Jewish Women’s Prayer Group Brings Torahs to Western Wall, Faces Backlash From Orthodox Jews

Security guards at the entrance to the Western Wall Plaza prevent members of the women’s prayer group Women of the Wall from bringing in Torah scrolls on Oct. 30, 2019, in Jerusalem. RNS photo by Michele Chabin

Women of the Wall, a controversial Jewish pluralistic women’s prayer group that has long fought for the right to pray in the women’s section of the Western Wall using a Torah scroll, has faced a daunting amount of backlash from fervently religious Jews who see the Western Wall as a strictly Orthodox synagogue.

During the 31 years the group has existed, some ultra-Orthodox Jews have thrown rocks, eggs and water bottles, cursed and spat at the women, many of whom pray in prayer shawls, kippot and phylacteries — ritual items once reserved only for men.

But the group and its mostly American supporters were still shocked when a prominent Jerusalem official recently called on the Orthodox public to drown out Women of the Wall during its monthly prayers Wednesday (Oct. 30).

In what is believed to be the first instance of an Israeli government official calling on the public to oppose Women of the Wall, Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar addressed a letter to Orthodox women urging them to pray at the Western Wall on Wednesday morning “to prevent blasphemy” by the feminist group.

According to the undated letter, Amar took action after several Orthodox woman complained that Women of the Wall uses loudspeakers in the women’s section. They also claimed that security teams at the entrance to the Western Wall do not conduct “the strict inspections to which (other) women are subjected.”

If the inspections were thorough, the Orthodox women argued, Women of the Wall would not have been able to smuggle small Torah scrolls into the women’s section on several occasions.

The group has attempted to smuggle in Torahs “because by law we are allowed to pray with a Torah according to the courts, but we can’t bring one in,” Lesley Sachs, the Women of the Wall’s former executive director, noted as the group walked toward the Western Wall’s main security entrance Wednesday, when Jews celebrated the start of a new month on the Jewish calendar.

Although many modern Orthodox congregations permit women to read from a Torah scroll in women’s-only prayer services, ultra-Orthodox Jews consider the practice, as well as the use of traditionally men’s ritual items, sacrilegious.

On Wednesday several hundred schoolchildren, seminary students and adults heeded Amar’s plea.

“Move to Tel Aviv! Go back to America! This isn’t your place. You are garbage. You have the face of a pig,” a middle-aged ultra-Orthodox man shouted as Women of the Wall defiantly tried to bring five small Torah scrolls through the Wall’s main security gate.

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Source: Religion News Service