Women of the Wall
Women of the WallFlash 90

Women FOR the Wall (WFW), a grassroots organization of traditional women dedicated to preserving the sanctity of the Western Wall, has issued a challenge to the most recent campaign launched on Jerusalem city buses by the ultra-liberal group Women of the Wall (WoW).

While the signs call on young girls to celebrate their Bat Mitzvot at the Kotel, WFW argued on Tuesday that the true aim of the campaign is to force a change in the current status quo and enable women to read the Torah at the Kotel, and that WoW Chairperson Anat Hoffman has stated as much.

Leah Aharoni, co-founder of WFW, repudiated the renewed attempts “to stir up conflict over the most sensitive and holiest site to the Jewish People. Women of the Wall know that they are free to celebrate Bat Mitzvot at the Ezrat Israel section of the Kotel, designated for egalitarian prayer. Instead, they are trying to create a public controversy to impose their viewpoints on the overwhelming majority of Kotel visitors, who are interested in preserving the centuries-old tradition at the site.”

Women are free to pray as they choose at the Ezrat Israel egalitarian section of the Wall, established last year by the Ministry of Religious Services. Aharoni noted that “WoW are not satisfied with a compromise. Now they are trying to force change at the main Kotel Plaza.”

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The egalitarian section has been practically empty since opening a year ago just south of the Western Wall compound.

Aharoni explained, “Jews are voting with their feet and almost nobody is choosing to pray at the section that WoW has claimed to be so essential.” Aharoni called the current campaign a desperate attempt to create dissension and garner publicity for WoW, which has faded from public view.

“Over the last cataclysmic summer, Israel has changed. We have become a society that is more caring and united. The division that WoW is bringing is undermining this new spirit,” she added.

Aharoni also called on Jerusalem’s hareidi population to refrain from defacing the WoW-sponsored signs on buses. “We find the campaign offensive; still we call on everyone to respect the freedom of speech that each citizen enjoys in Israel.” She added her hopes that the American backers of this campaign would realize “that in a time when so many crucial issues face Israel, we should seek ways to promote Jewish unity instead of division. Respectful and fruitful conversation is possible.”

Rabbi 'abusing authority'

Earlier Tuesday, Women of the Wall, the New Israel Fund linked organization that seeks “equality” between female and male prayer customs at the Western Wall, attacked the Rabbi of the Kotel, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, after he criticized their bus ad campaign for Bat Mitzva ceremonies at the Kotel that emulate the Bar Mitzva ceremonies traditionally held there.

Rabbi Rabinovich said Tuesday: "There are some who wish to continue to feed the flames of discord, and take aggressive action in the media, as the Women of the Wall are unfortunately doing these days, with their irresponsible campaign that has as its sole aim the prevention of the reaching of any accord that will be acceptable to all sides.”

Women of the Wall fired back and said that the Kotel Rabbi “is abusing his authority, while impinging on the freedom of worship for women in the most sacred place for the Jewish people. In the men's section there are 100 Torah scrolls, while there is not even one in the women's section. Although it is within the Kotel Rabbi's authority and responsibility, as a public servant, to act to prevent this inequality, he refuses to transfer Torah scrolls from the men's section for use by the women, or alternatively, to bring their own Torah to the Kotel.”

As noted by WFW, women wishing to read from the Torah in contradiction to Jewish tradition have been provided with a space at the new space at the Ezrat Israel section to do so.

"We regret that the Kotel Heritage Fund, which is responsible for an entire industry of Bar Mitzva ceremonies for boys at the Kotel, withholds from girls the right to perform similar ceremonies, and the Kotel Rabbi even attacks the move that is intended to promote such ceremonies,” they wrote. “Without a doubt, this is discrimination, which has no place at the Kotel, as a public space, that belongs to everyone.”

The bus advertising campaign features four Israeli girls wearing the traditional men's prayer shawls and holding a Torah scroll. The girls are suposedly asking their mothers to let them have a Bat Mitzva ceremony at the Kotel.