Women of the Wall ‘regretfully’ accepts ban on priestly blessing

Raoul Wootliff and Times of Israel Staff

The Women of the Wall organization said Thursday that the priestly blessing will not be included after all in its prayer service on Sunday, after initially indicating that it would go ahead with the blessing despite a ruling from the attorney general barring the group from doing so.

 “Please pay attention that we accept his decision, though regretfully, but shall hold a festive prayer as planned,” a spokesperson for the group told The Times of Israel. “We will not include Birkat Kohanot [priestly blessing] as intended initially.”

Avichai Mandelblit said Thursday that the pluralistic group, which works for the right of women to pray at the Western Wall, cannot hold their “Birkat Kohanot” prayer service in the women’s section of the Western Wall, since it contravenes traditional custom, and therefore violates the rules of the religious site. In Orthodox practice, the prayer is solely recited by male descendants of the priestly caste.

The group said it would go ahead nonetheless, calling the decision “infuriating,” but later agreed to back down.

Mandelblit met Thursday morning with representatives from the Israel Police, Prime Minister’s Office, Justice Ministry and Religious Affairs Ministry, as well as Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, to discuss the ceremony, after which he made his ruling.

The Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, is administered by ultra-Orthodox authorities who have a monopoly over religious affairs in Israel and oppose mixed-gender or female-led prayers.

“This is an unhappy decision that submits to political pressure of an extremist minority group whose sole aim is to sabotage gender equality at the Western Wall and prevent women from having the right of prayer and worship,” said Women of the Wall chairperson Anat Hoffman.

In a statement released this week to publicize the event scheduled for Sunday, the group, which has held monthly prayer services at the Western Wall for the past 27 years, said the service was aimed at preserving the tradition by making it more accessible.

Reform female and male rabbis pray together at Robinson's Arch, the Western Wall site slated for future egalitarian services, on Thursday, February 25, 2016. (Y.R/Reform Movement)

In a historic move, Israel’s cabinet voted two months ago to modify and enhance the Robinson’s Arch plaza for mixed gender prayer at the Western Wall, adjacent to the current Orthodox prayer plaza. It was viewed as a victory for liberal streams of Judaism, which are dominant in the US.

But the plan has run into fierce opposition from ultra-Orthodox lawmakers and groups in Israel, many of whom wield influence within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s narrow coalition government.

The deal would expand the wall’s non-Orthodox section and construct a shared entrance for both sides. Women of the Wall has agreed to move its monthly services to the non-Orthodox section once the deal is implemented.

The decision, which allows for the construction of a massive 10,000 square feet permanent prayer area and the establishment of a new pluralistic entrance for the entire Western Wall plaza, is a benchmark case in that it would mark the first time the State of Israel is giving formal recognition to the rights of millions of Liberal Jews, complete with budget.

Source: TimesofIsrael

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