On April 24 an Israeli court reinterpreted existing laws, ruling that these Reform women can perform their own customs, such as wearing prayer shawls and tefillin without fear of being arrested. In light of this ruling, the Women of the Wall were allowed for the first time, this past Friday, to wear talleisim at the holy site. Prior to that legal decree, the Women of the Wall had been arrested for causing unrest, provocation and disruption, and for violating Orthodox traditions at a holy site.
Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president emeritus of the National Council of Young Israel, approached HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman, shlita, and HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, about this new initiative. Both gedolim lauded its importance, with Rav Shteinman adding that this must be done under the strict condition that there be no violence, chas v’shalom.
The Women for the Wall have received the endorsements of many leading rabbanim representing the haredi and dati leumi communities. They include HaRav Aharon Feldman, shlita, of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel of America; Rishon LeTzion HaRav Shlomo Amar, shlita; Rav Yitzchak Berkovits; Rav Shmuel Eliyahu; Rav Zev Leff; and Rav Dov Lior.
While haredi and Mizrachi leaders have many disagreements regarding the “equal share of the burden” military draft issue and overall relations with Israel’s Finance Minister Yair Lapid, they have formed a united front against the practices of Women of the Wall. (It is unfortunate, in the view of many, that it takes a crisis like this for both camps to realize the importance of achdus.)
This unprecedented unity among these rabbanim against the Women of the Wall’s tactics has included the issuance of a letter calling for the disallowance of liberal female worshippers to daven at the Kosel. The letter, signed by Rabbis Zalman Melamed, Chaim Druckman, Shmuel Eliyahu, Shlomo Aviner, Zvi Tau and Avigdor Nebenzahl, includes a “holy call” on public figures in Israel and abroad to not permit a small group to offend the thousands of worshippers who regularly pray at this sacred place. The rabbis have ruled that “the Kosel belongs to every single Jew wherever he is, but we must all know that like every public place, the Kosel also has conduct and prayer orders – both in the men’s section and in the women’s section.”
HaRav Shteinman asked schools to allow haredi schoolgirls to protest peacefully at the Kosel by filling up the women’s section with those women who adhere to the customs of religious Jews. Following this call, teachers and students from yeshiva high schools and girls’ schools went to the Kosel on Friday. The United Torah Judaism faction called on haredi schoolgirls to recite their prayers in honor of their first trip to the holy site’s women’s section on Rosh Chodesh Sivan.
The haredi/dati leumi plan was for haredi men and women to flock to the Kosel on Rosh Chodesh Sivan (last Friday) before 7 a.m. for a mass prayer. The hope was that this would block the site (including the women’s section), in a “natural manner,” for the Women of the Wall to enter the premises.
However, Israeli police held back the thousands of religious Jews who tried to drive the liberal women worshippers from the Kosel. This marked a shift in the authorities’ handling of this situation. Friday’s prayers were the first in weeks in which police avoided any showdown with Women of the Wall, whose members have been detained in the past.