JERUSALEM (Jun. 4)
The women who gathered at the Western Wall this week are taking it as a good sign that they were able to hold a prayer service without any major incident.
Members of the group Women of the Wall say they are optimistic that the government will carry out a recent High Court of Justice ruling that allows them to pray as they see fit at the Western Wall.
And aside from some name-calling and attempted egg-throwing from those who believe that women should not be allowed to hold formal prayer services at Judaism’s holiest site, the service went ahead without the physical confrontation that had been feared.
Wrapped in tallitot and tefillin, an estimated 200 women turned out for the service, according to a group member.
Some worshipers at the site shouted at the group, and Israeli police detained four fervently Orthodox men who police said planned to throw eggs.
The women’s service was given heavy police protection out of concern for possible clashes with fervently Orthodox worshipers, who were angered when the high court recognized the right of Women of the Wall last month to hold women’s prayer services at the Wall.
The landmark ruling capped an 11-year legal battle by the women’s group.
Sunday’s service celebrated Rosh Chodesh, the new month on the Hebrew calendar. In recent years, the women’s group moved their monthly services to a site near the Wall.
Group member Anat Hoffman said Sunday’s turnout greatly encouraged her.
“I felt strengthened in many ways,” Hoffman said. “Five times more women than usual arrived.”
Hoffman said that police worked effectively to maintain order.
“The police for 11 years told the high court they could not protect us and that it was a situation the police cannot deal with,” she said.
“We think the police can now tell the government they can protect us.”
In its ruling, the high court gave the government six months to come up with the necessary arrangements to enable the women’s group to pray at the Wall.
Fervently Orthodox legislators have initiated bills to bypass the court ruling. One bill would sentence women to seven years in jail for reading from the Torah, blowing the shofar or wearing a tallit at the Western Wall.
That bill, sponsored by the fervently Orthodox United Torah Judaism bloc, passed the first of three required votes in the Knesset last week.
“We are very anxious about this legislation,” Hoffman said. “It is a serious stain on the Israeli law books.”
While some religious lawmakers are taking the legislative route to bypass the court ruling altogether, others are seeking compromise.
Israel Radio reported that legislator Nahum Langental, a member of the National Religious Party, has proposed allowing the Women of the Wall to hold their services at Robinson’s Arch, which is at the southern end of the Western Wall.
The Conservative movement recently agreed to a compromise under which it will hold services at the arch.