Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 18:58 pm (KSA) 15:58 pm (GMT)

US female rabbis anger Jews at Wailing Wall

A group of North American women rabbis stirred a row for singing the psalms at the Wailing Wall
A group of North American women rabbis stirred a row for singing the psalms at the Wailing Wall

North American Jewish women rabbis caused a stir at the Wailing Wall Wednesday as they prayed and sang loudly with prayer shawls and skull caps, flouting Orthodox Jewish customs.

One hundred American women rabbis visiting Israel for the Central Conference of American Rabbis sang loud and clear at the wall during a prayer, known as Hallel, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Women of the Wall, an organization that plans female group prayers on the first day of the month.

A Jewish chastity keeper at the wailing wall (L) argues with a US woman rabbi over singing outloud

Men interrupted the women's singing shouting "a woman's voice is lewd," Anat Hoffman, an activist for Reform Judaism in Israel, told Haaretz. "There were about 70 of us praying. I was ashamed in front of the guests from America."

Singing out loud is considered provocative in Orthodox Jewish law which holds that a woman's voice is lewd and prohibits men from hearing women singing.

Jackie Ellenson, one of the North American rabbis visiting Israel for the conference, said several ultra-Orthodox Jewish women from Israel demanded that the group stop singing and then called the police to complain. Ellenson said they considered themselves the wall's "chastity keepers"

"These chastity keepers were loud and very rude, but there was no violence," Hoffman said.

Jewish local custom says no to loud prayer

 The Western Wall is open to every woman to pray in her own way, as long as she does not breach the local custom, which is Jewish halachah 
Shmuel Rabinovitch, rabbi of Wailing Wall

Despite the Israeli Supreme Court's ruling allowing women to pray in groups at the Western Wall, local custom has it that women should neither wear the prayer shawl, or kipot, nor read directly from the Torah. Rather they should pray in a corner so as not to distract other worshippers.

"The Western Wall is open to every woman to pray in her own way, as long as she does not breach the local custom, which is Jewish halachah," Shmuel Rabinovitch, rabbi of the Wailing Wall, was quoted by Ynet as saying. "An attempt was made today to create a provocation, desecrate the site and hurt the feelings of men and women worshipers."

Hod Hasharon's chief Ashkenazi rabbi, Reuven Hiller - an outspoken critic of the Reform Movement - called the act "an unnecessary provocation," adding, "They may pray in their synagogues with shawls but why come to a place revered by all sects and offend people there?"

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