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Women of the Wall: The Controversy Continues

‏יום שני ‏18 ‏מרץ ‏2013

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg with Women of the Wall (Photo: Keshet Uri)For the first time in almost two years, the Women of the Wall (WOW) were able to welcome in the month of Nissan with no arrests. One of the reasons for this could have been that three of the women praying there for the first time, were newly elected Members of the Knesset – Meretz's MKs Tamar Zandberg, and Michal Rosin, and Labor's MK Stav Shaffir.

According to The Daily Beast’s Elisheva Goldberg, “For liberal American Jews, Women of the Wall champion the basic civil liberty that they hold dear in the United States: the freedom of religion. These women are fond of saying that Jerusalem is the only place in the Western World where Jews can't practice their religion freely. And American Jews respond to that message—it makes them want to go put on a prayer shawl at the Western Wall in protest. And they do. This month there were over a hundred women who showed up. But Israeli Jews often see things differently.”

MKs Shaffir and Zandberg (Photo: Ynetnews - Keshet Uri)This was corroborated in a recent Ynetnews article, where several MKs condemned their colleagues joining the WOW prayers. They objected to making the Wall a site for protest and that “their activity at the women's section offended worshippers and was done in violation of a High Court ruling and the opinion of the attorney general.”

Anat Hoffman, Chair of WOW and Executive Director of IRAC said “The regulation in the Protection of Holy Places Law, for which the Women of the Wall were detained, determines that anyone holding a religious ceremony not according to the place's custom and offending public feelings faces a sentence of up to six months in prison. But the Women of the Wall, after more than 24 years, are part of the place's custom.” She also added that “even among the haredi people there is a change towards religious pluralism in the Western Wall.”

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the Executive Director of the IMPJ, also expressed his support for the MKs who joined the prayers, saying “This is a clear statement that the battle over the Western Wall does not only belong to those women who seek to pray at the holy place in their own way, but to the entire public of women in Israel and to all Israelis who believe in equality and freedom of religion and conscience.”

In October, 2012, the IMPJ wrote to Israel's Prime Minister calling for a third section to the Wall (an English translation of the letter can be found here). Then, in January, 2013, WOW, the IMPJ and IRAC joined other organizations in filing a petition with the High Court of Justice against the prime minister and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, demanding that non-orthodox Jews and women receive equal representation for managing the Wall, and requested the court “remove the control of the holy site from the hands of the Western Wall rabbi.” The response to this petition is still forthcoming.