Women of the Wall get approval for women’s tefillin stand in Jerusalem

City authorizes move after months-long battle, but not at requested location, leading rights group to accuse it of discrimination

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

An Orthodox Jewish woman (left) prays alongside a young Jewish woman wearing tefillin at the Western Wall (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
An Orthodox Jewish woman (left) prays alongside a young Jewish woman wearing tefillin at the Western Wall (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The feminist Jewish prayer group Women of the Wall said Sunday that it had received approval from the Jerusalem municipality to open a stand next week in the city center in which they will offer women the opportunity to put on tefillin, or phylacteries.

The organization, famous for fighting for women’s prayer rights at the Western Wall, received the approval from the municipality after repeated appeals over several months, it said in a statement. It accused authorities of discriminating against it in view of the treatment received by other organizations seeking to erect such stands.

The Chabad Orthodox group is famous for regularly setting up stalls in public places to encourage people to perform the traditionally male religious ritual.

“It is disheartening to experience the biased, even discriminating attitude, of the Jerusalem municipality toward different religious groups giving the same service,” Lesley Sachs, the group’s executive director, told The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: A Chabad representative lays phylacteries on a passerby in New York’s Union Square on Friday, June 19, 2015 (Facebook)

“While we see organizations such as Chabad offering tefillin wrapping all over Jerusalem, Women of the Wall needed to fight and wait for over six months to get a permit and even then, not where we had requested,” she added.

The group had originally sought to open the stand on Jaffa Street, near the Chabad stand.

On February 3, Jewish organizations in Israel and around the globe will mark World Wide Wrap, a day dedicated to teaching the public about tefillin. Women of the Wall said it was joining the project for the fourth time.

Tefillin, two small black boxes containing parchment with verses from the Hebrew Bible that are wound around the head and the arm with black leather straps, are considered a time-bound commandment in Orthodox Jewry and as such are traditionally a man’s domain.

Most Orthodox men begin praying with — or “laying” tefillin — shortly before their bar mitzvah, and are thereafter considered obligated to do so every weekday morning.

Women of the Wall director Lesley Sachs is detained by police for wearing a prayer shawl at the Western Wall, April 11, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Many Orthodox Jews object to women wearing tefillin and a tallit prayer shawl, and such activities by Women of the Wall have drawn fierce ultra-Orthodox protests.

However, many view the ban on the practice as primarily based on prevalent customs within Orthodox Jewry, rather than on solid halachic (Jewish law) grounds.

“We offer women exciting engaging and unique opportunities to reclaim and perform Jewish ritual once perceived as the realm of men, encouraging them to create strong Jewish identities through these rituals,” Sachs said.

The stand will be located at a central public square known as the “old Mashbir” on Jerusalem’s King George Street, near Ben Yehuda Street. It will operate on February 3 between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m.

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