Anat Hoffman
Anat HoffmanIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Anat Hoffman, a Reform Jew who is head of the controversial Women of the Wall group, spoke to the media Friday after members of her group held public prayers at the Kotel (Western Wall).

“We are continuing in the path of the paratroopers who liberated the Kotel,” Hoffman told Haaretz, referring to the soldiers who fought in the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six Day War. The Kotel trraditional prayer rules were enacted by Israel's government immediately after it was liberated.

Hoffman dared Israeli politicians to officially bar her group’s practices at the holy site. “I’d like to see Minister of Religious Affairs Naftali Bennett, and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, making a law that forbids women from reading the Torah here, or banning it for six months,” she said. “There would be an earthquake in the Jewish world.”

Women of the Wall were ordered to pray at Robinson's Arch by a Supreme Court ruling. However, a new court ruling, which is being appealed, allows the group to hold its prayers at the women's section of the Kotel until the prayer section there is expanded. Robinson's Arch is a beautiful part of the Kotel which is in demand for private bar and bat mitzvahs.

Thousands of orthodox Jewish young women and girls gathered at the Kotel on Friday morning before  and during the Women of the Wall's appearance, in a display of support for traditional Jewish practice at the holy site and because it was Rosh Chodesh Sivan. They filled the entire women's section as they often do and the Women of the Wall, numbering less than 30, were barely noticeable in the crowd.

Arutz Sheva's Rochel Sylvetsky, who was at the Kotel, observed that "since majority rules in democracies, the WoW's paltry showing proves that they have no right to demand the changes opposed by so many, but since Israel is an enlightened democracy, the courts did gve the minority group the right to a place to pray - which they refused because they seem to relish the attention." She praised the quiet prayers of the thousands of young women and expressed regret that some of the men acted threateningly towards the Women of the Wall supporters. "It would have been much better to prove their point quietly, through the masses of traditional women who showed who the real women of the wall are," she said.

Groups of young men who crowded the men's section insulted the Women of the Wall members, shouted and ran towards them when they were leaving. There were reports of at least one person throwing water at the group. Police were on hand to ensure that the prayer rally went smoothly, and arrested three people for disturbing the gathering.

Members of Knesset had mixed opinions regarding the rally. MK Ruth Kalderon of Yesh Atid expressed her support, saying, “I am with my sisters at the Western Wall.”

MK Yoni Chetboun of Bayit Yehudi criticized the Women of the Wall group. “They are a group of provocateurs, representing those who wish to stir up conflict and hate within Israeli society regarding subjects about which there is general consensus, such as the Kotel,” he accused.

MK Elazar Stern of Hatnua said he believes group prayer sessions should be allowed in the women’s section of the Kotel, and that women should be allowed to wear traditionally male prayer garments such as tallit and tefillin there. However, he said, “I am against marching to the Kotel in tallit and tefillin. In that case, the religion involved is not Judaism, rather, provocation becomes the religion.”

Miri Regev of the Likud, however,  was at the Kotel to see the situation firsthand and condemned the Women of the Wall for not going to Robinson's Arch once she saw the thousands of traditional Orthodox worshipers, although she had originally thought to support the fringe group.