for visiting Jews.

The dissenters’ letter last week alleged that “the Mandelblit plan will harm not only women.” It said: “Enforcing strict Orthodox practice at the Kotel capitulates to and rewards intolerance, disrespect, and bullying with territorial hegemony and counters the Israeli trend to hold all Israelis accountable to core values of civil society. We must intervene now to ensure that ours and the coming generations of Jewry can express our precious and diverse customs at the Kotel.”

Spencer Ho and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency contributed to this report.

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