New Decree at the Western Wall Places Further Limits on Women’s Freedom

18-yr old British gap year student, a participant in Rsy Netzer (The Movement for Reform Judaism, UK) detained at the Kotel this morning.

Four women were detained by Israeli police at the Western Wall this morning, one of whom was removed before entering the holy site. According to police, a new decree was issued at 6:00 this morning forbidding women to enter the plaza with Jewish religious articles including, tallit and tefilin. When a group of women arrived to pray at the monthly Women of the Wall group prayer, all of the women were stripped of the articles at the security point, while men entered freely through security with these items in hand.

According to the organization, this new decree is a clear escalation of the restrictions on women’s rights at the Western Wall and has no legal basis, especially in a public space like the Plaza. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, led by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz and an all-male, all ultra-Orthodox directing board, has been known to issue similar impulsive decrees in the past and to hold the police responsible for enforcing such arbitrary decrees in attempt to limit women from praying freely at the holy site.

The first woman detained, Women of the Wall board member Rachel Cohen Yeshurun, refused to remove her tallit as she entered the Western Wall Plaza, far from the holy site itself. She was removed and interrogated, under the accusation of disturbing the public order and obstructing a police procedure. The other three women, including 2 young women from the UK gap year program Shnat-Netzer and Rabbi Elyse Frishman were held and interrogated. Rabbi Frishman is the senior rabbi of the 165 year old Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, NJ, the oldest synagogue in New Jersey. She is the editor of the Reform Movment’s siddur, Mishkan Tefila, used in over 700 North American congregations, and is the wife of URJ Senior Vice President Rabbi Dan Freelander.

All four women refused to sign an admission of disturbing the public peace and were released after roughly three hours.

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  1. Yankel says

    Their treatment of these woman at the Wall is quite unfortunate.

    Nevertheless there are much larger questions. Prayers at the Temple site in Jerusalem have followed classical Jewish teachings of Halacha since the time of King Solomon. Liberal rabbis are attempting to impose their unilateral changes in Jewish tradition on others. They are ignoring a three thousand year old tradition.

    They are flaunting a compromise crafted by the Israeli Supreme Court. The Court designated an area of the Wall for non-traditional prayer. Woman (for that matter without a divider men) can pray there how they want when they want. Reform leaders have not accepted this compromise even though the Orthodox have not attempted in any way to deter them in that area set aside by the Court.

    It’s a strange situation, the Orthodox who are constantly portrayed as inflexible have agreed to a compromise that violates their beliefs, Halacha and long standing Jewish tradition. The Reform who claim to honor pluralism rejected it and are creating constant conflict.

    Why is the Reform continuing to push the envelope ? Some reasons are clear; it’s great for PR and fundraising. But there is something much deeper. Reform wants a public validation of their beliefs. “If we can’t pray in the main plaza of the wall it feels like we are second class citizens”, one Reform rabbi told me.

    Reform leaders should take a little responsibility. They unilaterally changed Jewish tradition. Reform wants to force its changes on others, this in unacceptable. They cannot expect all Jews to go along with their modifications to Jewish practice and are not backed by international Jewish consensus. And while this fact may surprise some, the majority of Jews in the world affiliate with Orthodox synagogues-in particular outside the US and do not support these changes.

    Chances are if the Reform continues to push the envelope the Orthodox might be provoked to respond. In the wake of the Six Day War a delegation of Reform rabbis came to the Western Wall Plaza and attempted to have a mixed prayer service. In response close to a hundred thousand Orthodox protested and blocked their way. In this happened today the numbers of Orthodox protesters could reach a million.

    Aren’t there more important issues today like Hamas sending rockets, Iran threatening Israel, violence and instability in Syria and Egypt.

    The Orthodox community is cognizant of the bigger issues facing Israel and are not looking for conflict. Unfortunately certain elements of Reform seen determined to spark an internal battle in the Jewish community that will injure Jewish unity in a crucial time.

  2. says

    Women of the Wall is not a Reform organization. Women attend from all denominations, including Orthodox. Because of this, we want to be at the Kotel itself – because we are a women’s group, who pray in the women’s section. Thus, we are distinct from the Reform and Conservative mixed groups who have been allocated Robinson’s Arch (the alternative site) along with us.
    Signed, an Orthodox member of Women of the Wall whose tallit was taken away on Friday. I personally do not wear the tallit at the Kotel and only had it with me to don later at Robinson’s Arch.

