Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, Rabbi of the Western Wall, apologized for the way ushers questioned and expelled Linda Siegel-Richman from the site for wearing a kippah, but expressed doubt as to whether the incident occurred and blamed Women of the Wall’s activism for the heightened tensions.
Siegel-Richman, who is studying at a Conservative yeshiva in Israel, was on her way to tuck notes written by her second graders in Colorado into the bricks of the Western Wall when she says guards surrounded her, asked why she was wearing a skullcap, and said “You don’t belong here.” They then escorted her to the taxi line outside the plaza.
“We are unaware of this incident and of Linda’s story, as are the police, and we hope it isn’t just another media event with no truth behind it,” Rabbi Rabinovitch said in a statement, YNet News reported. “If such an incident did take place, the Kotel ushers were wrong to prevent Linda from entering. The Western Wall is open to every man and woman. I would like to send my sincere apology and the ushers’ apology to Linda, and I hope she will come back and visit the Kotel soon.”
The statement continued, “Unfortunately, there has been a difficult atmosphere of suspicion and lack of faith in the Western Wall recently as a result of Women of the Wall’s loud struggle; an atmosphere that affects many worshippers, Linda among them.”
After years of arrests and interrogations of women wearing prayer shawls and tefillin at the Kotel, Judge Moshe Sobel ruled in 2013 that Women of the Wall do not disturb the public order or violate “local custom” with their monthly services, though charedi protesters continue to oppose them.
Women of the Wall expressed outrage at both the incident and Rabbi Rabinovitch’s response.
“This phenomenon of exclusion and discrimination again [of] women at the Kotel, in which female worshippers are harassed, offended and shamed, is the typical brand of Rabinowitz and his dedication to extremist-religious coercion,” they stated in a press release. “It is not surprising that Rabinowitz would blame the offensive and illegal behaviors of his staff on Women of the Wall and it would not surprise us if he blamed us for the government’s inability to pass a budget or for the chullent burning on Shabbat.”
This episode comes at the heels of Israeli religious minister David Azoulay’s remark that he does not consider Reform Jews to be Jewish and the rejection of a proposal to establish local conversion courts, a measure that would have loosened the Chief Rabbinate’s grip on religious affairs, further underscoring tensions among religious denominations in Israel.
“I can walk around anywhere with a kippah in the United States,” Siegel-Richman told YNet News, “but only in Israel I’m not allowed to do it freely?”