Some 20 years after they first wrapped themselves in prayer shawls at Judaism's holiest site, the Women of the Wall (WOW) were the subject of much criticism during the Sephardic chief rabbi's weekly Saturday evening sermon.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef came out on Saturday night against the feminist lineup at the Western Wall and called for the condemnation of its members. According to him, the movement is made up of "stupid" women who do not act "for Heaven's sake," but merely because "they want equality."
During this weekly lesson, which addressed the laws of Shabbat Kiddush (sanctification of the wine on the Sabbath), the rabbi noted that women are obligated to perform Kiddush and can fulfill their obligation either by hearing a man perform the blessing or by reciting it themselves.
On this subject he said, "Teffilin (phylacteries) she must be careful not to lay. There are stupid women who come to the Western Wall, put on a tallit (prayer shawl), and pray."
According to Rabbi Yosef, "These are deviants who serve equality, not Heaven. They must be condemned and warned of."
WOW Chairwoman Anat Hoffman reported to Ynet in response, "Rabbi Ovadia Yosef established negative motives for the group of women praying at the Western Wall without knowing even one of the women. Because the motive of the group is awe of God, I invite him in the name of Women of the Wall to meet us and get to know us."
The Masorti Movement Chairman Yizhar Hess, said in response, "It is a shame that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a talmid-chacham and Torah great, allows himself to disrespect the women's revolution that is taking over the Jewish street in Israel and the world. Torah scholars, be careful of your words."
Starting in the 80s, WOW held joint prayer services for women and men at the start of every Hebrew month. They first held the services in the Western Wall pavilion, and later – following a High Court ruling – at the nearby Robinson's Arch.
About a half a year ago, at the beginning of the month of Adar, dozens of women from Israel and the world marked 20 years of activism with a prayer service
at the wall itself. For this, they were berated by worshippers and attendants on the spot. Attendants for the Kotel rabbi asked the women to disperse because they were not acting in accordance with the site's traditions.
Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch claimed in a conversation with Ynet that these are provocative actions that offend the sensibilities of male and female worshippers, desecrate the holy site, and are in opposition to the High Court decision. He added that "this is grave act worthy of condemnation."