  3. Ilan says

    8 points on the 8th day of Chanukah:
    1. These women are not affiliated only with the Reform movement.
    2. The tradition of prayer at the Kotel is not 3,000 years old.
    3. The customs of prayer of the Kotel today are not a tradition from the time of Solomon; you can see photographs which demonstrate that pre-1948 there was no mechitzah.
    4. The vast majority of Diaspora Jewry resides in the US; the vast majority of them are not Orthodox.
    5. It is the height of arrogance for anybody to judge the intention of any woman (or man) praying, or to devalue the kavanah of the WoW and assume that they are praying at 7am every month for the last almost two decades or so for political reasons, as opposed to their devotion to prayer, to God and to the site itself.
    6. Jerusalem is my city; I pay city taxes, as well as a whole range of other general taxes. I am heartbroken that Jews are being arrested for practicing Judaism in our own state – a state of all Jews and not only the Ultra-Orthodox.
    7. It is truly ironic that Israel is the only country in the world in which a Jew can be arrested for carrying (not even wearing!) a tallit.
    8. The Kotel is the patrimony of the entire nation and not only the Ultra-Orthodox.

    Chanukah sameach to you and all Beit Yisrael! I hope to see you and all Jews who wish to do so praying at the Kotel – each person according to his/her individual conscience.

  4. Yankel says

    I find both of these responses have not responded to the most vital question in my post. A compromise was made by the Supreme Court, the Orthodox have adhered to it, despite many misgivings, why is this issue be pursued?

    And now a few points
    1. Woman of the Wall is not a member of the URJ. So technically its not Reform, however its led by Anat Hoffman who is the head of Reform in Israel, it is supported primarily by Reform and Conservative rabbis.
    2.This has been great for Anat, she is appearing all over the US due to this issue helping with PR and fundraising.
    3. While there may be individuals who are Orthodox who are members of WOW. They are clearly outside the Orthodox consensus. No major Orthodox group, Young Israel, RCA, OU, YU, Aguda, etc. etc. supports the activities of WOW. These individuals can do as they please but no major authority in Jewish Law supports them. They cannot claim to represent the orthodox community.
    4. The majority of Jews in the world who affiliate with congregations are members of Orthodox synagogues. They may not be fully Shomer Shabbat but the Shul they choose is Orthodox. This is true in Israel, Europe, South Africa, South America, Australia, Russia etc. In the US Reform and Conservative numbers are dropping. Just look at the recent NY demographic survey and the new one from London shows a remarkable rise in Orthodox and drop in liberals. WOW cannot claim based on this data to represent the Jewish consensus worldwide.
    5. Prayer in the Temple was always separate. Jews historically placed a divider at the Wall. The British attempted to stop that, and also the blowing of the Shofar at the Wall. Clearly there is three millennia of Jewish tradition in different areas for men and woman and the actions like WOW of reading the Torah etc. This actions of WOW is a departure from classical Jewish tradition, it is an outgrowth of the changes of the liberal movements in the last two centuries.
    6. This is an issue of Jewish tradition, not rights. A group of Jews who have changed the Tradition want to impose by force in needed their changes to historic Jewish standards.
    7. The issue is not the so called “ULTRA ORTHODOX”. There is great support in the Orthodox community for this issue.
    8. The word “Ultra” is greatly offensive, if anyone is “Ultra”, its the “Ultra” liberal WOW” that insists and ignoring a compromise and creating a schism in the Jewish world.

  5. says

    I am sorry to use such strong language but this is pathetic. That Jewish women are being subjected to such unreasonable rules at the most public Jewish place known to all is of great concern. I represent the voice of the modern Zionist who loves not only Israel as She is, but also as She can be. I believe we must speak up when we see the democratic aspirations of religious freedom fall prey to the unreasonable exercise of religious power by leadership who view the world through a lenses that fails to take into account modern democratic values. It is time to make known to the moderate politicians in Israel that RELIGIOUS RIGHTS MATTER. Are you listening Avodah? HaTenuah? Yisrael Beiteinu, I think you have other issues to deal with. What about Likud?

    Thanks to eJewish Philanthropy for giving WOW and the larger struggle WOW represents, such good coverage.

  6. YH says

    I’d love to know the Halachic basis for requiring police to confiscate tallitot from Jews. Is it in the Torah? Talmud? Shulchan Aruch?

  7. Ilan says


    Thank you for your considered response.

    1) Anat Hoffman is not the head of Reform in Israel but rather the head of IRAC, the legal arm of the Reform movement which fights for pluralism and religious freedom in Israel on behalf of all, including Orthodox Jews. IRAC even won a case defending the rights of an Orthodox man who was not hired because he observed Shabbat. This case became a precedent that bars employment discrimination based on religious preference.

    2) Good for Anat! I hope that many US Jews become aware of the lack of religious freedom in Israel and donate money in order to make Israel more pluralistic and more respectful of religious rights.

