Western Wall rabbi ordered to include women in Israel’s Hanukkah candle-lighting

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Attorney General’s Office in Israel has ordered the rabbi of the Western Wall to include women in the annual national candle-lighting ceremony for Hanukkah.

“Preventing women from participating in national ceremonies is wrongful discrimination and we request that you ensure this fact is not taken for granted and that steps are being taken to include women in the national candle-lighting ceremony on this coming Hanukkah at the Western Wall,” Assistant Attorney General Dana Zilber wrote Monday in a letter to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, administrator of the Western Wall and Holy Places.

The letter came in response to a campaign by the Women of the Wall organization that claimed the state-sponsored exclusion of women from the national Hanukkah ceremony at the Western Wall, or Kotel, is discrimination and a violation of government regulations banning discrimination in the public sphere.

“It is almost graphic how Women of the Wall were the match that ignited the flame on the first candle to ever be lit by a woman at the national Hanukkah ceremony at the Kotel,” Anat Hoffman, Women of the Wall chair, said in a statement. “Whatever woman is chosen for this great honor, she is standing on the shoulders of Women of the Wall who struggled for 27 years to achieve freedom for women at the Western Wall. It is clear to me that one candle dispels a whole lot of darkness but no amount of darkness can extinguish that candle.”

In a response to reports of the Attorney General Office’s decision, Rabinowitz noted that a month ago, he had invited female government ministers Gila Gamliel and Miri Regev to the national ceremony.

“To my regret, they are exploiting my wish to bring peace to the Kotel to undermine and harm the delicate balance,” Rabinowitz said in a statement sent to journalists Tuesday. “I will continue in every way to find a bridge even in the face of those who would sabotage this from all sides. To that end, the idea of setting up an ‘Ezrat Israel’ would provide an answer to all demands and is the way to a solution to all of the demands.”

Ezrat Israel refers to the egalitarian section set up at Robinson’s Arch next to the Western Wall Plaza.

“We cannot solve one problem only to spark a fire (which is already burning) on the other hand,” Rabinowitz said.

Last year, Rabinowitz denied a request by Women of the Wall to hold a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony in the women’s section of the holy site, saying the menorah lit on the men’s side can be seen by all. Instead, the women brought 28 menorahs into the women’s section and lit Hanukkah candles, though several others were confiscated by guards at the site who said they were operating on Rabinowitz’s orders.

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