U.S. Women Sue for Women’s Rights at the Wall

The International Committee for Women at the Wall has called on women in the United States and Canada to write letters of protest to the Israeli Ministry of Religion. This request comes on the heels of the ministry’s decision to bar women’s prayer groups at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

According to the ruling, which was jointly signed by Zevulun Hammer, minister of religious affairs, and Dan Meridor, minister of justice, women can pray at the Wall as long as they do so silently. They may not bring a tallit or a Torah. The ruling forbids “the holding of a religious ceremony, which is not in accordance with the custom of a [holy] place, and which offends the sensibilities of the worshippers towards the place”

The International Committee is also instituting a suit against the Ministry of Religion “on behalf of all Jewish women in the diaspora and in Israel’,’ according to Rivka Haut of the committee. “Now women’s worship at the Wall has been criminalized under pain of punishment’,’ she says. “Our suit is based on the fact that Israeli law recognizes the equality of women, and also that we are not violating halacha (Jewish law)”

The Women of the Wall, the group of Israeli women currently attempting to pray at the Wall, is also instituting a suit similar to that of the international committees. Since being barred from the Wall, the group is praying at the Archeological Gardens in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City near The Wall. They have retained private security officers to protect them while they pray.

The Israeli Supreme Court, which had solicited opinions on the issue of the Women of the Wall, is currently waiting for another response from the women. The Ministry of Religion had failed to respond by the court’s Dec. 31 deadline, according to Haut, instead invoking the new regulation.

Meanwhile the Israeli Hotel Association is suing the Ministry of Religion over abuses in the supervision of kashrut certification, citing, among others, an incident involving the Women of the Wall. In November, the women were initially barred from holding a dedication ceremony for their new Torah at the Laromme Hotel because the Ministry of Religion threatened to revoke the hotel’s kashrut certification if the event were held, according to Haut. Following protests from the American Jewish Congress and other organizations, a service was held at a later date at the Laromme.

Haut says that the American Jewish Committee has also come out on behalf of the women’s right to pray as a group at the Western Wall. Individuals should send their letters of protest to Minister of Religious Affairs Zevulun Hammer, Ministry of Religious Affairs, 236 Yaffo St. P.O. Box 13059, Jerusalem, and Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, Mayor’s Office, Jerusalem. The letters, as well as contributions, may also be sent to the International Committee, c/o Gehlfuss, 125 W. Mt. Pleasant Ave. Philadelphia, PA 19119, which will forward them. Contributions are tax-exempt in the U.S.