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Israeli and American Jewish women read Torah at the Western Wall

December 1, 1988
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Participants in Orthodox women's tefillah groups that wish to maximize women’s participation in communal prayer while remaining within the halakhic parameters of the Orthodox community meet regularly to conduct prayer services for women only. Here the Israeli multi-denominational Women of the Wall group holds a prayer service in Gan Miriam, Jerusalem.

Photographer: Joan Roth


Israeli and American women joined together and attempted to pray as a group at the Western Wall for the first time on December 1, 1988. More than 70 women attended the women's service, which included a Torah reading, at the remnant of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem often called the Western or the Wailing Wall. These women had gathered for the first International Congress for the Empowerment of Jewish Women and decided to go pray as a group at the Wall. Bonna Haberman, one of the women present on that day, suggested that a women’s prayer group meet at the Wall every Rosh Hodesh (the Jewish new moon observance). Local Congress attendees followed through, and the group Women of the Wall was born.

Since that first service, Women of the Wall has gathered to pray at the Western Wall every Rosh Hodesh. From the very first gathering, the group has confronted hostile responses including physical assaults and thrown stones, chairs, and dirty diapers.

Assertion of their right to pray together as women out loud and to conduct a public Torah service has led not only to physical struggles but also to a protracted legal confrontation. While members of the ultra-orthodox community attempted to pass laws that would entail a seven-year prison sentence for women who conducted Torah services at the Wall, the Israeli Supreme Court mandated in April 2003 that authorities needed to make some provision for women to conduct services in the Wall area. In the summer of 2004, the government opened an alternative prayer space adjacent to the ancient Temple wall uncovered by archaeologists, but far removed from the area called the Wailing Wall. Although Women of the Wall has reluctantly moved its Torah service to this space, the women continue to use the traditional prayer plaza for the rest of their Rosh Hodesh worship.

To learn more about Women of the Wall, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

See also: Women of the Wall: Keeping the faith for 21 years and What the Women of the Wall Want on Jewesses with Attitude.

Sources: Phyllis Chesler and Rivka Haut, eds., Women of the Wall, pp. 274-275, 354-355, 388-389; Brenda E. Brasher, “Women of the Wall: Claiming Sacred Ground at Judaism’s Holy Site,” Nashim, Fall 2003, p. 241; Jerusalem Post, August 17, 2004, www.jpost.com.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Israeli and American Jewish women read Torah at the Western Wall." (Viewed on April 24, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/dec/01/1988/western-wall>.