Women of the Wall – The fight for equal prayer rights in Israel

Women of the Wall – The fight for equal prayer rights in Israel

Women of the Wall is a group of Jewish feminists that are fighting since 1988 for women’s prayer rights at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, also called the ‘Kotel’. The group convenes every month to hold a prayer service at the Kotel.

Before 2013, their prayer gatherings at the wall were seen as illegal. Women were arrested for wearing Jewish prayer garments, holding a Torah scroll and singing out loud, because these ways of practice were only legal for men. In May 2013, the government finally gave in and Women of the Wall were given permission to have their monthly prayer services at the Kotel. The Appellate Court could not find a reason that the women’s prayer and ritual were against the local custom, because the women did not use physical or verbal violence.

Not only are Women of the Wall still struggling with the legal battle, they also have to deal with aggressive opponents. Despite the ruling, the rabbi of the Kotel still sees Woman of the Wall as provocative. Women of the Wall have been harassed, verbally insulted, targeted by water bombs, eggs and chairs and even threats were written with graffiti on the front door of a member of Women of the Wall.

It was not until 2015, that Women of the Wall read for the first time from a real Torah scroll during their monthly prayer service at the Kotel. The scrolls are only accessible in the men’s segment, where women are prohibited from entering. On April 20, a few male Jewish supporters rallied together to pass a full-size Torah scroll across the barrier between the men’s and women’s section over to Women of the Wall. Haredi Orthodox men that were praying at the wall physically attacked the male supporters to obtain the scroll. When the women succeeded to hold the scroll, the Haredi Orthodox men broke through the barrier to try to take the scroll away from the women. The assaulting men were removed by the police, and the women could finish their prayer service.

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