NIF-Linked Groups in Two-Pronged Women's Campaign

One campaign features women's faces, angering extremist hareidim; the other encourages girls to hold a Women of the Wall style Bat Mitzva.

Gil Ronen,

Women of the Wall ad
Women of the Wall ad
Flash 90

New Israel Fund-linked groups have launched a two-pronged advertising campaign on Jerusalem's buses; one by the Yerushalmit Movement, and the other by Women of the Wall – both NIF grantees.

Women of the Wall's ads encourage girls to have a Bat Mitzva ceremony at the Western Wall (Kotel), featuring a girl wrapped in a tallit (prayer shawl) and holding a Torah scroll. The ad's caption says: “Mom, I also want a Bat Mitzva at the Kotel,” and in another version: “This is the Torah. Now it's my turn.”

Religious leaders at the Western Wall have argued that the public Torah readings, which are not customary in the women’s prayer section, are distracting to other worshipers. According to Jewish tradition, women are exempt from the command to hold group prayers. The women’s section of the Kotel has traditionally been a place for individual prayer, while prayers with a quorum of ten men are held in the men’s section.

While Women of the Wall is pushing to change that tradition, many women have spoken out in favor of the status quo, and have publicly supported religious and political leaders in preserving “undisturbed traditional prayer” at the holy site.

More controversially, whilst most of their activities "merely" challenge traditional practices and customs, critics point out that their insistence on conducting services with a Torah scroll - including the Blessings over the Torah - directly contravene Jewish law (halakha), and are therefore objectively inappropriate for the Kotel. According to Jewish law, such blessings can only be made by someone fulfilling a Torah obligation; since women are exempt from the obligation of reading from the Torah, reciting the relevant blessings is strictly forbidden.

Also significantly, the girl in the ad is asking her mother, and not her father, to hold the ceremony, true to the NIF's theme of challenging paternal authority and encouraging gender struggle.

Female faces campaign

Yerushalmit's ads simply feature women, shown from the shoulders upward. As was expected, several of the ads have been vandalized, most likely by extremist hareidim.

Local politicians linked to the extremist Eida Hareidit sect claim that the campaign is intended to incite against hareidim and create tensions in Israel's capital.

"These immodest ads hurt the feelings of the hareidi public in the city,” one of them said. “Why are there no sentiments for a populace that asks not to be exposed to depictions of women's faces in its public space? Is this motivated by racism? Is there no value to basic Jewish halakha?”

Attorney Aviad Hacohen, the Yerushalmit Movement's legal adviser, wrote a letter to the State Attorney, the Police Commissioner and the Commander of the Jerusalem District, in which he noted that “just two days after the Yerushalmit Movement's campaign began, several ads placed on Jerusalem buses have been defaced."

"It is obvious that my client, whose power is very limited, cannot catch the perpetrators, and it seems that all would agree that this is not their duty or under their authority. That is why the law enforcement authorities exist," added Hacohen.

After a four-year-long legal battle, Egged buses in Jerusalem began displaying the advertisements that feature women's faces on Sunday.

The advertisements feature a mix of women from Jerusalem – secular, religious, hareidi and Arab. Yerushalmit leader and Jerusalem Councillor Rachel Azaria claims that the idea for the campaign was planted several years ago, when she wanted to run an advertisement campaign on Egged buses featuring her own picture, as part of her election drive. Egged refused, citing its fear that extremists would damage the buses in retribution.

Earlier this month, the state reached an agreement with Egged, according to which it will compensate the company for any damage to the buses that is caused in reaction to the advertisement campaign.

Yerushalmit campaign PR photo

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