Knesset members join Women of the Wall at prayer service

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Three female Knesset members joined the Women of the Wall for the group’s monthly prayer service at the Western Wall.

No arrests were made during the service Tuesday morning marking the new Jewish month of Nissan, the first time in months that no arrests were made during the Rosh Chodesh gathering. But the female lawmakers, as well as several other women, reportedly were stopped by police who demanded that they leave behind their tallit prayer shawls before entering the Western Wall Plaza.

Stav Shaffir of the Labor Party and Tamar Zandberg and Michal Rozin of Meretz used their Knesset immunity to enter the area with their prayer shawls, while other women had men bring them in for them.

"For 24 years, the Women of the Wall have been praying at a site sacred to the Jewish people and for years they have been stopped just because they seek to pray in their own way," Shaffir wrote on her Facebook page. "This morning, following hate banners in the haredi press, I joined them. At first we were prevented from entering the square on the grounds we were disturbing the order but there is nothing that 100 women armed with a shawl can’t do."

The rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, condemned Tuesday’s prayer service in a statement issued to the media. He said the women brought "brothers against brothers in unnecessary confrontation" and noted that the wall next to Robinson’s Arch has been designated as the area for women’s prayer services.  

"The Western Wall is the only place shared by all the people of Israel — and it is not the place to decide or express a world view," Rabinowitz said. "I urge anyone for whom the Wall is dear to do whatever he can to keep disputes outside the plaza, and leave the people of Israel one place where there are no demonstrations, clashes and hatred."

Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman on Sunday lodged a formal complaint with Minister of Public Security Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Israel Police Chief Yohanan Danino alleging "incitement of violence against Women of the Wall” over unsigned posters, called pashkevillim, that were hung in haredi Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem, the organization said on its website.

Women of the Wall has held a prayer service at the holy site, known as the Kotel in Hebrew, almost every month for the past two decades. The service is held on Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the new Hebrew month, at the back of the women’s section.

At last month’s service, Jerusalem police arrested 10 women, including the sister and niece of American comedian Sarah Silverman, for disturbing public order. Two weeks later, a women’s Megillah reading for Purim took place undisturbed.

In 2003, Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a government ban on women wearing tefillin or tallit prayer shawls, or reading from a Torah scroll at the Wall.

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