NGO calls planned Women of the Wall priestly blessing ceremony a ‘provocation’

A petition was filed on Monday asking the High Court of Justice to ban a Birkat Kohanot ceremony planned by the Women of the Wall organization during Passover.

WOW has announced that it will be staging the first ever Birkat Kohanot, or women’s priestly blessing, this coming Sunday at 8:45am, to be conducted by women who are from the priestly Kohen caste.

Since 1970, a mass Birkat Kohanim ceremony takes place twice a year at the Western Wall, during the intermediate days of Passover and Succot, in which men of the priestly Kohen caste raise their hands and bless the tens of thousands of Jews who gather for the event with the biblical blessing found in Numbers 6:23–27.

WoW is seeking to emulate this ceremony this year in the women’s section of the Western Wall.

The petition was filed by the B’Tzedek organization which says it advocates for “Jewish policies” in the public realm.

Although the organization’s website says it was established in 2015, the state NGO Registry shows that an organization with the same name and the same registration number was founded in 1994 at an address in the Ofra settlement.

B’Tzedek called WoW’s planned event “a provocation” and argued that it contravenes the regulations of the Law of the Holy Places, specifically a stipulation which prohibits “conducting a religious ceremony which is not in accordance with the customs of the site.”

The organization said that the women’s Birkat Kohanot ceremony “contravenes the ‘customs of the site’ according to all opinions and will severely harm the feelings of worshipers, all the more so since it contravenes Jewish law.”

The petition also argues that there is no formal status of a female Kohenet or priestess within Judaism, and the caste status only passes from father to son. According to Torah, Kohanim are descendants of Aaron the first High Priest and older brother of Moses.

“It is an event whose goal is to ridicule the Jewish faith, to belittle the significance of its religious worship, and to represent it as archaic and its commandments as mere folklore,” the petition states.

The organization warned that if a ban against the event is not issued by the court, the Western Wall could turn into “a battleground” between worshipers and the people participating in the WoW ceremony.

A spokeswoman for Women of the Wall rejected the claims of B’Tzedek, saying the organization believed that the ruling issued by the Judge Moshe Sobel of the Jerusalem District Court in 2013 stated that since there is no appropriate alternative prayer space for the Women of the Wall’s services, “the customs of the site” had to include those of the organization as well.

“Our prayer is every bit as legitimate as the male ceremony which has being going on since 1970,” said WoW spokeswoman Shira Pruce. “The language being used to oppose WoW’s prayers at the Kotel is incitement, and we only pray that it doesn’t lead to violence next week.”

The website has a description of B’Tzedek stating that the organization provides legal assistance to people detained and injured in demonstrations, investigating civil rights issues and investigating the legality of state policies.

Given the timing of the organization’s establishment, it would seem likely that these activities were conducted as part of opposition to the Oslo Accords signed in 1993.

An attorney and spokesman for B’Tzedek declined to explain the discrepancy between the date the organization was established and that stated on its website.

He also declined to state who heads the organization.

According to his Facebook page, Amatzia Samkai, a financial adviser who also lectures at Bar-Ilan University, is the chairman of B’Tzedek.