Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites of Israel
Shmuel Rabinowitz has vowed that the police will not arrest a single woman reciting the Kaddish prayer at the Western Wall, despite the Jerusalem District Police commander's announcement
that he would be tightening enforcement against the Women of the Wall
Rabbi Rabinowitz made the promise on Thursday in response to an appeal by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, who was appointed
by the government to handle the matter, and Knesset Member Aliza Lavi (Yesh Atid).
The two criticized the decision to step up procedures against women's prayer at the holy site.
Sharansky, who was not informed of the district commander's decision in advance, was furious upon learning about it on Thursday morning. In the coming days he plans to visit the United States, where he will hold a series of meetings with Jewish community representatives in a bid to come up with an acceptable outline for Western Wall prayers.
The Jewish Agency chairman was concerned that the latest move and its timing would sabotage these efforts.
On Thursday, following the row sparked by the police's decision, Sharansky met with Rabbi Rabinowitz and expressed his protest over the matter. He said he had held talks with rabbis and public leaders in the Jewish world and was at the final stages of forming recommendations to reduce tensions at the Western Wall and guarantee that every Jew would be able to pray according to his or her customs.
The Women of the Wall organization commented on Rabbi Rabinowitz's promise to Sharansky that no woman would be arrested for saying Kaddish at the site, stating that it proved what they had been arguing all along, "that the Western Wall rabbi is the person pulling the strings and the real commander on the ground."
The group said in a statement that its members "welcome the Israeli public for its sweeping support, which proves that public pressure – in Israel and abroad – will lead to the liberation of the Western Wall, so that female soldiers will be allowed to sing the national anthem, girls celebrating their bat mitzvah will be called up to read from the Torah, and women will be allowed to wear a prayer shawl and pray out loud."
The Women of the Wall added that from now on they would end every first of the month prayer by singing Israel's national anthem, "Hatikva," and invited the public to join them on the prayer of the first day of the month of Iyar.
Another person who worked behind the scenes to calm things down was MK Aliza Lavi, who is trying to change the current situation at the Western Wall.
Lavi spoke to Women of the Wall Chairwoman Anat Hoffman and to Rabbi Rabinowitz, and managed to reach an understanding that the reciting of the Kaddish prayer by women would be permitted as it has been in the past.
MK Lavi said, however, that this was a "specific solution for an overall complicated problem, which must be resolved as soon as possible."
According to the lawmaker, "We must not come to terms with a situation in which the Western Wall plaza regularly becomes a tool for wars and conflicts, and therefore I am working to rearrange the Western Wall plaza so that every woman and every man will be able to visit the Wall and pray."
Lavi implied that she had reservations over the methods used by both sides to the conflicts, saying that "a solution will only be reached through a dialogue and understanding between the parties, with a show of consideration and sensitivity. Today it has been proved that dialogue is the only road which leads to change."
Rabbi Rabinowitz told Ynet that the holy site must not turn into a protest site, and that he had therefore asked not to enforce the prohibition against women reciting the Kaddish prayer, although the act was forbidden according to a High Court ruling.
He noted that he had also turned to three ultra-Orthodox groups seeking to hold a counter-protest next to the Women of the Wall's monthly prayer, and asked them to refrain from demonstrating so as not to ignite a further conflict.
According to the rabbi, bringing controversial religious symbols into the Western Wall plaza – like women wearing prayer shawls, reading the Torah or laying tefillin – was forbidden under any circumstances and such acts must be enforced.
Ynet reported Thursday that Jerusalem District Police Commander Major-General Yossi Parienti had informed the Women of the Wall organization that they would be forbidden to recite the Kaddish prayer at the Western Wall plaza – in addition to the prohibition to wear a prayer shawl and read the Torah.
Ahead of the group's monthly prayer event scheduled for this Thursday, the first day of the Jewish month of Iyar, the commander sent a letter to the group's chairwoman, Anat Hoffman, stating that the police planned for the first time to enforce the law according to a strict interpretation offered by the Justice Ministry in 2005.
An opinion released at the time by Attorney Yaakov Shapira of the Ministry's legislation department stated that the prohibition issued by the court against the women's practice at the Western Wall, also included a quorum of women saying the Kaddish prayer.
Hoffman said in response that she was shocked to receive Major-General Parienti's letter, adding that she and her friends would say Kaddish over their loved ones "devotedly and with great intention" – despite the prohibition.
"Preventing women from saying Kaddish is a foolish act stemming only from considerations of hegemony and narrow-mindedness by the Western Wall rabbi," she stated.