Torah-Carrying Activists Push for Egalitarian Plaza

In an historic moment, Torah scrolls were brought into the Western Wall plaza by women for the first time. Hundreds of activists from NIF grantees the Conservative and Reform Movements alongside Women of the Wall held a special service to mark Rosh Chodesh at the back of the plaza. The event was organized as a protest against the Israeli government’s failure to build a permanent egalitarian plaza near the site. Prime Minister Netanyahu, on the dubious grounds that it would reduce the chances of a compromise, had urged them not to protest publicly.

As the group held Torah scrolls, they expected to be stopped by security. However, owing to the sheer number of activists – over 100 – they managed to reach the plaza. Angry protestors then tried to snatch the Torah scrolls away from them.

Anat Hoffman, head of Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) and leader of Women of the Wall, said: “I fell this day is Simchat Torah, a little late. For the first time in history, a Torah scroll is allowed in the women’s section. It’s a historic day. Every day, women should be allowed to read from the Torah if they’re interested. And at bat-mitzvot. The time has come.”

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Reform Movement in Israel, said: “The Western Wall won’t be the same Wall after today. For the first time, women and men, Reform and Conservative Jews, secular and Orthodox, demand their right to enter the Western Wall. Today we liberated the Western Wall from the control of ultra-Orthodox. The ultra-Orthodox parties won’t decide for the rest of the Jewish people how to pray…We won’t acquiesce any longer to discrimination, to incitement, or to the Israeli government’s shameful surrender to a small and aggressive minority. If the Israeli government doesn’t implement the compromise framework, we, together with the world’s Jews, will return the Western Wall to the hands of the entire Jewish people.”

In January, the cabinet decision called for a permanent prayer plaza to be built at the southern end of the Western Wall. This decision is still to be implemented. Regarding the delay, Anat Hoffman said: “It’s mind-boggling that Mr. Netanyahu, who decries any international attempt to delegitimize our historic ties to the Western Wall, stands between world Jewry and an equitable arrangement guaranteeing every Jew the right to pray freely.”

November 2016