War of the wall hots up

HAREDI women employed technology as their surprise weapon in the latest monthly showdown with women at the Western Wall.

Once a month, the interdenominational feminist group Women of the Wall holds a prayer service at the Western Wall, to the dismay of Haredi leaders.

Some women wear tefillin and prayer shawls — which most Orthodox Jews believe should only be worn by men — and today police protect their right to wear this garb and to pray publicly after a court ruling earlier this year asserted their right to do so.

But every month there is a showdown between Women of the Wall and Haredi activists who want the feminists out of the Kotel plaza. Last Friday, they organised a mass prayer rally for the Haredi rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who subsequently died, and scheduled it for the same time as WOW’s 150-woman service.

His son, Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, led the prayers from the men’s prayer area, and his voice was relayed by loudspeakers to the women’s section, where WOW was running its service. The prayers for Ovadia Yosef were instigated by Women For The Wall, a Haredi group established to oppose WOW, and according to many of the feminists in attendance were timed deliberately to sabotage their service.

“We feel we were being singled out to be drowned out,” Shira Pruce, WOW spokeswoman, told The AJN. “Trying to pray in a women-only group when there’s a man on he loudspeaker is very very difficult.”

But Women For The Wall activist Leah Aharoni, who helped to organise the prayers for Ovadia Yosef, dismissed WOW’s complaints. Questioned by The AJN she said: “It’s a bit ridiculous for 150 people to claim that what is done for the benefit of thousands of women is a disturbance.”

Shortly after the service Women of the Wall indicated for the first time in its two-decade history that it may be prepared to back down on its insistence to pray in the main women’s section of the Western Wall. Until now the group has refused to move to alternate parts of the Wall, including a prayer section set up by the government at an archaeological park a few weeks ago.

On Monday the group said that if an alternative section is established that meets various demands, such as sharing an entrance plaza with the main Haredi-run section of the Kotel, it would relocate its services.

NATHAN JEFFAY

An Orthodox woman blows a whistle in protest against efforts to promote women’s prayer at Jerusalem’s Western Wall earlier this year. Photo: Miriam Alster/FLASH90.