RELIGION

Women Of The Wall, Supporters Defy Rabbi's Regulations With Torah Reading At Western Wall

04/20/2015 02:14 pm ET | Updated Apr 20, 2015

A group of Jewish women in Jerusalem challenged gender regulations at the Western Wall on Monday by reading from a full-sized Torah -- something that the Orthodox authorities at the holy site have forbidden for female worshippers in the past.

Women of the Wall, a Jerusalem-based activist group that promotes the rights of women to worship at the Western Wall, worked with male supporters Monday to smuggle the Torah into the women's area. Amidst the prayerful celebration, a group of ultra-Orthodox men entered the women's section in the attempt to remove the Torah and several male supporters of the Women of the Wall were reportedly injured in the scuffle, according to multiple sources.

A Women of the Wall press release stated that Charlie Kalech, a male Women of the Wall supporter and activist, was physically attacked by a state employee. Kalech sustained a head injury and asked to see a doctor, the release said, but was detained for several hours before he was allowed to do so.

The Israeli Ministry of Public Security did not return The Huffington Post's calls for comment.

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield of The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, told HuffPost he was acquainted with Kalech and was disappointed by the news of Monday's altercation.

“What I think is sad is that the love of fellow Jews is not sufficiently strong to alter [the ultra-Orthodox men's] response if not their inner beliefs,” the rabbi said.

In April 2013, an Israeli court ruled that the women had the right to pray at the Western Wall and could legally wear prayer shawls conventionally only worn by Orthodox men. Shmuel Rabinowitz, who serves as rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites of Israel and determines prayer regulations, has curtailed these rights, however, forbidding women from bringing a Torah into their prayer section.

The Women of the Wall challenged these rules in October 2014, with a reading from a miniature Torah scroll brought in through security, according to a press release from the organization. Monday marked the first time that the group held a reading from a full-sized Torah.

In December 2014 the women submitted a request to hold a public menorah lighting ceremony for Hanukkah, which Rabinowitz rejected.

“It’s hard not to suspect that the goal of Women of the Wall is not prayer at all, but rather their urgent will to change the customs of the Western Wall at any price, while harming the masses of those who pray at the Western Wall and traditions that developed there over hundreds of years of prayer," the rabbi told The Jerusalem Post.

Anat Hoffman, chair of the Women of the Wall, said in a press release after Monday's action that it is the "basic right" of women to read from the Torah as a part of their prayer services.

“This is the first time that Women of the Wall can stand up and be counted as a part of the public," Hoffman said. "Nothing you could say could tear me away from my Torah, nothing you could do, ‘cause I’m stuck like glue to My Torah.'"

Hirschfield said in order for reparations to be made between the women's group and the ultra-Orthodox community, both sides will need to make compromises -- and he believes there is reason for hope.

"I think we could find some common ground," he said. "How do you factor in the love of a fellow co-religionist so whatever outrage you feel could be expressed with less hostility and violence? That's the first place to start."

Also on HuffPost:

Anat Hoffman and the Women of the Wall
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