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Israeli and American Jewish women read Torah at the Western Wall

December 1, 1988

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.

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.

2 Comments

Yes, the timing is ironic. Certainly it serves as a reminder of how far we need to go not only as Women but also as Jews toward the tolerance the diversity we encompass whether intentional or not. Once we begin to acknowledge we are one and that when an individual or a group is the victim of our own intolerance, it is our duty to stand up and work diligently on standing together against intolerance and bigotry. Time to clean our own house first.

I found it quite ironic to receive this particular posting at this time - the Women of the Wall's founding date of Dec. 1, 1988.

With all the struggles, sacrifices and accomplishments this remarkable organization has made since 1988, we seem to have reached a sad and remarkable LOW POINT at this time. Just two weeks ago, a 25 year old female, a medical student who was wearing a tallit and carrying the groupÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s new Torah scroll at the Kotel, was arrested by police and charged with Ì¢‰âÒperforming a religious act that offends the feelings of others.Ì¢‰âÂå

Jewish people the world over have to think and reconsider- WHO ARE OUR ENEMIES? We seem to be doing a good job of this all on our own.

Women of the Wall Prayer Service in Gan Miriam, Jerusalem
Full image
The Israeli multi-denominational Women of the Wall group holds a prayer service in Gan Miriam, Jerusalem. Participants in Orthodox women's tefillah groups wishing 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.
Courtesy of Joan Roth.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Israeli and American Jewish women read Torah at the Western Wall." (Viewed on April 28, 2017) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/dec/01/1988/western-wall>.

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