Western Wall rabbi calls for calm ahead of Women of the Wall service

(JTA) — The rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, called for calm and Jewish unity as Women of the Wall prepared to hold its monthly service there.

“The Western Wall is the one uniting place we have left,” Rabinowitz said in the statement issued Thursday, a day before the women’s group is scheduled to hold its service at the women’s section. Many of the members don prayer shawls at the service.

“It’s easy to pass the Western Wall Plaza through the fire of argument. It’s much harder to find the middle path that will let everyone continue and feel that they belong and are wanted at the wall.”

Women of the Wall members have been arrested in the past for wearing prayer shawls due to a law that forbids any practice that falls outside of the wall’s “local custom.” Last month, however, a judge determined that the group’s activities did not contravene the law.

In light of the court ruling, Jerusalem police said they would refrain from arresting Women of the Wall members on Friday .

Rabinowitz in his statement warned against “extremists” hurting the wall — language he has previously used to criticize Women of the Wall.

“I beseech you, the silent majority, for whom the Western Wall is close to your heart, to stop extremists from all sides from changing the wall into a ground where brothers fight,” he said.

Meanwhile, thousands of girls from haredi Orthodox seminaries in Jerusalem will protest the Women of the Wall service with their own prayer services held at the same time. The girls were instructed to participate in the services by Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the head of the Lithuanian Orthodox community, Haaretz reported Thursday.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the Sephardic haredi Orthodox Shas party, also is calling for Orthodox women’s prayer at the Western Wall on Friday morning.

Israel Police are expected to call in extra officers to manage the situation.

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