Using his immunity, Labor MK delivers Torah for women to read at Western Wall

Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv says he’s proud to use parliamentary rights so Jews can pray according to their custom; ultra-Orthodox lawmaker likens it to smuggling phones to prisoners

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Screen capture from video of a Torah scroll brought by Labor MK Gilad Kariv to the Western Wall for use in a women's prayer group is held aloft, April, 14, 2021. (Israel Hayom)
Screen capture from video of a Torah scroll brought by Labor MK Gilad Kariv to the Western Wall for use in a women's prayer group is held aloft, April, 14, 2021. (Israel Hayom)

Freshman Labor party MK Gilad Kariv on Tuesday used his parliamentary immunity to bring a Torah scroll to the Western Wall plaza, where he handed it over to a group of women for use during their prayer service, in violation of policy at the holy site.

Kariv’s actions drew condemnation from the Western Wall administration and ultra-Orthodox lawmakers, one of whom compared him to people who smuggle cellphones to convicted prisoners.

Kariv, an ordained Reform rabbi and director of the Reform movement in Israel, gave the scroll to the Women of the Wall, a pro-pluralism group that holds prayer services at the Western Wall on the first day of each month according to the Hebrew calendar, and which has spearheaded a campaign for equal prayer rights at the site. Tuesday was the first day of the Jewish month of Iyar.

Scuffles broke out with Orthodox worshipers at the site in the Old City of Jerusalem, though the women were able to read from the scroll as part of their prayers.

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which administers the site according to traditional Orthodox standards, only allows its own Torah scrolls to be used during prayer services. Although a 2013 court ruling found that women have the right to read from Torah scrolls during services, in practice there are no scrolls made available in the women’s section at the Western Wall, known in Hebrew as the Kotel.

Despite  having been presented with a letter from the Justice Ministry warning him of the regulations, Kariv brought a Torah with him and then passed it over to around 30 women from the Women of the Wall group, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation said in a statement. His actions sparked angry responses from Orthodox worshipers.

“Kariv cynically took advantage of his parliamentary immunity,” the foundation said. “With that step, the Knesset member restored the turmoils that were at the Kotel in the past and which were silenced over the past year due to the efforts to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation to create unity in the Western Wall Plaza in general and on Rosh Hodesh [the first day of the month] in particular.”

“The Women of the Wall group caused a provocation and desecrated the sanctity of the site by joining the Knesset member in the upper plaza while provoking” people who were praying there, the foundation said.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir, who leads the extremist Otzma Yehudit faction in the Religious Zionism party, also condemned Kariv, saying he would ask Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin to issue a warning to him to refrain from further “criminal offenses of agitation and rebellion that are not protected by immunity.”

Kariv, responding to the criticism in a statement, said, “Together with the Women of the Wall, and with the support of most of the Israeli public and the millions of Jews around the world, I will continue to campaign for the right of all streams and communities in the Jewish people to pray at the Western Wall according to their custom.

“I am proud to use my immunity in order to carry a Torah scroll for the Women of the Wall, and am ashamed that governing authorities in Israel are busy in an attempt to confiscate a Torah and prevent women from praying and reading from the Torah as is their custom,” he added.

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers slammed Kariv, with the leader of the United Torah Judaism party, MK Moshe Gafni, saying he would file a complaint with the Knesset Ethics committee.

“Gilad Kariv is a well-known brat, always was and always will be,” Gafni said in a statement. “And now he is bringing the Knesset down to the very depths of hell in order to harm the Jewish people all over the world for generations.”

Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush, also of UTJ, said that the lawmaker’s actions “are not legal and harm the sensitivities of millions of believing Jews in Israel and around the world.

“He, and he alone will be responsible for the explosive implications of this piggish action,” said Porush.

United Torah Judaism member Yitzhak Pindrus at a party campaign event in Bnei Brak on February 24, 2019. (Yehuda Haim/Flash90)

The Sephardi ultra-Orthodox Shas party said that Kariv deserves “all condemnation.”

Speaking to the Kol Barama radio station, UTJ lawmaker MK Yitzhak Pindrus compared Kariv’s actions to those of an Arab Israeli lawmaker who was caught bringing banned cellphones to Palestinian prisoners convicted of security offenses, including terrorism.

“When MKs smuggle telephones to security prisoners they are put on trial; he [Kariv] also needs to be checked,” Pindrus said.

Kariv tweeted in response that Pindrus has a “strange, not to say distorted, way of thinking” if he is able to make that comparison.

Yochi Rappaport, CEO of  Women of the Wall, said that Tuesday’s reading from the Torah scroll was a “victory of tolerance and sanity over extremism, incitement and exclusion.”

She vowed that next month the group would repeat their actions.

There have been frequent scuffles in the past between Women of the Wall and its supporters and ultra-Orthodox worshipers at the Kotel.

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