Jerusalem – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly come to an agreement with the haredi political parties not to allow the Women of the Wall prayer rights group to read from a Torah in the women’s section of the Western Wall.
The prime minister met with the heads of the haredi political parties last week and decided that the demand of WOW to be able to read from the Torah at the site would not be met, Army Radio reported on Tuesday morning.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office toldThe Jerusalem Post that “the prime minister supports the status quo and respects all Jewish streams.”
Sources in United Torah Judaism confirmed that the party demanded of the prime minister that he uphold the status quo at the Western Wall and not allow WOW to read from the Torah at the site.
WOW won the right to pray at the Western Wall in accordance with their own practices, such as wearing prayer shawls and tefilin, which in Orthodox Judaism is done only by men, in 2013.
They are prevented however from reading from the Torah, a central component of services for the new month when Women of the Wall conduct their monthly prayer service at the site, due to a regulation drafted by the administrator of the Western Wall and the Holy Places Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz in 2010 and approved by the Ministry of Justice, banning anyone from bringing a private Torah scroll to the Western Wall plaza.
Rabinowitz also refuses to allow WOW to use the Torah scrolls at the site which are available for use in the men’s section.
WOW seeks to read from the Torah for their monthly prayer services as well as to allow girls to have their Bat Mitzvah at the Western Wall and for them to read from the Torah at the ceremony in the women’s section.
The organization strongly criticized Netanyahu for the decision pointing out thathe had recently told the General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America in November that a solution for creating a pluralist third section at the Western Wall was soon to be agreed.
“Apparently when Netanyahu spoke of ‘all’ Jews in November 2015, he forgot that women make up half of all Jews,” WOW said.
“No Israeli Prime Minister has the right to take away Torah from half of all Jews. It is our hope that Netanyahu will not ban women from reading Torah, however if he does bend to the pressure of the Haredi parties, Women of the Wall will continue to read Torah in the women’s section of the Kotel. Even if we must hide our Torah scroll and smuggle it past the guards, we will do so just as Jews have been forced to do so many times before us in exile.”
In October 2014, WOW succeeded in smuggling a miniature but kosher Torah scroll into the women’s section of the Western Wall plaza and read from it.
The Torah, just 28 cm high, was temporarily loaned to the organization by supporters of the group from abroad.
Earlier this month, the Center for Women’s Justice filed a petition in the Israeli Supreme Court on behalf of four members of the Original Women of the Wall organization, requesting that the Court declare Rabinowitz’s directive prohibiting bringing a private Torah scroll into the Western Wall plaza void.
CWJ asked the Magistrate Court to order Rabinowitz and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation to award damages to the women in the amount of NIS 150,000 for denying them access to the Torah scrolls at the site that are set aside for the use of men only.
Original Women of the Wall, which includes founding members of WoW, broke away from WoW over a dispute as to how to continue the campaign for women’s prayer rights at the Western Wall.
The petition filed with the Supreme Court asks the Court to declare the directive against bringing in private Torah scrolls void. It claims that the supervisor of the Western Wall has no authority to issue such a directive, which is not specifically authorized by the Law of the Protection for Holy Places of 1967 and which violates the basic rights of Israeli citizens to equal treatment by the state.