Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett locked horns Wednesday over the growing controversy surrounding the Women of the Wall organization's demand that egalitarian prayer services be permitted in the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem.
Members of the group have been holding a monthly prayer service at the Western Wall for 24 years and demand to do so while performing religious rituals typically reserved for men under Orthodox Judaism, such as donning tallitot (prayer shawls) and tefillin (phylacteries). The practice has often resulted in altercations with ultra-Orthodox men and women praying at the site and the women's arrest.
Ultra-Orthodox leaders, including Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, have repeatedly claimed that the Women of the Wall were "disrupting the custom of the place," but in April the Jerusalem District Court ruled that the group's prayer services were not illegal, and that the legal term "custom of the place" needed to be interpreted in a more inclusive manner than is currently the practice.
On Wednesday, Livni sent Bennett a letter saying she hoped the guideline he said he would instruct his office to devise to resolve the situation "would express the court's ruling that the [Women of the Wall's prayer] services are not illegal."
The justice minister stressed that any amendment the Religious Services Ministry offers would need her approval: "I agree with the court's ruling and I believe that it coincides with the significant and positive changes made [in recent years] to promote women's equality, in both the religious and secular societies."
Bennett posted a response on his Facebook page writing, "Tzipi Livni just 'sent' me a letter essentially saying she won't allow me to introduce new guidelines at the Western Wall. Well, she really let me have it and got a headline on Channel 2. Wow. Naturally, because of the holiday, my office was not working and I didn't received any letter. This was just media spin."
Addressing the issue at hand, Bennett said that he intends to devise a compromise, further slamming Livni for "acting like a bull in a china shop."
Livni's office said that the letter was sent to the Religious Services Ministry after the holiday and that Bennett "should practice what he preaches. To this day, Minister Bennett has failed to update the justice minister about his attempts to broker a compromise."
A statement by the Women of the Wall said, "Tzipi Livni's commitment to eradicating the phenomenon of women's exclusion in society in general, and that of the Women of the Wall in particular, contributes greatly to the promotion of women's rights and to the creation of an equal society."