    3) For a start, JOFA (an Orthodox group) condemned Hoffman’s arrest, and “the violent tactics used to intimidate women at prayer at the Kotel.” They are also “deeply concerned about the limits placed on women’s freedom of religious expression in prayer at the Wall.” The fact that none of the Orthodox groups which you mentioned supports WOW should be seen as something political and not Halachic; if there is a Halachic prohibition to a women’s prayer group I invite you to share it with this forum. The Orthodox members of WOW do not purport to represent Orthodoxy as a whole and have never implied as such.

    4) More than 2/3 of Diaspora Jews live in the US and only 10% of them are Orthodox (let’s even say 20%). Even if there were no non-Orthodox Jews in any other other Diaspora community in the world, which there clearly are, the math still speaks for itself: most of Diaspora Jewry is not Orthodox. In any case, there are thriving non-Orthodox communities in every Diaspora community you mentioned.

    5) Firstly, there was no separation between the sexes in the Temple except for during Simchat Beit Shoeva in order to protect against frivolous behavior (cf. Mishnah Sukkah). The mechitza at the wall is from 1967 onwards and did not exist before (not during the Mandate and not before; the British did not try to remove a long-standing mechitza; they removed a new mechitza which had been erected for Yom Kippur in 1928 – although such ad-hoc mechitzot had been erected previously one cannot argue that there was a long-standing historical tradition of prayer with a mechitza at the Kotel).

    In any case, this is not the issue; the group is called WOMEN of the Wall – their prayer groups take place on the women’s side of the mechitza and do not include any men. Again, if you have Halachic (as opposed to sociological) objections to a women’s prayer group, please share them with this forum.

    6) Modern Orthodoxy and Ultra Orthodoxy are as much a response to modernity as the Reform and Conservative movements. To claim otherwise, or that MO or UO are based on “historic Jewish standards,” is intellectually dishonest.

    And, this most certainly is an issue of rights. I live in a democracy – a country which is often called “the only democracy in the Middle East” by its leaders and supporters. I would like us to live up to the democratic ideals which are apparently important to so many people who are connected to Israel.

    And, in regard to “force” – the only force which is being used is by police enforcing Kotel Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch’s draconian conditions, which get more and more severe with time.

    7) I mentioned the Ultra Orthodox only because the governing authority of the Kotel, Rabbi Rabinovitch, is UO.

    8) Ultra Orthodox is a commonly accepted translation of Haredi. I cannot understand your point that it is an offensive term.

    With respect


  8. Pinchas Giller says

    I do believe that Jewish organizations have to take their business elsewhere within Israel, to deny all support and income to any institution that is acquiescent in the untenable situation at the Wall, wherein it is a chareidi preserve. All funding and support for Israeli causes should be diverted to such groups as the New Israel Fund and its related and subsidiary organizations that are devoted to a Kelal Yisrael presence at the Wall. Money talks, and when support for mainstream Israeli Institutions is withheld, the situation will change.

  9. Karla says

    The Kotel was never legally the possession of the Orthodox exclusively – they have usurped control via the Heritage Foundation, therefore, they have no position to make a compromise from.

    There is no Israeli law that prohibits women bringing ritual objects to the plaza, so the use of police to enforce an illegitimate private decree over public property is reprehensible. The Kotel plaza is not a private synagogue and never has been.

    The Western Wall Heritage Foundation has usurped it to use as a place for hate and division rather than the place of prayer and hope that it should be for ALL Jews!

  10. Karla says

    When Robinson’s Arch is available 24/7 (not part of the archeological park), given the same resources, and equivalent funding to that which the Heritage Foundation receives for the Kotel (in fact, if it is made equallly accessible, and is intended to draw many now visiting the Kotel, some of the money could come from a reduction in WWHF’s budget), THEN we can look at whether it’s a viable option for WoW. For now, it is not an equal alternative to the Kotel.

  11. Yankel says

    Ilan it’s a pleasure to read a post that is not driven by emotion but raises some important points. I will attempt to respond.

    First you have not answered nor any others the most important question. If the desire is to daaven, why is one part of the Kotel different than any other. The Supreme Court (not a bastion of Orthodox loving Judges) made a compromise, the Orthodox have not interfered with non halachic prayer in Robinsons Arch. Why create this conflict when we don’t need it. Why can’t liberals follow this compromise?

    And now a few points.
    Who speaks for who? Groups like WOW etc. constantly claim to speak for “the majority of Jews around the world”. The facts are that as I said before the majority of Jews who affiliate to synagogues affiliate Orthodox worldwide. American Jewry is 39%, Israel 42% the balance worldwide. In the US the Conservative and Reform and dominant, their numbers shrinking fast (in particular conservative). They cannot claim to speak for world Jewry.

