Protesters restrained as Women of Wall pray

Israeli Police executed a mass operation on Sunday to give protection to women as they held communal prayers at the Western Wall.

Until April 25, police treated the monthly gatherings by the feminist alliance Women of the Wall (WoW) as illegal, and as a result detained its members. However, on that date a Jerusalem district court ruled that this interpretation of the law wasn’t correct.

As a result, at their service a month ago, members of WoW were allowed to hold their communal prayers. However, the scene was chaotic, with large numbers of Charedi protestors doing much to disturb the prayers, and some of them throwing projectiles at the women.

This week, however, the scene was very different. Charedi leaders spoke strongly against violence by members of their community, and instructed youngsters to keep away, in a bid to keep hotheads at bay.

Police escorted women into the prayer area from their buses. The officers covered a special walkway with tarpaulin, so that WoW participants couldn’t be seen by Charedi demonstrators – and in a worst-case scenario of an object being thrown, wouldn’t be harmed.

Around 300 women – Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and non-observant – prayed together. Some Charedi protestors tried to drown out their prayers, but the women managed to make themselves heard. A large part of the women’s section at the Wall was closed off to everybody apart from WoW worshippers, which prompted Shmuel Rabinowitz, the official rabbi of the Wall, to declare the scene “sad and painful”.

WoW spokeswoman Shira Pruce told The AJN that she considered the Charedi leadership’s call to their followers for constraint a “very positive step in the right direction”

and praised police for their protection.

WoW has traditionally attracted a dominantly Anglo crowd, which led to critics claiming it is importing foreign practices to Israel. However, on Sunday there was a significant turnout of Israeli-born women. “Israeli women want to reclaim the Kotel for themselves, their daughters and granddaughters,” said Pruce.

An Orthodox group established to critique WoW, which calls itself Women for the Wall, blamed its opponents for making the Wall “into a place of political and media battles”.

 

NATHAN JEFFAY