Ultra-orthodox Harass Feminists for Torah Service at the Wall

About 100 Diaspora Jewish women, many of them Americans, were called “pigs” and otherwise harassed by religious extremists when they held a prayer service Wednesday at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The worshipers, who were among 500 women from 25 countries attending the first International Conference on the Empowerment of Jewish Women, were the targets of insults and curses by ultra-Orthodox men and women who pray regularly at the holy site.

A Reform rabbi from Toronto, Debra Brin, conducted the service, which marked the final day of the conference.

As the feminists, many wearing skullcaps and prayershawls, prayed and read from the Torah, black-garbed men shouted and pounded on the wooden barricades that separate male and female worshipers at the Wall.

Said one pious Jew, “The spectacle of a woman carrying the Torah is as scandalous as bringing pigs to the Kotel,” as the Western Wall is known in Hebrew.

“In the name of God, I protest,” shouted another. “This is a holy place for all of Israel and they are defiling it.”

An elderly Orthodox woman pushed and shoved the foreign women, screaming that they were desecrating the Torah.

“Disgraceful,” snorted Rabbi Yehuda Getz, the functionary in charge of the Western Wall. He was referring to the foreing women, not the behavior of his ultra-Orthodox colleagues.

He conceded to reporters that the prayer session did not itself violate halacha (religious law). But the Wall “is a holy place, not a place for demonstrations,” he said.

The targets of the attack seemed to accept it with equanimity. Helene Ferris, a Reform rabbi from New York, told reporters, “We came here to pray. That’s all.”

But author Blu Greenberg, also of New York, said it was “unfortunate that something like this turns their world upside down. They should realize that prayer isn’t only for men. It would be nice if they could accept reality,” said Greenberg, who is Orthodox.

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