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Female IDF officer blocked from leading swearing-in ceremony at Western Wall

Military says officers ‘made error in judgment’ by agreeing to prevent soldier from heading event; pluralism groups accuse body that administers site of ‘working to silence women’

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers at a swearing-in ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, on November 13, 2019. (Sara Klatt/Flash90)
Illustrative: Israeli soldiers at a swearing-in ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, on November 13, 2019. (Sara Klatt/Flash90)

In a last-minute change, a female military officer was barred Thursday from leading a swearing-in ceremony at the Western Wall.

The Israel Defense Forces said the reversal followed a request from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. The government body is responsible for managing the holy site and does so in accordance with Orthodox customs, such as maintaining prayer areas separated by gender.

“The female IDF educational officer who planned to lead the ceremony was asked not to do so by the civilian foundation,” the IDF said. “The commanders on site accepted the request, which was an error in judgment of those present [and] who did not consult with senior commanders.”

However, Hebrew media reports said the Western Wall Heritage Foundation explicitly demanded the female officer not lead the ceremony.

The IDF said the incident will be investigated and stressed that it does not prohibit women from leading official ceremonies.

In its response, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation said military ceremonies at the site are held in accordance with IDF guidelines and chalked up the incident to a “local misunderstanding.”

The foundation also said it would conduct a joint probe with the IDF.

Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinowitz at the site’s plaza in 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Women of the Wall, which advocates for pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall and frequently clashes with the foundation, accused the site’s administrators of “working to silence women” using religious law.

“This is not a religious issue but a forceful domination,” the group said.

The religious pluralism group Israel Hofshit — Be Free Israel accused the Western Wall Heritage Foundation of acting like Iranian morality place and called for the resignation of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the site’s top religious official.

“The capital of Israel is not the capital of Iran and the employees of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation are not chastity guards,” the organization said.

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