JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Women of the Wall group vowed to continue reading from the Torah in the women’s section of the Kotel in the wake of a report that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised haredi Orthodox parties that it still would not be allowed.
Army Radio reported Tuesday that Netanyahu met last week with the haredi parties and promised there would be no change to the current status quo at the Western Wall, which prevents women from reading a Torah at the religious site.
The state must respond to a petition filed by the Center for Women’s Rights, an Israeli NGO, asking the Supreme Court to remove impediments to women bringing private Torah scrolls to the Wall.
In the past, the Women of the Wall has smuggled a mini-Torah scroll into the women’s section. During a service in April, male supporters of the group who hoisted a scroll over the divider between the men’s and women’s sections encountered violent opposition.
The Women of the Wall in a statement referenced a speech given by Netanyahu at the United Nations General Assembly in November in which he called for more efforts to make the Western Wall a place of inclusion.
“Apparently when Netanyahu spoke of ‘all’ Jews in November 2015, he forgot that women make up half of all Jews,” the group said. “No Israeli Prime Minister has the right to take away Torah from half of all Jews.
Women of the Wall said if Netanyahu “does bend to the pressure” of the haredi parties, its members will continue to read Torah in the women’s section.
“Even if we must hide our Torah scroll and smuggle it past the guards, we will do so just as Jews have been forced to do so many times before us in exile,” the statement said.
Women of the Wall gathers at the Western Wall at the start of each Jewish month for the morning prayer service. Its members have clashed frequently with staff from the office of the rabbi of the Western Wall and the holy sites of Israel, and with police for holding services that violate the rules enforced by the office.
A 2013 Supreme Court ruling acknowledged the women’s right to pray at the Western Wall according to their beliefs, claiming it does not violate what has come to be known as “local custom.”
Regulations at the site set by the office have allowed women to wear prayer shawls and kippahs, but prevented them from using a Torah scroll in their section.