    Those Ultra’s: Why is a Jew who follows the Code of Jewish Law as has been done for thousands of years “ultra”. This is a derogatory term used by liberals to say “these guys are extreme”. It’s prejudicial and degrading. Rabbi Rabinowitz, the Rabbi of the Kotel, attended mainstream Yeshivot, like Kol Torah. Use of this term by liberal Jews is an expression of bigotry.

    IRAC: You are right that Anat is just the leader of IRAC, (my error). But its description as an organization of religious freedom is a bit comical. While it might defend one Jews Shabbat observance, its primary agenda is an assault on Orthodoxy in Israel using the courts and other means as its weapons. Clearly its agenda is to advance the cause of Reform and stifle Orthodoxy.

    Anat’s Tactics: You say all the power to her; I ask do we need a renewal of the Pluralism Wars that divided communities all over the world. Why is she taking this international, facts are in Israel she has little support or interest. This issue advances the cause of Reform in Israel by getting support abroad the very fact its being debated on this forum. The question is at what price. For instance at the recent GA Reform leader Rabbi Rick Hoffman attacked the Orthodox at a Plenary. Sounded good to the core constituency of the Federations. But it played very poorly in the fastest growing part of the Jewish world, the Orthodox. If Federations are to have a vibrant future they need Orthodox support, this undermined that tremendously.

    JOFA. They are real, very active in the upper West Side but are not supported, endorsed etc. by any mainstream Orthodox group. They are either on the edge, or outside the Orthodox consensus-depends on who you ask. Clearly not a representative of mainstream orthodoxy.

    The Kotel. Don’t revise history. Jews have always daavend separately in the Ancient Temple, and placed a Mechiza when ever they could-unless barred by the British etc.- at the Wall. Halacha was the guiding light. Anat and company want to change that. It’s not just woman in the ladies side, her goals are clear.

    Finally these actions could create a major eruption in the Orthodox world. Imagine headlines in the religious press, “Reform trying to take over the Kotel”. The emotion on this issue goes both ways. There could be new laws in the Knesset against Reform-in particular as the orthodox numbers continue to grow in the electorate- demonstrations etc.

    Personally I am against non halachic prayer at Robinsons Arch. But I am willing to live and let live. Are Reform willing to do the same.

  12. Ilan says

    Yankel – I too enjoy our discussion and respect your contribution.

    1) If every part of the Kotel is equal, then the Ultra-Orthodox can go pray at Robinson’s Arch and pluralistic Jews can pray at “the Wall.” In any case, the High Court of Justice decision is unjust. Mitpallelim have to pay to enter the Southern Wall Excavations in order to pray there (after 8:00am) and do not have access to the same resources there as they would at the Kotel (if my taxes are going to subsidize Ultra-Orthodox worship, I would like them to subsidize WOW as well). The conflict already existed; when the Orthodox political parties attempted to prevent women from praying at the Kotel according to their own conscience, and even introduced legislation calling for an up to 7-year jail sentence for women wearing tallit or tefilin or reading from a Torah.

    2) WOW does not claim to speak for the majority of Jews around the world. Nevertheless, the majority of Jews around the world are simply not Orthodox (neither in practice or belief).

    3) I fail to understand your point regarding the use of the term “Ultra Orthodox.” (I did not say ‘extremist,’ nor imply it.) It is an accepted term in academic literature and it refers to Haredim, without any value judgment. If I were to have used the word ‘fundamentalist’ I could understand your point but Ultra Orthodox is simply an acceptable term. In any case, your idea that Ultra Orthodox practice today is a continuation of 3000 years of Jewish tradition, as opposed to being as much a response to modernity as any other modern stream of Judaism, is intellectually dishonest.

    4) The agenda of IRAC is not an anti-Orthodox one, but rather an anti-religious coercion one – an agenda which I, as a Halachically observant Israeli Jew, support.

    5) Hoffman is taking this to world Jewry because it affects world Jewry as the Jewish state of Israel is discriminating against large swathes of it by its actions. Moreover, much of Israel-connected world Jewry is not willing to stand by while the only democracy in the Middle East tramples women’s rights and freedom of religion.

    6) JOFA – They are Orthodox. Orthodoxy is not monolithic.

    7) With due respect you are simply incorrect regarding this point.

    8) Your imaginary headline demonstrates the clear difference in our starting points: the Kotel is not there to be dominated by the Ultra Orthodox nor to be taken over by Reform; it is the patrimony of the entire Jewish people.

    9) I am not Reform. You should ask somebody who affiliates with the movement your final question.

    You have still not offered any Halachic objections to the activities of WOW.

    Kol tuv