OTI Online
Summer 1996

Women at the Kotel:
Eight Years and Counting
by Phyllis Chesler

December 1988

During first International Jewish Feminist Conference in Jerusalem, 70 women gather for prayer service and Torah reading at the Kotel. Service is disrupted by verbal and threatened physical assaults from ultra-Orthodox men and women at the site.

January 1989

A group of Jewish women organize as Women of the Wall (WOW). They continue regular prayer services at the Kotel. Violent attacks escalate. Police refuse to provide protection. The International Committee for Women of the Wall (ICWOW) is organized.

March 1989

Four WOW women petition Israeli Supreme Court for an order to allow women to pray at the Kotel with Torah and ritual garments.

May 1989

Supreme Court gives state six months to respond to petition and issues temporary order that women may not pray aloud at the Kotel because "the voice of woman is lewd."

August 1989

WOW petitions Supreme Court for a speedier response from the state and removal of the temporary order. Both requests are denied. To this day it remains illegal for women to pray out loud together at the Kotel.

December 1989

The International Committee for Women of the Wall (ICWOW) donates a Torah scroll to the Israeli WOW and travels to Israel for the dedication ceremony.

June 1990

ICWOW files an independent lawsuit with the Israeli Supreme Court. January 1994 Three years after the oral arguments are heard, the Supreme Court decides against WOW and ICWOW, but its presiding judge, Justice Shamgar, recommends that the government set up a commission to resolve the matter.

February 1994

Request to appeal denied. Court states that "the doors of the Court are open" if the commission does not provide a proper remedy.

May 1994

An all-male commission is appointed to propose a solution to the issue of women at the Kotel. ICWOW facilitates sending the commission more than 600 letters on its behalf from individuals and organizations representing three and a half million Jews.

February 1995

ICWOW and WOW finally granted permission to testify before the commission. Six Israeli women and one American woman testify.

May 1995

Commission misses its second deadline and WOW files a new lawsuit. Supreme Court rejects WOW request to ban the government from granting the commission further extensions. In July, the government grants the commission an extension to November 1995.

Commission reveals that it's exploring an alternative, non-Kotel site for women to pray. Court sets hearing for remainder of new lawsuit for April 14, 1996.

October - November 1995

ICWOW and WOW petition court to be allowed to pray out loud at the Kotel while commission is engaging in delaying tactics. Petition denied. November deadline passes with no commission report.

February - March 1996

Commission submits discussion paper suggesting we pray at another part of the Kotel in the Moslem quarter or at several non-Kotel sites. We protest and propose a time-sharing arrangement like that Jews and Moslems use at Hebron. WOW does a full-hearted Purim reading of the Megillah of Esther (not a Torah scroll, so not illegal) at the Kotel and leaves before the time for the midday prayers.

April - May1996

The commission votes to banish WOW from the Kotel to outside the city walls in Moslem East Jerusalem. An all-male ministerial commission is appointed to implement or reject this plan. WOW returns to the Supreme Court May 19.

See also:

Claiming Sacred Ground: Women's 8-year struggle to pray out loud at "the Wailing Wall" by Phyllis Chesler

Editor-at-large PHYLLIS CHESLER is the author of eight books, including Women and Madness (Harcourt Brace).

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