A progressive women's group held a special Passover prayer service at a Jerusalem holy site Sunday, drawing criticism from the site's ultra-Orthodox rabbi, who called it a "provocation."
The group, Women of the Wall, calls for gender equality at the Western Wall, the holiest Jewish prayer site. The site is overseen by a rabbi who enforces conservative practices, including separate prayers for men and women.
Attorney General prohibits Women of the Wall's priestly blessing ceremony at Western Wall https://t.co/4qEsBnNVdu https://t.co/TAaJd1gGUg— Haaretz.com (@Haaretz.com)1461232750.0
WoW planned to hold an all-female priestly blessing known as the "birkat kohanot," a prayer typically conducted exclusively by men, but were banned from doing so by Israel's attorney general. A women-led priestly blessing has never been held at the Western Wall.
In a compromise, dozens of women prayed Sunday, but a group leader said they did not perform the priestly blessing. A group of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) youth, whom the Jerusalem Post referred to as "an extremist minority," gathered at the site in protest.
Women of the Wall forgoes priestly blessing ceremony at Western Wall after attorney… https://t.co/klWcHGFJyw https://t.co/qEN3PFfGOp— Haaretz.com (@Haaretz.com)1461495666.0
The Post reported that this incident is the latest of many events that have angered haredi Jews. The ultra-conservative group has already lost several legal battles dealing with religious life in Jerusalem, and a recent government agreement to set up a state-recognized egalitarian prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall has been a source of further outrage for the haredi.
Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Shlomo Amar spoke with Israeli news outlet Arutz Sheva Thursday about WoW, calling the group "fools" who are "belittling all women."
"This is (like) bringing an idol into the Temple," Rabbi Amar said of the proposed women-led priestly blessing. "May Heaven have mercy, the heart is torn and broken. This is a desecration of God's name — will we not be zealous for the honor of God's name?"
"This insanity enters, they don't see that it's really Satan incarnate?" he continued. "And we are silent on these things."
Women of the Wall director Anat Hoffman told Army Radio Sunday she hopes that in the future the proposed ceremony would be allowed, according to the Post.
"The ultra-Orthodox are extremists and the holiest place has been put in their hands," Hoffman said. "The government needs to work to ensure that the Western Wall is open to all minorities and work towards completing the new prayer section that has already been approved by the cabinet."