As feminist prayer group Women of the Wall arrived at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Monday for a bat mitzvah ceremony and their monthly prayer service, they found their way blocked by crowds of dissenters.
The Women of the Wall have sparked extreme backlash in Israel for their petitions to change gendered restrictions at the Kotel, or Western Wall. They seek a space at the wall for women and men to pray together—currently, the Western Wall has only sex-segregated spaces. The group has also advocated for women’s right to read Torah at the Kotel.
Last week, France’s highest court suspended a coastal village’s ban on burqa-compliant swimwear, ruling that the ban “dealt a serious and clearly illegal blow to fundamental liberties such as the freedom of movement, freedom of conscience and personal liberty.”
This week, the Israeli government approved the creation of an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, a remnant of Herod the Great’s expansion of the Second Jewish Temple considered to be the holiest Jewish site.
The decision follows years of contentious debate between Orthodox Jews—who do not permit mixed-gender prayer—and Conservative and Reform Jews, who have lobbied for their right to egalitarian prayer.
Michele Chabin of the Religion News Service writes this week about Israeli female politicians in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Haredi sect, who have established their own political party leading up to a bid for parliament. Their campaign will feature no advertisements or rabbinical endorsements, just "word-of-mouth recommendations and faith." While they're not expected to garner enough votes to enter the Knesset, their actions alone are remarkable: