Women can’t say mourner’s prayer at Western Wall, police announce

Kotel rabbi says later that offenders won’t be arrested

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Members of the Women of the Wall organization pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on October 17, 2012 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Members of the Women of the Wall organization pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on October 17, 2012 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Police have informed a group that aims to secure equal religious rights for women at the Western Wall that as of next week they will enforce a 2005 legal ruling prohibiting women from saying certain prayers — such as the Kaddish mourner’s prayer — in addition to an already implemented ban on women wearing prayer shawls and reading from the Torah at the site.

In a letter sent to the Women of the Wall group, Yossi Pariente, Jerusalem’s police commissioner, said that in reciting the Kedusha and Kaddish prayers, the women were contravening a Supreme Court ruling, and that police would therefore enforce the law at services marking the start of the Hebrew month of Iyar next Thursday.

The letter forbids the group from praying as a minyan, and thus proscribes all sections of the service for which a prayer quorum is required, a source in Women of the Wall told The Times of Israel on Thursday. She spoke on condition of anonymity because the organization had yet to decide whether to release the text of the letter in full.

Later Thursday, however, Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz said during a meeting with Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky on the issue that women would not be arrested for reciting the mourner’s prayer at the Wall.

Sharansky has been working behind the scenes to draft a potential compromise on the issue of religious plurality at the Wall. His office said Thursday that he hoped to create recommendations so that “every Jew in the world can pray in the manner that they are accustomed to at Judaism’s most important national and religious site.”

The new restrictions are part of an ongoing battle over freedom of worship for women at the Western Wall, in the shadow of Judaism’s holiest site.

A landmark 2005 court verdict by the High Court of Justice prohibiting the group from changing the “traditional practice” at the wall is still in place. Sarit Dana, a state legal adviser, determined that saying Kedusha and Kaddish constituted such a deviation from the standards of worship practiced at the site, Pariente said.

The Women of the Wall vowed to defy the regulations emanating from the new reading of the Supreme Court ruling.

“Prohibiting women from saying Kaddish is a shanda (Yiddish for shameful) and brought on solely by the hegemony and short-sightedness” of the Western Wall’s rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz, said Anat Hoffman, the chair of Women of the Wall.

In pushing for the new restrictions, Rabinowitz had “without a doubt, crossed a clear red line, as women’s right to say Kaddish is respected and accepted by the entire Jewish world, including Orthodox factions,” she said. Organization sources also said it held United Torah Judaism MK Meir Porush to blame.

“It’s hard to determine why [the police] decided to interpret the ruling this way,” Bonna Devora Haberman, one of the founders of the group, told The Times of Israel. “It’s a wrong interpretation.”

“Disturbance of public order was the reasoning of the court ruling,” Haberman said, but “the past 11 years have pretty much proven that isn’t true.” Even when the women wore phylacteries and prayer shawls, counter-protests did not deteriorate into violence, she said.

It is customary for women to say these prayers throughout the Jewish world, including in many Orthodox communities, Hoffman noted. She asserted that the group would give the prayers special attention while reciting them next week.

Women of the Wall has held monthly prayers at the Wall for over two decades in an attempt to change what the group calls a problematic status quo in which ultra-Orthodox traditions and rabbis dictate which Jewish practices are allowed there.

Last month, three female MKs joined the group in prayer. The three also used their parliamentary immunity to wear prayer shawls during the service, in defiance of the court’s controversial ruling, a month after police arrested 10 women for doing so.

Gavriel Fiske contributed to this report.

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