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Women saying Kaddish at Western Wall won’t be arrested, Sharansky assured

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JERUSALEM (JTA) — Women who recite the Mourner’s Kaddish at the Western Wall will not be arrested, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said he has been assured, despite a police vow to enforce a ban.

Jerusalem police Commissioner Yossi Pariente in a letter sent Thursday to Women of the Wall Chairwoman Anat Hoffman said he would enforce the Justice Ministry’s strict interpretation of a Supreme Court ruling prohibiting women from violating the traditional practices at the site, which is overseen by haredi Orthodox officials. The letter said the ban on women saying the Mourner’s Kaddish and other prayers at the Western Wall would be enforced.

Later in the day, however, Sharansky said in a statement that Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, chairman of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, assured him during a meeting that contrary to the letter, no woman would be arrested for reciting Kaddish at the Western Wall.

Sharansky, at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request, is in the final stages of drafting recommendations to decrease tensions at the Wall and ensure that all Jews can pray in a comfortable manner at the site.

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, saying it disturbed the "public order." The ruling was legally expanded in 2005 by the Justice Ministry to prohibit women from saying certain prayers in a minyan, or prayer quorum.

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.

The next scheduled prayer service is on April 11, the first day of Iyar. Pariente said in his letter that police would enforce the ban on certain prayers.

Hoffman told Israeli media outlets that the women will say Kaddish, something she said is acceptable throughout the Jewish world, at next week’s service. She added that it is particularly significant that the police would choose the month of Iyar, which includes Holocaust Remembrance Day and the country’s Memorial Day, to enforce the ruling.

Last month, when three female Knesset members joined the Women of the Wall for the group’s monthly prayer service, marked the first time in months that no arrests were made during the Rosh Chodesh gathering. The prior month, Jerusalem police arrested 10 women, including the sister and niece of American comedian Sarah Silverman, for disturbing public order. 

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