JERUSALEM (RNS) A new bus ad campaign promoting the right of girls to celebrate their bat mitzvah at the Western Wall is the latest push by the feminist group Women of the Wall to prod Israel’s Orthodox religious establishment to expand opportunities for women at one of Judaism’s most sacred sites.
As it stands now, bar mitzvah boys are encouraged to read from the Torah at the Western Wall, but the state-supported Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which is run by Israel’s Orthodox establishment, prohibits girls and women from doing so.
The women's group, which in 2013 won a Jerusalem District Court case permitting women at the wall to wear prayer shawls and phylacteries -- ritual items historically used by men -- has been trying for more than 25 years to pray at the site with a Torah, undisturbed by hecklers and the threat of arrest.
The ad campaign, the first of its kind, features Israeli girls wearing a prayer shawl and holding a Torah scroll in front of the Western Wall. The ads say, “Mom, I, too, want a bat mitzvah at the Western Wall” and “Now it is my turn.”
Among the girls featured is Ashira Abramowitz-Silverman, the niece of U.S. comedian Sarah Silverman. The girl's parents -- Yosef Abramowitz and Rabbi Susan Silverman -- are activists.
The ads were posted Sunday (Oct. 12) on public buses following last week’s High Court decision against the state and the Egged bus company, which two years ago refused to put ads featuring women on its buses out of fears they would be vandalized by ultra-Orthodox extremists.
Acknowledging the potential for vandalism, Lesley Sachs, director of Women of the Wall, called the 11- to 14-year-old girls featured on the buses “brave” for appearing in the ads.
At the launch, the organization said the foundation is placing unnecessary restrictions on women’s prayer.
“To deny any Jew access to a Torah scroll, as has been done so many times before throughout Jewish history, is an affront to religious freedom. To refuse women access to Torah has no basis in halakhah (Jewish law) and has no place in a public site in a democratic state,” the group said in a statement.
But Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who heads the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, gave no indication it would budge.
“Every stream of Judaism, he said, “thinks that only its way is correct,” he said. “My job, and it’s a difficult one, is to maintain the status quo.”
In a further activist push the group announced it is planning the “first Torah reading from a Torah scroll" in the women's section on October 24.
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