This letter came to me this morning from Anat Hoffman, Chair of Women of the Wall and Executive Director of the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center.
Dear John, Haver:
The Birkat Kohanot was a success – with buses bringing women and men from all of the corners of Israel. Young, old, Orthodox, Reform…you name it, they joined with Women of the Wall to pray for peace.
But I don’t mean to make the picture so rosy. There was a lot of turmoil over the past couple of days which brought stress to our staff and Board right before Passover began. I am sharing with you the Press Release which was sent out after today’s event:
Only men can bless the people of Israel at the Western Wall. The Minister of Religion and the Rabbi of the Wall have decreed that “women may not raise their palms to the sky“ or “place their prayer shawl on their head” or say out loud the three lines of the Priestly Blessing.
The Jerusalem Police enforced a ban this morning on Women of the Wall raising their hands, placing a tallit on their heads and reciting the Priestly Blessing.
These absurd demands originated from the Minister of Religion David Azulai (Shas) and Rabbi of the Wall Shmuel Rabinowitz. Tomorrow the two of them will participate in the Priestly Blessing for men. There will be no bans of any kind there. The Rabbi of the Wall, in his press release this morning, accused Women of the Wall of making the Wall a scene of clash and conflict. Anat Hoffman said, “The Wall will remain an arena of clashes as long as the government does not implement its own decision to provide Jewish people with two distinctly separate plazas: one under the jurisdiction of the Rabbi of the Wall and the other which is operated under the principles of gender equality, pluralism and egalitarian prayer.”
When Women of the Wall arrived at the Wall this morning, they were herded into a pen made of police barriers and surrounded by policemen. Even though the women’s section was nearly empty, the police preferred to separate and segregate the group. A police cameraman filmed our prayer and made sure that no woman raised her palms in the air, covered her head with a prayer shawl.
Police commander Doron Turgeman demanded that no Torah would be brought in or read and that the prayer will last no longer than 60 minutes and the number of participants would not exceed 200. Throughout his dialogue with Women of the Wall, he called us “girls.”
Despite the hard conditions, Women of the Wall conducted a halachic, festive Shacharit and Musaf prayer. Hundreds of women and men who came from all over Israel to participate felt that it was a worthwhile experience to wake up at 4AM to attend. Buses came from Karmiel, Haifa, Beer Sheva, Nazareth Illit and Tel Aviv in a show of solidarity and partnership in prayer. The transportation to and from these cities and others was provided by a generous grant from the Susan Bay Nimoy and Leonard Nimoy Estate.
Every participant received a Priestly Blessing pin commemorating today’s prayer. The pin was derived from the hand symbol employed in Star Trek by Mr. Spock, a role played by the Jewish actor Leonard Nimoy (z”l). Nimoy made the Blessing, “Live long and prosper” an international symbol.
Women of the Wall believe that even though the Priestly Blessing is an unusual custom at the Wall, in due time, it will become local custom. We believe that the nature of local custom changes as time passes- in the past, wearing a tallit, blowing a shofar, and lighting a Chanukah candle were all considered contrary to local custom, and it is through our persistence that these are now local custom.