Defying ban, women hold priestly blessing at Western Wall

Defying ban, women hold priestly blessing at Western Wall

Women of the Wall stage ceremony at Jerusalem holy site despite attorney general’s ban

Women dance with a Torah scroll as they attend a monthly prayer service at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, on April 20, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Women dance with a Torah scroll as they attend a monthly prayer service at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, on April 20, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Women of the Wall organization proceeded with its plan to hold a priestly blessing at Jerusalem’s Western Wall on Sunday, despite a ruling from the attorney general barring the group from doing so.

Several dozen women who arrived for the benediction ceremony — traditionally performed by male members of the priestly class, or Kohanim — were briefly detained by security forces at the entrance to the holy site, but were ultimately allowed to hold the service at the women’s plaza, the organization said.

Last month, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said the pluralistic group, which works for the right of women to pray at the Western Wall, cannot stage a priestly blessing in the women’s section of the Western Wall, since it contravenes traditional custom, and therefore violates the rules of the religious site.

The Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, is administered by ultra-Orthodox authorities, which hold a monopoly over Jewish religious affairs in Israel and strongly oppose mixed-gender or female-led prayers, viewing it as a desecration under their strict interpretation of Jewish law.

It had been unclear whether the Women of the Wall would defy the attorney general’s ruling: Initially, the group rejected Mandelblit’s decision, and indicated it would go ahead with the blessing.

Women of the Wall later backed down, and announced it “regretfully” accepted Mandelblit’s decision.

“This is an unhappy decision that submits to political pressure of an extremist minority group whose sole aim is to sabotage gender equality at the Western Wall and prevent women from having the right of prayer and worship,” said Women of the Wall chairperson Anat Hoffman at the time.

In a historic move, Israel’s cabinet voted earlier this year to modify and enhance the Robinson’s Arch plaza, adjacent to the current Orthodox prayer plaza, for mixed-gender prayer at the Western Wall. It was viewed as a victory for liberal streams of Judaism, which are dominant in the US.

But the plan has run into fierce opposition from ultra-Orthodox lawmakers and groups in Israel, many of whom wield influence within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s narrow coalition government.

The deal would expand the wall’s non-Orthodox section and construct a shared entrance for both sides. Women of the Wall has agreed to move its monthly services to the non-Orthodox section once the deal is implemented.

AFP contributed to this report.

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